East or West, home is the best, or so the saying goes. For Rakuten AdRoll employees, home means many different places. The diverse team of 18 strong is composed of global citizens from the U.S, Europe, Southeast Asia, and all over Japan.
With so many brilliant minds with unique backgrounds and perspectives working together, you’d think that Rakuten AdRoll is already capable enough. Yet, you may be surprised how not only the employees are international, but the ad tech company itself is also pieced together from international collaboration. Rakuten AdRoll’s incredible technology comes from AdRoll Inc. in San Francisco, while applied to the Japanese market with management, data and insight from Japan’s Rakuten Group. The joint venture, born from the best of American ad tech and the best of Japan’s digital titans, finds itself in a position of significant influence in the Japanese online ad market.
However, all this diversity arrives at a fork in the road when it comes down to corporate culture. Rakuten AdRoll is situated in Tokyo: a city where over 20 million commuters, donned in black and white business attire, flood subway stations during morning rush hour to get to work on time. With the Japanese and American work styles so visibly different from one another, how does the JV’s own culture play out on a day to day basis? Do Rakuten AdRoll employees join the 1.2 million riders every day on the Den-en-toshi line, dressed in black and white, to meet strict attendance and work style expectations?
Luciano Kohmura, CEO of Rakuten AdRoll, believes in a different vision for the company’s work culture: a culture knit together by the best “fabrics” of both east and west. Although Rakuten AdRoll is embedded within the heart of Japan, Kohmura firmly believes there’s a need to challenge the Japanese working norm, and bring a little bit of Californian sunshine into the office.
“There are many good things about the Japanese work culture, but there’s a lot to learn from the Bay Area tech culture as well,” said Kohmura. “That’s why I’d like to combine the two into its own unique culture.”
“I have been doing this since AdRoll [Japan], but I would like to continue with Rakuten AdRoll.”
Kohmura worked at Google Japan for 9 years, and left Google as a Product and Solutions Director in 2014. He joined AdRoll Group afterwards as a Managing Director of AdRoll Japan. In 2015, Kohmura became Representative Director of AdRoll Japan, and helped form Rakuten AdRoll in November of 2018 as Chief Executive Officer.
“First of all, I would like [the team] to be both efficient and effective. It can be hard to be both at the same time, but I believe you can find a balance between these two,” said Kohmura. “I’d like to create an environment for people to feel comfortable, to feel free on having flexible working hours, ultimately so individuals are supported to become more effective.”
Instead of having everyone coming into the office every day at the same time, Kohmura believes there might be a slight difference in working style for each individual where they might be more effective. But in order for such flexibility to exist, transparency and teamwork between employees must be even stronger than before.
“Teamwork is very important for any organization, and I believe that is why traditionally companies require people to come in at the same time to have face to face communication,” said Kohmura. “But I believe that even if we work remotely, and not be in the same physical room, we can still build strong teamwork and fulfill our goals.”
Additionally, the Rakuten AdRoll team is equipped with a variety of communication tools to establish transparent and effective communication, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Outlook, Zoom and Rakuten Viber. However, if these tools aren’t used properly, it will be much harder to adopt a more flexible work culture.
“And it’s not only the tools that are important,” added Kohmura. “We need systems and rules where people can provide the right information at the right time to the right people, so everyone is clear about what they should do and what others are doing. We need this level of transparency to be able to make it work.”
According to Kohmura, the team’s transparency might not be 100% at the current moment, hence there is a limitation on how to work remotely. But little by little, steps are being made, and one employee with kids now mostly works from home. “We will gather feedback from everyone on the team and evolve the rules so that in the near future, we can offer this work style to more people,” he said.
Rakuten AdRoll doubled revenue growth since January for external advertiser clients, and continues to deliver performance-driven growth to some of Japan’s biggest brands. But besides meeting KPIs for the joint venture, Kohmura also believes in happiness and fun as an indispensable aspect to business success.
“The best is if people love the workplace and work environment. If you enjoy your work, you can enjoy your life. That’s the ultimate goal, and I’d like everyone to be happy,” said Kohmura as he leaned back with a laugh.
“Happiness is a very important KPI to me.”
■“東急電鉄トップページ.” 美しい時代へ 東急グループ 東急電鉄, www.tokyu.co.jp/company/business/railway/passengers/
■“Tokyo’s Rush Hour by the Numbers.” ELSI, www.elsi.jp/en/blog/2015/11/blog1126.html.
■Shinjuku Station Picture Credit: Chris 73, Wikimedia Commons
■Futako Tamagawa Rise Picture Credit: Wpcpey, Wikimedia Commons