Story of being the first employee of a Scandinavian company in Japan by Akira Shintaku from Wolt Japan

In December 2019, an event with the theme “Country Manager as a Way of Life” was held. This is the report of the event. In the third episode, Akira Shintaku talks about his experiences in starting a Japanese subsidiary of a Scandinavian company.

Takahashi: Thank you, Mr. Tomimatsu. As a person who was a country manager for 4 companies, we really received a lot of insight regarding the best timing to start your career as a country manager.

Next, we have Mr. Shintaku who is currently launching a company.

Shintaku: My name is Shintaku. Thank you for inviting me today.

Akira Shintaku
Wolt Japan
Marketing Manager (First employee in Japan Branch)

After leading the strategy of direct response advertising on Twitter, engaged in marketing at UNIQLO and Apple. In November 2019, joined Wolt (Japanese branch), which develops food delivery based in Helsinki, Finland, as its first Japanese employee.

Perhaps the reason why I was asked to speak alongside the outstanding Mr. Ido and Mr. Tomimatsu was to balance things out. 

We are a service that has not yet launched in Japan (as of the start of December 2019). We are currently launching the Wolt food delivery service which is based in Helsinki, Finland.

I joined the company as the first marketing manager in Japan. So I’m not a country manager.

Half of my career with Twitter and other companies focused on advertising sales and strategy. I wanted to gain marketing experience after that, so I thought that if I go to a big company, I will be able to get more experience. So I switched jobs to UNIQLO and Apple, but there were limitations to what I can do for the company or the brand. I felt that I was in charge of a small area.

I was working hard to be able to call myself a marketer. However, I still did not build enough confidence to say that I was one. I thought of taking all the responsibility. However, I still did not have enough confidence to start my own business. Thus, I chose to join my current company.

As Mr. Tomimatsu mentioned earlier, I too had the idea of joining a venture company. This was for me to have a chance to be involved in the formation of a subsidiary as its first employee.

Akira Shintaku (Wolt Japan)

I came across this company via LinkedIn. The recruiter contacted me directly. I think this method is quite common these days.

I myself had used Wolt before, and I had a very good experience.

When I went to Denmark during Golden Week, I remember that a delivery man wearing a Wolt jacket showed excellent customer experience. It wasn’t just an ordinary delivery service.

Because of that experience, when I was contacted by the recruiter, I immediately replied and said, “I know Wolt! What kind of strategy do you want to enter in Japan?” In the end, I got to meet the recruiter. 

At first, I was simply just interested. I love Scandinavia and their food, so I’ve always thought it would be nice to find an opportunity in that area. And with that, the company would fit all the things I was seeking for. 

Takahashi: Thank you very much. After setting up Japanese corporations, and as it being a “Foreign-affiliated Japanese Corporation”, we would like to hear the things that you had to be aware of, the success/failure stories, and the good things you realized after you have accomplished it.

Kiminari Takahashi (RTB House Japan K.K.)

This time, let’s start with Mr. Shintaku, who is currently starting up a Japanese corporation.

Shintaku: Mr. Ido and Mr. Tomimatsu shared to us about how hard it is to startup a company, and so this time I would like to talk about things that would lower your mental hurdles.

The Finns (who have the headquarters of Wolt) are very diligent and humble. By the time I joined, the Japanese branch had already been set up, all legal affairs had been set up, and my salary was paid on my second day. I thought “But, it’s just the second day!” (laughs).

The office and equipment were all there, and it was just as stunning as a regular company. On the contrary, that made me feel a bit sad that I couldn’t experience setting up those small details (laughs).

(Audience shocked)

I would like to answer the question “What are you struggling with now?”. As a Foreign-affiliated Japanese Corporation, in our case it is recruitment.

We will launch the food delivery service in Japan in 2020, but even if we say “We are Wolt,  a food delivery service founded in Scandinavia”, people will only respond with “Who are you guys?”.

In other words, the response rate is very low. Furthermore, I think that the fact that you must speak English is likely to be the case for the company you currently work for.

Event scene of Country Manager Year End Party 2019

Ultimately, our service launch will not begin in Tokyo but in a rural area. The next condition will be “Can you move to a rural area?”

There are not many people who can speak English and join startups in the rural areas. So we also target people from Tokyo and other areas.

We are looking for partner sales, general manager, operations, support and marketing with our restaurant, so if you are interested, please contact us.

(Editor’s note: You can check the job openings here)

Takahashi: By the way, where will you launch your branch?

Shintaku: In Hiroshima. Since I joined the company, half of my time I spent on working for this launch in Hiroshima.

However, of course, you will have the flexibility to return to Tokyo once every few weeks or to move to the city where the next launch is. Should you have any interest, please feel free to let me know. (laughs)

Takahashi: In terms of recruiting, did you have any experience where you expressed an idea and thought you would be listened to but instead were not? 

Shintaku: So, for example, I think the minimum paid leaves is about 10 days under the Japanese law. But in your company, isn’t it about 15-20 days?

Although it may be legally true, I mentioned that most companies give more paid leaves than what the law requires.  However, they said “10 days initially should be enough.” That is when I realized that our views were different.

But Finns are very flexible when it comes to these rational things, so for example, they say 10 days in writing, but I feel they can actually give you more. It may just be a verbal promise, but it could actually be true.

Isn’t it so, Mr. Sakamoto (working for the Finnish company

Tatsuo Sakamoto has given 25 days of paid leaves per year in every country.

(Audience laughs)

Shintaku: Sorry about that. (laughs).

I’ve only been working for around 5 weeks, but the Finns are so sensible that I’ve never been frustrated by them. I am working with these people who are very hardworking, humble and smart.

Takahashi: Thank you. I would like to ask Mr. Tomimatsu a question.

(To be continued)

Speaker Information

Country Manager Year End Party 2019

Yoshitsune Ido
Anker Japan Co., Ltd.

He graduated from the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Economics, Department of Management in 2002. In the same year, he joined Goldman Sachs Japan Co., Ltd., and engaged in M&A transactions for client companies and advisory services in capital markets in the investment banking division. In 2006, he joined TPG Capital, a private equity investment firm where the focus was investing in Japanese companies and increasing corporate value. In 2013, he established a Japan subsidiary of the Anker group and became CEO. He grew this business with sales exceeding 10 billion yen within 6 years. Fifth ‘Dan’ (grade) in Kendo.

Keiichiro Tomimatsu
MediaMath Japan Corporation

Joined P&G Marketing Department as a new graduate, then worked at Reuters News Agency (Sydney), Citibank, GE Capital, 20th Century Fox Movie (now Walt Disney Studios), Google, etc. Established two Japanese companies, most recently DAZN Media Japan, UK representative. Received numerous awards, including the Japan Academy Awards, Tokyo Interactive Awards, and Dentsu Advertising Awards. Advisory board member of the first Ad Tech Tokyo 2009. Completed the MBA from the # 1 Macquarie School of Management in Australia.

Akira Shintaku
Wolt Japan
Marketing Manager (First employee in Japan Branch)

After leading the strategy of direct response advertising on Twitter, engaged in marketing at UNIQLO and Apple. In November 2019,  joined Wolt (Japanese branch), which develops food delivery based in Helsinki, Finland, as its first Japanese employee.

Kiminari Takahashi
RTB House Japan K.K.
Sales Director of Japan

After graduating from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, joined Recruit as a fresh graduate. After entering the ad tech industry, joined Criteo, Appier. In January 2018, joined the retargeting advertising company RTB House from Poland as its first employee in Japan. Within just two years of joining, led Japan to become “RTB House’s fastest growing global market”.