Overcoming the barriers of language and culture:
Trovit Japan's long awaited start
Trovit, which operates one of the world's largest aggregation sites,* became a subsidiary in November 2014. Trovit provides services in more than 40 countries around the world, centered on Europe and Latin America, and this spring Trovit Japan finally opened. We spoke with three key personnel involved in starting up Trovit Japan.
* A site that allows users to view, in one place, information gathered from multiple sites
Shingo Country Manager, Trovit Japan
Shin Director, Overseas Business Division
Kawazu Engineer, Overseas Business Division
How are each of you involved in the overseas business?
I am one of the old timers, here from the time of the Overseas Business Preparations Office. When an overseas business organization was first set up inside the company, I started requesting a transfer, and I was transferred at the time the Indonesia business started up.
In the future, the domestic market will more or less shrink. Thinking 10 or 20 years in the future, it seemed to me that we'd be unable to survive as a company, or as individuals, unless we started to tackle world markets at this time.
While until then some things had gone well and some had not, when Trovit became part of the group in autumn 2014, a little more than five years after my transfer, things became very interesting all of a sudden.
I first wanted to work overseas or in connection with overseas markets when I was a student. Although I took an internship while studying in Canada, I later returned to Japan. But I never gave up, and when I heard that the Overseas Business Division was looking for engineers, it sounded like a great opportunity and I applied for a transfer. At first I'd expected to work mainly in Asia, but then I was assigned to work with staff from Trovit in Spain, and I plan to be assigned to Spain for a while beginning this summer. Every day is exciting when working on development together with engineers from other countries, and I want to grow more and more myself as we grow the site.
I'd worked on HOME'S ever since joining the company. After 10 years, I felt it was time to try something different, something new. That's when I heard about Trovit Japan, and I thought “That's it!” and applied for a transfer.
What was especially interesting to me was the idea of creating from scratch a service not yet offered in Japan. Although I'd experienced the growth of HOME'S from what had been a small service to the large one it is today, I'd never worked on a project by starting with nothing at all, to say nothing of the fact that Trovit was an overseas company, and one from Spain at that. I definitely wanted to tackle this challenge, because it seemed to me a once in a lifetime experience.
The goals of Trovit Japan
Trovit Japan's services began in the three fields of real estate and housing, used cars, and employment. We definitely want to establish a market in the fields of real estate and housing and used cars, since until now there have been no aggregation-model services in these fields in Japan. As Country Manager, I am developing partnerships in Japan while also working closely with the Spain side.
In the field of employment, already in Japan, PPC listings, portal sites, and aggregation sites make up the bulk of premium online promotional methods. I'd like to make the aggregation site a leading promotional method to rival those two others in the fields of real estate and housing and used cars as well. In the field of employment, where there already are preexisting major players in the market, we're striving to catch up with and overcome them as soon as possible, to become the top aggregation site.
The aggregation model has great potential, and Trovit is one of the world's leading services in that field. For that reason, the first step we took was that of starting up the site quickly, taking advantage of Trovit's strengths. At the same time, we'd like to incorporate improvements using expertise from Japan in areas, like usability, and to provide such improvements to Trovit's sites in other countries as well.
Actually, during the development process, I was able to put to use the detailed expertise I'd accumulated at HOME'S. For this reason, instead of simply developing a business in Japan based on Spanish technology, I'd like to accelerate the global business expansion of the NEXT Group and Trovit by combining together the advantages of both. Trovit Japan is the first step in doing so.
Joys and difficulties
In the end, the biggest challenge was the difference with the languages and structures used by Trovit through now. Most of the markets served by Trovit until now have used alphabet-based languages. Since Japanese, unlike them, is a multi-byte language, the way it is handled by computers differs somewhat. This also was the first time Trovit staff had worked on starting up a Japanese-language site, so there were many things that we didn't understand at first and numerous unexpected challenges.
There also were differences in the written language. The languages they used originally, like English and Spanish, use spaces to separate individual words. But there is no such concept in Japanese. How to handle text that continued without spaces became a challenge. On this, we used our knowledge from Japan to cooperate with them.
In the area of translation as well, we had a good system in place, but when we actually put it to use, there were some unusual results. The translated text tended to feel too much like a literal translation. Although technically it was not incorrect as Japanese, it somehow seemed out of place when displayed on screen. There were many such cases, and we corrected each individually.
Of course, when we were making these corrections, the staff in Spain couldn't read our Japanese. It was a lot harder than expected to order corrections in the Japanese to be made by people who didn't understand Japanese. What's more, since we were not deeply knowledgeable about the Trovit backend, we couldn't issue specific programming instructions. It was constantly irritating to place an order for a correction and then have to request another correction because the first one didn't come out right. This happened repeatedly.
There was one amusing incident involving translation. At one time, all of the Japanese text displayed on the site came to sound like the Kyushu dialect. When the language was adjusted on the Trovit side, the suffix -tai had been added after each verb. We look back and laugh about it now, but when I first saw it, I wanted to cry.
Making corrections like this requires an understanding of Japanese grammar and the ability to communicate to the engineers what's wrong, why, and how to correct it. That proved a good opportunity to recall the Japanese grammar we'd learned in junior high and high school, like the conjugation of irregular verbs.
Despite the language barrier, we got along well overall. I was grateful for the cooperative atmosphere. Trovit's stance was one of being open to any request any time something came up.
When I worked on development with Trovit staff during a two-week business trip to Spain, I learned a lot from many engineers there during breaks in the work, including in our times spent chatting. I described how we'd do something in Japan, they would show me all the data, including data from exceptional cases in the past, like when they had tried an approach and the data had turned out in a certain way, or when some things happened in a country, which were totally different from common sense in general. I was very happy to be able to take part in such technical chats. I think they proved very meaningful.
Since my position was that of Country Manager responsible for sales of Trovit Japan, I sensed some resistance at first. While here at NEXT, or in Japan in general, we first set a goal and do all we can to move toward it, at Trovit, they first try to set up individual country sites using as few resources as possible. Then, if things go well, they consider how to make those sites profitable. That's a cultural difference. In Spain, they hadn't expected me to be working on Trovit Japan's sales plans while site development was still underway prior to release. Most people there thought I was being too aggressive, and some even said there was no need yet for a Country Manager.
But once they understood our point, they came to respect my status as Country Manager. It was enjoyable—or perhaps I should say rewarding—to work together with them to build a site while overcoming various challenges.
What are your next challenges?
I feel like we have accomplished something in search-engine optimization, where Trovit already had its own technologies. However, the volume of information on the site still has room for improvement. Since I think that the value of an aggregation site is in its volume of information, the first step is to grow this volume by developing partnerships across all genres.
I want to make it so that users feel that there is a large amount of information available when they view Trovit. At the same time, I want to provide clients and partners with a means of building the customer base at a lower cost than other methods, like PPC listings. I also would like to build and solidify relationships in which they want to post information to our site and use it aggressively.
Also, since I have a decade of sales experience I think that another important mission for me is that of helping Trovit’s sales team by sharing my 10-year sales experiences at HOME’S.
As Shingo has described, with Trovit Japan, we will concentrate for now on aggregating as much high-quality information as we can and establishing a service that has the support of users and clients.
At the same time, with regard to the relationship between the Spanish and Japanese sides, I think it would be a good idea in the future to foster exchange among engineers across national borders, since both companies have high levels of technological abilities and friendly people. I will work in Spain for a while starting this summer, and I want to blend in at Trovit as quickly as possible and then, eventually, to play a role connecting developers in Japan, Spain, and other countries.
The Spanish language is another challenge. Although most of Trovit team members can work either in English or Spanish, naturally Spanish is used in short meetings and notes. No matter how hard they try to use English, at times like when people want to communicate a subtle nuance they will use their native language. For this reason, I plan to study Spanish too.
Since I also plan to be assigned to Spain starting this summer, I am studying Spanish too. I think that learning Spanish not only will help with my work but will also open up new worlds in various ways.
In fact, in some ways, I see the startup of Trovit Japan itself as something like a practice match that started with teams consisting of a few people from each company. Since we have been able to get Trovit Japan off to a successful start, I want to leave the rest to Shingo while I contribute to realizing even more impressive growth by bringing together the knowledge of Trovit as a whole and the entire NEXT Group. The major decision to bring Trovit into the Group has resulted in the opportunity to take part in some very exciting projects. How interesting these will turn out to be in the future depends on us, and the only thing that we can do is to give it our best shot.