How Tsuyoshi Fukuda is bringing visual tech to Japan
It is not easy to succeed in Japan as a foreign company.
Some companies, like Apple and Microsoft, have succeeded in penetrating the market, but the process has taken years. In 2007 Apple struggled to sell the iPhone in Japan, but it persevered and now 60% of Japanese consumers have an iPhone. On the other hand, Nokia, then the dominant giant with a 40% share of the global mobile phone market, had less than 1% in Japan and later withdrew from the market.
Tsuyoshi Fukuda knows this all too well: he has years of experience in the Japanese branches of successful international companies. After several years working for large multinationals such as Dell, Microsoft, and Nokia, he opened the Japanese offices of the American health tech company Fitbit.
This is where Tsuyoshi Fukuda discovered his love for startup environments. Being in charge of the expansion of a company in Japan was exhilarating. So when Meero offered him the opportunity to lead their Japanese team, he did not hesitate.
A year later, Tsuyoshi is still as excited about his mission as a General Manager for Meero Japan. He heads a small, but multifaceted team: between operations managers, production specialists, and customer services, the team is diverse enough to handle all the business needs of the APAC region.
Tsuyoshi is an expert on delivering high-quality services in a very demanding market. He talked to us about adapting an international business model to local expectations and the importance of trust in business in Japan.
Trust is everything
Japan is one of the largest economies globally, but it is very traditional and very conservative. Most people you do business with here are Japanese, and very few people speak English. It’s hard to acquire a reputation if you’re a newcomer.
Despite the picture that Tsuyoshi Fukuda paints of the situation in Japan, he has been slowly but surely building brand awareness for Meero in Japan. His personal reputation as a tech professional in successful companies has helped him gain traction and reach out to potential clients, employees, and photographers.
He says that a big part of his role is educating his Japanese clients on the possibilities of transforming their businesses through technology & visual content.
The fact that Meero comes from Paris is important. The keyword of French Tech is fresh and new to Japanese people. People imagine that innovative IT companies must be coming from Silicon Valley, but it is increasingly well-known that France is the hub of European tech.
Surprisingly, Japan is not as technologically advanced as the stereotypes would have us believe, but the government is actively trying to speed up digitalization.
“A lot of Japanese companies are still using fax! We use a lot of paper here…”, says Tsuyoshi.
In this regard, Tsuyoshi believes that companies like Meero have a big role to play in the Japanese market. He has shown clients how to better manage their visuals online. He likes to think of Meero as a “Visual Tech” company. His strong keyword has allowed him to introduce the company with a mission statement that will stick.
Indeed, Meero’s mission is about more than just photos. Tsuyoshi Fukuda wants to help with the digital transformation of his clients without giving up on the consistency and quality of their visual assets. The bottom line is increased productivity and revenue. And it’s working: prestigious clients such as real estate group Mitsui Real Estate have seen first hand the impact of visual tech on their results.
There is an upside to the reluctance of the Japanese to do business with a company they don’t know: once they get proof of the effectiveness of your product, they generally tend to be very loyal. This is why Tsuyoshi would never compromise on the quality of the services Meero Japan provides. Trust is everything!
The colors of the rainbow
There are many challenges to standardizing business operations and processes across borders. Multinational companies like Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble have managed to do it, but it took them several decades. As a 4-year-old company that has already grown internationally, Meero still has to be agile.
Despite having joined a French company, Tsuyoshi Fukuda doesn’t feel compelled to act “French” in his day-to-day interactions with clients. In this regard, Meero Japan is a local entity that works hard to meet the expectations of their local clients.
It’s important for us to respect Meero’s photography standards, but we have to listen to our clients first and foremost. For instance, in Paris, it is not advised to use the flash for food shoots, but in Japan, most food delivery platforms insist on having photos with flash. It is our role to take this expectation into account when elaborating our local photography guidelines and our pricing.
It’s a balancing act between the global guidelines and the demands of the local market. And you can’t do away with mutual trust and understanding.
“How many colors are there in a rainbow?” Tsuyoshi jokingly asks.
If you’re European, you might want to answer 5 or 6. But in Japan, it’s 7. When the same words mean different things across borders, it’s often necessary to sit around a table and make sure what words mean in everyone’s unique cultural, linguistic, and national context.
“I find that miscommunication and misunderstandings are the number one hindrance to growth.”
The manager as a conductor
If you ask Tsuyoshi Fukuda about his career, you’ll quickly realize the extent of his passion. Tsuyoshi cares deeply about delivering outstanding performances every single time. And he knows that his collaborators are his best assets. He sees the role of a manager as that of a conductor:
I have to know my collaborators and understand what’s going on in order to provide a harmonious piece of music. I need to know if they’re tired, if they’re motivated, what they’re feeling.
He says that the pandemic has pushed him to find the right balance between remote work and having enough live interactions with his employees.
“During the soft lockdown in Japan, everyone in my team was encouraged to work remotely because their safety is paramount. But I also know it’s important to spend time together in order to unify the team. It wouldn’t be so important if we were working in a really big company where a lot of structures are already in place, but for us, it is.”
Most of his objectives, he says, cannot be measured by KPIs.
Some say that KPIs come first, but to me, the client comes first. If they are satisfied with our services they will love us. We have to commit to monitoring the client’s satisfaction every day.
This is where Tsuyoshi’s dedication comes into play. He insists that everyone in Meero Japan including himself visits the shoots to gain more insights from the host and photographers as well as to make sure the quality is up to the client’s expectations. He spends a lot of time trying to figure out the logistics of shoots in order to ensure everything runs smoothly: when does the photographer arrive, when will the food be delivered, how long will it take to wrap up…
This is the only way for him to determine the right pricing with confidence and know the true value of Meero. This is also what allows him to introduce new services that will meet customer's needs. For example, he implemented virtual staging, which allows potential buyers to see what a room would look like with or without furniture. This idea came from listening to his clients. This brought Meero Japan additional 10% sales, which exemplifies the true win-win situation with the clients.
Tsuyoshi is a relentless worker who’s always trying to improve his products. Some of his ideas have been big hits with clients and Meero teams alike, like the 3D walkthrough or the key pick-up service which has proven very useful in a time of COVID.
Ultimately, the reason why Tsuyoshi Fukuda chose to join Meero is that he’s inspired by the drive and creativity of young people. At 49, he’s above the average age of 27 for Meero employees, and it gives him the opportunity to listen intently to what the younger generation has to say.
I don’t want to be the old guy! I can provide a different perspective thanks to my background and experience. Together combined with young fresh ideas and innovation, we can create something truly unique and valuable