Dealing with the Bad Things First – Expedia Japan – Hidemaru Sato
By Tim Romero: Serial startup founder in Japan and indomitable innovator
Expedia had a hard road to travel when they decided to come into Japan. The Japanese market turned out to be nothing like they had ever experienced before. Not only were consumer attitudes and behaviors towards travel booking completely different than it was in their home market, but they were up against some very powerful and well entrenched companies, including both online giants Rakuten and Yahoo and traditional powerhouses like JTB. Today Hidemaru Sato, or “Maru" as his friends call him, will explain to us how Expedia managed to overcome the odds on a ridiculously tight deadline and how a few tweaks to the core product turned out to be key to their success. Maru also shares some great advice for both western companies looking to hire a Japan country manager and for people who are Japan country managers and want to do their jobs more effectively. It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it. [shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7994466"] Leave a comment Friend Maru on Facebook Connect with him on LinkedIn Maru's advice on successful market entry Maru's advice on how to hire a country manager Partial Transcript Disrupting Japan, episode 64. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from the CEOs breaking into Japan. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening. Travel giant Expedia has their work cut out for them coming into the Japanese market. Not only was the online travel game played very differently in Japan, but they were up against some very strong, very entrenched competition in Japan, both from the major online players like Rakuten Travel and Yahoo Travel, and from traditional players like JTB as well. Today we sit with down with Hidemaru Sato, or Maru, as his friends call him, and he explains how he had to change both Expedia’s marketing message and he product itself to make it attractive to Japanese consumers. In both cases, you’ll see why less is actually sometimes more. Maru also provides framework for both western companies looking to higher a Japanese country manager and for people who are Japanese country managers and want to do their jobs more effectively. Once you get to know Maru, you won’t be surprised to see that he has a very personality-driven approach on both counts. But you know, Maru can explain that much better than I can, so let’s hear from our sponsor and then get right to our interview. [pro_ad_display_adzone id="1411" info_text="Sponsored by" font_color="grey" ] [Interview] Tim: So, we’re sitting down with Maru Sato, and you’ve brought a number of companies into Japan, but today we’re going to talk about Expedia. It was a while ago but let’s go back to when Expedia was first thinking of coming into Japan. What did they see that was important about the Japanese market? Why did they want to be here? Maru: Okay, I think back to maybe the early 2000s, and basically it’s kind of the boom. It’s a lot of successful U.S. companies who enter the Japan market because Japan was still strong. Tim: Well, it still is. The Japan market is still pretty big. Maru: Then also, the Japanese market is something like new IT technology or internet-related business just starting. The first company I just helped come into Japan market is America Online, AOL. This is 1999, so this is when AOL was the world’s biggest internet service at that time. So they expand to Europe first, U.K., Germany, France, and also the Asia Pacific. Tim: In both AOL’s case and Expedia’s case, it was just part of the natural global expansion. Maru: And then U.S. companies, or global companies, they expect the Japanese market is big. So now it’s the same thing. Basically the Japanese market is big but usually they do not understand the cultural difference, and also business difference, and also user difference. So a lot of our conflict— Tim: I want to talk about that a lot. Before we get to that, though, how did Expedia pick you?