MicroAd is a fast-growing venture developing an internet advertising platform to benefit both advertisers and media as well as Japan's largest ad network making use of audience data.
MicroAd's main proprietary services, the "MicroAd BLADE" DSP (demand-side platform) and the "MicroAd COMPASS" SSP (supply-side platform), have gained wide recognition as advertising platforms that allow anyone to effectively make use of internet-based advertising.
With many Japanese companies following strategies of "scale first in Japan and then expand globally," the company has differentiated itself by planning for global expansion from its founding, and has expanded its business to other Asian regions including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand. These business efforts have experienced growth thanks to a policy of keeping their content flexible to fit each of their respective countries and regions.
Business policy is not the only unique element here. MicroAd's organizational culture is also "non-Japanese" – in a good way. Situations known for plaguing traditional Japanese companies, such as "results don't lead to recognition" and "only the Japan headquarters has the authority to make business policy decisions," are nowhere to be found. There is a Western-style "flat" structure, where employees that perform well are promptly rewarded with benefits and posts and overseas groups have the ability to make business policy decisions for their own areas.
Having expanded from Japan into the rest of Asia only eight years after its founding and now with more global aims, what has pulled the success of MicroAd this far is the company's young leadership, in their 20s and 30s. We talked with three leaders, all of who agree that MicroAd is a "non-Japanese-like growth venture."
Only 28 and already having established a series of new organizations
After graduating from college, he joined MicroAd in 2010. In his second year at the company, he participated in a subsidiary start-up project, and the following year, he went to Vietnam by himself to launch the overseas headquarters from the ground up. After that, he has established headquarters in other countries, including Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand, and is currently working on unifying all of the Southeast Asia region with the addition of Indonesia. At only 28 years old, Mr. Sogo has built up his career at MicroAd with phenomenal speed.
With both parents working in management, Mr. Sogo wanted to become a company president since he was little. In addition to his interest in working overseas, he was recognized for his unrelenting ability to commit to numbers, and was chosen by the Managing Director to be responsible for establishing overseas headquarters from the ground up. He has experienced firsthand the MicroAd policy of giving promising employees assignments where they can truly shine.
Employees who achieve results are immediately promoted
"My strength is my ability to commit more than anyone else to results. I think it all comes down to that one point," says Mr. Sogo. He goes on to say that at MicroAd, employees who achieve results are generously rewarded with both benefits and positions. "I believe the responsibility of a manger is to give hopes and dreams to his or her team. You have to make it clear to your team that 'if we get results, we will get this much of a reward,' and use that to help motivate the team. We look for the same thing in new hires – not only talent and ability, but also that desire to achieve."
Mr. Sogo speaks proudly of the company's policy of unreservedly promoting promising employees. In the past, he had a team member from Vietnam who joined the company in a system operations role, but he immediately recognized her potential and reassigned her to sales. She achieved results meeting these new expectations and became a team leader half a year later. Then, 10 months after joining the company, she was promoted to manager. There is a system of fair reward based on results, even extending to the ability to multiply one's salary by several times, that is not present in the more horizontal career and reward systems normally associated with Japanese companies.
Even the appetite of Mr. Sogo himself has lost none of its voraciousness. "I am now responsible for about 70-80% of the revenue generated by MicroAd's overseas sites, but going forward I would like to work on management ability inside Japan, and I also would like to explore the possibility of doing business outside of Asia. Of course, I also cannot throw away the feeling that I would like to go into business for myself someday." While continuing to commit to results in the present, Mr. Sogo also has big plans for his future.
Beginning "in the dark" to establish a China headquarters
"Although I was assigned the duty of establishing the first MicroAd overseas headquarters, in China, my legal knowledge was sparse, and during the first year we even faced problems with company registration." Mr. Mori, at the helm of MicroAd China, reminisces about starting "in the dark" to establish the China headquarters.
Initially assigned to advertising agency product sales upon joining the company, he subsequently participated in the project to establish a new site in Osaka. After that, he went to China alone to develop the market and hire talent for a new headquarters. With differences in laws and business customs between Japan and China, it was by no means an easy road, but today, in addition to Shanghai and Beijing, expansion continues with Hong Kong and Taiwan and their respective business regions, and the establishment of further headquarters is planned. Mr. Mori says that "the reason business expansion in China was successful was, because I learned the importance of hiring talented team members above all else."
Strengthening talent acquisition and retention by placing strong trust in people
"In China, all business is conducted on a foundation of trust. Because negotiations are not facilitated by companies and services but through personal relationships, for a company, the key is how to hire talent that will help you gain trust and how you can keep that talent in the company. Employees will leave immediately if another company looks more appealing, and it is not even rare for the customers they are dealing with to leave with them. That is a standard of business in China."
In China, where it is said that the number of times one has changed jobs is almost seen as a status symbol, there is little societal resistance to looking for a new job. With that in mind, Mr. Mori has taken numerous measures to increase retention rates and ensure that his carefully-selected new talent does not want to leave the company. "There are strong Confucian ideals that place value on personal relationships, so we periodically go on company-sponsored excursions. Also, in order to show how much compensation well-performing team members receive, we give cash directly in the office where it is visible to everyone, and we also sometimes use it to directly motivate team members." There are many other ways the company's retention rates are being strengthened as well, such as directly defining the language and terminology to be used at the company so that team member from rural areas will not feel out of place. In China, where promising talent is intertwined with the fate of a business, Mr. Mori says that there are also situations when Japanese-style company traits that value employees are not out of place.
For Mr. Mori, the area of largest effort in talent retention is the career system. In China, many employees find it important that their company value their presence. To address this, Mr. Mori is beginning to work on providing opportunities for additional challenge with personnel exchanges between China and Japan. "So far, we have only sent one team member from the China office to Tokyo, but going forward we would like to increase the number of exchanges happening between each of our sites. I hope to continue to strengthen systems that give value to the careers of each individual.
MicroAd Indonesia, strongly unique in the MicroAd community
Mr. Enohara is the COO of MicroAd Indonesia, entering its fifth year since he founded it. He says that even within the MicroAd community, with its variety of global sites, MicroAd Indonesia is quite different from the rest, with a feel all its own.
"MicroAd Indonesia started as a joint venture with a local company. Because of this, we keep a strongly unique flavor within the MicroAd group, working with things like e-commerce and blogger networking groups that are not generally handled at MicroAd Japan. You could say that while we do have the face of the Japanese company MicroAd, the content of our business is an entirely different animal."
Engaging in diverse business to become a front-runner in the Indonesian market
The vast majority of digital agencies in Indonesia offer services focused on a single area. Against this background, says Mr. Enohara proudly, MicroAd Indonesia fills the role of a front-runner even in the competitive Indonesian market, through its combination of services including DSP, SSP and the wide array of aforementioned services.
"Our strength is our ability to freely take on new challenges, without being boxed in by existing business strategy. There are cases where there is rivalry with digital agencies under a corporate umbrella, but most of those are for single projects. In such cases, our company is able to pursue a wide variety of digital marketing innovations." Of course as the business area expands, organizational systems also change, new posts are born, and possibilities for career advancement widen. Mr Enohara says that by offering opportunities to experience a variety of jobs and careers, this company is able to offer an environment where its young staff, with an average age of 27 and brimming with curiosity, will be happy continuing to work.
In spite of all this, the world of digital marketing is still a field with a short history. To Mr. Enohara, this is precisely what makes it a meaningful challenge. "We always want to hire salespeople, designers, engineers and managers for countless positions, but I believe previous experience is not what we really need to be looking for. What we want to see is the type of challenge-seeking spirit that shows a desire to succeed with us as a venture enterprise, and to build and nurture that venture.
While being a large-scale Japanese advertising platform provider, MicroAd has adopted an internal style of acquiring talent from an early stage and nurturing it with rewards and career advancement opportunities. Focusing on setting a world standard, the company is looking for talent with an appetite for achievement who are looking to become pioneers in the digital marketing field. This is definitely a company for those who wish to give their careers an incredible speed boost.
Interviewed by Tatsuya Ohshiro