Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO of Rakuten, says mandating that his employees speak English at work was tougher than expected; it slowed meetings and embarrassed senior managers. But Mikitani says he's sticking with it.
Following Rakuten’s new Asia headquarters in Singapore, the Japanese e-commerce giant has launched a US$10 million fund in Southeast Asia to strategically invest in companies that will help them in its e-commerce ventures. Mr. Toru Shimada of Rakuten (4755:JASDAQ), who leads the fund, told me:
"Within Asia, we already have e-commerce businesses in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan and plan to expand further in Southeast Asia. We not only invest in startups in Asia but also make business synergies [with startups for Rakuten’s] business."
Specifically, I was told that the type of startups that Rakuten Asia is looking for are those that are focused on e-commerce or e-commerce-related areas. It could be anything from social commerce sites with high traffic (like Pinterest) to mobile applications to e-commerce enablers such as marketing tools and solutions (like ReferralCandy), etc. Besides e-commerce, Rakuten is also keen to invest in online travel and digital content as it seeks to expand its portfolio in Asia.
The new Rakuten fund is lead by Mr. Toru Shimada, CEO and chairman of Rakuten Asia.
Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten (JSD:4755) now has a regional headquarters situated at One George Road in Singapore. The new Singapore office is set to take charge of Rakuten’s Asia-Pacific operations including marketing and regional expansions. Aside from its native Japan, Rakuten has e-commerce operations in Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. However, its China joint-venture with Baidu didn’t turn out to be successful.
Rakuten’s head of Asia marketing, Shin Hasegawa, told me that Singapore was chosen because of its close proximity to other Southeast Asian countries, and access to talented people. Interestingly, Rakuten also chose Singapore as a base because it believes it is the gateway to interact with the region’s startups.
Rakuten does invest in startups. Most prominently, it was the lead investor in Pinterest’s latest financing round. Like most of its Japanese counterparts such as GREE and CyberAgent who have set up corporate venture arms to invest in startups across Southeast Asia, Rakuten could also follow the same path. When asked about the possibility of having a ‘Rakuten Venture Fund’, Hasegawa told me that it could potentially be part of the big plan. But regardless, Rakuten is already investing in startups whether or not there’s a dedicated venture fund.
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