SINGAPORE: For companies looking to hire the right talent, the approach of dangling carrots will not go far, according to the founder of Japanese start-up Wantedly.
And that is why the Tokyo-based recruiting and social networking platform does not allow companies to make any mention of salary packages or monetary benefits in their recruitment ads.
“Instead, they are encouraged to describe why they do what they do, their passion and future vision," Wantedly founder and chief executive Akiko Naka told Channel NewsAsia. "We think this will allow companies to find the best match.”
While this may sound too idealistic, the 30-year-old entrepreneur said she has the figures to prove critics wrong.
Since starting in 2010, Wantedly - which focuses on hiring for web-based industries - has amassed over 1 million monthly active users and 15,000 clients, making it Japan’s largest business social networking service. While Ms Naka declined to reveal earnings figures, she said in a recent interview with Bloomberg news that the company made a profit over the past two years.
The start-up also counts Shogo Kawada, co-founder of Japanese Internet technology firm DeNA, and Internet advertising firm CyberAgent among its investors.
Founder Akiko Naka's profile on Wantedly. Prior to starting her own business, Ms Naka had a go at being a manga artist, which she described as "highly competitive and harder than getting (a job) at Goldman".
Describing Wantedly as the “job version of Kickstarter”, Ms Naka said she wants to “match companies with people who are excited about their jobs”.
“Kickstarter is about you having a vision or a plan, and finding like-minded people to back you up. Wantedly has the same concept. We hope companies can find talent who share the same vision and people find their dream jobs.”
To achieve that, Wantedly operates like a social network, connecting job seekers to prospective employers via a combination of social media platforms such as Facebook and its own social graph. Apart from making job applications, individual users can opt to support a company by “sharing” a recruitment ad in their social networks or clicking on the “Share to support” button which increases the number of appearances the ad will have on Wantedly.
Companies who have a better long-term vision or management will get more support, said Ms Naka who noted that a majority of applicants are drawn to job vacancies on the platform through social media shares.
For job seekers, Wantedly also allows them to gain insight on a company via mutual friends, and lets interested applicants drop by for casual office visits by choosing the “Want to visit” option.
“We want to make it casual and even for users who are not looking for a job, you can use Wantedly to network with future employers,” said the founder, who does not think that the omission of wage benefits will put off job seekers. “From our feedback, people hired through Wantedly tend to stay longer at their positions because it’s what they want.”
An example of a job posting on Wantedly.
A scroll through Wantedly’s website shows mostly job positions at start-ups, but according to Ms Naka, the company has since attracted Japanese major corporations, including Sony, advertising and public relations firm Dentsu, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and brewer Suntory.
“At the beginning when we went to these big corporations, they wouldn’t listen to us but things have changed in the last one year or so. These large corporations are starting to feel the need to hire their own engineers, designers or people with digital marketing background as technology becomes increasingly disruptive in every business sector,” she said. “And we are the only one in Japan which focuses on this pool of talents.”
When asked how her start-up compares to social networking site LinkedIn, Ms Naka said Wantedly does not want to compete with its well-established rival and is seeking to establish its niche based on American author Daniel Pink’s concept of “Motivation 3.0”.
“‘Motivation 1.0’ is when you work out of fear, much like slaves, and ‘Motivation 2.0’ is working for external incentives like money. But ‘Motivation 3.0’ is about seeking growth, ownership and meaning in what you are doing, which is what the millennial generation is after. That’s what we are focused on,” Ms Naka said.
“I think LinkedIn is still very much ‘Motivation 2.0’ and we want to position ourselves as a platform for ‘Motivation 3.0’.”
This theory also explains Ms Naka’s switch from investment banking to entrepreneurship. A former trader at Goldman Sachs selling equities to institutional investors, Ms Naka made the jump to Facebook Japan in early-2010 before being inspired to begin her own start-up.
“When I told my mum I was going to quit Goldman, she was shocked. For my parents’ generation, people stick out at a job for at least 5 years. I was only in Goldman for one and a half years then,” she said.
“But when I was growing up, I always thought that work should be something that you love. My parents were university professors. They don’t get paid much but they worked hard because they really enjoyed their work. I looked up to them so I believe that one should always pursue what you like to do. I want to make people think the same way too.”
Armed with coding knowledge she had mastered since young, Akiko Naka started work on a prototype in 2010 which later evolved into Wantedly.
PLANS FOR EXPANSION, GOING PUBLIC
From a one-man show in 2010, Wantedly now has 40 full-time employees and 30 part-time staff. Channel NewsAsia understands that the company generates revenue primarily by collecting monthly fees varying from US$300 to US$10,000 from companies for its services.
On the back of rapid growth, the start-up is now looking to flex its muscles overseas. Last March, Wantedly took its first step beyond Japan and into the Indonesian market, attracted by the Southeast Asian country’s huge population and growing tech-savvy middle class, low start-up costs and the amount of venture capital flowing into the local ecosystem.
“Our initial target in Indonesia is start-ups who want to hire and we noticed huge money flowing into Indonesian start-ups. Once you raise money, there are only 2 things to do. Either you promote or you make new hires, and that’s where we come in,” Ms Naka said.
Besides Indonesia, the Japanese firm has also set its sights on Vietnam which it aims to expand into by the end of this year. But for the rest of the Southeast Asia, the company is looking to take its time.
“We have a manager in Indonesia and I think that’s enough for now. He will eventually go on to build a team in each country, like Singapore, but that will take time,” the entrepreneur said. “I don’t want to be too greedy.”
While the company has yet to launch officially in Singapore, its website carries job postings by Singapore-based tech start-ups such as crowdfunding firm CoAssets and dating app LunchClick.
A Singaporean who wished to be known as R Chow said he signed up with Wantedly out of curiosity. “I spent some time in Japan for an internship last year and that’s how I got to know of Wantedly. I like how it’s tailored for the tech industry and the ‘Want to visit’ button which is something different, but for now the results page for Singapore looks limited.”
Akiko Naka attends a panel session at the "Tech in Asia Singapore 2016" earlier this month. (Photo: Tech in Asia)
Alongside continued expansion, the start-up is also eyeing for an initial public offering (IPO) in “several years’ time”, citing expectations from investors for the company to go public.
“I don’t know when that will be, but an IPO will happen,” Ms Naka said. “Every company has a growth trajectory and you have to aim at the best time to list. We are at high growth now so we need to time ourselves right.”
When it comes to where the start-up is keen on launching its IPO, the chief executive said despite the Tokyo market being at the mercy of a strengthening yen and worries about the domestic economy, a listing at home is still its top choice.
“We know markets are scary now but to quote our investors, good companies can go public no matter how chaotic the market so I am just going to focus on building the company.”
“I DON’T WANT TO PLAY THE GENDER CARD”
According to Ms Naka, females are a rare breed in Japan’s start-up world, where there are only “6 women entrepreneurs creating serious products” at the moment.
To be sure, Japan is no anomaly. Despite the rise of female tech icons such as Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, the global tech sector remains a boys' club.
While being a minority has its perks, Ms Naka who donned a casual grey shirt with navy-blue pants and sneakers during the interview, said she prefers not to “play the gender card”.
“When I was younger, I thought it was an advantage because being a minority means you tend to get more media coverage but now, I don’t want to play the gender card too much,” she told Channel NewsAsia.
“We are still young and I want to focus on building our name. I want us to be known for our product and not because I am a female. Maybe when Wantedly becomes more established, I’ll go out and champion for more women-led start-ups,” she said. “But for now, I don’t want to divert the attention.”