Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Multilingual communication system developer
Today we tell you a story of a man who aims at building a prosperous and happy world for where people exchange various kinds of languages.
Suguru Sakanishi, who developed “WorldJumper Localizer“, a system that makes them multilingual automatically by adding a little something to your website. Much cheaper than translation agencies, much more precise than automated translation and your website will be translated into English, Japanese, Korean and Chinese (Traditional/Simplified) within a short time.
I learned this breathtaking service at the session of “GTIC (Global Techno Innovation Cafe)”, a presentation and exchange event for entrepreneurs, in June 2012. I got really interested in it and questioned him in front of a group of people even though I’m shy around strangers. Then I exchanged business cards with him at the exchange and heard that he used to lead a racially-mixed team and did business with them in dog-eat-dog New York City. I asked him for an interview on site.
A month later I heard his stories with staff who are Swedish and Japanese (born and raised in the US) at his office in Shibuya. It was an exciting moment because we usually cannot experience such a multicultural working environment at offices in Japan.
This is the story of a young Japanese entrepreneur’s successful struggle to develop the instrument of magic which makes multilingual communication possible in a moment. If you’re starting business overseas or with people who have many different backgrounds, read this!
Sticking to “multilingual communication”
We launched the “WorldJumper Localizer” around the end of April 2012. Until then, we used to offer different services.
There is a similarity among the services that we developed so far. That’s “multi-lingual communication”. Because we focused attention on the online population in the world. English speakers are minority, only 15% of the world online population. Research said that non-English online population will be much larger than the English one.
However there are many obstacles for non-English speakers when they want to interact with other non-English speakers. That’s why we focused on developing multi-lingual services.
Animation goods to the world
Our company was created in 2009, but I had already developed a multi-lingual online forum before that. It had an automatic 10-language translation function and featured the travel. I started it with my former co-worker in 2008. That’s the origin of our current service.
We applied for a big business plan competition and won the first prize. As a result, we drew investments from several investors in 2010.
At that time, we tried to attract fans of Japanese anime around the world. Then we sold anime goods to them at an online shop called “WorldJumper Store“. It was totally a consumer direct business model, but its sales were not good enough.
Shifting the target
In summer 2011, we received a request from a Japanese cosmetic company called Rice Force on referral from my investors. They were thinking about using our system for their online marketing because they had been struggling with selling their products to overseas.
There were actually a few people who could speak English in the company. But they wanted to sell their products to the non-English speaking countries such as Thailand and Indonesia.
In response to this, we developed the Facebook application of the WorldJumper in September 2011, which enabled Japanese companies to communicate with customers or users around the world.
It means we switched our target from global market to domestic market. Also we changed our target from consumers to business entities. We decided to offer a solution for breaking down the language barriers to Japanese companies.
WorldJumper Localizer completed
But many people said that the Facebook app was untimely yet and we would have to look for another possibility to generate income. Also the market of Facebook apps was still smaller than the market of the internet website. Because not all companies had Facebook pages. On the other hand, it’s difficult to find a company which doesn’t have a website.
One day an Indian guy, whom I interacted with by chance, told me the idea – developing the website localizing system by using our service. I flew to India during the winter break in 2011. He flowcharted how our system would work for his idea, “Localizing the website by using our system”. He claimed that we should go into the market of the industry because it would grow in the future. Also he said that there were not so many competitors at that time.
I understood what he meant. Also my coworker happened to have the same idea of his and persuaded me to create that. So we started to develop the “website localizing system”, which enables your website to be shown currently in four different languages (English/Japanese/Korean/Traditional & Simplified Chinese). We shifted our business model again.
I met many professors specializing in the natural language processing because website localizing needs that kind of knowledge. Also we are working with some cloud translation services such as “Gengo” and “Yaqs“. Companies who pay for whole process of multi-lingual translation. If you use our service, your company website will be translated into several language very easily, quickly and correctly.
Reason for organizing a multi-cultural team in NY
Our team is multi-cultural. One guy is from Sweden who used to study Japanese here in Tokyo. Another is Japanese but he was born and raised in the US. And an Indian guy who set me on the current path is working with us on the contract base. It’s like when I was in New York.
I used to own my own company there and worked with people such as Jews, Muslims and Japanese Americans. Actually New York itself is multi-cultural, but that’s not the main reason for it.
My clients were originally Japanese companies in NY. I was selling the web development service there. But the market was really small. If a big company took control, I wouldn’t be able to survive.
I had to shift the market from a Japanese one to the American mainstream, but I couldn’t speak English well enough to cultivate customers in the mainstream market. That’s why I hired a local Jewish guy at first. He could speak some Japanese. I repeat that I organized a multi-cultural team in order to survive in the Big Apple, not because I had a big vision in mind.
Hard to choose the work that suits you
You may say “How did you start business in NY even though it would be difficult to do that even in Japan?” But I didn’t think about it seriously. My Japanese friends had already started their businesses there and I thought “I will be able to do better!”.
Originally I learned accounting at a college in Los Angeles and got a job at the company in NY. It’s an LA-based sake wholesale company, but I was asked to move to NY.
I quit the company right after I transferred to NY branch office. The job was very exciting, but I had to decide whether I would continue to work there or quit. At that time, I was looking for a job opportunity by using OPT, Optional Practical Training. It means I didn’t “enter” the company so I had a choice. Then I thought, “This is not my job”. To me, IT or online-related jobs were more suitable because I had an experience of intern at an IT company when I was an LA college student.
Finally I found a company to work in NY. It’s called “info-fresh.com“, which is a NY portal website for Japanese residents. I worked there for nine months, but I quit. The job was exciting, but I got interested in starting my own business.
Struggling New York days
One night when I was drunk, I found many advertisements by chance. Every single ad said, “You can start your business at $399!”. I received a business starter kit three months after I saw the ads. The leaflet of the kit said I would have to pay taxes however I would start a business or not. So I thought it would be better to start business.
I met some immigrant lawyers, but nobody said that I would be able to sponsor my H1-B visa by starting a business in the US. But fortunately, only one lawyer said it would be possible. She said, “If your document is rejected by the authorities, I will fight against them”. As she told me, I obtained an H1-B visa again as she told me I would. My company sponsored myself – that was possible!
But I didn’t feel like, “Now I own my business in New York!”. Not at all because I had to survive. My assignment was to develop websites for Japanese companies in NY, but sales were not good. I managed the company for four years and I came back home at age 28. I got tired of living in New York.
Experience of many language barriers became a business
I was born and raised in Fukuoka, the southern part of Japan, and moved up to Tokyo when I entered university. Then I went to a college in California, joined a company and started business in New York. I’ve lived such a wandering life so far.
Every time I moved to a new place, I had a difficult time getting used to its environment, language, way of thinking and lifestyle. It took a long time to switch from my dialect to standard Japanese in Tokyo. I didn’t buy even a hamburger at McDonald’s in Los Angeles because I couldn’t speak English.
On the other hand, I enjoyed communications with my new found people who have many different background. Even though I spoke broken English to them, they understood and shared a laugh with me. That was really exciting.
The reason we’ve developed the WorldJumper products or services that consistently aimed at the multilingual communication by trial and error is because I had such experiences. We’ll increase the number of translatable languages, also enhance functions of WorldJumper Localizer to enable them to translate inquiry mails to companies so that you can enjoy communication with people around the world more.
What do you want to realize through your service?
We would like to make multilingual global communication fun!