Lancers CEO Yosuke Akiyoshi on obstacles facing crowdsourcing in Japan


This is part of our coverage of Infinity Ventures Summit Kyoto 2013

See the original article in Japanese

We conducted many interviews about consumer-to-consumer (C2C) businesses at the recent Infinity Ventures Summit. Today we have a conversation from that event that we had with Yosuke Akiyoshi, the CEO of Lancers, a leading startup in Japan’s crowdsourcing space.

The Bridge: Here I’ve been interviewing many people from the C2C businesses. One of the hot topics among those people lately is Crowdworks’ recent fund raising.

Akiyoshi: Looking back on the five years since we launched our crowdsourcing business, the space has really changed a lot. We target people with basic knowledge of the internet, and among those people, words such as ‘crowdsourcing’ and ‘Lancers’ became better known. It took four years for the total number of users (workers who receive orders) to reach 100,000. The number rapidly grew to 200,000 this October, and 220,000 last month. It could surpass 300,000 early next year. But some users still feel they don’t fully understand the system. So, we need to better educate them. In that sense, the 1.1 billion yen (raised by Crowdworks) means a lot in developing the industry.

The Bridge: You announced today that Lancers will have partnership with GMO Epsilon Inc.

Akiyoshi: GMO Epsilon offers payment services, and lots of work opportunities will arise due to the implementation of the service. Many of such work orders will be placed on Lancers.

The Bridge: The fast-growing aspects of crowdsourcing tend to get a lot of attention. But many services struggle to build a solid culture for C2C and B2C businesses. What kind of issues do you face?

Akiyoshi: Users are increasing, and I don’t see any problem with that. The problem lies on the side of the companies. Currently, there are a core group of companies who are accustomed to the system. But the goal is for any company to use the system. And there are issues that need to be overcome.

The Bridge: I see.

Akiyoshi: First, direction. When a company places an order, it needs to divide the work. But many companies get stuck at this point.

The Bridge: For example, for a web-design work order, work needs to be divided into coding, writing, and programming, with an order made for each. We plan to solve this issue by holding seminars for companies and dividing up the process control of the system. Also, product managers who can understand and handle the process are needed. We aim to implement more training to increase the amount of such product mangers. We need to enlighten companies.

The Bridge: When you enlighten companies, so to speak, which advantages of Lancers do you emphasize?

Akiyoshi: We tell them the overall advantages in speed, cost and resources.

The Bridge: What about users who receive orders? How do you educate them? I heard you often visit local areas.

Akiyoshi: I have already visited about 15 regions. I realized it is important to have face-to-face communication and to solve such issues. There are few jobs in local regions. Businesses in Tokyo take jobs from the local. There are few useful communities where you can find opportunities, unlike Tokyo.

The Bridge: How long do you think it will take for crowdsourcing to be accepted as a new kind of work style?

Akiyoshi: It depends on how we measure the success, although we have set a metric. Right now, there are about 200 workers who can make a living just from their Lancers work. We’d like to increase that figure to 10,000 by 2017. But it will take much longer to completely change people’s way of working.

The Bridge: It will certainly take a while. So what number or metric do you currently care about the most?

Akiyoshi: Focusing on improving the users’ experiences, we pay attention to the repeat customer rate. Of course we look at the number of the work orders and the member total at the same time.

The Bridge: Thank you for your time.

I got the impression that more workers understand the concept of crowdsourcing these days. But there are still lots of obstacles that get in the way of companies using crowdsourcing. It’s not only about speed and cost, but quality needs to be considered. And it requires more understanding from companies about how to use the system and handle the process control. That knowledge is not open enough, and it becomes an obstacle.