Japan finds a new way to work: In conversation with Crowdworks’ Koichiro Yoshida



See the original article in Japanese

Tokyo-based Crowdworks, the startup behind the crowdsourcing platform of the same name, announced on December 2nd that it has allocated new shares to a third party, raising 1.1 billion yen in total. The company also announced that it will start a partnership with CyberAgent and Digital Garage.

Crowdworks previously allocated shares to third parties in December of 2011 and in October of 2012, raising 300 million yen from Itochu Technology Ventutes, DG Incubation, and Suneight Investment. The startup’s total number of corporate clients reached 18,000 in December of 2013, and the total budget for ordered work on the platform has surpassed 5 billion yen. More than 80,000 users have already registered on the service.

In total, the young startup has raised more than 1.4 billion yen within just a year and a half. But will it really change how we do work? Or is this just the result of a bubble? We interviewed Crowdworks’ CEO Koichiro Yoshida, who told more about the potential of the new working style they propose, as well as what’s happening inside the growing startup.

In this first part of our interview, he talked discussed fundraising:

The Bridge: 1.1 billion yen is really a lot of money. But the business model is quite different from a game developer that requires many engineers or a coupon model that requires big marketing resources. To what end did you raise so much money?

Yoshida: First of all, in Japan, crowdsourcing is not really common to order work from individual workers yet. It’s going to take some time. When other competitors try to get into the market, we need to expand our share in this field. We also need to add talent and step up our marketing as well.

The Bridge: I see. Have you set any metrics to measure your success?

Yoshida: At first we were looking at the amount of work ordered. But recently we look more at the matching rate with the goal of increasing user satisfaction. […] Recruit is the biggest human resources company of the 21st century in Japan, and it has access to most Japanese workers’ resumes. We are sort of an online version of Recruit. We’d like to build a database of workers.

The Bridge: What will the future be like if you succeed in building such a database?

Yoshida: We will be able to create a matrix. While a worker gets paid 20,000 yen for some spreadsheet-related work, another worker might get paid 100,000 yen for some spreadsheet work. Then we discover that the difference lies in whether the worker can create a macros or not. With this kind of data, we can come up with a new service offering learning opportunities for workers. We can have an overview of workers’ skills, and that will help companies find the right workers with the required skill set.

Individual human resources will be accumulated on the platform. Each worker’s skillset will be open for viewing, and advanced matching between workers and work will be possible. If there is any specific skills lacking, learning opportunities can pick up the slack. The idea of optimizing human resources through technology is very attractive, but it also requires capital.


The Bridge: I see. With an expanding database of workers and understanding the state of domestic human resources, the company can gain value as a public service. Then crowdsourcing will require systems such as process control for each work order. Will you assign more developer resources to build those systems?

Yoshida: We are planning to develop a process control system. At the same time, we will explore the possibilities of partnering with other developers by making our API open. Our tie-up with KDDI Web Communications that we announced recently is an example of this. From the beginning, we aim to develop our service through a kind of open source model.

The Bridge: How large are you planning to expand the company?

Yoshida: Currently we have 20 to 30 members, and that includes part-time workers. We plan to make it 50. At the same time, we will choose talent carefully. We hire a new member only when all of 4 board members agree. I heard a lot of stories from experienced entrepreneurs who have lowered the standard of hiring when the companies were in the growth stage, and they later had a problem improving the team. So I’m trying to make this decision carefully.

Crowdsourcing is a different animal in Japan than it is in North America where the concept was born. My Canadian coworker sometimes use ODesk, where crowdsourcing seems to function as more pure C2C. Whereas In Japan, you tend to pay the platform instead, which may instill more trust among clients.

Crowdsourcing can a convenient way for companies to contact workers. On the other hand, many people still see crowdsourcing as a platform for side jobs.

In the second part of our interview, Yoshida discusses how they plan to build a culture that can help expand crowdsourcing.