Japanese entrepreneur launches Myanmar’s answer to Deel

Plus Impact opened a coworking space in Yangon, Myanmar on Wednesday. The company’s engineers work here or from other locations. Founder and CEO Takada squats in the center.
Image credit: Plus Impact

In November of 2020, Singapore-based startup news media outlet e27 reported that Hi-so, a startup in Myanmar led by a Japanese entrepreneur, has secured its first round of funding. Prior to launching the startup, founder Kenta Takada worked at the Myanmar Office of Japanese trading firm Marubeni, and then learned the local language at university. Hi-So was positioned as a local answer to Uber Eats and other similar services in the country’s most populous city, Yangon.

Meanwhile, to prepare for STATION Ai, a start-up hub to be opened in Japan’s Nagoya city this coming October, an initiative called PRE-STATION Ai was launched in April of 2022, which encouraged me to start participating in sauna excursions with people involved in the initiative. Since that time, I have occasionally visited these events where I had a chance to talk with Takada.

The office and team of Hi-So, Takada’s previous business in Myanmar
Image credit: Kenta Takada

Moving back to Myanmar, a military coup happened in February of 2021, less than three months after Hi-So announced the funding. Although this was a major obstacle to the startup, Takada stayed in the country for a while to see how things would unfold. However, he eventually decided to leave the country for Japan following the advice of his investors regarding his safety.

I remember that he said in the sauna,

When the situation settles down, I would like to launch a business again in Myanmar.

After coming back to Japan, he worked as the president’s office manager of the Japanese food delivery company Menu, a mentor for 500 Global (Accelerate Aichi by 500 Global), as well as General Manager at STATION Ai. Since last year, he has been traveling back and forth between Japan and Myanmar to find a way to relaunch his business. He decided to rebrand Hi-So, the Singapore-registered company, into Plus Impact to pivot the business from food delivery to an Employer of Record (EOR) service called Plus Talent. The Myanmar operation is now in place, and his team marked and celebrated its official launch on Wednesday.

Takada first visited Myanmar in 2012.
Image credit: Kenta Takada

In the EOR vertical, the US-based Deel is famous for having become a unicorn within three years of its launch. In Japan, Naotaka Nishiyama, who used to be in charge of the Asia regional operations at Deloitte Tohmatsu Venture Support, is known for founding a startup called Tech Japan, which connects India-based IT engineers to Japanese companies.

The EOR model involves employees working for one business but legally employed by another. The EOR manages HR formalities like taxes and payroll, while day-to-day management is handled by the employer the employee works for. If the employee wishes, he or she can become an employee of the Japanese client to work in Japan.

The Plus Talent website
Image credit: Plus Impact

Plus Talent matches IT engineers in Myanmar with high technical skills with Japanese companies. Myanmar’s population is approximately 60 million, and men and women aged 20-49 together accounts for 45.5%, or roughly 27 million young workers (compared to 44 million of the same age group in Japan). Although an increasing number of Myanmar’s young people are seeking economic stability and want to go on to university, many talented IT workers in Myanmar are unable to graduate from university due to social conditions, thus missing out on opportunities to play an active role. This means Myanmar is one of the ideal markets for Japanese companies wishing to acquire such human resources.

Takada explained,

We hope to rectify this disparity in opportunities and use the Web3 technology to support developing countries. Even at their salary level (120,000 yen or about $770 US per month), Myanmar engineers are extremely talented. From the company’s side, it is cost-effective, and from the engineer’s side, the treatment is attractive enough.

What is important is to provide opportunities for talented people in Myanmar. To this end, we are looking to match not only IT engineers but also designers, office workers, and all other types of human resources. More people in Myanmar learn Japanese today, so there is not much of a language barrier. Rather, the diligent and mild-mannered nature of the people makes them a good match for Japanese companies.

The Plus Impact team in Japan. Founder and CEO Takada sits in the middle.
Image credit: Plus Impact

Their business is ethical, social, and sustainable but has great potential for growth as a human resources business from an emerging country like Myanmar. However, he has no intention of making the business follow the J-Curve growth. During the Hi-So period, the company secured funding from seven angel investors, including Kotaro Tamura, a Milken Institute Asia fellow and former member of the Japanese House of Councillors. Another angel investor, Yorihiko Kato, decided to make his second investment in Takada’s startup at this time.

Takada says,

For the time being, we will not conduct extensive advertising or sales activities but expect to focus on organic growth. We do not anticipate hasty developments.

We have ambitions to win the Nobel Peace Prize. This may sound like a funny story, but we are not joking. More than 300 individuals and organizations are nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize each year, so if we can get on that list, we should be able to get noticed.

First, we need to spend a few years to make more people understand our mission, and then we can ask Nobel Peace Prize laureates and university professors in Sweden to nominate us. If we do this, we should ultimately be nominated. At first glance, this may seem unconventional. But I believe that any small thing that can lead to a reduction in the opportunity gap is worthwhile.

Plus Impact’s coworking space in Yangon, Myanmar
Image credit: Plus Impact

Some of our readers may recall that the so-called “Arab Spring” famously triggered a startup boom in the Middle East region. No matter where you live, you have to survive, so services capturing people’s daily needs often manifest themselves in the form of startups in regions with unstable political and economic conditions.

While Japan is suffering from the shortage of workforce, we cannot help relying much on overseas human resources. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Takada’s startup, which has found a new frontier in the human resources market in the country of a thousand pagodas.