Online customer support platform Zendesk has officially established a presence here in Japan, celebrating the launch of its KK in Tokyo yesterday evening. I had a chance to catch up with the company’s CEO Mikkel Svane the day before the event, and asked him a little about how Zendesk plans to approach the Japanese market.
So far the company has about 100 customers here in Japan (having made its services available in Japanese last year) out of a total of 3,000 in the Asia Pacific. The majority of customers in the region are from Australia and New Zealand, because the company’s initial traction has been in English speaking markets, but recently opportunities are presenting themselves in other countries too, as Mikkel explains:
There are [new] markets that we see recently with some traction, and Japan is one of these. It’s a big, homogenous, scalable market. We have been fortunate to work with some early partners with whom we have a mutual respect. […] I think it’s important to bridge the cultures and that’s very much in the DNA of Zendesk — we have a crazy mix of nationalities. We will be patient, we have a lot to learn — but we are committed long term.
He admits that for the Zendesk team coming to Japan, there’s certainly more than a little mystery surrounding the market here. Like many Western companies aspiring to get into Asia markets, finding the right local staff and local partners will be key:
I think we’ll rely a lot on the people that we hire to see what version of the Zendesk product and culture will work here. We will work with early adopter companies and gain a foothold there, and that is how we plan to embrace the Japanese market. I feel very confident about that.
Educating and informing
As many of you may know, Zendesk made headlines in late February when a hacker broke into its system and downloaded email addresses. And while the company was pretty transparent about what transpired, I was curious whether or not this affected their pursuit of new customers, especially here in Japan. Mikkel explains that for customers who are in the buying process, there are some who would like to know more about what happened, and some existing customers have questions as well. They have been explaining how that vulnerability was exploited, and relating the measures that they are taking to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I’m told that Zendesk signed a big client just last week, certainly a good sign that companies still have faith in them.
In order to help further educate potential customers about their services, Zendesk has been holding the same sort of ‘bootcamps’ which it has held in other regions. Here in Japan, their first bootcamps were conducted with translators, but the most recent one in February was conducted entirely in Japanese in cooperation with a local partner.
Interestingly, Mikkel and his team observe that working with smaller businesses here in Japan is pretty much the same as working with small businesses elsewhere. The company has worked with startup incubators around Asia, and they hope to do the same in Japan as well. They already work with Open Network Lab, and I expect there will be more to come later as well.