INTERVIEW / 06
Dave Landa (Joined kintone Corporation in 2014)
kintone Corporation CEO
Founded kintone Corporation with Osamu Yamada (currently kintone President) and played a big role in expanding kintone in the U.S.. Before kintone, he worked as a fund raiser/project manager in PHIT America, a non-profit organization which supports health and fitness programs provided by more than 100 parties. Also he worked for Electric Run, launched and designed business strategies of Asia-pacific business. He also planned events to build partnership with Asia countries. At present Dave is kintone Corporation CEO who takes the full-length leadership of kintone Corporation, a subsidiary of Cybozu.
On the Way——Driving Kintone to Connect the Diverse World
We at Cybozu have been getting known more and more each year in Japan, but our aim is to be the World's No.1. A few years ago in the U.S. we started selling the kintone product, which can adapt to any culture wherein it is used. Dave, who is CEO of the Cybozu subsidiary kintone Corporation, which was virtually unknown in the US, explains to us the bumpy but successful road to acceptance in the US market, current difficulties and struggles, what the company aims for in the future, and how they cooperate with Cybozu Japan. Also, Nicole who joined kintone Corporation in 2015 tells us about her work style and career view from the standpoint of her American background.
Meeting Cybozu, a unique and quirky Japanese company
Nakae: Could you please explain how you entered Cybozu, Dave?
Mr. Dave Landa (CEO, kintone inc.): kintone Corporation is a subsidiary company of Cybozu Inc., based in San Francisco. I joined a little over３years ago when kintone just came to the U.S. Mr. Osamu Yamada, now the head of Cybozu global business, reached out to me knowing I had been working in software since 2004 and had vast experience working in and with Asia-Pacific business. I tried out the kintone product and instantly fell in love with it. Subsequently, I learned that Cybozu is an amazing, progressive, and interesting company, so I wanted to be a part of an effort to expand kintone business to the U.S. My decision was very quick. Two months after Osamu's initial contact, I started working with him as kintone's new COO.
Nakae: What made your decision making so quick?
Dave: First, the product. I'm not really a coder, but after talking with Osamu and trying out kintone, I knew within a half an hour that kintone was a very cool platform. The application I built was live, powerful and a solution that could execute my ideas.
Nakae: Back then kintone was practically an unknown product in the U.S. Weren't there any worries?
Dave: The kintone product is very much built with the globalization mindset of Cybozu. It's designed to empower different people in different countries to create the solutions that meet their particular design and UX expectations. Its functionality is very clear and intuitive. It didn't strike me as a Japanese exclusive software. I was sure that it could become a solution that serves the U.S. market—it was ready to go.
Nakae: You mentioned you liked Cybozu culture, too.
Dave: Yes, I thought it was phenomenal and inspiring. When I first visited Cybozu in Japan for the Cybozu Conference event, I could see and feel the culture was exuberant and very diverse in nature. It was pretty amazing in terms of the gender scenario, too. Most technology companies are very male dominated, but not Cybozu. Obviously the products are loved by many people in Japan, and Cybozu's company culture is gathering people's support, too, which is very impressive.
Nakae: Now you are CEO and are leading the U.S. business.
Dave: I worked as COO for 2 years and was really focused on the business in terms of sales and marketing, figuring out the systems and operations to create the organization which can really succeed in the U.S. At the beginning of 2017, we started the transition. Osamu expanded his responsibility to cover not only the U.S. but Australia, China, Taiwan, Vietnam. He now serves as president of the U.S. subsidiary.
Nakae: And you, Nicole, how did you enter Cybozu? I heard that you used to work in media.
Nicole Jones（Joined kintone Corporation in 2015)
University of California, Berkeley
Senior Sales Manager
Formerly worked for CBS San Francisco, she joined kintone Corporation in 2015. Using her experience in journalism she plays an active role in overall marketing, handling corporate communication ranged broadly from planning web ads to writing case study articles on her own.
Ms. Nicole Jones (Senior Sales Manager, kintone inc.): I've been at kintone corporation for 2 years and loving it. Before kintone corporation I worked as a journalist at CBS in San Francisco. I was a digital producer writing website content, mostly breaking news. It was my dream job working in media but overall, with all the crazy running around and tight deadlines, it turned to be an unhealthy and stressful work-life balance. Having majored in journalism and communications, I wanted to see where else I could use my skills. I found a kintone content marketing posting on LinkedIn, and at that time I thought, "What's kintone?" I started learning about its quirky and progressive history and understood it to be a tech company that aspires to 'add' something to the world. That's what I was looking for in my next career opportunity. After speaking to Dave on the phone, the role felt very aligned with my goals, so joined Cybozu.
Nakae: Do you think you can use your journalist skills fully in your current job in a Japanese enterprise?
Nicole: Yes, I transferred my journalism skills to marketing very well. Plus, I think I hit the jackpot—I'm able to tie meaning directly into what I do. This is my first Japanese company I've worked for and it's still in acceleration mode. Given the frequent comings and goings of new start-ups in Silicon Valley, people asked me if I worried what the future looks like and if it's a stable company. But considering Cybozu has been around for 20 years and developed a successful and well-known brand, I feel confident with kintone's goals in the U.S.
How kintone began sailing and expanding in the U.S.
Nakae: Which companies use kintone now? And could you tell us their reaction too?
Dave: It's a broad base, from the big US space agency, to very small mom-and-pop companies. kintone is an interesting platform that allows people to solve many problems in their business. There are a lot of different problems in different organizations and industries.
Customers' initial reaction usually is 'this is amazing!' They instantly see the value of the product when they use it, just as I did when I first tried kintone. It can solve process problems, create better teamwork, provide transparency to get the full view of your information very quickly, and generate reports and analytics easily. All and all, it's a super powerful tool that's quite cost effective. kintone is at the forefront of the 'no code solution revolution.' It's a concept of being able to build a sophisticated application without coding. The more people and companies are exposed to it, the more this idea gets accepted. A top IT research firm report recently shows a really significant growth in this industry segment. It definitely is gaining awareness.
Nakae: How can you compete with other technology giants?
Dave: There already are companies coming at this no-code/low-code idea from different perspectives. Many of them have been around for a long time and have been offering traditional solutions, so to speak, to help developers or those professional coders create applications. kintone comes from a more business user standpoint where anyone can build an application by themselves.
Nakae: Who are your competitors?
Dave: Salesforce. They're a giant. Other competitors are QuickBase, which was a part of a large company Intuit, and PODIO, still a part of Citrix. They have different priorities compared to us. We are small and quick, and can focus solely on the market. That's our advantage.
Nakae: Open API platform like kintone is a new tide in the market?
Dave: Open API enables building additional features such as extensions and customization by users. Coders can get involved in the kintone eco-system and be a part of it. We charge the clients a monthly subscription fee.
Nakae: How do you connect with Japan sales and marketing team?
Dave: We drink our own Kool-Aid meaning we use kintone everyday, all day in the U.S. not only for domestic communication within the U.S. teammates but also for interaction with Japan side. By and large it's a whole series of communication on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Time lag between Tokyo and San Francisco is a half day, if it's daytime here, it's night time there. Having a persistent digital interaction helps us work better together as a team.
Nakae: For further expansion of U.S. business, what do you request from Japanese team?
Dave: We are constantly reaching out to Cybozu's developer and customization teams for support in sales process, knowledge and resources. Japan has a much bigger client base and wealth of experience resolving customer issues from the product's standpoint, so we are always asking for more information and solutions.
Nakae: How about the marketing team?
Nicole: The Japan marketing team is fantastic and constantly evolving. We've learned a lot from them, especially how to bring more messages around our company culture to the U.S. While we're still not well known in the U.S., kintone has a lot of unique perspectives worth sharing, but we have to find the balance between branding and product marketing. We need to make sure our U.S. customers have continually updated resources and training materials to get the most out of kintone product.
Nakae: Any challenges kintone faces to sell?
Dave: The U.S. is the most competitive software market in the world, so that is a huge challenge. kintone product has a great reputation in Japan, but basically it's unknown in the U.S. We need to invest in brand awareness, so we put out radio advertisements, bus advertisements, and have participated in well-known IT conferences in addition to hosting our own kintone conference last week in San Francisco.
Nakae: How many people out of 10 know kintone product in San Francisco?
Dave: Maybe 2, or 1 in 10?
Nicole: It's a huge stride. Compared to brand awareness a year ago, we've tripled website visits access and as Dave mentioned, started bus and radio ads.
Work-Life Balance in Bay Area
Nakae: What led you to change jobs?
Dave: I was really ready to come back to Bay Area. In my previous job I spent half a year overseas. I missed my wife and children. Taking this representative role I have to come to Japan for a couple of times a year but I enjoy traveling. The mindset of work-life balance that Aono-san (Cybozu CEO) proposes is something I appreciate.
Nicole: In a lot of large media companies, employees have tight deadlines and unhealthy working environments. I finished journalism school and was very much into this career path, but then realized it's not quite what I thought it'd be and had a bit of an identity crisis. With my role at kintone Corporation, I'm more creative and see the impact I make on a daily basis. I'm also a generalist so I love working on a lot of different marketing projects like media strategy, ads, public relations, events, and so on.
Nakae: Could you tell us about your work style?
Dave: We have currently 2 work places in San Francisco, but we have a very flexible work style, like working today from home one day, in the city the next, etc. It does not matter where you work, as long as it's most convenient, most efficient and most productive.
Nicole: It's not an adult day care. No one watches you from over your shoulder.
Dave: Yes, our team is engaged, communicative and open. It's about getting things done, so you don't have to stay in the office till late.
Nicole: My passion outside work is gardening. I really value having a flexible schedule to allow me to volunteer at a community garden on a regular basis.
Does job-hopping make sense in this day and age?
Nakae: In the U.S. it's common to job-hop to get a new career. What do you think about job-hoppers?
Dave: I don't have anything against them, it makes perfect sense. They are improving their skill, career, maybe income. It's a way to constantly evolve. Job-hopping is a reality in the U.S., especially in Bay Area. They want to be exposed to different people and different skills. It's easy to find a new job in Bay Area.
Nicole: Well, I see it in a different way. It's an annoying quality of my generation. I think we are too cushioned and give up too easy and don't stick around enough when the going gets hard.
Dave: Motivations of job-hopping vary. If a person is trying to get out even though it's not a bad situation, he might have seen something he doesn't agree with in the structures or leadership. Then moving to a new company makes perfect sense than being stuck in the situation unhappy. A leader in a company should certainly try to maintain consistency as much as possible. People learn over time and generate knowledge and that knowledge supports employees. Leadership in Bay Area need to accept the reality of potentially losing people and so need to try to see things from the employee / stakeholders perspective and try to provide growth and learning in the their roles and try to align their career paths with the company's needs so that they don't need to leave the company for growth. It makes for a very engaged and intellectual way of leadership. I need to figure out the way in which every teammate can learn, improve, and also bring meaning and value to the company. That's a big part of management and leadership.
Nakae: Cybozu is now well known for offering employee-friendly supports and policies, but it used to suffer from 28% high rate of turnover. Is 28% high in the U.S.?
Dave: It's pretty high even in the U.S. too. I can see it must have been a very difficult time for Cybozu.
Nakae: That experience led to the principle of being fair, open and independent. Does the principle work in the U.S. too?
Nicole: Yes. People value transparency. People should be allowed to ask 'why.' It creates safe spaces for people without being embarrassed or feeling wrong. It makes jobs better and builds trust, and brings best intentions forward.
Nakae: Cybozu has a relatively unique policy for a Japanese company. Did it have any impact on the way you view the Japanese culture?
Dave: It was refreshing to me. I worked broadly in Asia, mostly in China region, they have extremely top-down leadership structures. But Cybozu was not like that. For example, everyone knows other division's budget without guessing. Transparency is something that every company should strive for. And Cybozu culture definitely changed my view of Japanese company and culture. At Cybozu Days I heard Aono-san's speech about LGBT. Can any other company leader do that? In Bay Area we are pretty liberal and progressive, but that speech was mind-blowing for us. It was incredible at a corporate conference for a company leader to make such a speech which is very inspirational.
Nakae: What quality do you expect for people to come and join kintone Corporation?
Dave: Smart, open-minded, progressive, self-motivated, creative, has a whole teamwork aspect, able to share, able to collaborate, has a generous spirit, and…
Nicole: Curious problem solver. Curiosity is a very important quality.
Dave: Yes, curiosity and desire to learn and experience. In the U.S., kintone is sort of a huge canvas to work with. It's true here at Cybozu, too. People can try new things in different ways.
Nicole: And be a self-starter, and entrepreneur within the company.
Dave: We are hiring and hiring. U.S. kintone Corporation has now 30 people, it's a big team. We have come far from where we started. As a part of Cybozu, we share the same mission to make teamwork better globally. As U.S. kintone is in the biggest market, we have very ambitious plans. It's an exciting time to make kintone product really expand globally.
Nakae: Listening to kintone's adventurous journey makes me feel excited too. I truly look forward to your success.
＊Content as at the date of the interview.