Growing up in Philadelphia, Saul Fleischman never dreamed he’d be running a global business—from Osaka, Japan. Of course, that was before all the technological advances connected the world, enabling people to run businesses from anywhere. The ability to do business in a borderless world, connected world often requires finding the right talent. The search for that talent, as critical to success as the quality of the product or services being offered, has no geographical boundaries in today’s global market. Enabled by technology, Saul opened the doors to a global business.
Here’s his story.
I visited Osaka in 1988 while doing a Semester at Sea, a study-abroad program on a ship—we studied in 12 different countries. I liked Japan and had no desire to remain in Philadelphia. And so when I graduated from Penn State in 1989, I returned to Osaka, studied the language, stayed two years and then went back to America for four years. I returned in 1995—and from then on I've called Osaka home.
One month after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011, I got an idea for a business. I needed to recruit a team and so initially looked to the local labor pool but found it missing the right mix of talent. Being far from startup meccas, such as San Francisco, London and New York City, there were fewer opportunities to meet engineers and designers with entrepreneurial leanings.
So, I had to widen my search. I didn’t start looking for people in specific countries, but went online and to local IT meetups. I got lucky and met a guy who slapped together a precursor to my business. Unfortunately for me, he promptly used that to land a great job and would have no further time for me.
Locally, the job market for programmers, for example, varies greatly. But, I continued going to IT events, and took advantage of any excuse to network with engineers. I then started networking online, using Google and LinkedIn—all to no avail. After three months of that, I interested another entrepreneur locally and he became our CTO. From there, I found luck with sites like Whitetruffle and Geeklist for recruiting.
Because we recruit on the web, applicants come to us from around the world. I’m not concerned about “pedigree degrees,” since I have found that the applicant's demonstrated interest in what we do trumps the name of the school they graduated from.
No one wants to hire too rapidly, because an early dismissal is bad for a young person's career and also leaves us in the lurch. It's bad all around. We do better now than when we first began recruiting by asking applicants to try our service and suggest something that could be done with our API. Then, when we speak with them, we can pretty much determine their interest level by how well they have done this exercise.
It took a while, but today I have a staff of 10—all employees. My experience, and that of colleagues, is that retaining employees works our better than outsourcing. We use project management and version control tools to stay in touch, including Asana, Bitbucket and SourceTree
Managing a global team comes with different requirements than one where everyone is able to meet in person. Something as basic as different time zones factors in. I found it’s important to stay connected. I talk a lot, and call people occasionally for no reason particular business reason. It’s how I build a relationship with the team, which builds a level of commitment and loyalty. We use Skype for backup, but mainly rely on Twitter and the Google family of products to stay connected: Google+ video calls, Drive for folders, files, images, documents, and Google Calendar so everyone is clear on when meetings are happening—from their own time [zones].
Dealing with customers also requires me to straddle time zones. I live in Japan, where we have few customers. I do everything I can to make myself available to speak with our customers in (my) early mornings and evenings, and those in North America and Europe tend to appreciate this. We use UserEcho for customer service, and have a “Feedback” widget on all our web pages.
In a typical day, we are asked to build features that would slow us down, for the bulk of our customers. Take language globalization, for example. Customers asked for it, and we contemplated doing it, but realized:
- Our user interface is probably not the toughest to navigate, and we keep the terminology (menus, tooltips, etc.) simple.
- If someone finds it challenging to onboard the site, they probably are not going to convert from their free trial to a paying customer.
So we didn’t pursue it. It’s important to carefully deploy your resources.
Like so many others today, our product is available to anyone, anywhere with Internet access and either a computer or an Android device. For an Internet startup, global is the default market.