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Eric Turner & Manami (Japan Dev)

March 29, 2023

Eric Turner, Founder of Japan Dev K.K., which operates Japan Dev, a platform for IT professionals to find companies and development teams that match their values, and his wife, Manami, a designer, talked extensively about their path to starting a business and their expectations for Japan's startup scene and support.

Please introduce yourself first.

Eric :
My name is Eric. I was born and raised in the U.S. After graduating university in the U.S., I had an opportunity to work in Japan as an English teacher (also called an “ALT”). I took advantage of it to obtain a visa to come to Japan. 
I had planned to become an engineer since I studied computer science in university, but I wanted to venture out while I was young. So, I first studied Japanese while working as an English teacher in Toyama Prefecture for a year. After that, I moved to Tokyo and started job hunting to work as a full-time engineer, which was my original goal. It was quite a struggle, but I got a job at a Japanese start-up company and started my long-desired career as an engineer.
Since then, I have changed jobs several times and experienced many Japanese companies such as Mercari, Recruit, Gunosy, etc. Eventually, I decided to establish my own company called "Japan Dev." 
There are many IT companies in Japan, but it was difficult to find a company with a culture that matched my own as a foreigner. I had a hard time in job hunting, but I ended up finding a very nice company to work for and really enjoyed my life in Japan. I wanted to share this experience with engineers from abroad, so I started a job board, Japan Dev, as a side project while working as a full-time engineering manager at my company. The job board grew, and now it has become a corporation and I am working on the project full-time.

 What kind of work did you do before you started Japan Dev, Manami? 

I was working as an accountant for a shipping company after I graduated from university, but I wanted to do something a little more creative. I had experience studying abroad when I was in university. And I was wondering if I could make a career out of teaching Japanese or introducing foreign cultures. So, I was involved in various activities after work, such as planning events for foreigners, including Japanese cooking classes. It was during this period when I became friends with Eric. 
While I was exploring, Eric had various service ideas and consulted with me. And as we began to exchange side project ideas, I decided I wanted to become a designer. I changed my career to become a UX/UI designer at an IT consulting company, and later gained experience as a product designer at a startup company. After Eric and I got married, we decided to launch a project called "Japan Dev," an idea we’d been thinking about together for a long time.

Eric, why did you choose to start a business in Japan?

Eric :
The reason I came to Japan was that when I was struggling with my path after university, I wanted to have a little more adventure before I settled into a “lifetime career." and I wanted to experience a different culture in another country. I was intrigued by the Japanese language, its rich culture and history, and the kanji characters. 
At first, I planned to stay only a year or two, but by the end of my first year, I decided I wanted to stay a little longer and go to Tokyo to gain work experience. After that, I settled in Japan, made more friends, got married, and chose to put down roots in Japan. 
The IT industry in Japan is still small compared to Silicon Valley, but I felt that it had great potential to grow, and I was fascinated by it. Also, Japan is a safe and comfortable country to live in, and I believe it could become an even more attractive place than Silicon Valley if the number of modern IT companies increases.

How do you actually feel working in Japan as a foreigner?

Eric :
Japanese companies have a strong history in the hardware field and are considered the world leaders in the production of automobiles, home appliances, etc. On the other hand, there is a perception that Japanese companies lag behind their American counterparts in the field of software. 
There are many companies that develop IT systems as subcontractors, or focus on hardware and have a limited understanding of software. It is difficult to improve one's skills in such companies, and frankly speaking, I don't think it’s a good fit for those who want to hone their skills to a global standard and build a career. On the other hand, there are modern companies like Mercari, Ubie, and Woven Planet that are active in the software field. I believe that by joining such companies, one can learn world-class tech skills and earn competitive compensation while working in a great environment.
The number of unicorns in Japan has been increasing, starting with Mercari, but I don't think there are any decacorns (huge unlisted companies with a valuation of over $10 billion) yet. Compared to the U.S. and China, I have the impression that there are still few large-scale IT companies. However, in recent years, startups are being born one after another, the amount of investment in startups is increasing, and the startup ecosystem is growing rapidly. So the possibility of a decacorn company appearing in Japan is increasing. If even one decacorn is born, I believe there is an opportunity to accelerate the growth of the IT industry in Japan.

Manami, what do you feel about this issue along with Eric?

Manami :
 I‘ve heard that Japanese startups still tend to be small in terms of global presence. But on the contrary, I believe there is still room for growth. Also, Japan has more pressing issues of aging population than other countries. But there are an increasing number of startups that are solving social issues, and I am positive that they have opportunities to become world leading companies in this field. However, compared to places like Silicon Valley, there is still not much diversity within companies. So, if more foreigners can play an active role, it will make it easier for innovation to take place. I feel that more and more companies, especially start-ups, are creating global development teams little by little, so I have high expectations for the future.

How do you feel about the support needed for the startup scene in Japan?

Eric :
I think it is still difficult to get a visa. If you look at Europe, there are nomad visas and entrepreneur visas that make it easy to create a company if you have a good idea. In Japan, however, there are not many visas for entrepreneurs that are easy to obtain.
I think Japan needs to have more easily obtainable visas for new business start-ups. I believe that there are many entrepreneurs who want to come to Japan, but there are too many conditions to meet, such as the need for a "Management/Administration" visa status, the requirement to put 5 million yen in a Japanese bank account to qualify, and the need to have a Japanese executive. If these conditions are relaxed, starting a business will be easier.
Also, my American friends think that Japan is safe and easy to live in and enjoy the culture and experiences, but I hear that there are still concerns about the working environment. Our site "Japan Dev" provides thoroughly curated information about only modern IT companies that are easy to work for, so that foreign engineers can think positively about working in Japan.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business in Japan?

If you don't speak Japanese, it would be good to have someone as your co-founder.

Manami, what do you think?

Manami :
From our own experience, if you want to do it the way you want and at your own pace, bootstrapping is the way to go.
Start with a side business first. It is very easy to become a sole proprietor, and there are even tax accountants who will do it in English if you look for them. You can start out as a sole proprietor and think about turning it into a corporation after researching the market that fit your business, etc.


I would recommend starting as a sole proprietor, but there is also the visa issue.
If you have a visa, a sole proprietorship is fine. But if not, I would suggest working for a company or keeping a side business.
I hope they’ll change the restrictions to make it easier for people to get a visa as a sole proprietor.

Manami :
If you look at the people who start their companies worldwide, a lot of ideas that grow come from the people who started casually at first, so I think it would be good if anyone could try it casually.

What is the secret to running a company as a married couple?

We think of it as a marathon, and since it is something that will take a long time, we try not to burn out. For example, our schedules are exactly the same, so we try to make the most of it and regularly schedule vacations and other activities together to refresh ourselves.

Lastly, what are some of Eric's favorite foods and hobbies?

Now that I have lived in Japan for 10 years, I eat everything. But in the beginning I ate only Japanese food. I had sushi every week for the first year, as I lived in Toyama prefecture.


Manami :
I heard that he spent all his salary on sushi (laugh). He is very knowledgeable and still teaches me a lot of things. He would order things like "Nodoguro no Aburi" (seared seabass)!
When we met, I was cooking Japanese food for us. He used to tell me how delicious my oyakodon (chicken-and-egg rice bowl) was. But as soon as we got married, he started asking other food like hamburgers (laugh).
But now it's a mix.

After 10 years, I've come to eat a variety of foods. As for hobbies, I recently bought an espresso machine and make my own espresso.


Manami :
He bought a very expensive one (laugh).


I imported a big machine from Europe. Now I buy and grind my own beans and enjoy it. I have a newfound respect for people who work in cafes!

Japan Dev:

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