Blackbox Logo

ERIKA & ALLEN (Sollective)

April 18, 2024

Erika and Allen, who run "Sollective," a platform that brings together fully vetted professional talent and companies, talk about the background of their entrepreneurship and offer advice to entrepreneurs.

Please tell us about yourself.


Hi, I'm Erika, Co-founder and CEO of Sollective. I'm Japanese but I spent most of my life in London. When I was young I couldn’t speak much English, so it was very challenging when I first moved there. But I stuck it out and graduated with an engineering degree from Imperial College London.
After graduating, I came back to Japan and joined Sumitomo Electric Industries. During university, I did a lot of research by myself, but  in a company like Sumitomo, you do all of your research as part of a team. Developing new products and moving innovation forward is the result of  everybody doing hard work together. And so I became very interested in learning how to build teams: how do you push organizations forward and create new things together?
I left Sumitomo to go to the US and do an MBA at UCLA Anderson (University of California Los Angeles, Anderson School of Management) to shift my career into the field of HR. Afterwards I stayed in the States, working at Mattel and Riot Games — as an HR business partner.
Recently Japan has been focusing on re-skilling, which will hopefully lead into an era where ‘human capital’ is more and more important, which is precisely what I focused on in the US.
Human capital management isn't just about individual employees; it’s about how to augment teams with different types of employment (full-time, freelance, contract, etc) and skill sets. And that’s what Sollective is all about.


Hi, I'm Allen. I'm the Co-founder and COO of Sollective. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I lived there until I was about 21. For university, I went to School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, so unlike most Japanese startup founders my background is actually in design rather than business management, sales, or finance.
After graduation, I worked at a digital marketing agency in San Francisco named AKQA. But I realized that wasn't quite what I wanted to do. I spent three years there but my ability to impact the product (software or hardware) that our clients created was almost zero. 

Being surrounded by startups and software companies in the Bay Area, I wanted to get hands-on into the product itself. So I shifted my career to pursue Experience Design (UX Design). I taught myself how to code and how to work with all these new tools and technology that were constantly coming out.
I moved back to New York to join a product consultancy called Siberia. I was there for three or four years. During that time, we were able to not only work for clients in New York, San Francisco and London, but companies like Nike as well, so we embedded into their Beaverton campus for about three months. 

We had a lot of very interesting clients at Siberia and our small team all had the ability to shape the development process and co-build products with our clients from the very beginning.
During the time of Brexit, Siberia wanted to expand. They moved me out to Berlin to help start the office there. We had clients like the German government, but my goal has always been to eventually come to Japan. I couldn't convince Siberia to start an office here though, so I decided to move to Japan via a marketing agency, which is where I met Erika.

How did Sollective come about?


I moved back to Japan about five years ago. I joined an agency called Geometry Ogilvy, where Allen was running the UX department. The work that the agency did was project-based, with very fast moving projects. There was a huge demand for talent: we needed a lot more resources and creativity, but because of the fact that Japan is so geared around building teams with full time employees it was a difficult challenge.
The hiring process at a domestic Japanese company can take somewhere between three to six months. By the time a new team member is on board and able to add value, it’s maybe another additional three months. If you add up all that time, it could be a year. If you’re looking for specialized or bilingual talent like the professionals on Sollective, this can take up to 18 months.
What can you do in a year? Slack, Twitter, Instagram, all of those products were all built and launched within a year. That's the massive business opportunity that Japanese companies are missing out on because they put so much emphasis on full-time, permanent employees.
When Allen and I lived in the US, we worked with many independent professionals, not just full-time employees.
We believe that there's an opportunity to help Japanese companies improve how they build teams, and give opportunities to independent professionals as well. That's how Sollective started.

What we're also trying to do is elevate the Japanese perception of freelancing, and make it easier for companies to work with freelancers. Both of us worked as freelancers here in Japan before we started our company, and we noticed that there were a lot of gaps between Japan and the US market around the perception of independent professionals Freelancing is very advanced in the States: so if you’re an independent freelancer, most people will look at you thinking you have enough professional skill to succeed in business. In Japan, it's kind of like: oh, you couldn't fit into a “real” company. It's a shame because a freelancer’s individuality and creativity can add a lot to a workplace.

Do you have any advice to foreign entrepreneurs who want to start a business in Japan?


The word “gaijin” (the word for foreigner or outsider) explains much of what you have to understand. In the US we use the word “immigrant,” the nuance being: you've come from somewhere else and you're here in America to make your mark. But in Japan, the word itself literally means outsider: here, there are only Japanese people and everyone else; that mindset is reflected in the word “gaijin”. 

As an outsider, use your uniqueness as an advantage; otherwise it will become a weakness for you. Probably in the next 10-20 years this situation may change, but for now understand that you are an outsider and you have to make it work for you.
Japanese is a context driven language, and Japan is a context driven society. As a non-Japanese founder, you need to understand how you and your business will be perceived by the rest of Japan.
If you don't understand how society operates here, then please don't start a business yet. Spend the time in the market to understand how this culture works. There's very few people that suddenly come into Japan, start a business and hope to succeed. We haven't done it yet ourselves.

Thank you for the interview!


Independent Professionals :
Companies looking to hire :

© 2022 Queue, Inc. All rights reserved.
Terms & Conditions