Business culture in Japan has a lot of peculiarities. The rules of social interaction in a business setting might puzzle people from outside of Japan because a lot of things are done differently. Yet, if there would be the only thing to focus on, it would definitely be a business card.
Business cards in Japan are a must, both during work-related meetings and in everyday life. Oftentimes people will make their first impressions and remember you by your business card. It is not rare that the card exchange ritual (meishi koukan) takes place even before parties introduce themselves aloud. These cards are also a handy way to keep track of and organize your contacts.
One may ask, why use cards when there are LinkedIn and a vast variety of messengers to record nearly everything about a person? Yes, it is true that digitalization is rapidly transforming the business card culture. But it does not necessarily mean that business cards will disappear. Especially, in Japan. Instead, they are being rapidly digitalized by a groundbreaking enterprise.
Business Cards Revolution
Sice 2007 Sansan strives to make it easier for the companies to manage their contacts through the most familiar medium – business cards. The system helps its users understand who knows whom within an organization. It can even recreate the structure of another company based on the data from numerous business cards.
It is different from LinkedIn, though, as it also allows to arrange and keep track of calls and meetings. Such an approach helps companies to build better marketing and sales strategies since all the data entered from the business cards is owned by the company rather than individual users. In this regard, Sansan is closer to HubSpot as it suggests leads and contacts to facilitate deals.
Sansan has accumulated USD 119.2 million in funding.
Initially, Sansan was a paid B2B solution with a monthly subscription fee starting at around JPY 50,000 (about UDS 450). The price varies depending on the number of people in the company. Additionally, there is an initial payment for the digitalization of the already existing pool of cards owned by the company’s employees. According to Sansan homepage, over 6000 companies are currently using the system. Some of the customers are giants like Merck & Co. and Seven & I Holdings Co.
Nevertheless, Sansan services are also available for free to individual users under the name Eight. This B2C application is integrated with the core Sansan product. To start using Eight all you need to do is to scan your business card. Later you can edit your contact and work-related details without feeding the app your updated card. This might look like LinkedIn, but Sansan’s co-founder Kei Tomioka underlines that Sansan focuses on maintaining and fostering connections rather than hunting for jobs. Chikahiro Terada, the co-founder and CEO of Sansan, states that over two million users are currently using Eight all over the world to maintain their business connections.
Up to date, Sansan has accumulated USD 119.2 million in funding. Last week, on June 19th, the company has been listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange Mother Markets under number 4443. It raised JPY 38.9 billion (nearly USD 360 million) in the IPO, so far the biggest one in Japan this year. According to Osuke Honda, who is the general partner of DCM Ventures, an early investor, Sansan is an absolute leader in the industry and has nearly 80% share of the market.
Yet, the company is not aiming to increase the share but to expand to South East Asia and other markets. The primary target is Japanese businessmen and SMEs in Singapore, followed by such markets as India, Malaysia, the Philippine, and Indonesia.