Interview: India-Japan Business and Translation Tool Development

21

Aug,2018

By : Kie Tsukamoto

Beyond business fields and nationality, Asian Market Entry interviews interesting entrepreneurs found in Japan and features them in our blog post. For this blog post, we interviewed Anandsagar Shiralkar, CEO/Founder of FTBC that developed an innovative translation tool called RIAN. Anandsagar is an Indian citizen who runs two companies, doing business between Japan and India. We asked about his journey, a new product, RIAN, and key points needed to succeed in the Japanese market.

What is RIAN?

Kie: I heard you have lived in Japan for 12 years and you started up your own business in 2013. Can you tell me a bit about what you do?

 Anandsagar: Yes, I founded two companies, Vizitech, which is a collaborative fintech company that supports infrastructure and blockchain services, and FTBC Communications, which is a translation technology company.

 Kie: I see, and you developed an interesting translation tool called RIAN. What is it?

Anandsagar RIAN is a file translation tool. As you know, machine translation is still not perfect; it still requires the human touch to finalize the translation. So, RIAN does not only provide the translated version based on a neural machine translation, but it also offers a unique interface to make changes to the translation easily.

You can work on our interface, and once the work is complete, you can simply press “send” to receive the translated file. Right now, RIAN is only available for Japanese, English, German, Spanish, and Chinese; and in the future, we will add more languages so that more people can take advantage of the service.

Kie: What differentiates RIAN from other online translation tools?

Anandsagar: We have extensively used many translation tools, and all of them are great. What we found, however, was that they are all primarily made for translation agencies and/or for specific translators; and that means those tools are not for all the translators.

We distinguish ourselves individually in 4 different areas:

The first one is the usability (ease of use). Our goal is to create a translation tool that is easy to use for anyone  without a manual.

The second one is pricing; we are the first company to offer TAAS model (Translation As A Service) which we charge a very minimal fee based on words that are translated by machine, as opposed to the hefty licensing fee. So our users can enjoy the tool without investing massive upfront fees.

The third one is the use of AI technology. Our tool uses AI that will help users not only get more from the innovation around would but also learn from the styles of users, which is different from any other translation tools that exist in the market. In a nutshell, we want to democratize the translation industry.

The fourth one is my team; I am very fortunate to lead an incredibly passionate bunch of people who are roaring to create a legacy. Product designer and owner is Prajakta Mulekar, who herself has worked as a translator for 18 years and tried almost all the tools in the market. Our development team seniors, B. Sathe and P. Agrawal, bring over 30+ years of experience in software R&D.

What Brought Him to Japan?

 

Kie; You are an Indian citizen, running businesses both in India and Japan, and you have lived in Japan for 12 years. What really brought you here?

Anandsagar: Originally, I came to Japan right after graduating from Mumbai University. At that time, one Japanese system integrator company visited our university, and I was called up for an interview; and it turned out that they offered a pretty exciting program; and luckily, I got selected for this program. This program was only still in the pilot phase, and I was one of the first few members to go through it. I liked the fact that they give me the language and programming training.

On top of that, I landed a job at NTT communications, one of the biggest Telecommunications companies in Japan. There, I worked as a Software/System Engineer from 2001 to 2003, and then I worked in Theta Music Technology for two years before moving to Capital Markets and started my career as a data analyst. I led the Analytics and Alternative research team at Citigroup and was primarily working with institutional investors selling Japanese equities. In 2013, I decided to go back to India and start my new ventures.

What Motivated Him to Startup?

 

Kie: After that many years in Japan, what motivated you to start your own businesses in India?

Anandsagar: It’s been 17 years since I graduated from college and now I own two companies and I am doing business in both India and Japan. When I knew that I had to go back to India I  did a lot of research in a number of areas where I could generate a meaningful synergy between my passion, experience, knowledge and etc. I came across a handful of options, but I decided to go with something similar to what I had done in the past, something I am an expert in.

That is how I created Vizitech to provide equity research related products. With this company, we created products for Bloomberg Asia and many other companies. Since then, we expanded our business from product development to fintech consulting services.

When started, things were not easy for the first few years. We were struggling to market the products we created but with the support of investors and senior leaders, we somehow managed to run the company and pivoted our business model.

Then, I created my second company called FTBC, a language services company. It actually started unintentionally. I never envisioned opening a language-services business as it was not my expertise. However, one day, a Japanese company suggested this as an opportunity for us; and we started learning about the language industry. Then, one thing led to another, I went for this opportunity; and we are now supporting over 60 clients with FTB Communications.

 Kie: So, that is how RIAN was developed?

Anandsagar: With this language service company, at first, we were doing everything manually. Nothing was automated. So, as the business started to grow, the workload got crazier. A lot of managers had to stay late, and handling projects was becoming a challenge. But, the real problem was not the workforce. The real problem was that the translation business was not consistent. When you are busy, you are super busy, but when there are no projects, there are absolutely none.

So, you really have to take as many projects as possible when they arrive. And at the same time, if translations are performed manually, it is not possible to meet customer demand. That is how I came up with RIAN. We wanted to create an innovative translation tool.

We, as translators, used so many translation tools but they were quite hard to utilize. They were somewhat technical, and translators had a hard time adopting them. It became another source of stress for them. So, three years ago, our tech team started researching various ways to automate the work and developed our in-house translation tool: something super easy to use and helpful. This is how RIAN was created—we were simply developing a tool to address our specific in-house problem.

Kie: Then what happened?

Anandsagar: Well, the turning point was when one of our biggest corporate clients approached us with the same translation issue. That was the time I decided to share this in-house tool with a third party, our client; and they enjoyed the service. That is the time I realized that I could bring this to market.

Right now, business wise, I am really focused on RIAN. We are currently working on bettering the UI and our ultimate goal is to globalize this tool, so that everyone can enjoy this innovative service.

 

Japanese Market and Market Entry Challenge

 

Kie: It must be quite a journey to job hop in Japan as a non-citizen and also create and manage a few companies between India and Japan while developing good business networks in both countries. How did you juggle this?

Anandsagar: well, with all of our services, I target Japanese corporations. In order to get into the Japanese market, it is crucial that you have good networks, though things happened kind of in a natural way for me. Two of the companies I worked for in Japan are big corporations; so, the networks I made there turned out to be one of my greatest assets,  which proved to be essential to this bilateral business.

When I started my own company, my previous colleagues helped me a lot. Because of them, the door opened quite naturally for me. Great networks and referrals are extremely crucial when doing business here, so they have been super helpful. I am truly grateful.

Kie: So, your previous colleagues became an essential part of your network and ability to do business  in Japan. What are some of the challenges you faced when starting up?

Anandsagar: During the course of business, I made a lot of mistakes; and they taught me and helped me to grow. For instance, hiring. I feel that hiring is one of the most difficult tasks to do. When I started my business, I was more intuitive when hiring people; now, I am more pragmatic. I try asking questions from various perspectives to understand their personality. But, of course it is not perfect, and never will be.

Also, back then, I had never worked in India, so it was a challenge for me to start a business in India. You cannot apply Japanese culture directly into the Indian business scene. So, those transitions are quite hard as well. You can always read great business books written based on a success in Silicon Valley, for instance. However, you can never apply their framework/principle directly in India or Japan. Every case is different and when culture is different, things get way more interesting. Reading books is good, but it is not enough.

Kie: What do you think are the difficulties of doing business here in Japan and also in India? What are the biggest obstacles you face?

Anandsagar: Since my target clients are big Japanese corporations, I only market our services in Japan. There are mainly two challenges I face here in Japan based on this experience:

1. It takes a really long time to close a deal (the approval process is long), and

2. Big corporations tend to be cautious when dealing with startups.

Of course, those perceptions/views on startups have been changing lately, but I still encounter those situations where I struggle to gain their trust.    

Kie: What about in India?

Anandsagar: In India, it is a bit different. It is the pricing. Anything I am selling here in Japan, I cannot sell with the same pricing in India.  In Japan, I must focus on quality, but in India, the priority is on the pricing not the quality. So, when starting up, I had to choose which country I should target first; and we decided to go with Japan. My business experience is more in Japan and also we like to focus on developing good quality products and services.

 

What is Needed to Succeed in Japanese Market?

 

Kie: What do you think are the most important points that international businesses should take notes on if/when they want to succeed in the Japanese market?

Anandsagar: I am still learning in this area, but based on my experience so far, the first thing is definitely perseverance. You need to be persistent if you want to succeed. This is due to the fact that the deal closing cycle is very long here. You have to be able to “wait.” Some decisions take 6 months, sometimes even a year. If you are a startup, it is extremely hard to wait, but if you can, when you pass these first few years your business will become stable and you really can rely on this market.

The second is to become quality-sensitive.  Whether it is a service or a product, if the quality is not meeting the customer expectation, it is not going to cut it here.

The third is your ability to provide added-value service. To become able to provide this, your team is the key. In my both comapnies, Vizitech and FTBC, our employees are the ones who drive our organization. In my opinion, added-value is not service but the culture that employees and partners inculcate together.

In addition to these three, you definitely need great connections. Then, you are set. The Japanese business culture is based on networks. If you want to get into this market, you need to know the people. 

Kie: How did you go through that “waiting” period?

Anandsagar: I am based in India, so this helped me a bit at first. Also, our investors helped me a lot. They are very understanding. They understand the uniqueness of the Japanese market, so they were supportive. In addition to that, I must say that I was able to go through it because of my business partner, Gautam Kulkarni, who also has stayed in Japan for over 14 years.  He also has brought a lot  to our business.  

Kie: You were working in Japanese companies and stayed here for 12 years, which helped you to develop a great network here. But usually, international startups do not have them when entering this country. In that case, what do you recommend they do?

Anandsagar: Well, there are a lot of great business seminars and trade shows here, they should definitely try attending those. But, it’s even better to bring a Japanese speaking person with them. Hiring someone local is always a plus; it can give your Japanese customers comfort as well, since language barriers can lead to miscommunication etc.

Kie: What is the good side of doing business here in Japan?

Anandsagar: Once you seal a deal and provide a good service, it usually becomes a long-term relationship. It is a very reliable relationship and can generate stable profit for your business. Infrastructure is stable, too. So, once you are settled in, it becomes much easier to operate the business.

 

Message from Asian Market Entry

Asian Market Entry offers international startups a comprehensive service for successful Japanese market entry. One of the major obstacles faced by international businesses is local recruitment. Through our more than a decade of business consulting service, we have developed one of the best professional human resource databases; and we can offer the most suited local professional based on your business plan and needs. We can match you with a local professional with great networks and know-how to lead and scale your business in Japan. For more information, please contact us.

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