How our SaaS startup burst onto the Japanese market without a physical presence – TechCrunch

Drill in Japan is often one of the biggest challenges a growing technology company will face. The country is home to some of the world’s most advanced software and hardware leaders. For startups that cater to these companies, “cracking Japan” is inevitably part of their growth and expansion roadmaps.

But the barriers to entry are high. From language and cultural differences to the need to tailor offerings to a Japanese audience, many tech start-ups view Japan as impossible or too difficult to break into, even though the country is inevitably part of their growth roadmap and of expansion.

In 2014, our company attracted its first Japanese customer when we were featured on the Product Hunt product discovery platform. While this initial awareness got us on the users radar, awareness alone was not enough to maintain and grow a reliable pipeline. We’ve grown that initial interest with over 400 of our highest earning clients over the past eight years by putting community – both virtual and in-person – at the heart of our offering and our approach to building relationships, all without having a dedicated county presence.

As a SaaS company with a community growth model, our journey to Japan may be different from companies with other models, but the fundamentals remain the same. Here’s what we learned along the way.

Follow the first user(s)

The tech community in Japan is extremely active and interconnected, so a single customer can play a disproportionate role in facilitating your expansion there. Our experience is that if the first users appreciate it, they will be your first ambassadors. If they don’t, their indifference will also speak volumes. With that in mind, your product should be ready for prime time before you start working with Japanese leads. Japan is not a testing ground for MVP products.

Even if companies want to “be in Japan”, they don’t always spend enough time in the country.

Once you have the least traction or adoption in the market, consider setting up Japanese mention tracking. It may be surprising how quickly — and publicly — news about good technology will proliferate on social media.

Our first user was a developer at one of Japan’s largest emerging tech companies. As Bitrise began to spread through its organization, we also began to see a number of new customers organically appear in other companies.

Using our mention tracking service (we use, we were able to see how user adoption we knew directly correlated to local discussions about us on social media.

Leave a Comment