Today we're talking with Jason Maitland, President and CEO of Yoyo Market, about starting a business in Japan. Yoyo Market is a fantastic online store for "almost anything from Costco, IKEA, organic and health foods and more".
SiJ: Tell us a little about yourself and Yoyo Market.
Jason: I'm originally from Vancouver but have now been living in Japan for over 10 years. Like many, I came here with the intent to go home after one year but 10 years later I am still here, and loving it!
Yoyo Market is, in my opinion, Japan's number one bilingual online supermarket. It was my answer to the problem of getting the food and goods that you want all in one place. Years ago I used to spend half my Sundays going around to all the supermarkets, shops, and stores in my area just to get the food I wanted to eat. At first I enjoyed the challenge of assembling such a network but it quickly became laborious and way too time consuming. I also came to dread going to Costco on the weekend (waiting 40 minutes for parking is not a good use of my precious free time!). I finally came to the realization that if I wanted to combine all the of the food I wanted, plus a Costco and IKEA delivery service into one, I'd just have to do it myself. Now going on three years, Yoyo Market has evolved into one of the fastest, friendliest and diverse delivery services in the country.
SiJ: What were the main obstacles you faced trying to start Yoyo Market? What are the primary obstacles your business faces now? How have you overcome them?
Jason: The biggest hurdle we faced in getting Yoyo Market set up was getting the word out without spending a fortune. We knew that we could knock the socks off everyone if we could just get a chance to serve them but getting that chance proved to be quite difficult.
We found that the good old fashioned barter system was one of the best ways to get PR. We offered our voice via our site, Facebook and newsletter and in return asked for the same from a variety of blogs, websites etc. and were able to drum up a solid amount of attention. As effective as that strategy has been, the foreign population is constantly turning over so currently our biggest obstacle is continuing to spread the gospel of Yoyo Market and staying fresh in people's minds.
SiJ: In your experience, how open is Japan to entrepreneurs from abroad wanting to set up shop here?
Jason: In my experience it can be a challenge to get a business set up here but it is certainly not impossible. Like everything involving government in Japan there is a ton of red tape. It's takes patience to sift through it all but Japan is definitely somewhere that a foreigner can set up shop (if they don't get arrested for ripping some government office worker's head off first!).
SiJ: Do you primarily sell Costco products and offer your Ikea service, and if not, how do your source the other products you offer?
Jason: Though we are proud to be one of the biggest resellers of Costco goods online in Japan we definitely don't like to be thought of as "that Costco site". Unlike a lot of our competition we sell a massive variety of products that are NOT from Costco. We source products from a wide variety of importers, wholesalers and suppliers to provide our customers with a fantastic selection. Whether it's macaroni and cheese, vegemite, Heinz Beanz or one of our many other comfort foods, or our selection of organic, health food products we try our best to carry a huge variety of what expats living in Japan want and need.
SiJ: What has been Yoyo Market's greatest success since its inception?
Jason: Well firstly, growing from our start in a little house and just two employees to our current warehouse location and five employees is an enormous sense of pride for me. Over the years we've been lucky enough to do charity work, and are especially proud of the food drive we did for Japan Emergency Animal Rescue and Support.
We also didn't turn tail and run when the earthquake happened two years ago. Together with our friends and our amazing customer community we sent millions of yen worth of food and supplies, and were able to donate over a million yen of our own money as well. I feel an immense sense of pride when I think about how much we were able to help when people needed it most.
SiJ: What advice would you offer to others considering starting a business in Japan?
Jason: The biggest piece of advice I can give is to pick something you feel intensely passionate about. Starting your own business means you'll be doing unspeakable amounts of work, so make sure it's something that you love.
For me, providing people with the food they want and love is deeply satisfying so I think nothing of putting in the hours it takes to get the job done right. If you are the owner of a business you can never really get away from work so make sure what you do is something you love and you'll find a way to make it a success.
Thanks so much, Jason! To check out Yoyo Market's selection for yourself, visit here.