With more than 40 shopping portals vying for merchants and customers, Germany is one of the most competitive e-commerce markets in Europe. To survive and prosper, a company cannot just be innovative and professional. More than anything else, it must be ambitious.
At Rakuten Germany, we’ve kept this in mind since 2011, when we were established. As we celebrate our fifth anniversary this month, we’re proud that this mindset has helped put us in the top three marketplaces in Germany – by number of merchants, number of products and gross merchandise sales – and we’re excited about where it will take us in the future.
I started my own journey at Rakuten five years ago, too. I have to say that one of my most vivid memories from my first day was the clothing culture! I had come from the automobile industry, which is dominated by suits and ties, so it was refreshing to see so many casual clothes, tattoos, beards and different hair colors. Of course, I quickly learned not to judge a book by its cover – and that professionalism lies in actions, not looks. If the most talented merchant support staff member happens to want to express themselves through ink and piercings, what does it matter? That particular staff member is now our e-commerce consultant (ECC) team lead.
At the same time, I quickly got a sense of the ambition in the company – to be among the winning companies, to reach for higher goals – and I found it thrilling. A little later, I visited Japan for my initial management training and picked up a saying: Keizoku wa chikara nari (“continuance is strength”). I couldn’t think of a better way to describe the mentality that I experience here every day. It lives in each of our employees, from Customer Service operators to ECCs and right up to our management.
From Tradoria to Rakuten.de
But Rakuten had to fight for its place at the table in Germany. Founded originally as Tradoria by Beate Rank and Tobias Kobier in 2007, the online marketplace wasn’t the typical startup of that era. Situated in Bamberg, arguably one of the prettiest cities in Germany, the company was far away from the tech hubs in Berlin, Hamburg or Munich.
But we managed to compete and soon it was time for our next big step. That came in 2011, when the then little-known Japanese brand Rakuten took over 80% of the Bavarian company. The move made sense: Tradoria’s business model was similar to Rakuten Ichiba’s, offering e-commerce services to small and medium size merchants and even including a bonus point program. That was when I joined the company, which was renamed Rakuten.de shortly after.
Growing up together with an ambitious company
I remember during my first interview for a job with the company, Beate convinced me with one promise: “If you’re ambitious, you’ve got all the opportunities here to make it to the top.” And ambitious I was.
Soon I was given the opportunity to lead the Sales and Service teams. Going through thick and thin with my teams, through restructurings and, of course, setbacks, we always kept at it. And it’s that continuity that has made us strong.
Having set Rakuten.de in the right direction, our founders departed the company for new challenges. While it was sad to see them go, Frank Hümmer, now Country Manager Marketplace and a long-time colleague, and I were delighted to be given the chance in 2015 to prove ourselves as the new captains of the ship.
Heading into the future
Rakuten Germany has come a long way in its five years. Having started with just under 200 merchants, they now number in the thousands and offer around 23 million products. The number of shoppers has also grown ten-fold.
In 2014, we also opened an office in Berlin, the German capital and one of Europe’s tech hubs. The idea was not only to accommodate our 160 employees, but also to establish a base to develop and extend our European ecosystem. For Rakuten, Germany is now not only a thriving marketplace, but a vital center for our European strategy.
Thinking about it now, what I find even more impressive than our rapid growth to date, is the fact that in our heart we never really changed. To this day, we maintain our open culture, our entrepreneurial spirit, our monthly BBQs in front of the office (after all, we’re in the beer capital of Germany) and, most importantly, our ambition to continue to challenge the market – just as the Japanese saying goes.
Happy Birthday, Rakuten Germany!