Balancing patience and speed

Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.

We live in an era of instant gratification. We want everything to be fast — shipping, profits, communication, fashion, food — everything. So when something doesn’t happen swiftly, we are quick to criticize, even if that experience is far faster than it used to be. We are conditioned to value speed.

Of course, I’m no different. In fact, you could say I’m a classic example of this trend. No one who knows me would call me patient. I walk quickly. People in my company know when they set a project deadline, I’m always likely to ask them if they can cut the timeline in half. One of my five guiding principles for Rakuten is (literally) Speed!! Speed!! Speed!!

So, I could appreciate the irony when I stood before my coworkers earlier this year and extolled the value of patience. But here’s the thing: it’s true. Despite my love of speed, I’ve seen firsthand over the past few months how our patience is paying off. 

The importance of playing the long game

At Rakuten, we start a lot of new projects and set bold goals with our timelines. Yet it’s patience that often yields the most robust results. We see this clearly now in our content business. Rakuten TV is now available in 43 countries and regions across Europe, reaching 90 million households. Combined, our video streaming service Rakuten Viki, global e-reading service Rakuten Kobo and messaging and calling app Rakuten Viber were profitable for the first time in the last quarter of 2019. Since the pandemic, these three overseas digital content services have seen strong continuous growth with revenue increasing +23.1% YoY in the most recent quarter of 2020.

These brands are in direct competition with some of the most fearsome rivals around. They’re Davids facing the tech world’s biggest Goliaths. But from the start we vowed to treat them with the patience that they deserve and we are now seeing them make their moves. Rakuten Kobo has grown into a leader in the global e-book space. Rakuten Viki is seeing strong subscription growth. Rakuten Viber has expanded its user base, improved its offering and is growing its ads business.

These are businesses we might have lost patience with if we were overly consumed with short-term performance; five years is a long time in the business world. But we remained committed to their evolution and confident in our vision of creating the world’s most robust customer ecosystem. Beyond the success of these individual brands, the collective success of the content business will serve us well in our new efforts: As we continue to grow our mobile network offering in Japan through Rakuten Mobile and offer our technical expertise to telecommunications companies around the world through Rakuten Communications Platform, we will be able to tap the synergy between content and network services. Call it a patience dividend.

And it’s not Rakuten’s only reward. When Rakuten stepped in to run the soccer team Vissel Kobe in 2014, it was struggling. The team was performing poorly on the field and the business side faced challenges. This year was different — the club made history with their first title by winning the Emperor’s Cup. Now the club is vying to become the top club in Asia in the prestigious AFC Champions League tournament.

Mickey Mikitani, Vissel Kobe players and family celebrate the team’s historic Emperor’s Cup victory on January 1, 2020 — marking the first title in team history.
Mickey Mikitani, Vissel Kobe players and family celebrate the team’s historic Emperor’s Cup victory on January 1, 2020 — marking the first title in team history.

Combining Speed with Patience

When I look now at some of our most recently launched companies and initiatives, such as Rakuten Medical, I remember that in order to find lasting success, we must combine our “Speed!! Speed!! Speed!!” mantra with our respect for patience. Rakuten Medical is currently conducting clinical trials enrolling patients who are receiving an investigational therapy developed under the Illuminox™ platform. How many people from all around the world will one day benefit from this unique therapy? Only patience will tell.

So the next time you are frustrated waiting in line, rushing to finish a project or exasperated because your favorite sports team has yet to take the title, remember that patience must be part of our tool kit. Even for speed racers like myself. 

Speed will allow us to keep pace with the competition. Patience will enable us to win the marathon.

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