Masatada Kobayashi, Vice Director of Asia RHO, Managing Executive Officer and CPO (Chief People Officer), Rakuten, Inc.
Photo: Staff and business partners join Rakuten Founder and CEO Hiroshi "Mickey" Mikitani (center) at Rakuten's Asia Regional Head Office in Singapore to celebrate five years in Asia and the company's new partnership with FC Barcelona.

Rakuten’s partnership with FC Barcelona is off to a fantastic start, with the Blaugrana having won every one of their La Liga matches since donning their new Rakuten uniforms. Excitement around the partnership is particularly strong in Asia, one of the club’s fastest growing markets, so it was no surprise that a party held this week at our Asia Regional Head Office to celebrate the partnership was particularly successful. Adding to the excitement was the fact that the festivities coincided with Rakuten’s fifth anniversary in Asia.

Rakuten Asia Pte Ltd, our Asia Regional Head Office, first started operations in Singapore back in August 2012, with just three people. For the first five months it was a lean operation, growing to seven as we added to the tech development team and global marketing teams. Five years later and we have a much bigger family. Our Singapore office is now home to teams from Viki, our global video-on-demand service providing content translated by a volunteer community of fans; Ebates, our online cash-back service; AIP, our global internet market research service; Rakuten Institute of Technology, our research and development center; and many more businesses. All up, over 200 people work in the office, which we like to call “Crimson House Singapore.” Like Rakuten Crimson House in Tokyo, it is designed to maximize inter-team interaction and collaboration.

Rakuten has many other businesses active across the Asian region, too. Including those based in our Singapore office, we have 15 services operating in 12 countries in Asia. Global mobile messaging service Viber is one of the largest, with a strong presence in South East Asian countries such as Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Rakuten Ventures has invested in many startups in the region including Carousell, which has significant presence in the customer-to-customer (C2C) e-commerce market. Meanwhile, Taiwan is rapidly developing an ecosystem similar to that of Japan, entailing e-commerce (both B2C and C2C), credit card, eBooks, marketing solutions and travel businesses. Rakuten Securities is growing its businesses in both Hong Kong and Malaysia. Rakuten India is one of the newest members of the family, having launched in 2015. It is now a core development center for our global operations with some 300 engineers.

Performers showed off their lifting skills at the event to celebrate Rakuten's five years in Asia and its new partnership with FC Barcelona.

Performers showed off their lifting skills at the event to celebrate Rakuten’s five years in Asia and its new partnership with FC Barcelona.

One way we are encouraging innovation and collaboration between these many teams is through internal initiatives like our new Asia Incubation Program. Spanning our Singapore and India offices, the program allows our employees, regardless of their department or position, to pitch new business ideas and try to prove their concepts. Ideas showing potential during an initial trial period might even get elevated to full-fledged businesses. Last month, we held a kick-off session and the level of interest was amazing, with almost one third of eligible employees attending. A key part of the program is that we’ll provide workshops for participants to learn more about design thinking, business plan development and prototyping. Mentoring from senior Rakuten Group members is also available. Given the creativity of our teams in Asia, we’re confident the region will one day launch a $1-billion business!

At our celebration party I was struck by the excitement and increased brand awareness generated by our partnership with FC Barcelona. As we follow the team’s successes on the football pitch, we’ll continue to strive to deliver innovative services to empower individuals, companies and societies in Asia for many years to come.