Today, at Y Combinator’s Startup School at Stanford University, Rakuten Founder and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani took the stage to talk about the company’s culture, acquisitions and its crazy growth over the last year.
Rakuten, for those unfamiliar, is a Japanese eCommerce company based in Tokyo, which operates a number of web and mobile properties, chief of which is Rakuten Ichiba, the largest online retailer in Japan. It is also one of the largest eCommerce companies in the world, as measured by sales.
The company has made a lot of noise over the last two years for its international acquisitions and investments, namely buying Play.com last September, Buy.com in 2010, Kobo and more. However, it may be best known for leading Pinterest’s $100 million round in May, which valued the growing social network at $1.5 billion.
The round was a clear indication of Pinterest’s intent to expand its global footprint, especially by leveraging its new strategic partnership with Rakuten to grow its presence in Japan, where Mikitani said at the time “Pinterest is growing very fast.”
Beyond smart strategic acquisitions and investments, at Startup School this afternoon, the Rakuten CEO said that the primary driver of the eCommerce company’s growth in Japanese and international markets was mobile — a reflection of skyrocketing mCommerce and tablet adoption at home and abroad. The company had predicted earlier this year that mobile growth would become a big part of the company’s 2012 growth story, and today the CEO gave a snapshot of what that looks like today.
Mikitani said that Rakuten was currently seeing about $5 billion/year in revenues and that 25 percent of that revenue was coming from mobile mobile phones, both feature and smartphones. Forty percent of those transactions emanated from feature phones, with 60 percent coming from smartphones. At present, the CEO said, mobile is growing at 300 to 400 percent year-over-year. Based on this growth, Mikitani said that he believes that 50 percent of Rakuten’s transactions will be mobile-based “within a couple of years.”
The other foundations of building a strong eCommerce business? Create a strong brand and cross-site loyalty program to create cross-selling opportunities and, of course, a powerful database to analyze customer interactions and behavior.
On top of that, the CEO said he believes a “strong operations culture is essential” for scaling a company and that being “analytical and qualitative are important” to building that strong operational culture. Oh, that and never stop improving, or “improving, improving, improving” — to put it in the words of Mikitani.
Two other great pieces of advice for startups and entrepreneurs: Before you finalize an acquisition or a merger, “make sure the cultures mix,” and form a team with divers skills, and “define culture early and build what the market wants.”
Lastly, don’t let noise steal your attention: “Don’t worry about your competition, just improve yourself.”