Founder name and position
Osaka-born Hitoshi Tanii is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for business and an impressive success record, especially considering he is only 48. After graduating from Kobe University, he joined The Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, but left a year later to set up his first company, Digital Network Service. Three years later, he sold the company to Rakuten and launched another company, Synergy Marketing, in the field of online customer relationship management (cloud CRM). After seven years of building the business, Synergy Marketing was listed on the Osaka Stock Exchange and bought by Yahoo. In August 2019, after coming back from a round-the-world trip, Tanii bought back the business and returned to work there as president. (Currently he is the chairperson.)
What was your inspiration to become an entrepreneur?
I wanted to test my ability and see how much I could do. I wanted to see how far I could go in business and in society. I wanted to know my limit.
Why did you choose the field of CRM?
In mid 90’s, I used to work at the small apparel shop which my father was running. There I tried various things to increase the sales but most of time it was not very successful. One day, I found the mailing list of the customer, and it came across my mind that why not sending out an email (to encourage them to visit the shop.)
To my surprise, I received quite a few responses. As I realized using email as the sale tool was useful and cheap, I thought this could be it. Utilizing the email as a direct communication tool to costumer could open up a new business opportunity. I could sense that everyone would surely see the value of it. So I started to develop a CRM system. I was confident that the CRM would help not only the small-scale business such as my father’s but also the large-scale ones.
I knew the emerging technologies in digital marketing would help rapidly expand the market opportunity for the CRM. Then it became my dream to start up the business to help all those companies in need for sales increase.
What struggles did you face in setting up the business and how did you overcome them?
There was no market, so I had to create the market from zero. People didn’t know such a thing as a CRM system existed and usually, you don’t want things you are unfamiliar with.. It was really hard to find customers. So I tried to generate its awareness via joining seminars as a speaker, holding lectures explain what the CRM is and what it could do, and via conducting lots of guerilla marketing activities. After a while, people started to show interest in CRM as the market quickly emerged. And it did not take long before they started to call me “Sensei” (teacher) because of my knowledge about CRM. And the rest was history with a big success. My CRM business was very profitable every year, even from its first year.
When starting out, how did you hire your team?
First, I hired my friends who had the skill sets to meet the various aspects of the business. The reason was that I trusted them and they were able to resonate my ideas. As the company expanded and I could not find a suitable person within my circle of friends, I conducted referral recruiting, i.e., hiring the friends of my friends, who would have similar mindsets to mine and my friends’. The process worked well. It was then easy for me to share the company mission, vision and its value to the team.
What has been your most memorable success and regret at Synergy Marketing?
The most memorable success was a collaboration with Mr. Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce. We were the first Japanese company to accept an investment from US-based salesforce.com. Regarding the regret, it was a difficult one. One of my large clients harassed some of my project managers to the extent that they weren’t able to work anymore. Despite the major loss of sales revenue, I decided to break off the business relationship with the client without hesitance. I do not regret that, but I do when I think about if there were more that I could have done to stop the harassment before it was too late.
Why did you go on the round-the-world trip and how has it helped you in your approach to business?
After selling the business to Yahoo, I had plenty of time. And there were three things on my mind; a round-the-world trip, playing gold and reading books. I took a trip around the world because I wanted to see Japan and its people and the market from outside, not to mention to see the rest of the world. I learned at a number of occasions that the world how Japanese would see from their viewpoint was completely different from the real world. I felt the large gap and thought it was the very reason that Japanese in general would struggle joining the global market, while foreigners may see Japan as a difficult market. In other words, Japanese have an old OS system in the brain, whereas people in the other parts of the world have an updated OS system in the brain.
Why did you decide to return to the company?
The employees. As the founder of the company, they are most valuable to me, and I prioritize promoting their health and happiness. For that, I thought that buying back the business including the employees, many of whom I had found and recruited, and becoming the president again were the best decision at that time.
Synergy Marketing has an office in Tokyo, but its headquarters is in Osaka. What’s the reason for choosing Osaka?
It is my hometown for one reason. Also, Osaka is closer to Asia for business than is Tokyo. I feel that Tokyo is closer to the east coast of the United States for business. Osaka is one of the very competitive markets for startups, but it is as big as Thailand’s market, so if you can succeed in Osaka, it means you can succeed all over Japan.
What defines the culture of your headquarters in Osaka?
I think it is the friendly working atmosphere that fosters camaraderie. In the past, we’ve had staff parties over dinner and drinks, but we’ve been having them less. These days, staff are using our lunch-matching system to get to know their team members and enjoy social lunches with people who they might not often get a chance to talk to at the office. For example, if I want to have lunch out, I turn my setting to “on”. The system finds all the people who are set to “on” and puts them into groups of four to six who are from different departments or fields of work. It’s a chance to spend time with people you don’t ordinarily have a chance to spend time with. I think because of the system, all the staff get on really well.
What have you learned throughout your time as an entrepreneur that helps you today?
I’ve learned to follow the Japanese old saying that if something good happens, it’s because of the individual’s efforts and they should be praised. However, if something doesn’t go well, don’t blame others. Instead, I should look inside myself for the cause of the problem because, ultimately, whatever went wrong is my responsibility as president of the company.
You are super busy as a serial entrepreneur, so how do you manage your time?
To me, business is really fun so I’m happy to concentrate a lot of my time on it. I’m running about 30 companies at the moment. About 10 are companies that I set up or work as CEO or president and about 20 are companies that I have some kind of investment in. I can manage to take care them all, thanks to my assistant who helps me with my daily tasks, and thanks to those whom I can trust and delegate some of the works. Another key thing that helps me manage my time is taking a note right away when something business-related pops to my mind.
Looking to the future, what are your biggest challenges and things you want to achieve?
When I was travelling around the world, I thought a lot about what is happiness. In terms of the working environment, it
is ideal that all employees can work with vitality and feeling of happiness under the ensured long-time career. In the
real world, everyone has his/her own life events respectively. Getting married, having kids, or taking care of aging
parents. When life changing events happen, your work may not suit for your new lifestyle. You may even need to change
jobs or give up working at all.
My biggest challenge is to enable employee to find the suitable job regardless of life-change event. For example, a farmer needs to give up farming and wishes to do IT work, then he can find one within the system I dream of. To achieve that, I’ve further started a different types of businesses in different industries. And I am going to umbrella those companies under the condition where employees can move between them according to his/her lifestyle.
What professional advice would you give to someone in the early stages of starting up a business?
It’s essential to clearly set the strategy and direction of your company. Think about it as if you were looking at some giant mountains. One or the other is the mountain your company is to summit.The next step is to choose the right employees who share the same value as you, who can cast the light on what your company’s future may hold.
Synergy Marketing provides cloud services that help companies better communicate with their customers. Based on prediction techniques, the company provides planning, software development and provision of CRM-related products and services as well as CRM strategy support and planning and production related to advertising and advertising agency business.
“There was no market, so I had to create the market from zero. People didn’t know such a thing as a CRM system existed and usually, you don’t want things you are unfamiliar with.”
At what age did you found your company?
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
Work as if you were a subsection head, not the boss.
What’s your greatest skill?
Seeing people’s real potential and intention.
What do you do every morning to prepare for the day ahead?
Check my schedule and get myself fully prepared.
What favorite positive habit have you cultivated?
Spend less time with those who do not share the same value.
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