WealthPark builds an alternative assets platform and aims to realize a new asset management experience. Today, the VPs who lead the product development at WealthPark sit down and openly discuss the issues they are currently facing regarding products, technologies, organization, and how they are looking to the future. This report shares their real words and thoughts.
Part I was focused on products and technologies, and Part II will focus on topics related to the organization and team building.
Profile Seth Luan, VP of Product Seth was born in Taiwan and raised in Canada. He came to Japan 13 years ago as a backpacker and worked as a bartender. He built up his IT career in Sony Mobile Communications as a developer and a project manager. Afterwards he moved to Rakuten and managed a credit card payment service for two years prior to investing in a real estate business and establishing his own IT company. He joined WealthPark with his mission to use the power of IT to change the real estate industry.
Profile Yuki Yoshimoto, VP of Design Yuki started his design career when he was still a university student, and he has over 10 years experience as a freelance designer. He joined WealthPark as a founding member as he felt the passion for creating a product that will add a new value in the alternative investments not only in Asia including Japan but also in the world.. After the early phase when he was committed not only to design but also to a broader area ranging from product to sales, he now focuses on UI and leads the design team. He is one of the oldest members.
Profile Takahiro Fujii, VP of Engineering Takahiro started his career in Rakuten as a software developer in 2010. He was in charge of a travel service, mainly working on a hotel reservation system, as an engineering manager. In the beginning of 2020, he joined WealthPark as a chapter lead of the frontend team, being inspired by the company's goal of creating an alternative assets platform. In April, he became VPoE and manages a multinational engineering team of 17 members with 10 nationalities.
The reason for being multinational organization
What is the reason for WealthPark being a multinational team?
Yuki: Our goal has been to deliver a new asset platform to the world from Japan, and we needed global talents to achieve it from the start. That’s why all the initial members were from overseas. Now we’ve been successfully expanding and have our branches in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and New York, and we are also aiming to provide our service to the UK and the US right now. In order to realize our vision in the world, it is important for us to have an international team equipped with a global sense as well as cultural understanding towards each region.
Does the diversity of your team help you to be competitive on an international scale?
Seth: If you have the diversity, you will get a lot more unexpected challenges (laugh). At the same time, if you manage it well, you have more strength. Every member brings different knowledge and we can inspire each other. The fact that we don't stick to one view leads to our creativity.
In terms of competitiveness in a global market, the diversity definitely gives us an advantage in getting the best resources including our talents, partners, and technologies. Instead of just competing within a small pool inside Japan, we can compete within a larger one in the world. This is one of the benefits of having a multinational team.
Yuki: I think the diversity of our team helps us to develop good relationships with overseas companies that share the same value with us. We actively make an occasion to interact with global companies, such as WealthPark NYC that we held in New York in 2018 and 2019. One of the recent achievements from this is a new feature of assessing property valuation using AI. We released it in 2020 in collaboration with a Swiss company that we met at the event.
Do you feel uniqueness of your team that stems from cultural diversity? How about the engineering team, which has 17 members with 10 nationalities?
Takahiro: From engineers’ perspective, actually it is not special to work in a global environment for us. In a sense, we already do it in an open source community with engineers all over the world. Our engineering team consists of members with different cultural backgrounds including only two Japanese: the one who grew up in the US and me. We communicate in English as we do in the open source community. We feel it is just natural and necessary for us to work in this way to create a product to be used globally.
We try to be a flat organization
What’s the management policy that WealthPark takes for a successful team building?
Seth: We try to be a flat organization to elevate the level of every member in their responsibility and autonomy. However, some people feel we still have layers because of titles: they tend to think a VP is above members without titles. That's just a human mental block, which sometimes slows down the progress, and we want them to be free from it.
How do you do that? I think those who used to work in a hierarchical organization find it hard not to associate layers with titles.
Seth: I repeatedly share the information that I have with the members, regardless of their titles. I also attend all meetings whenever possible and contribute to facilitation, while I listen to and appreciate opinions and feedback from others. Through such communication, I hope we can build camaraderie among us.
How do you keep your international team open and inclusive?
Takahiro: For the engineering team, we need some extra work and efforts to keep inclusiveness and fairness in terms of the access to the information. For example, some of the information from our clients is in Japanese and there is a language barrier for the engineers who don’t understand Japanese. As a manager, I try to translate it into English to share as much as possible with them.
Another point that I keep in my mind as a manager is to have both objectivity and empathy when I communicate with my team members. I listen to them with empathy and try to understand from their viewpoints, but I am also careful not to lose objectivity.
In March WealthPark introduced remote working, which still continues. Do you feel any difficulties in managing your team remotely under this circumstance?
Seth: Yes, it is difficult to know members’ mental status, which is addressed by random chats during meetings or through daily communication. I increase the frequency for team discussions and put extra efforts to make discussions documented to align knowledge level.
How do you support and check in your members as a manager?
Yuki: As a mental health check in, I often have casual chats and share some laughs to see how everything is going. Regarding tips for an online meeting, some other teams have already thought out how to make it more successful, and I learn from them.
Takahiro: For online meetings, visual images play an essential role. We share diagrams and stickies in miro, an online whiteboard. In terms of increasing the engagement in remote meetings, I ask the members some questions to get them thinking. Also, we have some new members that I’ve never met in person, and I allow more time to build trust and relationships with them, especially on boarding.
We work as one Team
Do you feel synergy across three teams?
Takahiro: Yes, we feel that we work as one team. It is a bit hard to explain how we got to this level of cohesiveness, but three teams naturally work in sync.
Yuki: I think this owes to the fact that we have gone through a transition to the Squad after Seth joined. This cross-functional structure helps us start having a sense of belonging to one team and developing our products together. Before that, three teams worked more independently, and we had less communication opportunities. After we adopted Squad based on the Spotify model for a while, Takahiro joined as VPoE. I feel now we achieved an ideal team and are ready for next-level challenges that we couldn't try so far.
Takahiro: For me, who joined as a manager when Squad has been already adopted, the Squad has some difficulties especially in terms of balancing freedom and management. Having said that, I agree with what this model aims for and believe in the autonomy that it grants to us. Once we find an appropriate balance of freedom and management, Squad will do really well.
Seth: I agree. Squad works more easily for a small team. When it comes to a middle size company like us, which has almost 100 members, it needs a format or system to make it work. We've been tailoring it to us through trial and errors.
Aiming for the team with full autonomy
What is the state of the ideal team that you think of?
Seth: For me, the team with autonomy.
Takahiro: I sympathize with the concept of autonomy, too. It is also important to create the team in the state of autonomy in steps. For example, we have technical issues and it would be a problem if those issues are left behind when I let the team run by themselves. We need to have some members who have skills to manage those issues as well as to raise the level of the team. I think we will be able to grant full autonomy to the team in the end.
Yuki: In order to realize the team that holds autonomy, members need to understand the goal assigned to the squad that they belong to in relation to our vision. This means that we, VPs, need to present them with a clear direction that the company is looking for. We have to be aligned at every level of the direction of the company.
What kind of qualities are you looking for when hiring?
Seth: I want someone I can trust. Being reliable is the most important thing. Of course, we want skills. But when asked whether to take skills or reliability, my answer is the latter. The interesting thing is that the US Navy Seals is said to be the best performing organization in the world in terms of achieving its goals, regardless of how it is done. They also look for reliability in their recruitment: they seek those who can go to a battle together and those who can entrust their lives. No matter how skillful you are, they won't hire if they can't trust you. I think such an idea is still valid in today's company. I consider whether I can trust the person enough to leave tasks to him or her even when something happens to me.
How do you know whether you can trust the candidate? The level of sympathy and understanding for the company's vision?
Seth: At the time of the interview, I cannot tell how much a candidate sympathizes with our vision even if she or he says so. I think I have no choice but to see their personality.
Yuki: Hiring is really difficult. It's not just skills. In my case, it's quite intuitive. The final reason that I hired another member of the design team is that we have the same taste of music (laugh). But that works. I am quite confident in the recruiting process that I did so far. When you seek specific skills and professionalism, however, it will be different. When you look for a new member just to raise the level of the team, reliability is surely important.
I see. Well, I want to thank all of you for sharing your insights in this long interview.
If you are interested in joining us, let’s have a casual meeting with the members. You can contact us from here.
インタビュアー 飯田 明 | Mei Iida 渉外法律事務所にてファイナンス・パラリーガルを務めた後、大学院留学を挟んで飲食業の世界へ。外資系チョコレート会社のDirector of Communicationsとして、HR/ブランディングを担当。現在はフリーランスに転向し、複数の会社とのプロジェクトを通じて、カフェのプロデュース事業や人事、国内外のダイニングイベントの企画・運営に携わっている。