Over the past twenty years, Japanese Rakuten has evolved from a simple webshop to a veritable empire divided into more than seventy services. Founder Hiroshi Mikitani is not yet satisfied: he has got his eye on Europe and the United States, hoping to become a global force to be reckoned with.
Growth and diversification
Rakuten's growth is remarkable: after 22 years, the company has turned into an empire with a market value of 8.5 billion euros and over 14,000 employees around the world. Initially, the company only sold products from retailers through an online platform. Various strategic acquisitions in Japan and abroad allowed Rakuten to keep expanding its activities and now, e-commerce is only one of the company's seventy services: they also have their own bank, a mobile payment app and a streaming service.
The company has even signed a sponsorship programme with FC Barcelona: the company's name is now featured prominently on the shirts of one of the most popular teams in the world. The deal cost 200 million euros for four years, showing Mikitani is serious about going global with Rakuten. This is confirmed by Michiaki Tanaka, who teaches business administration at Rikkyo University, Tokyo: "He absolutely wants to succeed in the developed markets, even though some maintain that Rakuten should rather focus on developing economies."
To achieve international growth, the company turned to English as its primary language in 2010. According to Arjen van de Vall, president of Rakuten Europe, that was a crucial step: "It has made our company a lot more open and transparent. We can now hire the best talents and the smartest people."
Meanwhile, Rakuten has also secured a telecom licence in Japan and become the fourth biggest telephone provider in its home country. As a result, prices are expected to drop severely. "We want to bring some innovation to the telecom industry. A large part of our future growth will come from that," says Van de Vall. "Once we have proved our ability to do this on the scale of Japan, we'll be looking at ways to roll it out in Europe." The ultimate goal is to grow rapidly in Europe and the US and then to start competing with Amazon.