Published March 2023

It’s been 6 months since the office opening of Engage Squared Japan and it’s gone fast. So fast in fact that we’ve already had another office move. I provide some thoughts and bring you on the journey of our first Japanese office.

91mm x 55mm. That’s the size of a standard business card in Japan – a small piece of paper that remains extremely valuable here. But issuing a business card isn’t as easy as simply rocking up to a printing shop and ordering them. Before you can get business cards you need a company. Before you can have a company, you need an address. Before you can secure an address, you need a representative director.

The first step was easy – I’m the Japan Country Manager for Engage Squared and the Representative Director of our Japanese subsidiary. I’m originally from New Zealand but have been living in Japan for over 20 years and know my way around here fairly well.

Getting an address wasn’t too hard either. Other the past few years, coworking and shared office locations have become popular in Japan, and we were able to find a great location only a few minutes’ walk from Shibuya station in downtown Tokyo.

Registering our Japanese subsidiary required a bunch of paperwork but that wasn’t too hard once we asked the experts to handle it. Getting notarized copies of the Passports of the directors of the Australian company was the hardest step really. Got some very fancy stamps on the paperwork though J

With the prerequisites in place, it was time to print up some business cards. I asked the Australia team for a template which resulted in some furious searching of old archives to find the Illustrator template along with the comment “Hey mate, I don’t think we’ve printed business cards in 2+ years”. With a little bit of Illustrator magic, I had business cards ready – both English and Japanese versions. Now I was ready to meet people and tell them what we could do.

But what do we do? And why did I want to do it in Japan?

Engage Squared is a leading Microsoft partner in Australia, a company that has been steadily growing since being founded by Stephen Monk in 2014. The same Stephen Monk that founded WM in London with my brother Al. Through chatting with Steve, I really came to understand and agree with the way that Engage Squared works hard to help companies use technology more effectively and in a more enjoyable way, and thought that the company philosophy of <people> friendly technology was one that would really work well in Japan where a lot of IT is done by IT companies with IT being the first thing thought about, and employees coming a distant second. And while it’s a long-term plan, the leadership team and I agreed that branching out from Australia and New Zealand into Japan would be a great first step to transforming Engage Squared into company that can help companies and their employees throughout the Asia Pacific region.

Japan is a massive market for Microsoft, far larger than Australia, with Microsoft’s products widely used by many of the large companies that Japan is well known for. Separately, just as we were getting started in Japan last year, the work done in Australia was evaluated highly, and we were awarded Microsoft’s Global Partner of the Year for Employee Experience – welcome recognition that really helped us get off to a flying start in Japan.

Growing Engage Squared Japan

So, now I was ready to tell people in Japan about what we have been doing in Australia, and what we are going to do in Japan. Or was I? There is only so much you can do as one person, so I knew that I had to put a lot of effort into finding some great team members here in Japan. Luckily, I was able to convince one of my old friends from my consulting days, Nobuyuki Tsuji, to come on as a co-founder. 100% growth straight away – awesome!

Working with our HR team in Australia we tried some direct recruiting but quickly found that it wasn’t very easy going. In general, the Japan labor market is a lot less liquid than Australia – people changing jobs about half as much, and additionally LinkedIn is not yet popular except with employees of foreign firms. So, we onboarded a recruitment firm to help us find new staff. After a lot of interviews and a lot of hard work from the recruitment firm, we were very lucky to find two very experienced M365 consultants brave enough to join our team and onboard them in July and October.

With a total of four staff on the team in Japan, gaining clients and growing the business was then top priority for us. Working with our marketing team in Australia, we knew that we wanted to do a proper launch event for the Tokyo office and get our name out in the market. We decided to do an in-person invent in Tokyo and livestream it to our customers and team overseas. Along with a guest speaker from Microsoft Japan, we had Stephen fly over to talk at the event. We really wanted to do the event in Japanese and English and livestream both languages, and by the time we figured out we needed we had a two-person team of interpreters, and an eight-person video and live streaming team helping us out. Quite a production!

Working as a consulting firm specializing in M365 and being a Microsoft Gold Partner, having a strong relationship with Microsoft is extremely important, and something that our Australian team has put a lot of work into. Thanks to some warm introductions from the Australian Microsoft team, we were able to get a chance to meet the Customer Success team in person at the Microsoft office in Shinagawa in Tokyo. From there we were able to get a couple of chances to present our services to the CSM team and eventually get some introductions to clients.

Leveraging our network in Tokyo of past clients and former colleagues, along with those introductions from Microsoft we were able to get a full slate of projects up and running for Q1, a great achievement only a few months after our official launch event.

While every company is different, so far, the challenges facing our clients seem similar to what we expected going into the market in Japan. Cloud adoption is, in general at least a couple of years behind Australia, and often even if cloud tools have been rolled out from an IT perspective, there are overconservative IT policies in place that limit their effectiveness or enough training hasn’t been given to employees on how to make the most of them. Employee engagement is still only starting to be actively front of mind at some larger companies, but still very much a growing area when compared with Australia and the US.

Stephen Monk, Michael Cashen and Justin McPhee at the office launch in September 2022

Our work

Right now in Japan we’re working on a few projects to develop new employee portals for Japanese companies and setup Viva Connections, and it’s been great to able to join these projects from the start and work closely with the client to really think about what we can do to to help employees at these companies feel connected with leadership, their work colleagues and be able to do their jobs as efficiently as possible.

Other projects we are working on include building apps on the Power Platform, and helping employees make the most of Teams and work more efficiently. While Teams has quite widespread adoption in Japan, some companies only use a single aspect of its capabilities – meetings only or person-to-person chat and we want to show people how to use teams and channels more efficiently. Power Platform being an integral part of M365 is really advantageous from a security perspective, and we expect a lot of clients will use it as a base to build small to medium sized apps to help run their business, as not only does low code / no-code make building the apps quick, the compliance and approval process for launch is so much easier than when using a new and platform setup from scratch.

Where we are now is just the start line, but bringing Engage Squared and our <people> friendly technology into Japan has been a great experience so far, and the team is all very excited to see what we can achieve going forward.

The Japan team in the new office

About the author

Michael Cashen is the Japan Country Manager at Engage Squared, with nearly twenty years’ experience working in consulting and tech in Japan. Michael is passionate about helping Japanese companies work efficiently and keep their employees engaged and happy. Outside of work Michael spends the colder months waiting for summer, and summer spending as much time as possible on the beach.