Jordan Fisher came to Japan nine years ago to work in finance. But now the New Yorker is doing something quite different – building a startup.
While Thumbtack – valued at US$1.3 billion – has effectively helped its clones to figure out a few things, such as charging a fee for freelancers to connect with potential customers, Fisher still faces challenges in building up Zehitomo in a country that has not exactly embraced the gig economy – Uber’s private cars are banned in Japan, while Airbnb has only this summer gotten the green light.
From salarymen to sharing economy
Japan is now “trying to empower freelancers, especially ahead of the Olympics,” says Fisher, referencing Tokyo 2020, in a turn-around from its salaryman culture of stable jobs at big firms. And that’ll also be great for many locked out of the nation’s workforce, says Fisher, such as women with children.
“There are a lot of initiatives going on in government right now,” he adds.
Freelancers make up 17 percent of the nation’s working population, up five percent from the year prior as more people realise that lifelong jobs are set to be a thing of the past. To accommodate this shift, authorities are now looking to create unemployment insurance for those new workers.
Fisher sees gig economy jobs really taking off in Japan “over the next couple of years” – both of the professional variety, where his startup specializes in, as well as much more casual tasks like grocery runners. He’s happy to be one of the pioneers, helping workers connect with customers’ task requests whilst staying out of the clutches of the notorious agencies that take hefty cuts.
On Zehitomo, professionals pay one-off fees which differ based on the nature of the job – with higher fees for recurring jobs like English tutors. “Think of it like very, very targeted advertising,” says the entrepreneur.
Fisher and his co-founder James McCarty started out doing things a little differently when the business was established in 2015. “We learned the hard way about why Thumbtack took the decisions it did” after talking to users and seeing that the Silicon Valley startup was on the best possible path with its business model, explains Fisher. The service came out of beta in the summer of 2016.
The duo are today celebrating pocketing US$1.5 million in funding. 500 Startups’ Japan fund made the largest contribution, with Draper Nexus, Accord Ventures, and KLab Venture Partners also contributing.
There are many startups across Asia racing to catch up with Thumbtack. In most cases, like with Fisher’s venture, they’re first looking to build their businesses in their home countries before thinking about expansion.