Sympathy for the vision creates diversity teamwork

Monstar Lab, Inc., CEO Hiroki Inagawa

Generally speaking, diversity is essential for organizations, but it is hard to see why it is necessary and what is the benefits in our daily life. However, an IT company in Japan, Monstar Lab, Inc., holds up “diversity” as their vision and produces an effect working with people from various backgrounds. Established in 2006, its headquarter in Tokyo has workers from 10 different nationalities, and some of them are is in charge of accounting and even business produces. None of freshman employees joining from April 2016 has the same nationality.

Recently, their focus is on global tech sourcing business which clients can outsource web, mobile, and system development projects abroad utilizing the company’s development bases in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh. In 2013, the business has been expanded to be a subsidiary of the company as “Sekai Lab.” Now, Sekai Lab has partner businesses in 15 countries such as Southeast Asia and India, and there are over 10 thousand engineers in total. Last November, Sekai Lab received 3.4 million US dollar fund, which accelerates their development base expansion all over the world.

They say that the key for the success by collaborating with people from different background is “sympathy for their vision.” We interviewed CEO of the company, Hiroki Inagawa, about how Monstar Lab manages diversity into the power of the organization.

Vision brought “diversity” within the company

CEO Hiroki Inagawa

Q. Tell us about the background and vision of your company.

We established our business from “monster.fm,” which is an online music distribution service for indie artists. Though Monstar Lab started from music, our goal has never changed; create the world where there are chances and choices for everyone not only in music but also many other things. In order to achieve the goal, there are two visions in our company, “Create a platform for diversity” and “Change the world with technology.” Thanks to the Internet, information is open regardless of physical limitations such as distance, time, and space. In the future, I believe it will be essential values that people with various talent can deliver their work everywhere and that people can choose what they want to receive.


Q. Under the vision, is there anything in common among your workers?

People working in our company has sympathy to the vision and commit with a sense of ownership. It was not our purpose to create diversity within our company. As the result of requiring the sympathy to our company vision and the commitment, the people who joined us are unique and from various nationalities. Of course, there are some cases like exchange students who like Japanese pop culture were attracted by our music distribution business, or foreign engineers joined knowing about Sekai Lab. However, there were people from different countries and backgrounds in the early stage of our company. I guess our company’s diversity is created by those who are sympathized with our culture different from traditional Japanese companies, and the services which we provide.


“Diversity” makes our team stronger

Q. What changes can “diversity” specifically bring within a team?

There are two good changes within a team with diversity. First, diversity makes us see what is essential. People is different in their background, way of thinking, how to approach, as well as nationality. If you want to create a global service or product, it is more likely that a team with various perspectives will produce a better outcome than a team with the same or similar backgrounds and thoughts. In the former team, we can have doubts about what is taken for granted and come up with ideas with zero-base thinking, which brings us to what is essential from deeper thought through discussions.

Monstar Style

Second, diversity can change the culture of a team stronger, which can take the best approach toward the goal. If a team consists of those who are in the same environment, actions may be restricted due to their culture or custom. For example, Japanese people tend to hesitate to speak their mind when they get together. However, if there is someone who say their opinions within the same team, it becomes easier to speak up. A team with diversity can remove such “unspoken rules” based on the culture they belong to, and we can choose what is the best among each one’s way.

In order to sustain such changes brought by diversity, we reflect our behavior on a regular basis based on our “Monstar Style,” our behavior guideline. In order to keep producing better results, it is necessary for us to have both sense of value and actions, and keep growing the both. So, we have reflections and evaluate for our sense of value and actions by ourselves once in a while. This establishes the culture that diversity makes our team stronger, and we exemplify our vision, “Create a platform for diversity.”


“Diversity” works by understanding the character

Q. Did you have any difficulty by having “diversity”?

It was quite hard when we opened a new base in China for how to proceed work was different. For instance, Japanese people tend to meet the delivery deadlines without telling anything, but Chinese people does not share the same idea. Thus, we made a few mistakes because of the difference at first, but we came to understand that their prioritizing about the delivery deadline is different from Japanese people.

Chinese people have a specific sense of purpose when they do something, I feel. When they see their county’s economic growth, they make much account of the benefits from the growth rather than the number itself. We found that it is meaningless if we tell them only the importance of keeping the delivery deadline. Since then, we make it clear the meaning and reason of keeping a deadline for the person and the company. Chinese workers are very professional with high technology skills, so once a sense of purpose is shared, they can perform well to create good products.

When we meet people different from us, we are likely to take their characteristics as either good or bad, but a team cannot collaborate if you only force the responsibility without understanding them. By recognizing their characteristics and communicating based on that, we can bring out each one’s value. When there is a trouble, we focus on how to solve instead of blaming others and communicate depending on the background of the person.


Value “commitment to the vision” in recruitment

CEO Hiroki Inagawa

Q. How do you hire human resource who can collaborate in a team with diversity?

When hiring, we value the sympathy to our vision, and see whether a person has “willingness to commit to a better world”, and “respect for different people and opinions.” If the goal is to realize a better world, different ideas and perspectives help achieve the goal, and everyone should be respectful for them in our company. People can acquire communication and other skills by learning, but your stance and way of thinking will not change normally. Thus, we see that point in interviewing.

People in charge has their own way of interviewing, but I discuss the fields of the candidates’ interest and give them opinions from various perspectives. I judge one’s aptitude for our company by seeing whether one has a sense of purpose not influenced by preconceived ideas, prejudice, or common sense; or whether the person can interpret opposite opinions in one’s own way and think with no base.


There are more people in our company who fit our vision and culture thanks to new graduate recruitments we started six years ago, for we have been appealing our company’s culture in a different recruiting media. The matching of the applicants and the company got better because they know deeply about our company and sympathize us from the information we deliver such as how we think about working and our vision.

Q. What is the difference in recruiting in Japan and overseas?

When we recruit people overseas, where job opportunities are limited, it is impossible to have an interview for every applicant because there are a few hundred of people applying for one position. So, we have written exams and document screenings. I leave recruitment to each director in foreign bases, so I will not say much to them. Rather, I share our vision and discuss the ideal human resource for our company and the goal in the future with the directors overseas, so even though the recruiting process is different in each country, we can hire those who sympathize our vision.


Organization structure enables to focus on mission

Q. Is there anything special in your organization structure to success in a team with diversity?

I try making the environment where workers can say their opinions and ideas regardless of the position or what the directors say, and can focus on their mission. I intentionally make a flat organization structure and keep the business and project unit as small as possible. Our company is divided by business units, and each business has the director in charge. Under the director’s brunch, there is no middle manager but teams in a low such as marketing, products, and sales. Each team has from two to ten people and focuses on the defined KPI (Key Performance Indicator) in a small team, so they won’t hesitate to speak up their mind, which causes no conflict.

Also, in order to have active discussions, we make the environment where workers can discuss things anytime they want by using online communication tools, and open any information unless it has security problems. We have Skype online all the time so that people working remotely can join discussions too.


“Diversity” is penetrated by those who speak up for another team in overseas

Q. Is there anything special you do when communicating with people in the overseas bases?

We value face-to-face communication, and workers come and go to each other bases frequently. When someone goes and works with people in an overseas team, the person comes to speak for the team in their perspective and way of thinking by collaborating with them and understanding their culture. If the person moves to a different base, that acquired thought is brought, which penetrates diversity throughout our company.

But still, conflicts can be caused more easily in remote communication whether it is abroad or within the same country. Thus, our management team, including myself, take extra care of it. Although we have conflicts in the management teams or project teams abroad, we don’t bring it in public so as not to mislead our workers to think having conflicts and blaming each other is normal. If there is an argument between overseas bases, the management in each country will point out what to improve for its own team, and praise the other team or appreciate their work. We are intentionally strict with our own team to keep favorable relationships.


“Create a platform for diversity” all over the world

Q. What do you want to realize in the future?

CEO Hiroki Inagawa

I want to create various opportunities for people with skills and visions to influence others. In the near future, it will be impossible to do business only within a country from the view point of performing human resource and opportunities. Company growth is up to us whether we can collaborate with people from various backgrounds, not just a global expansion. You will be able to collaborate in a team with diversity only by experiencing working together with people from different backgrounds, sometimes arguing and struggling with them.

We are establishing a development base in Bangladesh, where many talented people have no way but go abroad for work since there is no industry as their foundation within the country. Our goal is to become a development business in their country which contributes to making IT as their national business industry by working together with them. They are really motivated for working and highly interested in the contribution to their country and the future business plan. Opening a developing base in their country provides them with opportunities to exert their talent as well as create another choice for clients where to develop their service or product.


Expanding developing based is a part of “a platform fir diversity.” The world becomes much smaller and more open to us. I want to make it usual for everyone in the world to express their talent and choose what they like no matter where they live or where they were born as our businesses “Create a platform for diversity” around the world. There are more people who can show their talent if there is an opportunity, so I want to spread opportunities for people like them to create various values and bring “diversity” in the world.