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Gaijins of Japan: Jordan Fisher, CEO and Founder of Zehitomo

Updated: Dec 25, 2019

Written by: Neil Eichenberger

Publish Date: 17th December 2019

Get to know Jordan Fisher, an American who used to be vice president at JP Morgan Japan but decided to create his own company, Zehitomo (https://www.zehitomo.com/), with Co-founder James McCarty to enhance the way of the Japanese working style more freely and richly. We got the pleasure to meet with Jordan and ask him why Japan and how Zehitomo came to be. #jportlibrary



Why start a start-up in Japan?


Even though some aspects of creating a start-up are a lot easier in the US than in Japan and he speaks the language, he decided to start in Japan because there are a lot more opportunities in Japan. And so because he loves problem-solving so much and he found a huge problem in Japan which he wanted to solve. He wanted to build something bigger than himself, which would impact all of Japan. There are companies across the world that are doing exactly what we are doing and trying to solve this in each of the domestic markets, but globally this is seen as one of the last large consumer sectors to come online. He thinks that services in Japan are not that great. They are rather inefficient, and so solving that would make life in Japan a lot easier and more comfortable.



“You have really talented people all across the country. And people who have money to spend on those services. So you have all the ingredients here. Just the challenge is that things are offline.”




Why Zehitomo?


He had a safe and stable position at JP Morgan, so you might wonder why he decided to leave his job and build Zehitomo, which he started in 2015 while taking a parental break at JP Morgan when his first daughter was born.

His thoughts on challenging himself:

“Once you feel confident that you’re able to do something, you lose a little bit of the challenge, lose a little bit of the motivation. And once I felt confident that “hey I was able to continue to have a good career”, that’s not so much fun right? I always wanted to kind of push myself and challenge myself to the extreme.”


Zehitomo is a service that should solve the problem of talents being left behind while the world shifts to a more digital space, which is often the case in Japan. As opposed to big companies - small, but great companies are often missing in search results. So Zehitomo would become a platform to connect clients and local services in Japan. Both Jordan and James wanted to change the way you find and hire local service professionals in Japan and thus teamed up to build up this start-up.


He gave us one example, which some of you might have had a similar experience with:


“When my first child was born, we wanted to sound-proof the windows and went through the concierge, a mansion in Japan. And of course, we could take care of everything. So the process takes like one month for them to come back with a quote. They go through their approving vendors, then their approving vendors. Nobody wants to take the risk, of course. So they were based in Tokyo, we are in Tokyo but they send somebody down from Osaka to measure the room. The Approve-process work is so inefficient. So ultimately they come back with a price of around 40000$ for a few windows and high-quality glass. Is this really a fair price? Nobody was trying to be evil, nobody was trying to rip me off – it was just the process they went through. And I am sure it would’ve been a very good high-quality experience and everything. But being the stubborn foreigner I am, my wife and I decided to call up every single place we could find “can you do this? Do you have this type of glass?”. Within one week we found this very small three-person shop based in Kanagawa that does this professionally. They carry all the soundproofing glass, they carry the same maker-items, and they do the isolation for us, one week later, for a tenth of a price. 4000$. Because we went to them directly without going through such a troublesome process.”


In the future his vision is to kind of have something like “OK GOOGLE”, just with “OK ZEHITOMO, change my Tatami” or whatever your request would be. To explain the name of the company quickly, Zehitomo (jap.: 是非とも) means “by all means”, also in a sense “not taking no for an answer”.



Challenges

At JP Morgan, he had a perfectly balanced environment with English- and Japanese-speaking people. Jordan had the chance to challenge himself in many different roles while working there.


“I think generally, anybody’s performance in any company you would join is going to be a function of your motivation and how challenged you can be, is really what can drive you.”


He first started off building trading platforms across Asia, which was still very small, so he had huge opportunities and responsibility. Then he moved to the rate trading desk, which they called “Rapid Application Development” which had a different kind of pressure and different types of learnings.

“I learned how to perform under pressure. If somebody asks “What’s going on?!” and there are millions of dollars on the line, it’s very natural to kind of freeze up and think less fluidly. But the more you work in that environment the more you will get used to that. You don’t succeed by getting upset or making excuses.


He believes that it is great to have a change every couple of years. It doesn’t need to be an entirely new change, just doing a different role in the same area would be beneficial and help you to continue to challenge yourself. At Zehitomo, since it’s a start-up company, the most important thing is to focus. He said that there are so many opportunities in this business they are trying to cover in local services, so many good things to do which could improve the platform. So the biggest challenge is prioritization.


“It’s hard. And if somebody is having a bad experience, my heart is bleeding for them. We’re really kind of focused on the hardest things in front of us that will help us scale and if our focus is only on that and we give ourselves no excuses then it’s like “hey, we HAVE to solve this.” You got to focus on that one thing at hand, and if you’re kind of forced into such a situation, that is kind of how we figure out how to do things.


So for Jordan, one of the biggest challenges at Zehitomo is continuing to scale the team quickly while also maintaining the focus on the task on hand.





Advice for fellow foreigners who want to start a career in Japan


Being in Japan, the most important thing when wanting to join a company or create your own start-up, is respect.


“I think that people saying that “oh this is annoying in Japan, I am going to change it” and having this “outside-view” about it, I think that it is very hard to inflict change from the outside. Generally hard to change anything in any culture.”


So, respecting the country you’re living and working in.

Another thing he mentioned was adding value to society as a business. In the beginning, when you’ll join an environment where you will be able to push and challenge yourself and be able to grow – that is very important.


“I think growing a start-up is a great way to start to kind of understand adventure space. Because there are a lot of learnings in the beginning and if you’re ready to start, I wouldn’t delay.”


So staying in a “growth” mindset and continuing with your idea is a great way to learn by doing.


“Continue to make sure that every feedback, everything that doesn’t go well is an opportunity to improve yourself”