Celebrating our 2nd anniversary! The story behind the birth of PayPay
Today marks two years since PayPay was founded.
We talked with three people who’ve been with PayPay from its foundation to service launch, revealing the secret behind the beginnings of PayPay in light of the company’s 2nd anniversary.
– When did you first start working for PayPay and what was your mission?
Naoto: I have been around since the preparation phase in the capacity of business development. My first encounter with the project was in February of 2018 when I met Paytm CEO Vijay in one of Yahoo! JAPAN’s conference rooms in Kioicho. As the first member of the Yahoo team, I was involved in the preparations with members from SoftBank. My initial task was to assemble a team to achieve three things: launch a mobile payment service by autumn, establish a joint venture (JV) between SoftBank and Yahoo to do what Paytm does in India, and become #1 in both numbers of users and merchants.
Takuya： I joined in April, two months after Naoto (Kobayashi). At the time, I was told that Yahoo was going to launch a mobile payment business and that the sales activities would be handled by the JV between SoftBank and Yahoo, so they wanted me to work on setting up the JV, formulate a business plan, and create a sales plan. The business plan that we came up with was on the assumption that mobile payments would become available everywhere in Japan within one year, in stark comparison to the reality in which we had yet to create a sales team from scratch to sell a service that did not exist.
Madhumita（MM）：I joined as a product manager around mid-July. I had experience working on a similar project at Paytm, and my boss asked me if I would be interested in working on a project to launch a mobile payment service in Japan. This was three months before the launch in October. I knew it was going to be tough, but I decided to do it because I knew it would be a great experience.
– What did you think of the super-short-term launch?
Naoto： There was no space for thought– only to get the job done. There was no hesitation on my part, as I could see that the management team was dead serious about the project. It felt like I had been put on a stage, equipped with everything necessary to start a mobile payment business.
Takuya： In addition to the determination that the management team had, I too felt confident after seeing the actual team that was assembled– it was going to be a definite success!
MM： Actually, I thought that launching a service and returning to India in three months was a crazy plan (laughs). I guess that made it all the more exciting– I felt determined to get it done.
– How were the first few months?
Takuya： It was a tremendous task to create a sales team to sell a service without knowing what it was going to be like. It wasn’t until I went to India at the end of May and saw mobile payments in play everywhere, from street stalls to major supermarkets, that I finally understood what was coming. It was an aha moment. After that, I was able to explain what exactly the service would be in my own words, but still, it was difficult to pre-sell a service that did not exist. Since there was nothing to show, we made a PDF comic and pitched it on an iPad. We referred to our activities as “fantasy sales” (laughs).
MM： Product development was also very challenging with members with different languages, cultures, and backgrounds working together from three different time zones (India, Canada, and Japan). I came to Japan as a product manager to launch a service in three months without an inkling of Japanese. It was scary, thinking about how to get things done and how to communicate with Japanese engineers. To be honest, balancing the speed of execution while maintaining quality was an impossible mission that we took head-on.
– How did you overcome that?
MM： The engineering leads were very dedicated and had a clear vision right from the beginning. We all shared the same passion, so we were able to come together as a strong team with a common goal. I think we were able to make the impossible possible by turning towards our strengths rather than weaknesses. Strangely, the cultural differences didn’t turn out to be negative factors, rather, instead of 1+1 being 2, 1+1 became 3.
Naoto： I agree. As MM said, the best part of PayPay has been built by “stepping outside the box.” Given the tight turnaround to set up the company in parallel to launching the service, “speed” naturally became the point of focus, even though at times it was hard work to realize that “normal” for me could be something relative. Because we were a multinational JV team created from scratch overnight, we had to challenge and discuss every single assumption that I would have otherwise taken for granted without much thought. Everyone had their own opinion, and each time we would return to the question: “Is that good for the user?” which in hindsight, helped polish our product.
Takuya： It was the same with the sales team. In the beginning, most of the sales team consisted of SoftBank’s senior management members. The organization had a pyramid structure where top-down instructions and meticulous attention to detail ran strong, providing solid organizational capabilities. Later on, we introduced Yahoo’s strength of having a bottom-up culture, where the organization is flat and team members take responsibility for various things regardless of hierarchy. In this way, we have tried to leverage what is good from both companies without leaning too much in either direction and in doing so, we’ve created a culture unique to PayPay. I think that has led to the good service and good company we have today.
– Harinder, PayPay’s CTO, often says, “We’re going to create a unique PayPay culture that is neither Indian nor Japanese” – I guess that’s exactly what we’re doing.
All： Nodding enthusiastically.
– How do you think you yourself changed during all this?
MM： I have learned an incredible amount from this experience. The journey so far has been so much fun. The more I got involved, the more fun things became. I fell in love with Japan and Japanese food, and I’ve built great relationships with everyone I work with. Without that, it would have been tough, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely, despite the differences in background and culture! So, three months has now turned into two years, but I guess that’s fine (laughs).
Naoto： My view was that I was given the best possible “stage” to excel by using my knowledge and experience, so keeping myself motivated or having to boost my morale was something I have never had to worry about. Having said that, I didn’t know whether it was going to be a full marathon, a half marathon, or even an ultra-marathon. It was like starting a marathon with no idea of the course or weather, so I did make a conscious effort to maintain my health both physically and mentally.
Takuya： We opened 20 sales offices across the country at the same time, in only three months. The sales team members, including planning team members, were scattered across different locations, spending a week at each to train the team on the ground. I went to Shizuoka in addition to Kagoshima and Sapporo to set up a temporary base and train people to carry on our ideas. I had to arrange for all of the equipment and devices needed to make sales calls to stores. It was very hard work and I almost fainted from exhaustion, but it was very rewarding.
– What do you think of PayPay now and what do you hope to see in the future?
Naoto： The messages of “user first” and “speed” have been fostered by the management team and have created a corporate culture that is now a natural part of everyone’s behavior. I hope that these values will remain going into the future. I think the biggest appeal of PayPay is teamwork. In good times and bad, we all work together to move forward and uphold the values we see as important. I like this team effort, and I think it’s the source of PayPay’s competitive advantage, so I hope everyone keeps it up.
Takuya： My eldest son, who was born on the eve of PayPay’s establishment, is now two years old, and I’m deeply moved by the fact that he now says “PayPay”(laughs). Through TV commercials and other means, we have been able to raise awareness of our product throughout Japan, but I would like to continue to make the product available to more people and play a role in spreading PayPay’s services. We also have a lot of global talent in the company, and we want to develop PayPay as a global brand.
MM： PayPay is growing very fast in Japan, so it would be great if we could maintain our position as the number one app in Japan and continue to strive to achieve major milestones and eventually expand to other countries.
– Finally, what is your message to those who are thinking of joining PayPay?
Takuya： I don’t think there’s any other company that has both the momentum of venture business and the capability to spread its services across society. I think it’s the perfect company for people who want to create an infrastructure and contribute to as many people as possible.
Naoto： I think we’re a pretty rare company in that we fight the way big companies fight, but also the way ventures businesses do– a hybrid. We also have a lot of opportunities to do business with some of the top companies in the world. Our services are constantly growing and changing, so if you join now, you’re just at the beginning of an epic drama that’s about to unfold over hundreds of pages. It would be great to be able to work together as starting members of this business.
MM： PayPay is a company of people from many different countries and backgrounds. When I look back on what we’ve accomplished in just two years with this group of people, I’m really proud of where we’ve come. PayPay is unlike any other Japanese company and the experience that you’ll get working here is very unique. The product division is very fast-paced with a plethora of opportunities and teams to work with. If you’re confident that you can overcome daily challenges without fear and with excitement, then come to PayPay. If you are up for a little bit of a challenge and an exciting opportunity, join us at PayPay and fasten your seatbelt for the roller coaster ride.
– If your days at PayPay are so exciting, you may never go back to India again.
MM： I’ll think about it!!!
Interpreter : Naoko Asahi
Editor : az (PayPay Inside-Out Editor)
* Employees’ affiliations are those of the time of the interview.