Aiming to hit a home run: A Mercari PM’s passion for launching new businesses #BoldChallenge

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Mercari has grown to become Japan’s largest marketplace app, and we are continuously striving to accomplish our mission to “Create a global marketplace where anyone can buy & sell.” On this journey, our three company values, Go Bold, All for One, and Be a Pro, have always played a fundamental role. Of the three, we believe that Go Bold in particular is a perfect representation of the Mercari culture. To create a large impact on the world, taking on bold challenges and learning from failures is inevitable. In the “Bold Challenge” series on Mercan, we will shine a spotlight on Mercari members who have continued to strive in our evolving environment and reveal why they chose to take on these challenges.Read the previous article in this series here.

In this second article in the series, we interviewed Erisa Kim, who joined Souzoh, a former group company of Mercari, as a new graduate, and is currently working as a product manager (PM) in a team launching a new business.

Kim’s first assignment after graduation from university was “Mercari Maisonz,” a sister app to the Mercari marketplace app. Since Maisonz closed, she has been involved with feature development for Mercari. Her goal? “I want to hit a home run.” In this article, she discusses the meaning behind those words and the reason she continues to take on new challenges at Mercari. The interviewer is Ayaka Suzuki, formerly in charge of hiring at Souzoh and a current member of the PR Team.

The fun of taking on the unknown

ーWe used to work together often when I was in charge of hiring for Souzoh, but I feel like this is the first time we’ve gotten the chance to really sit down and chat. First, can you tell us why you decided to join Souzoh after graduation?

Kim: Of course! I interned at Zawatt, which ran Smaoku, a marketplace app for brand-name items. Zawatt was acquired by Mercari in an M&A, and I joined Souzoh as it became a group company. At the time, Daisaku Harada, who was the CEO of Zawatt, told me that Mercari was recruiting new graduates, and encouraged me to apply.

Erisa Kim (Mercari PM)

ーDid you have any doubts about joining Souzoh as a new grad?

Kim: As I interned at Souzoh, I felt how amazing it was to be in an environment that was accelerating its growth every day, and it made me want to work there. …Well, that’s what I always say, but actually, I was really unsure!

ーThat’s what I thought!

Kim: To tell you the truth, I had already received an offer from my first choice, a cosmetics-related company. I had always dreamed of working in the cosmetics industry, and I wanted to do marketing there. In both Zawatt and Souzoh, my role as an intern was assisting PMs, but I didn’t really have a good understanding of what they did, and couldn’t even begin to compare the two.

ーIn that case, why did you choose Souzoh?

Kim: What I learned as an intern was “the fun of taking on the unknown.” I wanted to try it myself, and that was what made my decision. I thought that joining Souzoh and taking on the challenge of launching new businesses would be the best possible opportunity to grow. After I joined, my first assignment as a PM was “Mercari Maisonz,” a sister app to the Mercari marketplace app.

ーMaisonz really was a new business. Was the launch full of unknown things like you thought?

Kim: It was. At the time, there wasn’t any sort of training for new-grad PMs. I tried reading articles online, but I couldn’t find very many that explained what a PM actually was. I felt like I was fumbling around in the dark every day, and consulted engineers and more experienced PMs all the time. Looking back on it, I feel like I ended up taking roundabout ways to do everything.

Mercari Maisonz: from release to service closure

ーAfter launching Maisonz, you were involved in the service all the way up until it closed in August 2018, right? Is there anything that you particularly remember from that time?

Kim: To put it simply, I wasn’t able to do anything well. Everything was a brand-new experience for me as a working adult, and I made a lot of mistakes. I loved both my team and the service, so I had a lot of fun, but there were a lot of small frustrations and setbacks.

ーMaisonz was released as a new service in the Mercari Group after “Mercari Atte,” the community classifieds app, and “Mercari Kauru,” the marketplace for books, CDs, DVDs, and games. But you weren’t celebrating, were you?

Kim: Honestly, I think I was more frustrated than happy. (laughs) Everyone around me was so talented and successful, I really wanted to catch up to them. In particular, every time I looked at my mentor, who was the lead producer of Maisonz, I thought “I want to be like them…” But in the end, I just fell farther and farther behind.

ーWhat didn’t go well?

Kim: What I regret the most is how often I simply listened to what others told me and did exactly as they said in my work. If someone told me “you should do that task like this,” I would follow their words even if I didn’t understand, and convince myself that that was just how it worked.

ーThere are times when that helps work move along, but you realized you couldn’t just follow what other people say.

Kim: That’s right. As a PM, it’s really difficult to understand the entire technical side, but when thinking about the user experience, it’s important to figure out what you don’t yet know but should, and to work to understand those things completely. I realized that in my first six months after joining. Now, I listen to opinions and ideas I get from other members, and make sure I really understand them before making a decision.

ーWhen did you find out Maisonz would be closing?

Kim: We found out right before it closed. I was pretty invested in it, so it was a bit of a shock, but the team was full of people who had experience launching new businesses in the past, so the overall mood was more “let’s try again with the next one.” Thanks to that, it didn’t get to me too much.

ーSo you were able to accept it and move on pretty quickly. (laughs)

Kim: Haha. Well, from the very beginning, Maisonz was created with the goal of eventually going back to Mercari. Everything we learned from Maisonz lives on within Mercari today. I was sad when I heard it would be closing, but more than the service itself, I think I was sadder about losing the Maisonz team I had been part of for a year.

Decision-making processes in an organization both a startup and a big company

Kim: After Maisonz closed, I transferred to a team that developed features for specific categories in Mercari, such as fashion and cosmetics. Within that team, I was assigned to the fashion category, and worked on strategies to increase the number of users who wanted to buy or list items, using things like promotions and push notifications.

ーWere you able to use the experience you gained in Souzoh?

Kim: This was actually the first time I was working on serious feature development. With Maisonz, the service had only just launched, so there were many things that clearly needed to be fixed. But Mercari was already a rather large-scale product. We needed to find new user insights and solve difficult issues in order to keep growing the way we were before.

ーThe work was different because the product was in a different phase.

Kim: Right. But when I first transferred teams, I made a lot of mistakes, like leaving things out of specification documents and misestimating how much work tasks would take. I caused a lot of trouble for the rest of the team. I’m the kind of person who hates to lose, so I was really disappointed in myself for making even the smallest mistake.

ーI can see that. (laughs)

Kim: Yeah. (laughs) After transferring from Souzoh to Mercari, and working on category growth, I realized that my strength is absorbing information and learning from it. Once I experience something for the first time, I can do it well the second time. I can confidently say that I’m strong-willed, and even if I make mistakes when doing something new, I’m determined to learn from it and do better next time. So I make sure to pinpoint exactly what the mistake was and generalize it into something that helps me learn.

ーYou moved from an organization where one team was behind the entire product to one where many teams work together on the same product. Was there anything that you found really different?

Kim: I actually struggled with that a lot. Souzoh had “Move Fast” as one of its values. There were very few processes you had to go through to do something, and quick decisions were considered the way to go. In contrast, Mercari is a far bigger business, and having more complicated decision-making processes is inevitable as a business grows. But it took me a long time to get over the idea that “moving slow is bad.”

ーHow did you get out of that mindset?

Kim: One day, Shintaro (Mercari CEO), who was around from the very beginning when Mercari was still a small startup, said at an all-hands meeting, “Mercari is a startup, but it’s also a big company.” After hearing that, it hit me that yes, some things shouldn’t change, but there are also some changes you just need to accept. That was when I was able to get into the mindset that what’s most important is to accept what’s changed and contribute as much value as you can in the situation you’re in now. Once I did that, the strategies I came up with started showing better numbers, and I could see the results improving little by little.

“I want to hit a home run.”

ーI heard that you recently transferred to a new team.

Kim: I did. In June 2019, I transferred to a new team in charge of launching a new business. Mercari looks like a complete and finished service, but if you look closely, there are actually many things still to do and still to improve. It was really fun finding solutions to those things. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I still thought, “I want to start something from scratch again, like I did in Souzoh.” That was when Harada, who was leading a new team, asked me if I was interested in starting a new business together.

ーThe same Harada that you worked with in Souzoh?

Kim: Yes. I didn’t think I’d have the chance to work with him again, but I’m really happy. At Mercari, there’s always a mission just a little bit above your skill level, ready for you to take on a new challenge. I think that’s one reason I’ve stayed at Mercari.

ーYou won the All for One award, one of our value awards, in the October–December 2018 quarter, right?

Kim: At the time, I was in charge of not only coming up with strategies to contribute to Mercari’s GMV, but also finding old AB tests that other teams had stopped using and cleaning them up. My manager at the time, Tommy Tomishima, praised me, saying “Taking the extra step to clean up stray balls other people leave behind is a great attitude to have.”

ーIn his speech after winning the award, he said, “You’ve learned how to make a hit with your strategies. Next, I want you to aim for a home run.” Do you plan to keep taking on new challenges?

Kim: Yes! I want to do more than just cleaning up other people’s stray balls. I want to hit a home run myself. To do that, I need to work hard to have more chances at bat and a better batting average. There are still many things left to do.

Interviewer Ayaka Suzuki from the PR Team (left) and Erisa Kim

Erisa Kim

After graduating from Waseda University, joined Mercari as a new graduate. The company she interned at as a student was acquired by Mercari, and her path changed to Mercari one month before joining. In her first year at Mercari, she launched “Mercari Maisonz,” a sister app to Mercari focused on brand-name items. In her second year, she was in charge of improving UI/UX within the Mercari app. She became product manager of a team in charge of launching a new business in June.

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