An Engineer and Former Manager Talks About What Makes Mercari Fun #BoldChallenge
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.
In our last article,, along with the article before that, we covered some of our product managers. For our third entry, we’ll be interviewing Motohiro Takayama, engineering manager (EM) of the Architect Team. He’s been in many different roles in addition to EM – he’s been a software engineer, supporting member, and tech lead. We asked him why he decided to stay in Mercari’s engineering division while periodically changing roles.
Our interviewer today is Organization & Talent Development team member Takaya Ishiguro, who originally was in charge of hiring Takayama. The interview started with Ishiguro saying, “there’s something I wanted to ask you about.” Takayama, in his gentle and soft-spoken tone, talked about the things he wanted from his job.
What was the actual meaning of the tweet that he sent in the middle of the night?
Ishiguro: I want to ask you about this tweet.
A lot’s been going on, but I really do think I like working with this company.
— Motohiro Takayama (@mootoh) June 20, 2019
Takayama: Ah, this one.
Ishiguro: This was around 3 years ago, but I was in charge of hiring you. When you joined in 2016, you started as an iOS and Android engineer. You established the Android team and ran the organization, defining the roles of the tech lead and providing support. You also worked on developing features as a software engineer, and you’re now part of the Architect Team. It seems like you would have had enough by now, but even after all this you still tweeted about the job being “fun.” We’re curious about that and we want to ask you more about it.
Takayama: I think I sent this tweet after having a couple of drinks.
Ishiguro: I thought so. It seemed like that kind of tweet. (laughs) But it also seems like more than just a drunk tweet.
Takayama: Although I’m an engineer, I think I’m a fairly intuitive person.
Motohiro Takayama (Mercari Architect Team EM)
Ishiguro: Intuitive despite being an engineer?
Takayama: Yeah. Every time I’ve changed jobs, it was because I found a new job that just seemed fun. I don’t actually have any big visions in particular, so when people ask me “so why are you here?” my answer sounds something like that tweet. “I’m here because I like being with my buddies at Mercari.” That’s one of the reasons. Some of those buddies set off on their own journeys though, so I do need to put effort into finding new people. I really like the people I work with, so when someone leaves, my immediate thought is simply “do your best!” If someone quits because they’ve been having a rough time, we should try to make sure that the next person to join doesn’t run into the same issues.
Ishiguro: You’re definitely right about that.
Takayama: Also, I like Mercari’s marketplace service and I just want to see it succeed. It’s not only part of the IT industry – it’s a service that I can see people use while walking down the streets. That part is really amazing.
Ishiguro: I agree. Sometimes when I ride the subway, I see the person sitting next to me using our company’s app. That always makes me happy.
How his mindset changed after his manager left
Ishiguro: Takayama, you’re currently the Architect Team EM, right?
Takayama: Well, as you mentioned earlier, I’ve been an EM, tech lead, and software engineer. Let me write down my timeline. (writes on a piece of paper) It was something like this.
Ishiguro: Wow, you’ve done everything.
Takayama: At my last job, I was in a Japanese company that was trying to get started in the US. I figured I’d be able to use the experience I got there, so I decided to join Mercari. Incidentally, I downsized each time I changed jobs.
Ishiguro: So Mercari is the smallest company you’ve ever been in?
Ishiguro: Were you a manager at your last job as well?
Takayama: No, Mercari is the first company where I became a manager. The first time I was asked to do management duties was in… August 2016, if I’m not mistaken. I wasn’t in charge of any particular field, and I was overseeing the entire client side. The concept of “EM” didn’t exist, so I was more like a “playing manager.” I occasionally helped out with project management.
Ishiguro: So you were kind of a product manager?
Takayama: Yeah. That continued until 2018. During that time, I was in charge of a project for migrating Mercari’s US version to a new architecture. I led the hiring of overseas engineers while managing the Android Team at the same time.
Ishiguro: You really have done everything!
Takayama: There wasn’t a time when I wasn’t doing everything. By strengthening hiring, the Android Team that started out with just 3 members ended up multiplying by five, and although it was pretty homogenous before, that part changed as well. We started using a mix of English and Japanese, and our technical levels ended up diversifying too. Things got really tough all of a sudden.
Ishiguro: What kinds of things were tough?
Takayama: Communication. The Mercari Android Team started becoming global, and we ended up with half the team being Japanese and half the team being from overseas. When we got a lot of members, we split into two teams. We planned to split the teams based on technical skills, but… people ended up thinking that we split them into a Japanese team and an English team.
Ishiguro: “You’re splitting us up by language? What happened to diversity?” Was it that kind of reaction?
Takayama: Yep. And that was my fault since I failed to talk about the background and reasoning behind the team’s changes. Mercari was getting lots of new members and becoming really diverse at the time, so we suddenly had a huge need for onboarding. Members’ levels were also all over the place. We had no idea where to start, and to be honest, we started to get exhausted. That’s when someone told me, “you might be able to better utilize your skills if you’re NOT in a manager’s position.” I ended up deciding to step down from that position.
Ishiguro: So you went back to being an individual software engineers?
Takayama: That was right around the time we were trying to decide on the role of the tech lead. Because of that, I was involved in efforts to strengthen the engineering culture and development structure, along with establishing the foundations for the areas that tech leads are responsible for. After that I worked as a tech lead, training younger engineers for around 3 months. In the new quarter starting in April 2019, I worked as an individual software engineer to develop Mercari’s Android app. I became EM of the Architect Team in July.
Ishiguro: Were you relieved after stepping down from your manager position to be an individual engineer?
Takayama: I was. Being an EM meant I was responsible for each members’ growth and output, so it was tough. I definitely felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders when I went back to being an engineer. I’m back to being an EM now, and it’s hitting me once again that EMs are responsible for so much. But I’m happy that the team has become one again and shares the same direction and structure. It’s a relief to see everyone enjoying their work.
Ishiguro: What an answer! (laughs) Does working as an EM now feel any different from the first time?
Takayama: It does. Thanks to the tough experiences I’ve had as an EM in the past, I’ve been able to utilize them in my current work.
Responding to Mercari’s chaotic nature
Takayama: I’ve always referred to myself as a “firefighter.” I imagined myself rushing into the flames to take care of things. But I feel like those flames at Mercari are getting bigger every year.
Ishiguro: Firefighter… flames…
Takayama: It’s obviously not a good situation. But I’ve also never gotten tired of it.
Ishiguro: Not getting tired of it definitely sounds like a good thing.
Takayama: Mercari has a JP version and US version. Merpay is also part of the picture now, and the product itself is changing too. Members who work with the company are constantly having their roles changed, so it’s really chaotic! But thanks to Mercari’s current scale, there’s some good behind this chaos. When I look for jobs, I have my own motives. I think about things like “is it fun?” and “is it the most interesting option out there?” and “will it make the world a better place?” The reason I’m still at Mercari and not somewhere else right now is because this company still fits all three of those conditions.
Ishiguro: Having those motives in mind while looking for a job does sound like you.
Takayama: (Laughs). “Fun” and “interesting” are really important to me though. I really like the idea of taking nothing and turning it into something, and I think it’s one of my strengths. It’s been 3 years since then.
Ishiguro: Props for staying for 3 years.
Takayama: Thanks. I’m still here after all this time. The organization is far from organized, and communication in Mercari involves a mix of English and Japanese, making it even more chaotic. But the business and organization are both growing in spite of that. This isn’t the sort of thing that would happen at a company that just started up, or at a company that’s already established.
Ishiguro: So you’re saying that you find a lot of value in working at the current Mercari because of how chaotic it is?
Takayama: The chaos at Mercari involves a lot of “stretches” for not just the organization, but for the members as well. There are some big challenges, but clearing them basically guarantees that we’re growing and making progress. I think this is a characteristic that can only be found in Mercari in its current state.
How much of that “interesting” stuff is still present in the current Mercari?
Ishiguro: I’ve wanted to ask you this – have any other companies reached out to you asking you to join them?
Takayama: Somestimes. A little less than 20 times a month.
Ishiguro: That’s a lot. You’ve been declining them all?
Takayama: I wouldn’t say I’ve been declining them – it’s more like I haven’t had time to answer them. That’s how busy I am. If I had the time to do that, I’d rather spend that time with my family! My personal life is my main focus, and Mercari is more like my side job.
Ishiguro: So you have tons of fun on weekends, before returning to work on Mondays. You’ve been with Mercari since 2016 – how do you feel about the changes that have been happening since?
Takayama: It’s always been tough. But I never compare things now with how things were back then. As I look back, I realize that there’s no point if I don’t try to make the present better. The Architect Team that I’m leading now is finally starting to make some great progress. Architecture is not just a business, but a field that has the power to change the entire organization. Being part of a team with this kind of responsibility has allowed me to expand my own range of abilities. I want to develop this team, and I also want to find someone to be my succeeding EM.
Ishiguro: Why do you want to find your succeeding EM?
Takayama: Because it’ll allow me to take on new challenges.
Ishiguro: I see.
Takayama: Even if it doesn’t lead to new challenges, I want to acquire skills that let me cover a wide variety of fields. Fortunately, Mercari is a company with a lot of issues to fix, so that lets me learn a lot of things. (laughs) And the flow of time here is really fast. I don’t think there are many other companies out there that can offer these qualities.
Ishiguro: It’s an element that’s unique to a chaotic company, right?
Takayama: Exactly. I think that Mercari will continue getting more chaotic, which is going to be interesting. I choose my career based on whether or not it seems fun, so it’s important to me how many interesting opportunities are left. The architecture that I’m working with now is chaos, but it has a direction and it’s there to improve the entire organization. Since those opportunities are right in front of me, I don’t think I’ll be getting bored of this job anytime soon.
Interviewer Takaya Ishiguro (Organization & Talent Development Team) and Motohiro Takayama
Joined Toshiba Corportation after graduating. Used Cell REGZA to develop Molatomium, a parallel programming language along with its VM. Simultaneously worked on iOS app development as a hobby, taking an interest in the mobile domain. Transferred to DeNA Co Ltd and moved to the US for about 3 years to work on the ngCore game engine. Worked on R&D projects and iOS app development after returning to Japan. Joined Mercari in 2016 as an Android engineer. After taking childcare leave, he worked in engineering teams and project management. He is currently the engineering manager of the Architect Team.
Joined NTT Docomo Inc. as a new grad to work in operations, hiring & training, and HR. Also was involved in starting up new businesses and working as a producer. Joined Mercari in January 2015 and is currently manager of the Organization & Talent Development Team.