Eight Keywords for Delving Into Mercari: Our First 10 Years and the Potential and Future We Seek to Unleash / The Third Keyword: “Technology Engineering”
February 2023 marks the tenth anniversary of Mercari, Inc. We now have a new Group mission of “Circulate all forms of value to unleash the potential in all people.”
Here at Mercan, we have kicked off a new series feature called “Eight Keywords for Delving Into Mercari: Our First 10 Years and the Potential and Future We Seek to Unleash,” where we shine the spotlight on the thoughts and dreams put into this new Group mission and what we intend to achieve in the future. We will hear from key people who will lead Mercari into its next era, and try to paint a picture of the present and future of the organization that is Mercari to help us imagine how we can contribute to the company in the coming ten years.
The third keyword is “Technology Engineering.” In this article, we spoke with Mercari VP and CTO Ken Wakasa (@kwakasa), Mercari VP of Product Engineering Carlos Donderis (@CaDs), and Merpay VP and CTO Takashi Nozawa (@nozaq) to ask them how Mercari’s new Group mission will affect the company’s process of creating products and services. We also asked them about the direction our Product organization is aiming for and the vision that our engineering organization should shoot for going forward.
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Ken Wakasa (@kwakasa)Ken obtained a graduate degree in informatics engineering at University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering. He then worked on hardware-related software development (mobile phones, AV appliances) for Sun Microsystems and Sony. After joining Google and working on the development of Google Maps, he got involved with framework development as part of the Android OS dev team starting in 2010. He then worked on software development at Apple and oversaw the development of the LINE messaging client for LINE. In August 2019, he joined Mercari as the Director of Client Engineering. In July 2021, he was appointed Mercari Japan CTO.
Carlos Donderis（@CaDs）Mercari VP of Product Engineer. Carlos studied computer science at the Complutense University of Madrid. After working as a software engineer at European and Central American companies, he also worked for GMO Group and Sansan. He joined Mercari as an engineering manager in 2019, mostly managing product teams.
Takashi Nozawa (@nozaq)In 2006, Takashi founded Naked Technology, a company involved in developing infrastructure for mobile applications, as one of four members that were chosen for the Information-technology Promotion Agency’s Unexplored Software Project during his time in graduate school at Keio University. After Naked Technology became a subsidiary of Mixi in 2011, he started to get involved in building analytic infrastructure. He helped found Origami in 2012 and became its Director of Engineering. He joined Merpay, Inc. in February 2020 when Origami became part of Mercari Group. In July 2020, he became VP of Engineering. Half a year later, in January 2022, he was appointed Merpay CTO.
Shedding light on the “why” of our Group mission— a message that’s easy for our people to align with
──To start things off, I’d like to ask you about our new Group mission: “Circulate all forms of value to unleash the potential in all people.” Tell me how you interpret this mission from the perspectives of production and tech.
@kwakasa：I feel like our Group mission aligns us even more with the work that Mercari has done since the start of the company. Up until now, Mercari has created the means for anyone to buy and sell with ease (with an emphasis on selling), which fits into the essence of what the internet is about: empowering people.
What’s more, we’ve become able to provide even more diverse value to our users through such vehicles as Merpay, our mobile payments platform; Mercoin, our cryptoasset business; and Souzoh, the wing of our Group that provides our B2C e-commerce platform. I think that it’s meaningful that we’re hoisting our new Group mission precisely at a time when we have built our company into something that is more than just a simple marketplace business.
Ken Wakasa (@kwakasa)
@CaDs：Like kwakasa said, we’ve built a number of platforms that enable value exchange. However, based on the first half of the Group mission that talks about “all forms of value,” we haven’t covered everything yet.
There are bound to be even more forms of value out there. Things like cryptoassets and NFTs are different from cash, but they are commodities with value. Going forward, we’ll see other forms of value come into being as society changes. I think Mercari’s role as a company aiming to create a circular economy is to build the infrastructure for circulating forms of value that users would like to exchange as the need arises.
@kwakasa：Another crucial point of our new mission is contained in the second half: “unleash the potential in all people.” This is the reason for circulating all forms of value; it’s what we call the “why” of our Group mission. Shedding light on the “why” of our Group mission made it possible for us to create something that we could return to in our day-to-day decision-making.
@CaDs：As someone who moved to Japan from overseas, “unleash the potential in all people” is a phrase that resonates with me. Since the app is only available in Japanese at the moment, our product’s reach only extends to Japanese speakers. If we’re going to create a wider marketplace and global-level awareness of our company, we have to overcome language barriers and think about how we’re going to communicate with our users and how we’re going to use technology to achieve this.
If we are able to create a mechanism for our users, regardless of whether they are in Japan or in another country, and regardless of language, I think this will bring us closer to fulfilling our Group mission.
──How do you see things from a fintech perspective?
@nozaq：That’s a good question. I think that what Merpay has worked on to date has become the foundation of the activities of the entire Group. Over our short history, Merpay has tied our marketplace to social change and has searched to uncover what value it could provide. Especially when it comes to grasping technological changes, we’ve enabled the seamless transfer of funds by providing services like cashless payments and framing a user’s activity within the Mercari marketplace as the basis of their credit for services like deferred payments and payments in installments.
It’s precisely because Merpay is doing business in the financial sector that we’ve focused on safe and secure services more than other Group companies. If we’re going to deliver innovation to people’s lives and unleash the potential in all people, having a technological foundation that people can trust is indispensable. I would like to continue to contribute to the safety and security of the entire Group going forward.
Takashi Nozawa (@nozaq)
Aiming for production with a high level of productivity that is also low context at the same time
──How will the new Group mission change Mercari’s actual production?
@kwakasa：Since our inception, we haven’t changed how we think about “making products that will be used around the world.” Now that we’ve adopted our new mission, one thing that I am especially conscious of is to make products in what you might call a ”normal way” and without fearing any misunderstandings. I’d like to balance highlighting our Mercari-specific services, vision, culture, and values with keeping the technology and development processes we use to create our products from becoming too novel. That way, when people join the company, it will be easier for them to get up to speed and start yielding results regardless of their background.
@CaDs： I’d also like to be proactive in implementing standards, infrastructure, and frameworks that can be used globally. In order to make that happen, we’re now working on development to rewrite our code so that it meets global standards.
@kwakasa：Of course, keeping our processes from becoming too novel from a technical perspective and making our development less interesting are two different things. Going forward, I think it’s going to be interesting to work through the challenges Mercari will embark on to keep our products low-context while realizing development that is highly productive.
──You said that you would like to strengthen the Mercari-specific traits of our business, vision, and culture while keeping the company’s technology and development processes from becoming too novel. What does “Mercari-specific” mean to a development team?
@kwakasa：The vision of Mercari’s engineering organization expresses the company’s specific traits. A concept that I find especially important is “having a sense of ownership.” It’s important to have the passion and intention to work on pinpointing and solving problems on your own instead of just doing what you’re told. I don’t think that Mercari engineers adopt tech just for the sake of handling tech, but to use technology correctly for the purpose of achieving our mission.
@CaDs：Personally, I feel that the philosophy of “always taking on new challenges” is at the core of our organization’s vision. Failure should be part of our process precisely because Mercari takes on challenges that have no precedent. Much like the words “Blameless Culture” written into our vision, I think that moving forward while taking failure in stride is a Mercari-specific trait.
── What do you think it takes to be an organization that continues to take on new challenges?
@nozaq：We have to create a situation where executing development work that meets the restrictions and requirements of each of our services is simply a matter of routine. This need exists precisely because Mercari is a service used by millions; and because Merpay is also a fintech company, there are a lot of basic restrictions and conditions that we have to comply with. In taking on a new challenge, if we have to check the applicable conditions and correct for them each time, this will slow down our work. By carefully creating a development process that intrinsically meets the requested conditions, we’ll be able to create an organization that can continue to take on challenges without slowing down the pace of our work.
@kwakasa：You could say that what nozaq is referring to is the “elimination of over-reliance on individuals.” It’s easy to put this into words, but hard to put into practice. Organizations end up relying on their most gifted individuals and expecting wonders from them, like they are rock stars. However, there’s always a chance that a person of that caliber will eventually move on. When they do, the productivity of the organization cannot fall. We’re still very much in a trial-and-error phase, but I’d like to use the strength of our systems and organization to build an organization that continues to grow even if the members in its ranks change.
Taking on new challenges by redefining what it means to be an app
──I think I have a much better understanding of the outlook of your organization now. I’d like to finish off our time together by asking you about the future of the product. How do you propose realizing the Group mission of “circulate all forms of value to unleash the potential in all people” without damaging Mercari’s ease of use as an app with so many features on a single platform?
@kwakasa：I think that your question speaks to exactly where we are at this very moment. We say that Mercari is a mobile app company. However, an app is just one of the means of delivering an internet-based service. There are a variety of ways to do this other than through an app, such as web-based services.
@CaDs：I guess you could say that our mindset is framed with the assumption that “all our services should be linked to an app.” It’s just as kwakasa said; there are cases where an app is not the most efficient means for delivering a service. For example, many people are more comfortable using a web browser. In addition, users can also access services through an Internet of Things (IoT) device or by using a computer. We might be able to make Mercari an even broader platform by considering an approach other than apps. Our ultimate goal is to “circulate all forms of value,” and therefore, I think we have to test all possible means and methods of making that happen.
@kwakasa：I think it only makes sense for us to create multiple products while eyeing never-before-seen business sectors. Therefore, as engineers, the one thing that we should focus most of our energy on is ID infrastructure. For example, we need to look at how to manage user information and how to connect products seamlessly. Further advancing the efforts that we have focused on to date will be indispensable to increasing our services, including for new business.
@nozaq：In this context, I think that Merpay has two major roles. One of those is related to ID, the topic that we just talked about. Mercari’s current IDP Team has shouldered ID management and security at Merpay. In the midst of the emergence of services with different requirements existing side-by-side, we have created infrastructure on Mercari that has allowed users to use each feature safely. I would like us to be able to provide a safe and secure UX while sharing with the rest of the Group the knowledge and technologies that we have acquired along the way.
Our other role is to increase the value circulating in the Mercari ecosystem in the fintech domain. To date, we have been working on increasing the number of places where Mercari/Merpay balance can be used, making it possible for our users to use cashless payments, and creating mechanisms for credit. Surely there are still other innovations that we can create for the financial sector. I think that’s also true of cryptoassets and could be true of other investments as well. We will search for ways to provide new value as we grasp the changes we witness in such a society.
@kwakasa：Just because we’ve established a new mission, that doesn’t mean that we’ll realize the “circulation of all forms of value” straight away. We’d like to work with the entire Group to create a society that circulates more forms of value while seizing opportunities without missing out on social or technological changes.