Changing the Meaning of “Work” to Build Mercari’s Third Pillar of Business—Meet Mercari’s Leaders, Vol. 1: Asami Ota (CEO of Work)
“There are still issues to address in atypical employment.”
So says Asami Ota (@Asami), VP and CEO of Work, who is responsible for launching Mercari’s new business, Mercari Hallo. Her career started as an engineer and took her through various roles and responsibilities, such as PM, sales, head of business, CEO, and COO.
Having experienced these positions and phases, what sort of business is Asami preparing to launch as a CEO? We asked her about the thoughts she put into Mercari Hallo and the future she envisions with this new business that aims to resolve issues in atypical employment.
Asami OtaAfter graduating from the Waseda School of Science and Engineering, Asami joined Rakuten, Inc., where she worked as an engineer and PM for Rakuten Ichiba and Rakuten Edy. Following this, she was involved in the launch of an ID payment business at Recruit Lifestyle Co Ltd. In 2015, she joined Emotion Intelligence, Inc., where she worked in sales before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. The company was sold in 2019 to Appier Inc., whose headquarters are based in Taiwan. After launching a new business as part of SHOWROOM Inc. in 2020, she joined Mercari, Inc. in 2021 as a member of the Management Strategy Team. She became Chief Operating Officer of Souzoh, Inc. in July 2022 and Vice President of Work in July 2023. She has been in her current position as CEO of Work since January 2024. She adores Indian cinema and French bulldogs.
The third pillar after Marketplace and Fintech
—What is your current area of responsibility?
As the head of Mercari Hallo, I am in the process of launching a new business that will match companies (a.k.a. “partners”) facing a shortage of human resources with people looking to work for short hours or with flexible working styles (a.k.a. “crew”).
By circulating the time and skills of people, we aim to build the third pillar (the first and second being Marketplace and Fintech) that will support Mercari Group and bring us closer to achieving especially the second part of our Group mission: “Circulate all forms of value to unleash the potential in all people.”
—What is the meaning and intention of the name “Mercari Hallo”?
“Hallo” is based on the Japanese pronunciation of the English word “hello.” We envision creating an atmosphere where partners and crew can casually greet one another with a warm “Hello!”, as we value human connection.
The thing about on-demand labor is that the partner and crew only have a brief amount of time to interact with one another, but we believe that building up these interactions in the form of data will eventually lead to the forming of stronger connections.
Even though the concept of the business is to work for short hours not bound to a certain location, we wish to achieve a world where crew can think, “when I have some more free time, I should go to work at that place (that I worked before via Mercari Hallo) again.”
—What are some of the things you pay attention to while launching a business as a top executive?
I try to stay aware of what sort of value we want to deliver to the public as Mercari. I’m constantly thinking about why Mercari should take on a certain thing or what is best for Mercari to take on in the first place.
In terms of my personal mindset, I think it’s important for me to be working in a cheerful mood. I believe that ultimately, to deliver value is to deliver some sort of positive energy to the user. If we are in a negative mood, how can we possibly achieve that? Working at a job can sometimes have its rough moments, but I believe that as one of the executives, me keeping positive spirits lightens up the mood in the entire Work organization.
Achieved a V-shape recovery at her previous workplace before joining Mercari
—Can you talk about your career so far?
I joined an internet service company as a new graduate, and after a year of engineering work, I became a PM there. I then transferred to a company of the same group that operated an electronic payment service. There, I was a PM for new projects, and I experienced launching businesses in cooperation with other teams such as the iD payment team and the credit card business team.
I changed jobs after that, joining an iD payment business at its initial phase as head of product. I went beyond the confines of my position, performing business and marketing duties as well.
A particularly remarkable experience in my career was at the next company I joined, which was a startup for a web marketing tool aimed at EC businesses.
—What was your experience at that startup?
The business was in a bad spot, and the organization was in shambles, so with the request of the shareholders, I was appointed to be company president. It took some time, but we were able to become profitable. Ultimately we even achieved an M&A with a company in Taiwan.
In that process, I was able to discover the joy of managing an organization to address and resolve issues. Making the decision to go ahead with the M&A is something I was only able to experience due to being the president at the time. I think having been through that unique position has taught me things I am still applying today.
—What was your path from there to Mercari like?
After I left that startup, there came a time when I was reviewing my career plans. Fortuitously, that is when I had the opportunity to talk to Shintaro Yamada (Director, Representative Executive Officer and CEO). I found that Mercari’s mission deeply resonated with me. Considering the phase of the company, I thought that there was a lot I could contribute to as well.
In Mercari, I experienced a variety of responsibilities, such as formulating roadmaps and facilitating executive meetings in Management Strategy Office, after which I transferred to Souzoh as COO and oversaw the business area as a whole.
Convenience store shelves were the gateway to business
—You have been involved in launching multiple businesses. Why did you decide on such a career?
It was a dream of mine in elementary school to create a business.
What initially inspired me to do so was product shelves in convenience stores. I enjoyed observing trendy items being placed in display cases, while those whose times had ended would quietly disappear.
An event that left a deep impression on me was the time when a certain soft drink was quite the rage. Before this particular product, no one I knew even drank juices of that flavor. However, it was a hit, and everyone started to drink it. Now this juice flavor is widely known as one of the major ones. I found out that behind such wide-scale movements were the companies and people who planned for them to happen, and I wanted in.
I was also interested in the world of the internet early on. I was already buying and selling things on internet auctions when I was in elementary school. My curiosity in new services and wide-scale movements has been with me for a long time.
—I see! By the way, what kind of a student were you in university?
I organized a student club for planning events, I had part-time jobs, and I was even involved in the launching of a web service. I think I was proactively trying to interact with society at many touchpoints.
Event organizing requires sponsorships, so you have to go around talking to potential sponsors like the sales team of a company. I had fun doing that too. I had a vague feeling that it was the right fit for me. That is why my desired job as a new graduate was in the sales team. I wanted to start with something I’m good at and grow quickly from there.
Making the experience of “working” as simple as buying and selling things on Mercari
—What is your future outlook for Mercari Hallo?
I aim for a world where all work can be shared at all places. I think we can make the experience of working a lighter and more casual thing this way. In fact, I would like to see work become as casual as listing something on Mercari. Most postings are for shifts of around five to seven hours, and there are a lot of postings that exclusively look for experienced workers. By bringing Mercari into that ecosystem, I believe we can increase the number of jobs in many fields and see many more that require shorter hours and are much easier to apply for.
It should lead to more flexible matching of partners and crew. By polishing up our service value as demanded by both sides, we can aim to be the market leader in the field.
I also want to build more connections with the Fintech business. I would like to deliver more experiences unique to Mercari, such as paying out wages in Merpay balance and the ability to improve your Merpay credit based on your work experience and rating on Mercari Hallo. I would like to deliver a service that appeals to Mercari users.
—I believe Mercari Hallo is a latecomer in the on-demand labor field. What is your take on that fact?
The on-demand labor market is still in its expansion phase, so being a latecomer does not take away from our chances. The marketplace app was also in a similar situation initially. Mercari was able to make its way through the large number of competitors because of the fact that the market was simply much larger than initially anticipated. With Mercari’s efforts, I would like to see the on-demand labor market expand similarly.
—What sort of impact would you like to have on society with the expansion of Mercari Hallo?
I would like to alleviate the burden involved in work and make it possible for all to easily take on what they want to do.
A major problem for partners is the shortage of human resources, which takes an immense amount of time and effort to resolve. Even if a company posts job listings aimed at an indeterminate number of people, holds interviews, and eventually hires someone, if that person ends up quitting, the company has to start over from the process of posting job listings, making all this a cycle of inefficiency.
For example, when posting a job listing for a convenience store chain, if you could narrow down prospective applicants to, say, people with experience working at a convenience store, you could find the right person much more efficiently. However, most of the time, such data is recorded on paper only, making it impossible to share it in a format available to all.
This is an issue faced by crew also. Even if they build experience in a specific job, it unfortunately doesn’t guarantee that they will have the opportunity to put that experience to use in the next job. People who gained experience and skills in a specific job may be able to perform somewhere else doing the same job at the same level as an experienced worker. They may even see their hourly rates go up.
Storing the data of who did what job and building it up over time should resolve some of the issues faced by partners and crew by matching them to one another more appropriately.
—Maybe you can even use the data, knowledge, and technology cultivated at Marketplace.
That is correct. I also believe that one of the issues we can solve by making use of our experience in Marketplace is the initial uneasiness a partner and crew may feel when they meet for the first time ever.
In Marketplace, we have been able to achieve smooth communications between anonymous users via things like the review feature. We aim to achieve a similar atmosphere in Mercari Hallo, where people can safely match and communicate with each other.
—By resolving such issues, what potential do you think workers can unleash?
They will be able to pick work styles more flexible than fixed part-time work, without having to use a CV or resume. They will be able to work at multiple places at once and easily take on the kind of work they are interested in. Moreover, people who can’t take on fixed shifts due to personal or family reasons will be able to find work that accommodates their hours. Of course, people who already have regular employment and want to take on outside work for some extra pocket money will also be able to do so.
Working, as it is now, tends to have complicated and bothersome aspects. We hope to to eliminate these and make work as casual as listing something on Mercari.
—The Work Team is currently strengthening its recruitment efforts. What sort of talent are you looking for?
First and foremost, people who find that the Group mission resonates with them. Beyond that, as we happen to be a new business, people that have passion toward creating new things and values, and seeing it through to success.
I would also appreciate people who can incite futuristic changes. Mercari is a company with strong culture and values, which in turn means it’s valuable to have people that can doubt our culture and values from time to time. If we are ever too rigid with our thinking, we will appreciate someone breaking us out of it. I wish for the team to be a diverse environment, including people of different mindsets, so that we can trigger some sort of chemical reaction.
Extra: How I use Mercari!
I often buy travel goods before setting out on trips. For example, I love traveling to India, so I buy garments such as saris on Mercari before I go. Of course, I can choose to buy one on location, but that way I can’t be sure that I will manage to find one on day one. I make sure to complete my purchases ahead of time on Mercari, so that I can fully enjoy my time in India as soon as I land.
The first thing I sold on Mercari was my own wedding dress. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, but it was taking up too much space. I decided to give it to someone who would wear it.
Not only do I enjoy events, I also start every new thing by first preparing the right looks, tools, and style. On the other hand, I have no strong attachment to things. Therefore, I use Mercari to buy something for a certain event, use it, and sell it to someone else immediately after.