Go East Young Man! A Frenchman in Japan: life, entrepreneurship and Japanese culture

Marc-Alexandre cartiantMarc-Alexandre Cartiant, French-born consultant and entrepreneur, pursued a dream to live and work in Japan. In this article he talks about his experience and offers invaluable insights into working across cultures and starting up your business in the land of the rising sun

Edited by Tom Gamble from an interview with Marc-Alexandre Cartiant


I first met Marc-Alexandre Cartiant in 2006 when we shared an open-space office at a leading management soft-skills e-learning provider based in Paris. From the outset, it was clear Marc-Alexandre was a true “shinnichi” – a Japanophile – and lo and behold, in 2008, he succeeded in being seconded to the Japanese office.

Marc-Alexandre Cartiant moved to Japan when he was twenty-seven at a point where he had everything to continue a decent life in Paris. At that age, he describes himself as being young, angry and foolish, and plucking up his courage he told his Director that he wanted to move to Asia in the next six months – even if it meant costing him his job. Michael Ohana, ESSEC Alumnus, and at that time CEO and founder of CrossKnowledge, offered him to go to Japan office as an expat.

Nine years on, at thirty-six, he is married to his beautiful (sic) Japanese wife whom he met in the plane on his way to Japan and the proud father of three. Professionally speaking, he describes himself as being at the sweet-spot between software engineering, digital marketing and management. When he looks at his career, he observes that he has now spent more time working in Japan than in France.

Entrepreneurship in Japan

Hands holding sapling in soil

“In Japan, my experience has shown that spoken commitments are as important as clauses in contracts,” states Marc-Alexandre Cartiant, speaking about his later entrepreneurial ventures. “Access to funding could be a challenge for one reason: investors want your business to begin to show success organically first before being boosted by funds.”

A second characteristic is that Japan has a very pragmatic approach to business: both the state and financial bodies certainly encourage startups – if you have something interesting to sell and the network to showcase your product or service. Unfortunately, says Cartiant, lots of people don’t have both key ingredients which is why they fail.

Moreover, Japan is more intra-entrepreneur oriented than “entrepreneur” oriented. According to Cartiant, innovation does exist within companies, with open minded people willing to make changes, and develop new products. It’s just less visible since it’s very local.

3 key tips to starting up your business in Japan

Entrepreneurship in Japan

Cartiant’s experience in IT/Digital related services leads him to say that if you do wish to bootstrap, first take the time to think about creating a business and aim for sectors that work, especially digital. Tokyo is probably the best city in the world, he insists. It’s safe, clean, the internet and public transportation are very reliable and above-all, you would end-up being distracted much less than in your home country for a simple reason: you don’t talk and read the language; that would help you to focus on what you want to create.

Further advice would be to start working as a freelancer first for small businesses owned by non-Japanese nationals. It is a way to get yourself accustomed to the working environment in Japan and, most importantly, it provides the opportunity to build yourself a solid network. Lastly, states Cartiant, give a substantial amount of your time, for free, to whichever groups or organisations you might find interesting to be involved in. This socialisation process is a must for building a strong network.

Looking to the future

Businesspeople holding umbrellas

Faced with national and international changes such as the massive use of social media, what developments will entrepreneurship in Japan see in the future? Marc-Alexandre Cartiant increasingly observes that colleagues and acquaintances, especially among his international Japanese friends, drop their main job to become entrepreneurs…which for Cartiant is quite interesting given the challenge it represents. “That said,” he continues, “entrepreneurship is not for everyone and not everyone wants to become an entrepreneur in Japan. My bet is there will be increasing spin-off from large business groups, mainly for cost reduction reasons, rather than “Silicon Valley-like” startups.

Looking overseas

When asked to offer advice to Japanese companies wishing to sell their products internationally, Marc-Alexandre Cartiant’s first reaction is to joke “Call me!” Resuming a professional stance, he urges Japanese companies to undertake at least the bare minimum in terms of digital marketing, for instance ensuring that the company website looks and feels good and has its offer displayed in good English. “Shout successes,” he continues, “so that they can be more easily noticed by influencers.” And last, but not least, meet interesting foreigners who are already in Japan: communicating between cultures can give precious insight into what motivates others beyond one’s borders, how they work, and what they appreciate.


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