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Interview: Akira Morikawa

Jan. 8, 2014

More and more people are tapping into a new way to communicate.
LINE is a messaging app. It was developed in Japan. But its users are all over Asia.

A year ago, the number of users reached 100 million. By last July, the figure had doubled. By November, more than 300 million people had signed up for the app.

Akira Morikawa, CEO of LINE, sat down with NHK WORLD's Ai Uchida to tell how he plans to bring the world together.

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Smartphone users across Southeast Asia are enthusiastic about LINE. The app lets them keep in close touch with family, friends and colleagues.

Users can switch from group chat to free phone calls with a tap.

Police officers in Thailand now use the app as a communication tool. They can share photos instantly to watch over traffic, or to send updates on a case.

Another key feature is stickers.

"Stickers can express your emotions to another person, so they know how you're doing."

Akira Morikawa launched the service two and a half years ago.

He hopes to reach 500 million users by the end of 2014. He's focusing on the Indian and European markets, then, on to North America.

"We want to be number one, in the world. 2014 will be the crucial year to see if we succeed or fail."Akira Morikawa / CEO, LINE

The key pillar of Morikawa's global strategy is localization.

"People of different cultures have their own ways of greeting each other, and expressing things like anger and happiness. We study that before designing stickers. "Akira Morikawa / CEO, LINE

"Do you think they appeal to Americans and Europeans, too?"Ai Uchida / NHK WORLD

"Facebook recently started offering its own stickers... so that's your answer right there. There's definitely a demand, just different taste in designs. "

"Who do you consider your rivals?"

"When it comes to business, people often talk about rivals... and how to defeat them. But doing that means neglecting users. Our priority is not focusing on competitors or on the market environment. All that matters is what our users want. "

"And how do you find that out?"

"Every second of every minute, we're receiving data about where and how people use our services. That helps us plan our next step. "

As LINE goes global, Morikawa faces the challenge of managing 1,000 employees -- inside and outside of Japan -- while maintaining the company's innovative edge.

"The most important things are to hire people eager to spur innovation and to improve the work environment to meet their needs." "You see, when staff feel tired, they can lie down there."

"The business style during the so-called "Japan Inc. era" was to rely on meetings -- debating pros and cons before making decisions. But that's too slow. Our style is to invest each employee with more authority. Everyone is constantly running, and developing their own ideas. If something doesn't work, that's when we stop and think about how to solve it. "

"Isn't that risky?"

"What is risk, actually? Our biggest risk is becoming slower in providing services. We should always be the frontrunner -- to outrun other companies who copy our ideas. If not, we'll end up losing the game. People need communication -- just like they need clean drinking water. Our goal is to provide that social infrastructure. "

"Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs -- they are legendary leaders in the IT industry. But Akira Morikawa...who is Akira Morikawa?"

"Maybe the American style of corporate management, or leadership, is having charismatic leaders out on the front lines. But in Asia, people put value on cooperation and teamwork.
Our way of doing things is different. Maybe we are creating a new Asian style of management as we go along."


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