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Harvard Business School Group Takes on the Challenges of Bringing Sansan to the US

Second-year postgraduate students at world-renowned Harvard Business School (HBS) can take part in the Immersive Field Course (IFC). In this hands-on program, they stay in different cities around the world and immerse themselves in local companies’ activities. Japan is the most popular destination for the program.

There are around 900 such students, and many apply for the IFC. Just 43 were selected as members of the 2019 group that came to Japan.

Among a large pool of candidate companies. Sansan was again chosen as one of just 10 project partners because HBS feels we are unique in our business focusing on Japan’s distinctive business card culture.

HBS Students’ Quick Immersion in the Japan Market

The HBS students stayed in Japan for a total of 10 days. They met with Sansan staff and visited Avnet and Cisco Systems, who have implemented the Sansan business card-based contact management service. We were able to speak openly about the background to these companies introducing Sansan and the challenges they faced after introduction. This gave the students deeper insights into our service, and the chance to discuss each company’s issues.

The students also found time to visit Sendai and Fukushima to view reconstruction ongoing after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. They also went to a sumo stable to see this special part of Japanese culture.

The HBS students were with us at Sansan for just 4 days – not long at all. Their trip culminated in a final-day presentation summing up their findings and recommendations.

Sansan gave the HBS students the topic of “Sansan’s US Market Challenge.” We asked them to consider strategies for an assumed business expansion of Sansan into the United States, and the challenges we would be facing.

Sharing Findings on “Sansan’s US Market Challenge”

CEO Chika Terada, our directors, and many members of Sansan were on hand to see what the students found. Lively interaction on a broad range of topics followed in a Q&A session.

Reflections on the Project and on Sansan

Kazu Fukuda, Head of Global Sales Development, who planned and facilitated the project, shared his thoughts on the experience.

“This was the second year we’ve invited HBS students from this program and we had high hopes for them. This year’s members had previously spent little time in Japan, and from day 1 asked many questions about the country.

“When we went with the students to visit our customer companies, they asked questions about details on exchanging business cards and other aspects of Japanese business etiquette. I could really sense their strong will to delve into Japanese culture.

“Sansan not only digitizes business cards in a B2B setting but also provides the B2C app Eight, for individuals, under our mission statement: ‘Turning encounters into innovation.’ I personally was very glad that the students developed deep insight and could sense the value that the Sansan and Eight services provide to society. The meetings with customers and various departments helped make this possible.

“We had the students present specific strategies under the assumed scenario that Sansan develops its business in the US market. They presented potential customer use cases we’d never imagined. They also gave made us keenly aware that entering the US market is no easy challenge. We’ll remember this lesson.

“Sansan is striving to expand its business overseas from our base in Singapore. When the students told us that they looked forward to seeing us in the US, it gave us a great deal of encouragement.”

After our meeting with Cisco Systems: They told us about the background of their introduction of Sansan, putting Sansan in place and developing it within the company, and the challenges they experienced.

A post-work get-together the day before the students’ final presentation. This let us get to know each other better, as the students gamely took on the challenge of making okonomiyaki and monjayaki.

All of us at Sansan express our thanks to Avnet and Cisco Systems for meeting with the group, to the HBS students who participated in the program, and to Mr. Sato and Ms. Takizawa of the Japan Research Center. We appreciate this thought-provoking and valuable opportunity. Thank you all very much.

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