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Disrupting Japan: Business Card Etiquette as a Startup Niche

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Western businesspeople coming to Japan often confess that they find the importance placed on business cards and the complex rules of etiquette and surrounding their use utterly baffling. In Japan business cards are considered as an extension of the person and companies who’s names they bear, and they are treated with the corresponding respect and deference.

In fact, the protocols are so important that most business conversations cannot even begin until all participants have exchanged cards and everyone knows exactly who they are dealing with.

One startup founder looked at this complex, tradition-bound web of protocol and saw opportunity. Chika Terada created SanSan, a SaaS CRM and business networking platform with a uniquely Asian approach — by placing the business card, rather than the individual it represents, at the center of the system.

And it’s clear that they are on the right track. While LinkedIn, based on the Western notion of business networking, has been slow gaining traction in Japan, Sansan has been growing at an amazing pace here, and they are now expanding into the US and southeast Asia.

Chika and I sit down for a frank talk about Asian business card culture and the challenges of moving into overseas markets.

For more podcasts about the startup scene in Japan, check out Disrupting Japan.

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