• Recruitment

Trans-pacific Tech Recruiting

For this edition we talk to one of our very own – Scott Tullis. Scott leads our business in the US having re-settled back in the Bay Area (his hometown) after seven years in Tokyo.

Over the last couple of years we’ve seen a sharp increase in investment activity across the Pacific for tech startups – both ways.Bay Area-based tech startups have taken advantage of the weak yen in recent years to launch businesses in Japan at a lower cost than usual, enticed by the inefficiencies within the third biggest economy in the world and the lucrative opportunities on offer. As well we’ve seen an increasing wave of Japanese companies  trying to go global, especially in mobile gaming and adtech.

Here at Wahl and Case we have deep connections to all these groups and hope to share our insights.

In this interview, Scott gives a perspective to help recruiters who operate across the Pacific, startups looking to expand across the Pacific, as well as individuals who are interested in working for a Japanese startup in the Bay Area.


Scott Tullis
Director at Wahl and Case SF

What’s your background in recruiting?
I have 8+ years recruitment experience, in Japan for 7 years and now in San Francisco for 1.5 years. Prior to recruiting I was an auditor, so initially in recruitment I leveraged this background, focusing on Accounting & Finance recruitment in Japan. In San Francisco I’m covering the tech industry across a range of functions including Sales, Marketing, Creatives and Technical roles.
What were the biggest challenges to moving from Tokyo to SF? Moving markets from accounting to tech?
The biggest challenges moving from Tokyo to SF were: rebuilding my professional network from scratch, working in brand new industries/functions, and adapting to the pace and style of business in SF (often done over phone/email vs. face-to-face in Japan). The tech ecosystem is vast and complex here, as we are at the forefront of new technology that is constantly creating new industries. New companies and roles, with titles never seen before in Japan, are created daily. The move in recruiting from accounting to tech was a different challenge, one had defined rules and the other didn’t, or rather the tech industry followed intentional rule breaking in order to innovate faster and better. That change in culture took some getting used to.
What are the biggest differences in recruiting?
Change is constant, embraced in all aspects in the Bay Area, whereas the Japan market is more stable, slower to change. Nowhere is this more visible when reviewing resumes from each market: it’s uncommon to see a tech professional who has spent more than 3 – 5 years (or more) with one company in SF, which is a frequency of job changes that would disqualify people in Japan from 90% of open jobs. Competition between agency recruiters is fiercer here: the tech recruitment landscape consists of a lot of small to mid-size firms, and some independents, who move very fast. In Japan, you have a few large companies dominating the recruitment market, at a much more steady pace.
What is refreshing about recruiting in SF?
The speed of decision making is impressive – both clients and candidates understand the risks, but it doesn’t slow down decision making. That’s a nice change from Japan, where both parties are much more risk averse. Overall, the most refreshing aspect is the innovation and boundary pushing you see daily in Silicon Valley. You come to expect it. The tech environment here encourages entrepreneurship and risk taking, which is more the exception than the rule in Japan.
What is difference in value proposition between running a business in Tokyo vs Silicon Valley?
With regard to running a recruitment business, I’d say the value proposition is more clearly defined in Japan. The market is more saturated in the US and most everyone here has had a negative experiences with a recruiter, so recruiters are often viewed as part of the problem more than a solution, more transactional than a reliable business partner. It takes more time to overcome this negative perception, but just as in Japan, if you consistently provide quality customer service and deliver great information to both parties they will understand the value of the partnership. Being a Japan HQ’d company we bring this deep customer focus that has been perfected in Japan with us in our DNA as we execute in SF, and we’ve seen the market very respond very positively.
How have Japanese firms done entering the US market over the past few years? What challenges / success stories can you share?
It has been a tough path for many Japanese companies. Adapting to the US has been hard for them, and finding short and long-term success has been elusive. Entry strategy is the biggest challenge, as some companies will bring their business to the US without fully understanding the culture or the customer, expecting the same processes to work here. It is the same challenge foreign companies face when entering Japan – if they don’t understand the business culture, they start off on the wrong foot and recovery is that much more difficult. The best Japanese startups I have seen in the US are SmartNews and Mercari, for different reasons, but mainly because they both hired great local professionals, entrusting them to drive the US businesses.
What future trends do you anticipate for the SF market, especially in regards to Japanese companies expanding?
I see progress. This is evidenced by the number of Japanese startups entering the market here with a better understanding of things prior to launching. They are researching more heavily, visiting more frequently before launching, and then hiring strong local staff, trusting their local expertise for the launch. There is room for improvement, but Japanese companies appear to be adapting much quicker than in the past.