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Business

RareJob's online success built on trust with Filipino teachers

TOKYO -- RareJob, a pioneer in online English language learning, has grown rapidly since its inception in 2007 by making the most of free video chat app Skype and talented Filipino teachers. The success of this approach owes much to the trust between CEO Tomohisa Kato and the founding partner he met in the Philippines.

   RareJob went public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's Mothers market on June 27. Standing before the symbolic bell to announce its initial public offering was Kato, and he was not alone. Through the tablet computer he held in his hand, he shared the experience with Mary Shemuel Casabuena Balaibo, his business partner in the Philippines who played such a crucial role in getting the company off the ground.

Tomohisa Kato

     "Inside the exchange, just in front of the bell, I was able to communicate through Skype. It was miraculous," Kato said.

     RareJob offers daily 25-minute lessons through Skype for 5,800 yen ($56) per month. Supporting this low-cost service is talented personnel from the University of the Philippines. Shem, as Balaibo is nicknamed, has contributed substantially to the company's quick expansion by helping to secure and manage English instructors from the university. An entrepreneur herself, she also serves as director at RareJob.

     Kato met Shem in 2007 when he was working at a consulting firm. He was visiting the Philippines on vacation and preparing to strike out on his own. He had in mind a business plan for a Skype-based online English school. He went to the University of the Philippines, home to some of the country's brightest minds, to scout out English teachers.

     Fliers that Kato posted at the school's campus caught the attention of Shem, who was a student there at the time. She told him she was interested in setting up a business, as she is from an entrepreneurial family.

     "I intuitively felt that she would make a reliable business partner," Kato recalled. He gradually entrusted her not only with recruiting teachers but also with their management.

Better together

Unlike many of its competitors, which have headquarters either in Japan or overseas, RareJob has both. This is because having an office only in Japan makes it difficult to oversee local staff, while the reverse often results in misreading the needs of Japanese users.

     Having two offices makes communication all the more important. Since opening the Philippine office, Kato has worked to establish a common language between workers at the two branches. He says he uses "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," a business book by Stephen Covey, as a basic guideline for in-house discussions and to share the significance of business.

     RareJob's goal is to turn 10 million Japanese people into English speakers. The company expects Chatty Stamp, an app that allows users to chat with teachers on smartphones, will help to cultivate new customers.

     Because lesson quality is the key to further growth, the company is working to keep teachers motivated so that they can provide more engaging lessons. Kato hopes that fostering closer ties between Japanese and Filipino staff will make for better service.

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