In Japan’s notoriously closed business culture, employees rarely enjoy opportunities to expand their professional networks or test their skills and knowledge outside their companies.

Eiko Hashiba is trying to terminate that stagnation by giving professionals across the board from IT engineers to farmers innovative chances to share their skills and knowledge with others in need.

“Many people are not aware of their own value because the value of their experience is what is compared to others,” said Hashiba, co-founder and CEO of online business-matching platform VisasQ Inc. “You may think you are not the most knowledgeable person in a company. . . . But when you look outside, you may be valued as a specialist who can give very useful feedback.”

“We want to promote sharing of tacit knowledge held by each individual,” the former Goldman Sachs banker said.

The pitch

Launched in 2012 as Walkntalk Inc., VisasQ’s business consists mainly of two services: an internet-based consumer-to-consumer “spot consulting” platform that allows people to earn compensation for short consultations with clients during their free time, and VQ, a consulting matchmaking service.

The spot consulting platform lets people from various fields register their specialties and experience in the company’s database. When approached by people looking for advice, they can start discussing what kind of knowledge they can provide and, if the two sides agree on a time and price, have a face-to-face meeting or meet remotely via phone or video call.

In the meantime, VQ focuses on connecting corporate clients with specialists in various sectors — including those from overseas — who can give advice on their businesses from an expert’s point of view. VisasQ offers support by finding the best qualified specialists listed in its database.

The strength of VisasQ lies in its extensive database of over 64,000 professionals in over 500 different industries including, for example, manufacturing, medication, finance, information technology, media and real estate, Hashiba said.

“Our service is used by people who want to figure out how to solve the problems in business they are facing. It’s also used as a tool to do research before creating a new business, or as a way just to get advice from others,” she said.

The market

Hashiba said her service aims to promote open innovation in society by breaking through three obstacles that hinder effective exchange of knowledge: life stages, locations and organizations.

In Japan, “people often have to leave a full-time position after having a child. After retirement, people often lose a place in society where they contribute their knowledge,” she said. Also, people in remote areas have significantly fewer chances of meeting new people and therefore deepening their insights, she added.

As for organizations, “(many companies) still ban employees from having a second job. Many people also believe giving advice to others is just too much for them, just because they have never worked outside their company.”

With her spot consulting platform, Hashiba aims to give everyone chances to realize their strengths outside their companies and live as independent professionals rather than being mere employees living on the name of the companies they belong to.

“I don’t think everyone should become a freelancer, nor do I think everyone should work in one company for life. I just think it’s always good for people to have many options to choose from,” she said.

The hurdle

The current challenge is how to attract people from traditional sectors such as agriculture, where workers are less familiar with internet-based services like VisasQ’s, she said.

“People who want to create a new service might want to reach people from nondigital industries because that’s where room for growth may exist. In that sense, we want more people from those sectors to register with our service,” she said.

“I’m sure these people use smartphones. But they might not be aware of our service and the idea of buying and selling their knowledge on the internet,” she said. “I think we need to put in more effort to reach those people.”

The outlook

Hashiba said she wants to have every worker join her service, because “everyone has different insights.”

“Sometimes, people want knowledge that you don’t even expect,” she said. “For example, some general affairs department employees might think they don’t have any specialties to provide. But their know-how in office relocation might be very helpful to others as they can talk about their experiences such as the difficulties they have faced and how to make a cost estimation.”

“Each person is the protagonist of their own career. In that sense, I believe everyone is supposed to have the right to choose,” she said. “I think it would be wonderful if more people have confidence in their own abilities.”

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