Interview with Mr. Takuya Miyabayashi, COO and Mr. Kenya Yoshino, India Strategy Manager.
COO Takuya Miyabayashi
Please tell us about your business.
We offer “Progate”, a service where you can learn to program online. One of the main characteristics is that Progate does not require the construction of the environment required to start programming, so even beginners can learn in a systematic way, starting little by little. Besides, at the beginning you can start with a free account so the hurdles required to start programming are considerably few.
The topics covered are: What can you do writing a programming language, what do you need to program, what kind of teaching material do you need to prepare, how you can get to know the basics, what terms are needed for knowing them, etc.
Please tell us about your vision and mission.
Empowering everyone to open new doors through programming.
Be the gate ato the exciting world of programming.
Be the path to an independent corder.
I think it is easy to understand our Vision “expanding the potential of people through programming”. “People” does not only refer to Japanese people. We want to provide value to people all over the world, and this is the basis of our vision.
This is why our mission is ”being the gate”’ to provide programming knowledge for everyone in the world, making programming fun and giving people an experience that will expand their possibilities in life. By ”being the path”, we aim people who find programming fun, to create a path where they can create more value through it.
Through these visions and missions, we believe that Progate can greatly expand the potential of each individual and, thanks to this, we can help solve the global problem that exists due to the shortage of human resources in the IT sector.
How and why did you start in Progate ?
It all started with SNS. When I was working at my previous company, I used SNS for recruiting, and I happened to meet the HR Manager of Progate. He was so happy talking about the company’s members and his president that I started wondering what kind of company it was. He asked me if I was thinking about changing jobs. It was the perfect time for me, I was willing to talk to the CEO, Kato. The first thing he said was, “I want to work with you and I want to put you in charge of everything”. That’s when I decided to join the company. Most people may give a lot of details regarding the reason why they changed jobs, but when I was talking to him, I was honestly numbed by his words and I started trusting in him completely. I strongly sensed his passion for achieving the vision, and since they needed to strengthen the back office in order to grow the company, I honestly believed that I could make use of my experience. Of course, there were many other things that attracted me to the business, such as the fact that it dealt with programming, a common language being used worldwide and a language that myself had a frustrating experience, but also a language that can help to solve social issues. I thought it was great that I could use my past experience to help save the world in the future.
What kind of person is Mr. Kato to you?
He is very visionary. For him, the user comes first. I used to think that the strength of a businessperson is to “drink the clear and also the turbid”, but when I met him for the first time, I felt that I didn’t want to muddy his waters.
He is also a straightforward person. If there is a big forest in front of him, I would be willing to clear it for him. If there is a gravel road, I would be willing to prepare the road so that he can run at full speed. That’s what I think will lead to the future of Progate. That’s the kind of person I am. I always say, “I just want to create something good. I want to expand people’s possibilities.” I also like the fact that he is serious about that. I think he is a good partner.
You started as a financier and now you’re COO, have there been any changes?
As a financier, you have to constantly think about how to use resources, such as the funds and the investments, in a proper way. As COO, it is more important to think about how to cause overwhelming growth for the company. The growth of a company can be quite irregular, and when I was in charge of finance, I was thinking about what was necessary to achieve continuous growth. In contrast, since becoming COO, I have been concentrating on making changes that will transform the company. Therefore, at first I was stabilizing the company and now I’m transforming it, so I needed to think in the opposite way. So I developed a sense of preparation.
What kind of changes have you seen in the market through COVID-19?
Last year, after the state of emergency was declared, more and more people were proactive about learning, perhaps due to the uncertainty of the social situation.
Even after a year, social statistics seem to show that the rate of adoption of remote work is still about 20%, but the corona situation has not yet fully converged, and more and more people are starting to think that they want to work remotely, and since they don’t know what is going to happen, they want to add more skills to their curriculums. Working from home eliminates the commuting time, so the trend of recurrent education is becoming stronger again. In the past, people tended to learn English or bookkeeping to improve their skills, but now programming is becoming a part of this trend, and more and more people are choosing programming as a weapon for their future life.
What is the most important thing for you regarding your product development?
The most important thing is to deliver the highest value to the user. The details can be different from one team to another, but for the designer team, we aim to make things easy so the user can understand easily.
The engineering team is in charge of creating the right service and continuing to provide it. For us, it is important that users can use the service without any inconvenience, no matter where they access it from. We want to provide high quality in any course, avoiding any situation that may make the service not work properly.
Why do you think you can expand the market overseas?
I think there are two main reasons. Firstly, Progate has a small-step curriculum structure to prevent students from falling behind. For example, the strongest competitor for programming education in India is YouTube, where you can learn for free. However, YouTube’s weakness is that it does not have a sequential curriculum.I strongly believe that our strength is the fact that we have been able to create a thorough curriculum.
Secondly, one of the features of Progate is that we try to cut down on words and sentences as much as possible, and use characters and illustrations to communicate through diagrams. I think here is where the strength of our content creation team really shines through. Less text means less discrepancies there will be when translated, which is another reason why it is easy to expand globally.
Is there a difference in the reasons why users from Japan study and those who study from abroad？Also, how are they approached?
Yes, there are. In many cases, the purpose of Japanese users is to learn. For example, if you are a full time employee, you might start learning as an additional skill to current ones, in order to communicate with engineers or in order to improve at work. On the other hand, the main users in India are university students, who are normally more concerned about the practical benefits, so they use the service in order to get a job.
Because of this, the way of how we present our services also changes.
In Japan, we focus more on “Let’s try it first,” while overseas, we focus on “Let’s deepen your learning through Progate and create a career that appeals to others,” and “Let’s prove that you have this level of skill by issuing a certificate of completion”. It’s a way to show the benefits of using Progate. We don’t want to provide a service just for finding a job, so we are constantly thinking of how we can maximize the value we provide to our users and strike a balance.
Please tell us about your method of entrance.
We are increasing the number of users by recommendation. For example, if a service does not allow users to use it first for free, some people may not be willing to pay to learn from the beginning.
When a lesson is finished, users can report it on Twitter, and we point out the importance of communication with users. We believe it is not only important providing educational materials, but also providing a learning experience by having friends to learn with.
Please tell us about your future plans.
We would like to create content that goes one step further than the current one and provide this content with depth. It is said that the service is still for beginners, but the world we are aiming for, is one where “everyone” can expand their possibilities in life. We want to create a service that provides value not only to beginners, but also to a wider range of users, including those who have studied programming in school and those who actually use programming on their jobs.
I love programming. Our goal is to increase the number of people who like it and who feel that programming is fun, because those who want to learn more might be able to create something great through our service.
Our vision is that Progate will be associated with programming education not only in Japan but also around the world. It would be truly wonderful if we can continue to provide greater value by pursuing “quality” and “quantity” in increasing the number of countries we serve.
Please tell us about the direction of your expansion overseas.
Currently, we would like to expand mainly in Asia. This is because we believe that we can provide greater value, since it is a growing continent, in contrast to Western countries where programming education is well established.
The reason why we expanded to Indonesia in February 2020 is because nowadays most of the teaching materials available are in English. For indonesian speakers it is difficult to understand even if they translate into their native language. So, Progate established a local subsidiary, hiring local staff, translating the content carefully into Indonesian, and, after it was released, the response was very positive. It has only been a year since we entered the market, but we have about 100,000 registered users.
In Asia, there are many countries whose native language is not English, so we believe that we can grow by carefully localizing our services.
What do you think is necessary in order to grow?
We need to have more employees, especially engineers. As the scale of the company grows, we need to have a high level of technology. Progate has excellent members, but the demand for engineers has been increasing year by year, so it is difficult to find the desired profiles. Without engineers, the speed of product development slows down and it becomes difficult to deliver our services to people around the world. Of course, if we increase the number of engineers, we will also need more designers and content creation members, and as a result, I can say that the hiring process is highly important.
Please tell us about the kind of people you are looking for.
In a word, we are looking for “learning animals”: People who enjoy learning and who want to keep on learning. Since we are a start-up company, we are constantly changing so we often have to face challenges in order to respond to these challenges. And, of course we face these challenges everyday with fear of failure. People who can feel the joy of doing so and who have a high sense of ownership will find it particularly interesting. Rather than joining a company with a long history, I would like to see people who want to create their own history. That’s the image that I have.
Do you have any message to readers?
I believe that the world is changing at an unprecedented rate.
We are living in a world where technologies, where dreams we had in the past can become a reality in a few years.
The best thing is that we are living in such a world. So, rather than fearing the changes in this world, we want to find people who can create dramatic changes. Everyone can learn and everyone can open the door to their potential. We will continue to improve our products so that we can provide the best services for people living in such a world. If you would like to try programming, we would be happy to have you try our service. We look forward to helping you in the best way we can.