On 28th August 2019, Boris Jitsukata (our Berlin Captain & Managing Director), Alexander Venus (my Product Crunch buddy & UX/UI Designer), Janos Pauer (our Athena Warrior, UX Designer) & I headed to the Goodpatch Headquarters in Tokyo.
Representing Goodpatch Europe, our main order of business was to attend Goodpatch Tokyo’s 8th-anniversary celebration and the kick-off of the 2019/2020 financial year.
“Big in Japan”
Among the four Goodchies on the road, Boris was the only one who had been to the Tokyo office before. So for Alex, Janos, and me, this was an especially exciting trip. Not only was this an entirely new place to explore, but we were also finally able to meet our colleagues — like the reunion of a long-lost family.
The most impressive element for us Tokyo newbies was the sheer size and reputation of the company: Goodpatch really is big in Japan: With 150 employees, the Tokyo Headquarters are spread over five floors across two buildings.
In Berlin, we have our elevator pitch down: we’re used to explaining who we are and what we do. The coin usually only drops when we mention Product Crunch, an event that has earned its place in Berlin’s product design scene. In Tokyo, however, people know Goodpatch. For the Tokyoites, this is totally normal, but it was a new feeling for us Berliners. On a typical evening while out for a drink, we’d meet people who would say, “Oh, yeah we’ve worked together before!”; “You’re Boris from Goodpatch right?”; and more than often than not, “I know Naofumi!” (cue smile). On the rare occasion that people don’t know about Goodpatch, they have either heard of or used some of the great apps Goodpatch has worked on: e.g. Gunosy, Finc or Comic Days.
The amount of interest in Goodpatch in Japan really becomes visible in the Tokyo office’s kitchen — there you can find a big pile of Japanese magazines and newspapers that feature Goodpatch and our work. In Europe, we have stickers and hoodies that read: “World famous in Japan.” While tongue-in-cheek, we want people in Europe to know that we’re big somewhere. This also inspires us to do our best to achieve this level of fame in Europe.
Rex, Woody, Jessie and Sulley
One of the first things we noticed around the office were all of the Toy Story figurines and the fact that each meeting room is named after a character from the movie: Woody, Rex, Potato Head, Jessie and so on.
After inquiring, I learnt, that when our CEO, Naofumi Tsuchiya, first travelled to San Francisco in 2011, Pixar was one of the companies he was most inspired by. Pixar used a design-driven approach early on and applied methods that are daily business for us today: reduce complexity, collaborate across teams and disciplines, conduct research early on, and pay attention to the details.
A Sokai for the ages
In Tokyo, general meetings (Sokai) are held twice a year and are a place to share new management policies and objectives for the next quarter. Most importantly, however, it’s a time to foster a sense of unity among all employees, especially as the team grows.
This general meeting, however, was extra special: Goodpatch was turning 8 years old! Besides the branded beers and other swag, each employee received a goodie bag complete with a little piece of a puzzle. Between the speeches, tasty delights and the epic Goodpatch cake, everyone had the chance to take their piece of the puzzle and add it to the masterpiece.
One of the most exciting parts of the evening was the award ceremony. At Goodpatch, awards are given out once a year to celebrate teams, projects, and standout employees. Alex, who’s been with Goodpatch Europe since 2017 was acknowledged as Most Valuable Player (Europe) for his hard work and dedication over the past two years. I accepted the award on behalf of the whole R+V Versicherung team for Most Valuable Project.
Izakayas and casual networking
During the trip, we had many Izakaya nights (think: Berlin Kneipe, but with delicious snacks). Networking felt so much less formal in Japan — It’s the most normal thing to grab dinner and/or drinks with your clients. Thanks to the Toyko team for showing us around and the Monopo Gang for the best night out.
While the more official business world in Japan is quite formal, with many rules and guidelines (don’t forget to hand out business cards with two hands), the moment you go out for dinner everything gets way more casual and relaxed. It’s common to be having a business discussion and suddenly start to have a philosophical conversation about the newest Netflix show or anime classic.
The difference between the Berlin & Tokyo offices
We wrapped up the trip with a Q&A session between Goodpatch Tokyo and Goodpatch Europe, and the first question was what you might expect: What’s the biggest difference between the Berlin and Tokyo offices?
Like most people on the Goodpatch Europe team, Alex, Janos and I had a vague idea of what to expect at HQ. We see the high-res office shots and the information on Slack and the gaps are filled in by unspoken assumptions. Needless to say, it was fascinating to see and experience the real thing.
One big difference is the way we casually meet in the Berlin kitchen. Our (new-ish) espresso machine, fruit baskets, and random snacks give people a reason to meet there. One often underestimates these so-called “water-cooler conversations”, where you casually check in with everyone, but they’re a huge part of our company culture and we believe they increase productivity, too.
Another point of differentiation is how we approach our office layout like a design challenge: understand, prototype, test, improve. We keep an open mind to try new things out and implement them. Boris further explained that our interior design partners were a great help. It’s important to have a clear vision and the current pain points, but working with a professional helped us figure out how to make it work. Things we definitely decided we’re doing to copy from the Tokyo team and implement in Berlin asap: free, cold unsweetened green tea in the fridge and the muji-style sorted gadget rack with all the devices sorted, labelled and ready to be used.
We ended the Q&A by discussing our work style how we live the “bring your whole self to work” principle and that it’s ok to just be ourselves. Everyone has good and bad days. All of us are human beings and we try to support each other as much as we can. It’s ok to be grumpy or sad and tell each other about it instead of trying to put on a mask for work. Boris elaborated on this point by mentioning how little things like coming into the office in the morning and saying “good morning” to each other can make a big difference.
Fundamentally, however, we’re not so different after all. We’re all passionate about design and work very hard to build digital products that users love. Across both offices, our mantra is simple:
“Do what you love with the people you like.”
We spend so much time at the workplace it’s worth it to get to know your colleagues — especially when they’re 9,000 km away.