Moved to the design field, beingfascinated by how the interface was created
Could you tell me about your childhood in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil?
People think that I’m making a joke when I say that I was raised in the middle of the Amazon jungle (laugh). After World War II, many Japanese immigrated to Brazil, including my father’s family from Kitakyusyu. While the majority of Japanese immigrants settled down in Sao Paulo, my father’s family went up to the north in the jungle. He got married with my mother, who is Brazilian originally from there, and I grew up in a big Japanese community of people from Kitakyusyu. Since I learned Japanese from them, I used to speak Fukuoka ben (Fukuoka dialect). I don’t speak Fukuoka ben in Tokyo, but sometimes people notice that I have that accent.
Did you actually live in Fukuoka when you were a teenager?
Yes. I’ve lived in Fukuoka for a year. I finished my high school education earlier, and I made use of a gap year to study fashion design there. Since I was a child, I really like designing, drawing, and painting. I didn’t have a clear career vision at that point, and I just followed my childhood passion.
After spending a year in Fukuoka, I went back to Brazil and studied data processing technology at college. I started working as Technical Support for an electrical power company in the city and subsequently moved to the development division where I learned programming in PL/SQL. However, I got fascinated by how the interface was created, and I realized what I wanted to do is designing, not programming. Then, I left the company and took an action to move to the design field.
Since I also wanted to come back to Japan to continue studying Japanese, I applied for a scholarship from JICA, which supported Japanese descendants who wished to study in Japan. I fortunately gained the scholarship, and I’ve studied web and graphic design in a technical school in Yokohama for a year. When I finished my study, I got the opportunity to work for a very small company in Tokyo as a web/graphic designer. Since then, I’ve lived in Japan for 15 years as a total.
You jumped in the web design industry with the background of fashion design. Did you see any similarities between those two fields?
I think web design and fashion design are similar in a sense of building products. In a designing process, you get an idea, start planning, lay out your idea on a piece of paper, and work on building. Tools are different depending on what you create, but the basic approach is the same, I think. Also, when I see a final product, either clothes or a website, I’ve got the same excitement and fascination.
Transition from designer to Product Manager
You worked for Google Map Japan and Apple in Singapore before joining WealthPark. What do you value in working for global technology companies?
The thing that I like about working for those companies is the diversity that they embrace. In those companies, you can be different from others. For example, you don’t have to speak English perfectly. I enjoy working in a multicultural team as it is very dynamic and you don’t get bored (laugh).
It is important for me to work in a global company that embraces diversity. I even told my recruiter that I was not interested in a Japanese company when he introduced WealthPark to me for the first time. However, he convinced me that I should meet them, explaining how the team is multicultural as well as what they are challenging on a global scale. Through four interviews, it turned out that he was right. I really liked everybody and felt the same level of diversity in WealthPark as Google Map and Apple had in spite of the difference in size. In addition to the diversity, WealthPark offered me an opportunity to work in product as a Product Manager, which is another reason that I decided to join them.
Why did you transition from designer to Product Manager?
Although I love working in the design field, I had trouble in my hands due to the repetitive movements and needed to refrain from design work for a while. So, I was looking for a job that did not include design work yet allowed me to be a part of building products as I can still use keyboards. I also worked for another great technology company prior to WealthPark. Since they were more process oriented, however, I felt like I wanted to be more engaged in product building. I was lucky to find a product manager position at WealthPark that focuses on UI/UX, considering that I have never worked under that title. This offer was just simply amazing.
Were you interested in the real estate business when you joined?
At that time, I didn't know much about this industry. Even after one year passed, I’m still learning. I’m learning from our business team every day. I also try to keep up on the trend of the industry, similar products, and oversea competitors. In addition, in order to provide good products to investors as well as property management companies, I need to understand their business. I always think about what they expect or want as well as how I can help. I’ve got a lot to catch up obviously, but it is always fun to build up my knowledge.
The feeling of working as one team motivates me the most
What do you do actually as Product Manager in WealthPark?
Continuously improving the product is one of our main responsibilities. Using a simple example, let's say the app login rate is very low, so we dig into data and talk to the business team to understand the reason why this is happening. Then, depending on the case, we discuss with the engineering team on possible solutions to solve the problem.
In WealthPark, we have several applications, and five Product Managers are taking care of different projects. Each project team consists of Product Manager, engineers, designer, QA, and a business team member. We basically work in the middle coordinating the project from the discovery phase to the release. During this process we may face difficulties and challenges, but we all support each other and work as a team. This is what motivates me the most.
As a Product Manager, I'm in charge of managing projects or defining a roadmap for the product; but I'm not limited to that. I also have the flexibility to work with our QA team to test a feature or designing a screen for a frontend developer. And I see this in a positive way because it helps me to learn.
What was the most challenging project for you so far?
Projects focused on the backend are always challenging for me. While my web design experience has been helping me a lot to work as a Project Manager, my background is more into frontend and UX. I still need to improve my knowledge about the backend and how applications are structured and connected to each other in the back. Our engineers always help me, but I am also taking online courses to learn more about web development and improve my technical skills.
What is the product team like?
We are five product managers and a multicultural team. Our manager is from Canada, and the other members from India, Vietnam and Japan. We came from different backgrounds and since we have different strengths I think we kind of complement each other.
We work well together and we always try to be positive and supportive whenever anyone needs help. Our manager, Seth, trusts us and gives us autonomy to lead our projects so I feel confident that I can do a good job and always have support from all the team.
How do you align with the engineering team?
We have regular meetings for each project and we need to communicate a lot so we work very closely together. They also participate in our product planning process so both teams will understand why a feature or an improvement is being developed.
Happy to get out of my comfort zone
Do you think Product Manager is your ideal job after challenging yourself in several different fields?
I still have a lot to learn as a Product Manager and I feel that in this role I can apply many of the experiences that I gained through my career. Obviously, like many other jobs there are pros and cons, but I believe I took a good step forward professionally.
One of the things that I like to do as a Product Manager is to contribute to improvements of the products. It is always very exciting and a reward for me when we measure an improvement and find that the performance is getting better. I’m especially motivated when I hear that customers appreciate the improvements that we’ve made.
What do you think are challenges that WealthPark is currently facing?
In terms of product, I think there is still a lot of room for improvements and at the same time we have to keep growing with the same pace as the business, which is expanding very fast. But we like challenges and I believe that we have a great team.
What is your goal that you want to achieve in your career?
I don't mind about titles, but I want to reach the level of taking decisions about a product strategy and contributing directly to the business. I want to respond to the company's expectations and at the same time I also seek for self realization in my career as a Product Manager. I am happy to get out of my comfort zone. I always want to push the boundaries.
It looks like you are stretching yourself in a good way. Do you have any tips to maintain your balance under pressure?
I think meditation is one thing. I started yoga and meditation when I was in Singapore. Frankly speaking, I am a quite lazy person (laugh). Working in a technology company puts quite a lot of pressure on me: I need to think faster and adopt changes more quickly than usual. Those days in Singapore were crazily fast. It was like an all-day brain exercise for me. Even at the end of the day, my brain couldn’t stop. Then I did yoga, finishing with meditation, my mind as well as body calmed down. I am lucky that I found the way to release my stress. Besides that, I enjoy cooking and sewing for relaxation. I just feel good when I go to the kitchen after work.
What type of dishes do you like cooking?
My favorite food is Japanese. Even when I was in Brazil, I often had Japanese food. You could find any Japanese ingredients over there. But I don’t cook Japanese food here as we have so many good Japanese restaurants (laugh). Mainly I cook Italian food, such as pastas and pizzas because my husband is Brazilian of Italian descent. I make pasta three or four times a week. Sometimes, we also eat Brazilian food on weekends.
Do you have any messages to those who are considering being a member of WealthPark?
I want to say that the management at WealthPark cares about the people and everyone is carefully listened. Working here is definitely not easy but we always get support. If you want a great challenge, this is the right place for you!
Thank you for sharing your great insights today.
インタビュアー 飯田 明 | Mei Iida 渉外法律事務所にてファイナンス・パラリーガルを務めた後、大学院留学を挟んで飲食業の世界へ。外資系チョコレート会社のDirector of Communicationsとして、HR/ブランディングを担当。現在はフリーランスに転向し、複数の会社とのプロジェクトを通じて、カフェのプロデュース事業や人事、国内外のダイニングイベントの企画・運営に携わっている。