Meet the French founders of a company that creates work for students while freeing up time for professionals – and find out why they decided to set up in Fukuoka.
Thomas Pouplin and Yasmine Djoudi were on a student-exchange programme in Fukuoka, southern Japan, when they came up with an idea to help university students and businesses. “Students want to work when they have free time,” says Pouplin. “We thought it would be great if businesses could pay students to do tasks for them.”
After finishing their graduate studies in France, Pouplin and Djoudi – French citizens in their late twenties – returned and launched Ikkai, an online crowdsourcing service, a year later. Their timing was good: Japan’s sharing economy, led by Airbnb, was in its infancy and Fukuoka was about to launch a start-up visa. Today Ikkai has three full-time employees and connects 163 registered companies and individuals with 1,500 Japanese and foreign students who translate documents, distribute flyers and work at festivals.
Being in Japan has been a treat for Pouplin and Djoudi – and not just because of Fukuoka’s dining and bar scene. Beaches and forested mountains are nearby and the city is so compact that they have no need for a car. “We can ride our bikes everywhere and between our home and office we have a lake with flowers,” says Djoudi.
LIFE IN JAPAN
Ikkai’s transactions vary but can top ¥20m (€150,000) a month. Next? An expansion into Tokyo. “The challenge of creating a marketplace is finding the right balance of task providers and students,” says Pouplin. “If you have too many of one or the other it can cause problems.”
GETTING A VISA
Fukuoka’s start-up scene is getting a boost: Japan has chosen the city as the first place where entrepreneurs from abroad can qualify for a special visa. The city is hoping that bringing in new talent and ideas will pay off.
The visa is the ideal starter kit for newcomers. Lasting six months, it includes support services – from free consultations with lawyers and accountants to the chance to meet potential investors – and can help in terms of easing the transition to living in Japan on a longer-term permit.
Pouplin and Djoudi have an office but the co-owners aren’t always at their desks. Some days they head to Startup Café, a publicly funded space with a concierge desk staffed by English speakers.