Services & Business
A life concierge for people all over the worldShingo Kato
Connecting the Recruit Group and cutting-edge technology
Our strategic vision at the Recruit Group is to become No. 1 in the general employment service domain by 2020 and then No. 1 in both the employment and sales promotion support domains by 2030. In order to achieve these goals, we have participated in mergers and acquisitions with influential companies as well as actively invested in startups with strong potential for growth.
One of the key figures in this is Shingo Kato, a manager of Machine Learning Platform promotion group at Recruit Holdings. Aside from handling organizational management as a co-founder of Silicon Valley-based AI lab Recruit Institute of Technology (RIT) Inc., Kato splits his time between Japan and Silicon Valley in order to discover companies working with the latest technology, and engages in every step of the process from initial investment negotiations to the actual signing of the contracts. Each day he is busy traveling the world as a bridge-builder linking the uniqueness of the Recruit Group with the tech needed to take it to new levels.
Providing consumers with better lives
Shingo Kato joined the Recruit Group in 2011. Up to that point he earned experience as a software engineer, system engineer and technical salesman at a global IT company. While there he took part in a social action project in Kayseri, Turkey alongside development leaders and consultants selected from eight countries around the world. This is when he says his interest in B2C business bloomed.
The central square of Kayseri, Turkey.
One of the issues the locals were facing was that most tourists were going straight from the airport to the world heritage site in Cappadocia and not exploring the city of Kayseri. At the same time you have problems like aging societies and shortages of hospitals that continue to grow more severe in Europe. Kayseri is easily accessible from even the UK, so our proposal was focused on how to make it into a medical city and in doing so solve both of these issues in one stroke. The company I was with at the time was mainly engaged in B2B business, which made it difficult for me to find ways to have my work give back to society. Just as I was beginning to think this, I had the opportunity to take part in this project. I came to see the appeal of consumer to business techniques while thinking of solutions needed to bring big changes to Kayseri and the lives of the people in the city.
I had always wanted to be a social entrepreneur, and I finally got the chance to become one during this project in Kayseri. In order to fully realize this goal, however, I searched for a company that fit my four main requirements of being globally active, a net-based business, working to improve customers' lives, and being based in Japan. The Recruit Group, which offers many services connected to daily necessities and can thus fundamentally change people's lives, met all of these conditions perfectly.
An AI lab founded to secure the future of the group
After joining the Recruit Group, Shingo Kato set to work on our travel business in Thailand, working with local partners to establish a joint venture, but in the end the project did not reach fruition. However, the next day he flew to Silicon Valley, where he was instructed to find and invest in startups. In doing so Kato was entrusted with the role of linking Recruit's services with the latest technology. One of his greatest achievements is connecting Square with POS register service AirREGI.
I was the only one on our investment team with a background in technology, so I ended being placed in charge of those kinds of projects. I took part in many negotiations, but since we were relatively unknown in the global marketplace at the time, the majority of them ended with us being turned down straight away. Still, one thing in our favor is that the Recruit Group's services cover data that pertains clients and customers and is both online and offline, so we can reach domains unavailable to others like Google or Facebook. This is a highly valuable element that is very unique among global companies. Once I was able to explain this properly, I found that most startups were quite interested and ready to listen to what we had to say.
Amongst his many investment deals, Kato also began making inroads into the highly anticipated field of AI. With an eye towards the future of the Recruit Group, in 2015 he took things a step beyond mere investment by founding our original AI lab, the Recruit Institute of Technology (RIT), which was later relocated to Silicon Valley. Kato now participates in the operation of RIT alongside his previous investment work.
When we founded RIT, I went to make individual pitches to people like our current head Alon Halevy (previously at Google Research) and advisors Tom M. Mitchell (a professor at Carnegie Mellon University), Oren Etzioni (CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence), David M. Blei (a professor at Columbia University), Alex 'Sandy' Pentland (a professor at MIT) and Christopher D. Manning (a professor at Stanford University). I explained that we had accumulated a vast amount of real data through our services but needed the world-class expertise to step into the best global technology companies, so we needed their abilities. Normally negotiations take one to two months per person, but in this case I had assistance from those in our legal affairs department and others within the group. As a result we were able to sign agreements with all three of them at an incredible speed in just three weeks. Thanks to that I'm now often referred to as a world-class smooth talker (laughs). I felt that, from a business viewpoint, AI was absolutely essential to helping the Recruit Group expand even further, so all I was doing was working my hardest to take action towards that end.
Dinner with Alon when he came to Japan (left). First time visiting Tom's university when we asked him to be an advisor (right).
Linking up with DataRobot, a company admired by many data scientists
In November 2015, Shingo Kato established a partnership with DataRobot, a company from Boston that features the talents of many of the top-ranking entrants from Kaggle, an international contest for data scientists, and puts their talent to work creating machine learning platforms.
My main theme when seeking out potential investments is to find startups that offer services or technology with the potential to disrupt the status quo of business or regulations on a global scale. This theme offers me a high degree of freedom, and is also proof of how much trust has been placed upon me. But when it comes time to actually gain the approval of the investment committee, everything from the business model to the feasibility and competitive advantage is examined thoroughly from many angles. So it's a must that I find investments that the committee will find agreeable. In the case of DataRobot, I started out by making a list of over 419 startups involved in AI, which would take more than a year to look into. I decided to create a set of criteria based on their web domains. I was able to narrow the list down to 182 companies by selecting only those that used suffixes like .co, .io, or .ai that have become de facto in startups recently, as well as those that paid forethought to user searches by shortening their domains to exclude the www. I then made appointments with 61 of those companies, and in the end actually met with 44 of them. The one that really blew me away was DataRobot.
DataRobot lets you load data, decide upon the target you want to predict, and then with a simple press of the start button over 100 different algorithms set to work learning multiple prediction models that produce results in a short amount of time. We tested it with over 105 organizations in the Recruit Group, and found an estimated 40 percent improvement in accuracy over our current SEM bid keyword prediction rate. We were also able to shorten the time needed to filter recruitment entry sheets by one-fifth, a result equivalent to quintupling our productivity. With such amazing handiwork admired by data scientists all over the world, it's almost guaranteed that we at the Recruit Group weren't the only ones pitching them investment deals.
DataRobot began to lean our way once we told them about the vision for the world the Recruit Group is working towards. The concept I explained to them was that of acting as a "life concierge". We have always been told that economic disparity has a major impact on career development, but I think that now the biggest factor has become information disparity. Being connected to the Internet allows people to access a multitude of life-changing opportunities from all over the world instead of having to rely solely upon the opinions of those in one's immediate vicinity like parents, friends, or teachers. I believe that this "life concierge" demonstrates a way to do away with information disparity and realizes equal opportunities for everyone.
Dreams of opening a bar in Okinawa by the age of 50
Ever since he joined the Recruit Group, Shingo Kato has put together a long track record of successes thanks to his ability to take action and the amazing pace at which he works. He continues to progress towards his own vision for the future while keeping his antenna tuned to opportunities in Silicon Valley and the rest of the world as a member of the group.
It's been my dream ever since I was in my twenties to open a bar in Okinawa by the time I turned 50. I want to have my friends drop by every day to talk all sorts of things there. Just doing that every night doesn't make a viable business though, so in my 40s I have to try at least three times to make success of my own company in order to ensure that I have the capital needed to operate the bar. If I don't get started soon I won't make it in time (laughs).
At the same time I would be lying if I said that the idea of continuing to work with the Recruit Group didn't sound appealing. One part of the business culture here is the overwhelming sense of ownership. Basically they set their goals high, and then it's up to you to come up with the rest. The culture here is so different from where I was working previously, but now I think of this is as a real merit. Entrepreneurs have to persevere despite endless restrictions, to create answers in situations where there are none to be found. It's the same for the many startups throughout the world. Being able to accomplish these things in a setting where I have free access to the enormous resource and asset that is the Recruit Group is a truly precious experience, not to mention a great advantage that makes it possible to achieve the goals I set for myself at an even more rapid pace.
A drive to change the lifestyles of people worldwide as a social entrepreneur
Shingo Kato currently splits his time between Japan and Silicon Valley as he continues his quest to find new startups and make the RIT AI lab soar to even greater heights. He vigorously undertakes the social action and challenges needed to realize the Recruit Group's goals of becoming No. 1 in the general employment service domain by 2020 and then No. 1 in both the employment and sales promotion support domains by 2030, as well as enriching the lives of people everywhere.
The Recruit Group's media is intimately connected with people's lifestyles and life events. That's why it is inevitably involved in their daily decision-making for matters both big and small. I feel that we act as a sort of life concierge. Another way of putting it is that we are like Japanese "omikuji", or written fortunes. Omikuji contain various advice on many aspects of life such as luck in love, money, or health, and even other things like traveling or purchasing a home. The Recruit Group has services that cover all of these things. Basically, we support and connect closely with people's lives. If we are going for speed and self-manufacturing the things we need to further accelerate this on a global scale, then I think we should actively cooperate with other companies or startups. I guess that's what makes me a world-class smooth-talker (laughs).
On a personal note, I haven't given up on my dream of opening a bar in Okinawa, but I think I will always be a social entrepreneur at heart. I'm not working or doing business for the money; I want make the Recruit Group's ongoing goal improving people's lives a reality. And I believe that only the Recruit Group, with its crossover between the clients and customers, as well as the online and the offline, holds the potential to actually accomplish this. There is no doubt in my mind that at this very moment we are creating the opportunities needed to dramatically change the lives of people the world over, and I am extremely happy to be a part of this process.
Recruit Holdings R&D, RIT Promotion Office
Shingo Kato joined the Recruit Group in mid-2011. He acquired six international patents during his previous position as a software engineer at a global IT company. He was later placed in charge of system engineering and technical sales. Participating in a social action project overseas led him to seek out work that would allow him to use IT to enrich people's lives at Recruit. He was placed in charge of developing a new business in Thailand, and then sent to Silicon Valley to seek out investments and support said investments in expanding domestically. Kato currently operates the Recruit Group's AI lab called RIT as co-founder, and is in charge of global investment in the fields of AI, robotics, IoT and Blockchain.
*Job titles and roles: as of Nov 24, 2016