Revitalizing the Japanese Tech Industry

Duc Doba's journey to becoming the founder CEO of IT consulting startup Tokyo Techies was one propelled by relentless ambition. Doba shared with us how he has used this role to provide foreign tech workers with opportunities in Tokyo.
Starting out as an IT training center, Tokyo Techies quickly grew into a multicultural IT consulting firm, working with many of Japan's tech giants.

Japan—despite being the world's third-largest economy and boasting a long history of technological innovation and entrepreneurship—arguably remains a challenging environment for foreign startups to penetrate, due to linguistic, cultural and bureaucratic barriers. Nonetheless, Doba demonstrates how adhering to the values of synergy, agility and trust cultivated by his cultural roots in Vietnam made his entrepreneurial dream possible.    

From Thanh Hoa to Tokyo

Before Tokyo Techies, Doba was a self-starter student in Thanh Hoa, Vietnam. Located just below Hanoi, Thanh Hoa was devastated by the war but boasts the best high school in the country. Growing up, Doba did not have enough money to buy his own books; instead, he would head to the local library to study.

"Back home, people are hungry for more," he says. "People are so excellent at learning. When we seek employment, we reach for the top." Nurtured in a competitive educational environment thanks to his parents' careers as teachers, Doba was encouraged from a young age to join contests—singing, writing and later programming.    

"Even now, in consulting projects wherein the customer must select among multiple vendors, I picture it as joining a competition," Doba says. "Whenever I do something, I want to be the best."

During his second year studying IT at the Vietnam National University of Hanoi, Doba was one of ten students selected for a Japanese training scholarship granted by the company AXISSOFT. It was here that he learned Japanese and connected with a Japanese benefactor, who recognized the aspiring entrepreneur's potential and granted him a job offer in Tokyo.    

In his 14 years here, Doba has attained a high-profile status, taking managerial roles at some of Japan's premier tech companies.

However, Doba says that working at these large corporations felt limiting. Employees follow rigorous frameworks when it comes to technical debate—involving layers and layers of approval—and Doba was usually met with resistance when he proposed overly innovative solutions. Criticisms along the lines of "You're a foreigner, you don't understand," were not unheard of. At 30 years old, he hit a turning point and, recognizing a demand for skilled IT engineers in Japan, decided to take matters into his own hands.      

The Rise of Southeast Asia

A child of two teachers, Doba has always valued the power of education.

"My passion cannot be complacent," Doba says firmly. "We bring a new sort of energy to the whole of society in Japan." With a cultural background that emphasizes togetherness and trust in the human experience, Doba understands the power of inspiring others, and the greater overall value derived from working with a group.    

Thus, in 2017, Tokyo Techies was born. Originally established as an IT training company, Tokyo Techies has since progressed into consulting and product development for data science, AI, cyber security and cloud building.    

Doba believes that the Japanese work environment has room for failure without committing one's assets. He sensed cultural similarities between Vietnam and Japan, including being strict with oneself, leveraging the platform you are already on, and observing the corporate environment. "Learn from your failures," he says, "not your successes."    

While teaching may be his first passion, from an IT expert's perspective Doba was conscious of the lack of resources for specific skill sets within Japanese companies.    

According to the Ministry of Justice, foreign technical interns in Japan in 2016 predominantly came from Vietnam. Southeast Asians in tech often settle for outsourcing contracts, with no career ambition beyond completing their required hours. However, Doba believes that products need constant development—this requires persevering with both the brain and the heart.

Creating a Culturally and Ethnically Diverse Company

Volunteering, being active in the international community and surrounding yourself with self-motivated people, Doba says, are essential to personal and career fulfillment in Tokyo.

Currently, the vast majority of Tokyo Techies' employees are from overseas countries, hailing from Nepal, India, Indonesia and elsewhere, with a company ethos emphasizing the fact that foreign workers champion new perspectives, experiences and values.    

"Remembering my living conditions growing up keeps me grounded, and having started from the bottom, I am equipped with the ability to adapt to tough situations," Doba says. "The larger business value in Japan allows me to grant more opportunities to others as well."

Despite the tough industry competition, Doba prioritizes providing clients with real value. Although cost-saving tactics—such as outsourcing—may be cheaper, he holds fast to Tokyo Techies' core values of quality and agility.    

"Aside from not being Japanese, what's difficult is presenting traits that Japanese people don't feel aware of, since the market is designed that way."

Thus, Doba enables his employees to work remotely, from anywhere in the world. He believes the value is not in one's location, but the final output—and, therefore, provides overseas employees the same service fee that is standard in Japan.    

Tokyo Techies often charges more for services than other Japanese companies do. "I want to show that even if we're from Southeast Asia, it doesn't mean you can pay only a third of the standard cost. We can charge more because we're a skilled company, composed of skilled individuals who are quick to adapt and provide solutions."    

Volunteer, Friend and Leader

Doba traces his leadership style back to his experience volunteering in his home country and leading the Vietnam Youth and Student Association in Japan (VYSA). Today, he continues his charitable activities, sending profits to underprivileged children in Vietnam.

"I know that in the future, good will return to me," says the CEO. "I invest in the actual, personal condition—not on-the-spot cash value."

"We give. We keep giving. We don't just give and take." Doba encourages Southeast Asians in Japan to do the same: to be confident in presenting one's value, to find opportunities outside of work to volunteer and to surround oneself with self-motivated people.

Interview and writing by Aurora Tinio
Photos: Courtesy of Metropolis Japan

*This article was originally published on "Metropolis" (May 6, 2022).