Empowering Individuals to Change the World

Photo: iStock

Idea Struck Suddenly

There are times when new ideas and technologies create new value in things that already have value. Enigmo Inc., a start-up known as the pioneer of the C-to-C marketplace, has shown this to be true. The company runs a growing social shopping website, called BUYMA, that boasts 200,000 personal shoppers (seller) in about 170 countries across the world. These personal shoppers use the platform to post and sell various products, mainly fashion related, to over 10 million BUYMA members in Japan.

Suda Masahiro, Representative Director, says, "I'd just graduated university and started working at Hakuhodo, the advertising agency. A colleague of mine, who later became a co-founder of Enigmo, noticed that surfboards that were being sold in America for 300 dollars were selling for over three times the price in Japan. If you had a friend in America, you could ask the friend to get it for you, but not a lot of people in Japan have such connections. We thought it'd be convenient if there were a network of Japanese people who live abroad who could serve as buyers, so that people in Japan could buy products from overseas. That's where we got the idea for the service, which eventually became this start-up."

A Business with Both Social and Financial Significance

To be able to solve social issues through company activities, and create economic value at the same time—there is nothing better. "The more we thought about the idea for BUYMA, the more interesting we felt it was. We also felt very strongly that it would have real social and economic significance," says Suda emphatically.

"The good thing about BUYMA is that it lets people discover products that aren't seeing the light of day, which creates new value. Nowadays, BUYMA is a fashion-centered service. But when the company was first established, the kind of products we were envisioning were, for example, pottery made by an old man who lives deep in the mountains somewhere. The kind of work that has both charm and value, but doesn't see the light of day because it's not being distributed anywhere. But the moment a buyer sees it and uploads it online, it can catch the eye of people all around the world—its value can be recognized. That was the idea. We thought the service had the potential to give people access to economic benefits, just by honing their tastes or skills, even if they lived in remote or rural areas."

The existence of the BUYMA platform has also allowed for the distribution of fashion products across borders—products that would otherwise be sitting in storage—which has helped reduce excess inventory and alleviate the problem of inventory waste.

Work that can be Done Anywhere in the World

Anybody can work as a BUYMA personal shopper as long as they have good taste and passion—no matter where they live, and without being a part of a major company. There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the eighth is to "Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all." In that sense, you could say that BUYMA is creating jobs and providing job satisfaction for people throughout the world.

The platform also allows for free and fair exchange between buyers and sellers, which is consistent with the SDGs goals 10th, "Reduce inequality within and among countries," and the 16th, "Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels." Enigmo Inc. was founded in 2004. Considering that the SDGs were adopted by the United Nations in 2015, it seems like it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the times have finally caught up with the Enigmo concept. Suda says about the essence of BUYMA, "It's about empowering the individual (enabling individuals to exercise their inherent abilities and act on their own initiative)."

"Our business model only generates profits through the efforts of personal shoppers throughout the world, and has always had elements of the SDGs baked into it, in that sense, and we're proud of that. Simply put, the business model is such that the more BUYMA expands, the more services the platform is able to provide, and the happier it will make people out there in the world. Users (purchasers) are able to gain the means to purchase things from all over the world without having to leave Japan, and buying these great products from overseas gives them a sense of satisfaction and enriches their daily lives. We've also started setting up a service that will introduce Japanese crafts and other products to international audiences, which, once established, I believe will help vitalize local communities across Japan."

A Comfortable Workplace Leads to Growth

Suda explains that the individuals they are working to empower include the employees working at Enigmo. Of the employees at Enigmo, 44 percent are women, and the rate of female managers (excluding executives) is relatively high, at 38 percent. Childcare leave is taken by men as well as women. The company also promotes a fully remote work style. These elements of the company are also consistent with the fifth goal, "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls," the previously mentioned goal eighth, and other goals of the 17 SDGs.

Photo: iStock

"People spend a lot of their lives in the workplace. We want our employees to be able to work and grow in an environment where they can exert themselves to the best of their abilities under as little stress as possible. Part of the reason for this is that as a student, I remember thinking how unfair so many societal structures are, resulting in skilled people not being given the light of day. That's why at Enigmo, we've set up a system whereby employees can point out whenever they feel a policy is unfair or stressful.

I think this emphasis on comfort in the workplace is what has allowed us to attract so many young, talented people, and grow as much as we have. I think 'Tokyo Sustainable Navi' is a very valuable website because it spotlights companies that are doing the right thing, taking the right initiatives. With this feature on the website, our employees are being recognized for their work, and that should make them even more motivated," says Suda. He ends with a word of encouragement towards companies that are working to incorporate the SDGs into their own efforts.

Suda Masahiro, Representative Director, Enigmo Inc.

"I don't think companies really need to make huge efforts specifically for the SDGs. Look around at the businesses you already have, and look for ways in which your existing efforts connect to the SDGs. Just the realization that you're already making these contributions will boost everyone's motivation and make them even more passionate about their work, which can then be channeled into new developments."

Enigmo Inc.

Representative Director: Suda Masahiro
Official Website: https://global.enigmo.co.jp/
*This article was originally published on "Tokyo Sustainable Navi." (March 6, 2023)