DiDi is a global company headquartered in Beijing, China, that operates the world’s leading online transportation platform including for taxi-hailing, rideshare, bikeshare, and food delivery. With more than 550 million users registered to its application and its daily rides reaching 30 million, DiDi is a world-famous unicorn company. SoftBank announced the establishment of a partnership with DiDi in February 2018 and set up DiDi Mobility Japan, a joint venture of the two companies, in June of the same year. And then in autumn 2018, DiDi Mobility Japan began pilot operations of taxi-hailing platform services that utilize DiDi’s innovative artificial intelligence and data analysis technologies. How did SoftBank put the partnership with DiDi on the right track?
Back in autumn 2017, a project to study a partnership with DiDi was set up with three initial members.
Maiko Takano, who had already managed the launch of many new businesses, served as the project leader, and Hiroki Ando with extensive experience in investment contracts joined the team. In December 2017, the project members visited Beijing, home of DiDi. The project started there with having test rides with DiDi’s taxi-hailing application to figure out the needs and satisfaction level of DiDi users in China. The objectives of the visit were to identify barriers to starting taxi-hailing services in Japan and to study how to build products and business schemes tailored to the Japanese market. Takano with experience in establishing Cybereason Japan in only three months and successfully launching its services, at that point, did not expect this DiDi project to become highly challenging.
Takano recalls that the first challenge she faced after the start of negotiations with DiDi was that she could not find the person in charge on the DiDi side. “A start-up is often a small organization with less than 100 employees. Meanwhile, DiDi is a large company with more than 8,000 employees despite of being a startup. In the rapidly growing organization, the person in charge changes frequently. Because using chat services is a common practice in DiDi, I received no reply to my emails. Accordingly, it took a long time for me to figure out to whom I should talk to ensure that things run smoothly.”
After the announcement of the partnership in February 2018, the project went into full-scale operation. Its code name is “Project PANDA.” One day the members on the DiDi side said, “We are JAPAN DREAM TEAM.” Using several letters extracted from the spelling, the project was named PANDA. As the number of members gradually increased, Project Panda has become a big project with more than 100 members.
Soshi Tsuchiya, who participated in Project PANDA as soon as he joined SoftBank as a mid-career hire, flew to China with Takano and other members just a little over a week after his joining the company. Their mission was to have negotiations for the localization of applications and other DiDi products. There are large differences between Japan and China in laws and regulations governing the taxi business, taxi hailing systems, and so on. DiDi products would not be accepted in the Japanese market without tailoring them to the needs of consumers in Japan. However, negotiations to decide the specifications of these products were never easy. Takano says that this is an issue specific to a joint venture with a global company. “DiDi wanted to align their products with global standards, while SoftBank’s first priority was to ensure user-friendliness for consumers in Japan. I carefully communicated with DiDi to coordinate such differences.”