Japan was a huge success story for TTPCom ..  jap1


How was this done? Chris Cytera and Mark Collins tell the story,

-  Designing complex software that worked well,

-  Persistence,  

-  Recovery from setbacks,

-  and..  constant management support

Tokyo, Japan - Rainbow Bridge

TTPCom's breakthrough with Sharp:  read on.....   jap2

Large Japanese corporations can often appear baffling and impenetrable to those accustomed to doing business in Europe or the Americas. As well as their renown for being hierarchical, unique customs and complex decision-making processes, they pride themselves on the quality of their in-house procedures and staff, as well as their success in making vertical integration work. So to persuade a famous Japanese brand-name that they should outsource a critical software component of an important mobile phone development was always going to be a challenge


So how did the relatively small Cambridge company, TTPCom, with no physical Japanese presence manage to license its software to Sharp, the leading camera-phone supplier in Japan in the late nineties?


A spin-off off The Technology Partnership in Cambridge, TTPCom was aiming to get its mobile phone software adopted worldwide. Christopher Cytera, responsible for Business Development in Japan during Sharp’s quest to enter the European market in the new millennium, explains the challenges that TTPCom faced and describes the positive outcome.





By the late 1990s Sharp of Japan had built a formidable reputation as the leading supplier of CCD (Charge Couple Device) sensors for cameras. Sharp supplied its CCD chips industry-wide, including to its own mobile phone division which was based in Hiroshima.


The missing piece for Sharp was in the so-called “modem” part of the phone, the chipset and software that handles voice and data communication with the cellular network. Although Sharp had ready access to chipsets and software for the Japanese mobile phone system PDC, they did not have a solution for the European system that was being deployed at the time: GPRS.


TTPCom had successfully developed and licensed software for the early GSM voice-only mobile phones. They then became a leading player in the development of GPRS software for data applications, which they licensed to Blackberry-maker RIM and a number of Chinese and Korean handsets made for Europe. In Japan, Sony and NEC had signed up for GSM and satellite phone projects respectively. Though both started well, neither of these relationships fulfilled their promise. It became clear that. TTPCom would have to invest considerably more in Japan in order to work more successfully with the most famous and advanced consumer electronics companies in the world.





Renowned Japanese companies such as Sony, Panasonic and Mitsubishi were ambitious and keen to use their superior consumer electronics expertise to break into the booming European mobile phone market. They established European development subsidiaries and recruited local engineers experienced in the GSM and GPRS standards. This brought them closer to the telecommunications standards body known as ETSI, helping to develop phones with network performance equivalent to those of the leading European players: Nokia, Ericsson and Siemens.


The difficulty this posed to technology suppliers such as TTPCom was that the competition was within the customer itself. The usual challenges of persuading a customer to outsource a key development were compounded in the case of Japanese companies due to their vertically integrated model, as well as the large investments they had already made in European development resource


An additional difficulty was that TTPCom had no Japanese presence of its own. With personal relationships and trust being so important when doing business in Japan, this seemed to a major handicap.


“We had to step up our senior presence in Japan”, explained Mark Collins, one of the four founders of TTPCom and Commercial Director. “Without our own office, we had to give top-level Japanese decision-makers a direct line to those of us who actually ran our company.”





As TTPCom’s representative in Japan, ELA was instrumental in helping to develop and execute the right strategy for market entry. By acting as TTPCom’s virtual office, ELA also provided that local presence which was the first crucial element to success.


“Peter Bacon had extensive semiconductor industry experience built up over 20 years, particularly with Philips where he built bridges between Japan and European subsidiaries. His knowledge on how these subsidiaries operate and how to work with them was vital in building our strategy”, continued Mark. “ELA also enabled me to start making regular visits to top-level Japanese management, building stronger relationships by giving them confidence that I was coming back, again and again. This was invaluable in thawing certain existing relationships and building new ones.


The next crucial element was to define the approach. Since Sony, Panasonic and Mitsubishi had phone models already on the market, the best way to present TTPCom was as an additional technology source to help in the transition from GSM to GPRS, rather than a competitor to internal teams. ELA was pivotal in positioning TTPCom’s approach as collaborative and not a threat.


ELA then persuaded TTPCom that they had the right positioning strategy for a renewed assault on the Japanese market despite earlier setbacks. With TTPCom management’s commitment to a Japan-specific learning process, ELA could approach customers with confidence, in the knowledge that support would continue even when the going got tough. There were challenges ahead, but everything was in place to overcome them.


Peter Bacon, Managing Director of ELA explains:

“With ELA’s staff of senior executives recruited from top positions at Japan’s most famous electronics corporations, we ensured that TTPCom was dealing with the right people at the right level. On the operational side, we also knew how TTPCom should approach support, and encouraged TTPCom to go that extra mile, offering support on-site in Japan as part of the package, rather than simply responding to problems as they occurred”,


Christopher Cytera, responsible for Business Development for TTPCom in Japan at that time, picks up the story: “We were advised by ELA throughout the process to expose all relevant technical details of our software, to build maximum trust. And answer all questions thoroughly and promptly, even if the answers seemed obvious to us or had already been covered in other discussions. We learned that Japanese companies respected us for this, and for the knowledge they thus gained”. “A Japanese engineer cannot be seen to lose face in front of his superiors, so if he asks a question don’t tell him that he should know the answer whatever you do. Just tell him the answer!”





Through careful application of the strategy to both Sharp at Hiroshima and the UK subsidiaries in Bracknell and Wrexham, TTPCom was selected to provide the key software component known as the “protocol stack” for Sharp’s ground-breaking GX10 camera-phone. The contract was worth several million dollars, and with Sharp also having invested heavily in pre-Christmas advertising featuring David Beckham, they were very happy that the deadlines were met.


Peter Bacon further explains: “We were delighted that TTPCom were able to send a high-calibre engineer to Hiroshima to literally live, breath and eat with the Japanese engineers on the GX10 project. Though staying in a Sharp dormitory was a unique experience for a UK engineer, it was a crucial part of making Sharp feel as though they were being treated as a special customer, which of course they were. We could experience ourselves the Japanese dedication to getting things right. Seeing is believing”


Further success for TTPCom followed with Panasonic and Toshiba, this time with the semiconductor divisions of those companies. Both were investing in 3G technology as the next step in mobile phones, and the high-profile achievement at Sharp helped to cement TTPCom’s image as a company that could do business in Japan.


As a result of the above, TTPCom established its own presence in Japan, and worked with ELA to find Kihohide Ikeda as General Manager further enhancing support for these customers and reaching out to find new ones.. ELA nonetheless continued in its role on both these fronts, providing the continuity that is so important in Japan.





Decision-making in Japanese corporations is very collective, unlike western companies where many key decisions come from one key individual. It is therefore important to communicate at all levels of the organisation, including overseas subsidiaries. As a result, decisions take a long time, but once they are made then you can be sure that your Japanese partner will stick to them. A Japanese decision is a “company decision”.


Trust is more important in Japan than anywhere else in the world. It takes a long time to build it, but it can be broken in an instant. So make sure that you deliver on all your promises, and that the support resource put in place is more than adequate. You will be tested!





  • It is essential to have a presence in Japan of some sort. This can be a virtual office such as ELA was, or a tried and trusted agent with long-standing high-level relationships.
  • Be prepared to build on this as business develops with your own presence, keeping the previous representative for continuity. It is important not to be seen as a “hire and fire: organisation.
  • Never “sell and forget”, always provide a great deal of post-sales support, it can never be too much and will always pay dividends in Japan.
  • Support costs little and gains much, whereas too little support can cost everything

Key factors for success  jap3

Making sure that you deliver on all your promises. You will be tested.. we were!


Long term trust is more important in Japan than anywhere else in the world


Understanding decision-making in Japanese companies


Engage a support organisation in Japan with the right connections,


Be willing to set up your own office if needed. We did.


Put an support engineer on-site at the customer, if asked ...