Rakuten began life in 1997 as a small online marketplace with 13 shops and six employees. Today it has 1 billion members and is active in 29 countries and regions, a testament to the pioneering efforts of founder and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani.
In the past two decades, Rakuten has grown well beyond its e-commerce roots, reflecting perhaps the eclectic interests of its owner. The company today has interests in gaming, publishing, fintech, online video, and more, supported by an aggressive acquisition strategy to fuel its global expansion.
Over the past 12 months, however, indications are that Mikitani’s sights are shifting. Earlier this year, Rakuten sold $1.4 billion worth of shares in its tech holdings, including its entire stake in Pinterest, which followed an earlier write-down of its stake in Lyft.
Mobile appears to be the new area of opportunity for Mikitani and Rakuten. In July, Rakuten Mobile officially announced its new international headquarters in Singapore, just one year after becoming the first new mobile network operator in Japan in over a decade. The hub is expected to be the global hub for the Rakuten Communications Platform, a fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile platform.
“We are transforming the mobile industry with the world's first cloud-native, fully virtualized mobile network, something that mobile carriers and network engineers around the world have dreamt about,” Mikitani tells Business Insider. “It’s not overstating it to say that this is the Apollo program of the mobile network industry.”