The Data Chief | Episode 44

Rakuten’s Takuya Kitagawa on Digital Twins, Getting a CEO to Love Data, and Moonshots

Takuya Kitagawa

Managing Executive Officer & CDO

Rakuten Group, Inc.

Current EpisodeEP44: Rakuten’s Takuya Kitagawa on Digital Twins, Getting a CEO to Love Data, and Moonshots

Episode Overview

Whether you’ve passed your cursor over their logo on a streaming service, spotted it on the front of a Golden State Warriors jersey, or use their cash-back rebate system, the Rakuten brand is everywhere and actively expanding.

Today’s guest, Takuya Kitagawa is the Managing Executive Officer & CDO at Rakuten. On this episode, Takuya joins Cindi to discuss how the company has found massive, international success across multiple industries by integrating data across lines of business to deliver better customer experiences. He also dives into the importance of data fluency at every level, and elaborates on how Rakuten is leveraging the concept of “digital twins” to better connect with customers. Stick around to hear all of this, plus exciting details regarding Rakuten latest moonshot projects.

Key Moments

00:00 Intro

7:24 Enhancing customer loyalty through integrated services

11:08 AI as a core part of your product experience

13:17 Rakuten’s approach to lowering customer acquisition costs

17:08 Integrating data across lines of business

22:38 The concept of ‘digital twins’

25:04 Data platforms and the commoditization of algorithms

29:13 Web 3.0 and the movement toward decentralization

32:16 Investing in data fluency at the executive level

38:08 A bold to approach to curing cancer

Key Takeaways

  • Integrated data delivers better customer experiences: Rakuten has seen major success in offering enhanced services and experiences to customers around the world. Their secret? Integrating data across multiple lines of business, starting with customer login credentials. This approach makes using multiple services a seamless experience and builds customer loyalty.
  • You don’t have to reinvent the wheel: Before building a new technology from the ground up, see if anyone else has already done it. There’s so much you can learn, borrow, or buy from others. If you can learn to leverage the innovation that’s already happening around you, you’ll be in a better position to accelerate your own digital transformation. 
  • Invest in data fluency at every level: It’s important that executives be just as data fluent as anyone else in your organization. For Rakuten, investing in data fluency at the highest levels of leadership manifests as quarterly AI bootcamps and mandatory data trainings. 

Key Quotes

We discovered when we acquired the credit card company, that it is much, much cheaper to send traffic from one internal to the other than down going through of course advertising companies such as Google and Facebook, even though this takes a little ingenuity and creativity. If you think about it, eCommerce and credit cards come really well together because, to shop online, you need credit cards and the key point is how do you connect credit card back to the shopping?
Our CEO had a very, very clear directive - if we are going to acquire a company, integration of it starts from integration of ID. So log ID needs to be completely the same. This already has been a common practice across Google, in Facebook to align the log ID starting from there you really have to integrate the data. So that's a key point when you acquire a company one of the key agreements you have to make with the other company is we have to integrate ID and data.
Algorithms [are] becoming a commodity at this point. The key differentiator of AI is data.
Frankly, the best practice is to learn from [the] outside, because venture capital money is flowing at this ridiculous amount, and there [are] so many people, so much money, and so much effort to try to make things easier. Before you try to build what’s necessary yourself, it's better to look around and see if there are other companies who can help you… Be humble. [We] try to learn from our site and leverage what is already there.


  • Dr. Hisataka Kobayashi’s Discovery of photo immunotherapy
  • Harvard University Partnership 
  • FC Barcelona and Golden State Warriors


Takuya Kitagawa is managing executive officer and Chief Data Officer of Rakuten Inc, and serves as the director for Well-being for Planet Earth(WPE). As Chief Data Officer of Rakuten group, he is responsible for the end to end value creation and execution of AI & data strategy, and manages a global organization located across the world including Japan, U.S., India, France and Singapore. He also leads Rakuten institute of technology, R&D function of the group, as the global head. Vision of his group is the fundamental understanding of customers and their behaviors with AI and data; how business and service can empower customers to spend their money and time better. As a board of director for well-being for Planet Earth, he further extends and applies the understanding of human beings and society to contribute to more general domains of well-being across the world. Prior to working on AI, he worked as a theoretical physicist and published more than 20 papers in journals including “Science” and “Nature Physics.” Dr. Kitagawa obtained his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University and A.B. in physics and mathematics from Harvard College.