When I first heard of Japan-based startup Tokyo Otaku Mode it was little more than a Facebook page sharing content about Japanese Otaku subculture. But as far as Facebook pages go, there wasn’t really anything little about it. At that time I think they had about half a million fans, and since then they have gone on to crack through ten million.
Yes, you read that correctly. Ten. Million.
To put that in perspective, that actually makes them bigger than both Elvis (7M fans) and Jesus (5.1M). In the last year alone, they saw new fans coming on board at an average rate of 600,000 per month.
The content on Tokyo Otaku Mode is primarily curated. That doesn’t simply mean curation in the normal sense of tumblr-esque web clippings brought together in recycled stream of web regurgitation. The startup gets in touch with right holders not just to obtain permission to share content, but also to offer its services to help Japanese content creators reach global audiences. According to co-founder Nao Kodaka, many of those rights holders say that the Japanese market is not growing, and now they want to pursue audiences abroad. So far, Tokyo Otaku Mode has established healthy relationships with those groups and individuals, and as a result, can publish high quality content regularly.
The thing that most astounds me about Tokyo Otaku Mode is that the company has managed to build such a community around Japanese culture with only a ten man team. I can’t help but contrast with this the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s own Cool Japan efforts, which is in a way are trying to do the very same thing – but obviously with not as much success.
Tokyo Otaku Mode began back in 2011. That wasn’t long after the earthquake, and Nao tells me that they wanted to try to do something that could help Japan. Facebook was just catching on in the country at that time . And while there were more than a few fan groups and sites focused on anime, manga, and Japanese culture, Nao says that there weren’t really and Japanese individuals or media reaching out to the world on their own. He succinctly explains:
All we have is our content. Our uniqueness, and our content.
For a young company just starting out, Facebook was certainly a logical place to build up a fan base. It’s free, and there are no server costs.
Nao describes how his team experimented with different methods of Facebook posting, trying different numbers of photos to see if some worked better than others. He points out that fans eventually began tagging themselves in photos, which meant that their friends were also seeing Otaku Mode content too. In the end, it looks to have resulted in a perfect storm of viral content that still hasn’t let up (see fan growth in the chart on the right).
Tokyo Otaku Mode has previously received backing from a number of investors. I recently got in touch with one of them, Craig Mod, who explained to me what it was about Tokyo Otaku Mode that made him want to get behind them as an angel investor . He describers them as a team of “total hustlers” and sharp marketers, bold enough to turn social media on its head:
[T]he fact that they saw an opportunity to leverage Facebook — and Facebook alone — as a platform to launch a publishing-like company was, to me, a first. Instead of spending tens/hundreds of thousands of dollars building complicated software for their company, they spent five minutes and used Facebook Pages as their home base on the internet. Obvious in hindsight but very avant garde even just a year ago.
Mo’ Money, Mo’ mobile
But you can’t make money directly on a Facebook fan page. So Otaku Mode was still faced with the problem that plagues so many in the content industry. How do you convert eyeballs into dollars? The strategy that the company has taken, and one which mentors have advised, is to drive Facebook traffic to its new website at OtakuMode.com, which just recently emerged from its private beta to become fully open to the public.
Nao explains explains that they hope to drive enough traffic to the site so that they could eventually advertise and convert those eyes into dollars.
The company has also dipped its toes in the mobile space as well, publishing its Otaku Camera application for iOS and Android, which turns your photos into manga style art. It isn’t the most original idea in the world, as Manga Camera did pretty much the exact same thing. But Otaku Camera is, in my opinion, far better executed. So far it has over 500,000 downloads, which is not a bad start. I’m told that in the future the application could sell special frames, in collaboration with certain rights holders.
The site also now serves as an outlet for content creators as well, with a dedicated UGC section which features some really amazing stuff. There’s also a verification process, by which the best of the best content creators earn a sort of Twitter-style verified badge, provided that they meet a number of stringent criteria. They can upload content on their own, and leverage Otaku Mode’s platform to reach audiences overseas who they may not otherwise be able to reach.
The website also recently added a news section, where articles about the latest happenings in the world of manga and anime are posted. The company also foresees the possibility of branching into e-commerce as a possible monetization method. Nao says, “Picture Esty, but for Otaku.”
This young company will certainly be one to watch in the coming year, just to see if its good fortune can extend beyond its Facebook success. I’m not going to make any predictions, but if I were a betting man, I certainly wouldn’t wager against them.
In fact, Facebook’s role in post-earthquake communication highlighted the social network in the eyes of many in Japan. ↩
Craig previously wrote his impressions of the company for Contents Magazine in a wonderful article entitled “Our New Shrines“. Like almost everything Craig Mod writes or creates, I can’t recommend it enough. ↩