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Japan’s Monstar Lab raises $40M to focus on developing take-away apps for US restaurants

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Tokyo-headquartered Monstar Lab, the Japanese company sourcing app developments around the world, announced today that it has raised a total of 4.2 billion yen (about $40 million US) in the latest round. Participating investors are Japan Post Capital, Dentsu Digital Fund, Saudi Arabia’s Alpha Al Imteyaz, Serverworks (TSE:4434), FFG Venture Business Partners, Shimane Central Shinkin Bank and Skylight Consulting. The secured amount includes debt financing from financial institutions. Shimane Central Shinkin Bank also participated in the previous round back in November of 2017. The company said it will use the funds to further expand its digital consulting business globally as well as enhance marketing and product development to increase the value it provides to its clients. This follows the previous round securing approximately 2.4 billion yen back in February of last year. This round’s stage is unspecified but it seems the seventh funding round as far as we know in our effort of reporting. In April of last year, Monstar Lab acquired New York-based digital product and mobile app developer Fuzz Productions which is best known for having developed ordering systems for Shake Shack and other restaurants. In August of 2017, Monstar Lab acquired Danish software company Nodes, which is…

Image credit: Monstar Lab

Tokyo-headquartered Monstar Lab, the Japanese company sourcing app developments around the world, announced today that it has raised a total of 4.2 billion yen (about $40 million US) in the latest round. Participating investors are Japan Post Capital, Dentsu Digital Fund, Saudi Arabia’s Alpha Al Imteyaz, Serverworks (TSE:4434), FFG Venture Business Partners, Shimane Central Shinkin Bank and Skylight Consulting. The secured amount includes debt financing from financial institutions. Shimane Central Shinkin Bank also participated in the previous round back in November of 2017.

The company said it will use the funds to further expand its digital consulting business globally as well as enhance marketing and product development to increase the value it provides to its clients.

This follows the previous round securing approximately 2.4 billion yen back in February of last year. This round’s stage is unspecified but it seems the seventh funding round as far as we know in our effort of reporting.

In April of last year, Monstar Lab acquired New York-based digital product and mobile app developer Fuzz Productions which is best known for having developed ordering systems for Shake Shack and other restaurants. In August of 2017, Monstar Lab acquired Danish software company Nodes, which is known for developing a number of food delivery apps like Careem Now in the Middle East region. According to Nikkei, the company has been focusing on ordering systems for restaurants in North America, but due to the growing demand for take-away apps because of COVID-19, the company plans to establish a development base in Latin America, where engineering labor costs are cheaper, to make offensive sales efforts in the North American market.

Monstar Lab currently operates in 26 cities in 15 countries around the world, including Europe, the US and Asia. The company with its subsidiaries have about 1,200 employees.

via PR Times

Japanese smart lock Akerun secures $33M to realize keyless society

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Photosynth, the Japanese startup developing and offering smart lock Akerun as well as cloud-based room-entry access control system, unveiled the Akerun Access Intelligence, an access authentication platform to realize a keyless society, as well as a new service called the Akerun visitor management system. The company also plans to conduct a Proof of Concept trial with Japanese leading real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan (TSE:8801). Meanwhile, the company announced that it has secured funding in the latest round led by The Norinchukin Bank with participation from NTT Docomo Ventures, 31Ventures, Line Ventures, Toppan Printing, BSP Group, Scrum Ventures, Joyo Sangyo Kenkyujo, Globis Capital Partners, and others. In this round, The company obtained 3.5 billion yen (about $33 million) in equity funding as well as loans from Shinsei Bank, Japan Finance Corporation, Mizuho Bank, Joyo Bank, and others. This brought the company’s funding sum up to 5 billion yen (about $47.3 million). Along with this, Tatsuya Otsubo of The Norinchukin Bank is appointed as an ouside director for Photosynth. The company will use the funds to promote research and development of the authentication platform as well as strengthening customer support and sales. The Akerun service…

The Akerun Visitor Management system installed at Mitsui Fudosan’s office entrance
Image credit: Photosynth

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Photosynth, the Japanese startup developing and offering smart lock Akerun as well as cloud-based room-entry access control system, unveiled the Akerun Access Intelligence, an access authentication platform to realize a keyless society, as well as a new service called the Akerun visitor management system.

The company also plans to conduct a Proof of Concept trial with Japanese leading real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan (TSE:8801).

Meanwhile, the company announced that it has secured funding in the latest round led by The Norinchukin Bank with participation from NTT Docomo Ventures, 31Ventures, Line Ventures, Toppan Printing, BSP Group, Scrum Ventures, Joyo Sangyo Kenkyujo, Globis Capital Partners, and others.

In this round, The company obtained 3.5 billion yen (about $33 million) in equity funding as well as loans from Shinsei Bank, Japan Finance Corporation, Mizuho Bank, Joyo Bank, and others. This brought the company’s funding sum up to 5 billion yen (about $47.3 million).

Along with this, Tatsuya Otsubo of The Norinchukin Bank is appointed as an ouside director for Photosynth. The company will use the funds to promote research and development of the authentication platform as well as strengthening customer support and sales.

The Akerun service improves convenience and security of keyless entry leveraging a cloud-based connected smart lock system. The Akerun room-entry access control system for business has been installed to 4,500 companies to date.

Akerun Access Intelligence is a new concept to put all the keys used in our daily lives into the cloud. In this scheme, users can associate their unique identity used in real life, such as NFC transit card, smartphone, employee ID and entrance pass with their digital entity such as e-mail address and phone number, and then register all them in to the cloud. This allows users to gain access to various spaces such as their office, building and home with just a single ID.

Image credit: Photosynth

In addition, the company announced the Akerun Visitor Management System, a cloud-based management platform to develop this concept in concrete terms. Large office buildings had often set up security gates and reception areas for access restrictions where visitors are usually asked to present their ID as well as fill in their name and the name of the company they are visiting in the form. However, this procedure was time-consuming for visitors, the forms collected by the receptionist needed to be re-input to manage digitally, and visual check of ID is not so much reliable.

To solve these problems, Photosynth developed the Akerun Visitor Management System, which can be installed into existing security gates so that guests can get entry approval using their NFC transit card. Combined with the Akerun room-entry access control system, the Visitor Management system allows not only visitors but also employees gain access to the locations that every user ID / key set approves. Photosynth will conduct a proof-of-concept trial using these systems with Mitsui Fudosan at the latter’s new office in Nihombashi, Tokyo. Mitsui Fudosan has been using the Akerun for some time now, which led to this collaboration.

via PR TIMES

Translated by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s retail solution startup Hey secures $66M from Bain Capital, acquires Coubic

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Hey, the Japanese tech firm behind payments startup and e-shop builder, announced today that it has secured series E round funding. Participating investors in this round are Bain Capital, Hong Kong-based Anatole, Goldman Saches, PayPal, YJ Capital (investment arm of Yahoo Japan) as well as World Innovation Lab (WiL). Hey has not disclosed the size of the entire round but their statement reveals Bain Capital alone will invest 7 billion yen (about $66 million) in this deal. Hey will use the funds to double its team from 200 to 400 staffers. Along with the funds, the company will acquire a full stake in Coubic, a Japanese startup behind scheduling and appointment booking solution under the same name. Coubic has recently integrated with “Reserve with Google”, which now allows consumers to make bookings or purchase tickets through Google Search and Maps from the local businesses using Coubic. Coubic has also recently integrated with Zoom in aim to help retailers offer online counseling or other learning services under the COVID-19 pandemic. Founded in October 2013 by ex-Googler Hiroshi Kuraoka, Coubic has now 2.5 million monthly active users and is serving more than 80,000 companies and…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Hey, the Japanese tech firm behind payments startup and e-shop builder, announced today that it has secured series E round funding.

Participating investors in this round are Bain Capital, Hong Kong-based Anatole, Goldman Saches, PayPal, YJ Capital (investment arm of Yahoo Japan) as well as World Innovation Lab (WiL). Hey has not disclosed the size of the entire round but their statement reveals Bain Capital alone will invest 7 billion yen (about $66 million) in this deal.

Hey will use the funds to double its team from 200 to 400 staffers.

Along with the funds, the company will acquire a full stake in Coubic, a Japanese startup behind scheduling and appointment booking solution under the same name. Coubic has recently integrated with “Reserve with Google”, which now allows consumers to make bookings or purchase tickets through Google Search and Maps from the local businesses using Coubic.

Coubic has also recently integrated with Zoom in aim to help retailers offer online counseling or other learning services under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Founded in October 2013 by ex-Googler Hiroshi Kuraoka, Coubic has now 2.5 million monthly active users and is serving more than 80,000 companies and individuals across over 180 business categories.

Here’s what Hey CEO Yusuke Sato says in an official statement:

I’ll never forget the words of a customer I got the other day. That’s from President Suzuki of Hamanoyu, who use our Stores platform to sell his traditional inn’s flagship menu of red bream fish boiled with soy sauce.

He said in his letter to us:

“The kitchen, which had been bereft of guests, has been revitalized by orders online from from all over the country. Our staffs were encouraged by the fact that there were customers who wanted to stay with us, and we felt anew that we had to take a stand for the customers who wanted to come back someday.”

We were reminded that what we can do is small in the face of a major disaster, but nevertheless, we could be a source of hope and vitality for those who are in such a difficult situation.

Through this funding and the acquisition (of Coubic), we will further accelerate the rollout of features for individuals and small and medium-sized businesses in response to the new normal, such as early withdrawal of sales proceeds, support for opening an online store, and simplified online lesson booking through integration with the Zoom video conferencing service, which we have released to address the challenges associated with the pandemic and business restraint measures.

Together with Hey team and our new colleagues from Coubic, we will contribute to creating a society supported by an economy driven by persistence, passion and fun, rather than just pursuing profit and scale.

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Mantra’s AI-powered translation engine wants to help Japanese manga expand global fan base

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This is the abridged version of our original article in Japanese. Tokyo-based Mantra, the Japanese startup developing machine learning-based translation technology for manga, announced on Tuesday that it has officially launched its cloud-based translation platform called Mantra Engine. The platform is specifically designed for translating manga content. It allows comic productions and distributors to release manga titles in foreign languages by helping them manage almost all work processes for manga translation through a single web-based interface. Combining with corrections and proofreading by professional translators, the platform makes it possible for users to produce foreign language versions in about half the time for the traditional workflow. It supports English and Chinese at the moment, but more languages will be added in due course. In aim to help the global expansion of the Japanese manga industry and reducing their economic loss due to piracy, the platform is intended to provide three functions to streamline producing foreign language versions: character recognition (reading Japanese characters in speech bubbles), machine translation, and replacing text in speech bubbles by script typesetting in a targeted language. As electronic versions of manga become more widely available, the platform’s ability to publish a new episode in a foreign language…

Screenshot of Mantra Engine ©️Kuchitaka Mitsuki
Image credit: Mantra

This is the abridged version of our original article in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Mantra, the Japanese startup developing machine learning-based translation technology for manga, announced on Tuesday that it has officially launched its cloud-based translation platform called Mantra Engine.

The platform is specifically designed for translating manga content. It allows comic productions and distributors to release manga titles in foreign languages by helping them manage almost all work processes for manga translation through a single web-based interface.

Combining with corrections and proofreading by professional translators, the platform makes it possible for users to produce foreign language versions in about half the time for the traditional workflow. It supports English and Chinese at the moment, but more languages will be added in due course.

In aim to help the global expansion of the Japanese manga industry and reducing their economic loss due to piracy, the platform is intended to provide three functions to streamline producing foreign language versions: character recognition (reading Japanese characters in speech bubbles), machine translation, and replacing text in speech bubbles by script typesetting in a targeted language.

As electronic versions of manga become more widely available, the platform’s ability to publish a new episode in a foreign language even on a weekly basis is a powerful tool for the industry which is looking to increase sales through global licensing and multilingual distribution. As is common among tech companies, especially for AI firms, the more scope of automated processing expands, the greater value they can provide.

In terms of machine translation, the company added the “glossary of terminology management” function in the official version unveiled today, which is to tackle the biggest issue they found during the trial phase according to CEO Shonosuke Ishiwatari.

In manga, many proper nouns unique to a title or an artist are often used. Using Google Translate, if you find mistakes in translation for a proper noun, it may take a lot of work to correct them all. Registering each new one into the glossary as it appears is a simple idea but very effective.

Mantra raised 80 million yen (about $760,000) from Japanese AI-focused VC Deepcore, DMM Ventures, Legend Ventures, and other unnamed angel investors back in June.

Japan’s Umitron launches satellite ocean data map service for aquaculture farmers

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Singapore- and Tokyo-based aquatech startup Umitron announced on Tuesday that it has launched a web-based ocean satellite data service called Umitron Pulse. Leveraging satellite remote sensing technology, high resolution marine data for various areas of the world can be checked on a daily basis, enabling aquaculture businesses to manage growth and risk more efficiently. The service offers oceanographic data such as seawater temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll concentration and wave height, and can be zoomed in and out on the screen. In addition to offering real-time oceanographic data, the system can predict changes in the marine environment over the next 48 hours. More types of marine environment data, hourly updates of various types of data, and the function to compare and analyze past marine environment data will be added. A mobile app will be available soon. Umitron secured 1.22 billion yen ($11.5 million US) from several investors back in 2018 followed by a $2 million funding from the innovation lab of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) lat year in an aim to help the local economy near Lake Titicaca in Peru improve their salmon trout farming productivity using the startup’s AI-powered remote sensing device Umitron Cell. Last year, the startup…

Umitron Pulse
Image credit: Umitron

Singapore- and Tokyo-based aquatech startup Umitron announced on Tuesday that it has launched a web-based ocean satellite data service called Umitron Pulse. Leveraging satellite remote sensing technology, high resolution marine data for various areas of the world can be checked on a daily basis, enabling aquaculture businesses to manage growth and risk more efficiently.

The service offers oceanographic data such as seawater temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll concentration and wave height, and can be zoomed in and out on the screen. In addition to offering real-time oceanographic data, the system can predict changes in the marine environment over the next 48 hours. More types of marine environment data, hourly updates of various types of data, and the function to compare and analyze past marine environment data will be added. A mobile app will be available soon.

Umitron secured 1.22 billion yen ($11.5 million US) from several investors back in 2018 followed by a $2 million funding from the innovation lab of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) lat year in an aim to help the local economy near Lake Titicaca in Peru improve their salmon trout farming productivity using the startup’s AI-powered remote sensing device Umitron Cell.

Last year, the startup partnered with Thailand’s CP Foods, the world’s largest shrimp farming operator, to launch a proof-of-concept on advancing shrimp farming. Earlier this year, they successfully crowdfunded a project supportiing branded fish farming in Ehime Prefecture in the western part of Japan.

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Japanese serial entrepreneur taking on post-pandemic rise of audio social media

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Since Taka Iguchi has developed so many products and services if you include those that already shut down, I don’t want to mention all of them in this story. But for the past four years he has focused on audio social services, starting with the Baby app in 2016 followed by its enhanced app Ball in 2017. After another pivot, his new app Dabel was launched in the US in January of last year under the previous name of Ear.ly. Iguchi has been based in San Francisco and Kyoto for some time now, but since the global pandemic of COVID-19, he has been unable to travel abroad and has been forced to stay mostly in Kyoto. I thought this may have been a headwind for him, but the app is apparently growing well. What is it about Dabel that attracts so many people? Last week I could have a chance to meet Iguchi in Kyoto to find out. Using audio social app to discover new friends It’s hard to find the best word to describe Dabel. Needless to say, the app’s name comes from the Japanese word meaning chatting but Iguchi himself describes it as “an app for well-side gossip…

Taka Iguchi stands in a temple in his neighborhood in Kyoto.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Since Taka Iguchi has developed so many products and services if you include those that already shut down, I don’t want to mention all of them in this story. But for the past four years he has focused on audio social services, starting with the Baby app in 2016 followed by its enhanced app Ball in 2017. After another pivot, his new app Dabel was launched in the US in January of last year under the previous name of Ear.ly.

Iguchi has been based in San Francisco and Kyoto for some time now, but since the global pandemic of COVID-19, he has been unable to travel abroad and has been forced to stay mostly in Kyoto. I thought this may have been a headwind for him, but the app is apparently growing well. What is it about Dabel that attracts so many people? Last week I could have a chance to meet Iguchi in Kyoto to find out.

Using audio social app to discover new friends

The Dabel app
Image credit: Doki Doki

It’s hard to find the best word to describe Dabel. Needless to say, the app’s name comes from the Japanese word meaning chatting but Iguchi himself describes it as “an app for well-side gossip meeting,” which gives me the impression that it allows you to be a radio anchor. Looking similar to other Japanese audio social apps like Voicy, Radiotalk and Stand.fm at first glance, what makes Dabel unique is that listeners can join the show and talk to each other upon the host’s approval.

It was only in May of last year that the app began to gain popularity in the US since AppleVis, a community website for the visually impaired, featured us. So, in June, we focused on the the Voiceover screen-reading function in the app (in aim to assist the visually impaired), and then more of them started actively using the app as a tool to find their new friends.

Iguchi continued.

In March this year, Mikke CEO Takumi Inoue (arranging an online meetup series called O-Cha) and apparel maker All Yours’ CEO Masashi Kimura started using the app, which triggered a boom in Japan. These users are often hyperactive and full of energy, having been looking for a place to release it. That’s why their content is interesting. You can listen to recording later on but 90% of listeners join their favorite shows live.

That’s probably the biggest advantage of audio social apps, although Dabel recommends that both the talking host and the listening listener use AirPods, so that you can deliver and listen to the show almost regardless of no matter where both of they are. There’s no need to set up your phone on a tripod or use a selfie stick like what YouTubers usually do. In fact, my friend Dabel host brought an afternoon talk show with three of her friends physically located apart each other while she broadcasted the show from the standing bar at a sushi bar on another occasion.

In my opinion, good sound quality and a sense of realism is one of Dabel’s hallmarks. When I heard the aforementioned talk show, I felt as if I, as a listener, were just standing before the sushi bar. There’s no need to shout so loudly, which doesn’t bother people around, and the minimal audio delay makes it easy to enjoy the interaction when the host allows the listener to join in.

Coronavirus pandemic reveals brutal truth

One of the things I like to talk about these days is the “what’s lost in looking for ways to coexist with the novel coronavirus may be serendipity”. With so many tech conferences going online, it’s hard to replicate online the “chance encounter” that might lead to an intimate relationship with someone you happen to meet at a party, as opposed to identifying and communicating with the person you want to talk to. Many of our current relationships are totally based on the result of these chances. Paul Graham explains that such uncertainty is essential to the fostering of the tech community.

But here a new insight: Dabel may bring a bright future to our world. Iguchi explains:

There’s a brutal truth that attracted our attention after the pandemic occurred.

Before the pandemic, we used to chat with acquaintances, family, friends and partners. But the pandemic prevented us from seeing each other. People started using Dabel to find new friends. And then, we found out that it doesn’t eventually matter whomever you chat with.

Originally, communities were often dependent on the physical environment where people found themselves. With the advent of the Internet and mobile, this physical constraint was removed to some extent, but the spread of the novel coronavirus spurred the loss of freedom of movement and caused people to start talking to the people they really wanted to talk to regardless of location.That person you are talking to might be someone you’ve never met, or it might be someone who lives on the other side of the planet. Dabel’s user experience, which relies on common interests to talk to each other but not on the physical environment or existing relationships, is also similar to that of Talkstand, another Japanese mobile app launched in beta back in May.

The world is catching up with the trends

Iguchi speaks at the 10841 launch event in Kyoto in February.
Image credit: Masahiro Noguchi

In May, Clubhouse, the US startup behind an audio social app under the same name, secured $10 million US from Andreesen Horowitz in a series A round, which raised their valuation to $100 million in just a couple of months after the launch. Clubhouse is recognized as one of the fastest growing startups in the region right now. In addition to an accomplishment for audio social networks to get some recognition from the market, it is perhaps a tailwind for Doki Doki, Iguchi’s startup behind the Dabel app, to secure the next round of funding in the not-too-distant future. Doki Doki raised 40 million from Skyland Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures, and Umeda Startup Fund in early 2016 followed by 50 million yen from Kyoto University Innovation Capital in a pre-seed round in February of 2017.

However, audio social is not all good because it’s a very new field. In the US, a recent closed discussion among venture capitalists on the Clubhouse app, in which they criticized Bay Area journalists for having too much power, has been leaked to the public and is causing a stir. There is always the risk that the whispering in the corner of the room can be exposed to the public via new technology. The future is unclear as the exchange of banter extends to issues such as gender and racial discrimination. Iguchi sees it as an object lesson to his venture.

Audio social is a highly intimate form of media. It’s easy to post emotions and passions, but it can also contain sensitive content when shared with the public. This is a double-edged sword, and the Clubhouse case was a bad pattern.

He added.

Dabel has also improved features such as the console banning users who violate the terms and conditions, but still we could experience “flaming cases” in the future. However, it’s not all bad. It’s a new medium, so there is always the risk of flamming, but Dabel is going to be on the offensive, aiming to become a safe and secure platform.

Of the 40,000 current Dabel users, about 30% are women while 67% are American and 10% are Japanese, which boasts a diversified demographic user base as a service by a Japanese startup. The total number of times people have participated in conversations on the app has reached 550,000, and the average dwell time per session on the app is around 57 minutes, which is much longer than that of Facebook.

Audio social is attracting a lot of attention because of its high level of user engagement. Pouring his energy into his enthusiasm, Iguchi wants to dominate the new field globally.

Japanese video tech startup Paronym secures funding from Thai telecom giant

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Tokyo-based Paronym, the Japanese startup behind the TIG interactive video technology, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum from Intouch Holdings (BKK:INTUCH), the parent company of Thailand’s largest telecom operator AIS (BKK:ADVANC). Paronym has been raising a series B round since last year, and has so far secured approximately 230 million yen (about $2.1 million) from Japan Post Capital and NTT Docomo Ventures. The company says it has closed the latest round with the funding from Intouch Holdings. This entire round brought the startup’s funding sum up to date to 690 million yen ($6.4 million). Founded back in 2016, Paronym has developed the TIG interactive video solution that allows viewers to obtain necessary information by tapping an item in a video clip. Use cases include e-commerce sites selling interiors and fashion outfits, recipe sites (linking to foods and ingredients in the recipe), and online travel guides (linking to travel destinations). The platform offers tracking editing tool that allows content owners to associate objects in a clip with link destinations in addition to heat map tool showing them which part of the clip their viewers are tapping. The company offers a different line-up for each of six different…

Paronym CEO Michio Kobayashi presented at Rock Thailand in Bangkok in December.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Tokyo-based Paronym, the Japanese startup behind the TIG interactive video technology, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum from Intouch Holdings (BKK:INTUCH), the parent company of Thailand’s largest telecom operator AIS (BKK:ADVANC).

Paronym has been raising a series B round since last year, and has so far secured approximately 230 million yen (about $2.1 million) from Japan Post Capital and NTT Docomo Ventures. The company says it has closed the latest round with the funding from Intouch Holdings. This entire round brought the startup’s funding sum up to date to 690 million yen ($6.4 million).

Founded back in 2016, Paronym has developed the TIG interactive video solution that allows viewers to obtain necessary information by tapping an item in a video clip. Use cases include e-commerce sites selling interiors and fashion outfits, recipe sites (linking to foods and ingredients in the recipe), and online travel guides (linking to travel destinations). The platform offers tracking editing tool that allows content owners to associate objects in a clip with link destinations in addition to heat map tool showing them which part of the clip their viewers are tapping.

Kobayashi shareed the development timeline of his company’s video technology service.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

The company offers a different line-up for each of six different verticals including movies splitting off into multiple case scenarios, magazines, digital signage, commerce, learning and live (performance). Due to its high interactivity, they claim that the platform can help e-commerce sites gain their conversion rate twice that of Instagram, three times that of YouTube.

In December, Paronym was qualified and invited to present at the second batch of Rock Thailand, a joint project by the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok and Thailand’s largest conglomerate CP Group with an aim to encourage business partnerships between the two countries, where Paronym CEO Michio Kobayashi explained his company has been seeking business alliances, series B funding, and potential sales partners in Thailand. So the latest funding means his efforts have paid off. Palonym plans to hold a joint press briefing with Intouch Holdings, and detailed plans are expected to be revealed at that time.

You can’t coach ambition

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. Red Auerbach — winning basketball coach of the Boston Celtics for 9 NBA championships in the 1950s and 60s, famously remarked that, “You can’t coach height.” He made the statement in response to a reporter‘s question on why he drafted somebody who turned out to be a fantastic player but didn’t possess much in the way of basketball skills other than being super tall. In other words, some favorable basketball attributes can be coached: passing, dribbling, shooting free throws, making plays, rebounding shots, etc. whereas other attributes can never be taught, namely a player’s height.  I think the equivalent of this expression for entrepreneurs would be, “You can’t coach ambition.” This expression came to mind again as I witness reverberations in the Silicon Valley echo chamber about the recent funding round of Clubhouse.  The brouhaha…

mark-bivens_portraitThis guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


Image credit: PhotoFond

Red Auerbach — winning basketball coach of the Boston Celtics for 9 NBA championships in the 1950s and 60s, famously remarked that, “You can’t coach height.” He made the statement in response to a reporter‘s question on why he drafted somebody who turned out to be a fantastic player but didn’t possess much in the way of basketball skills other than being super tall. In other words, some favorable basketball attributes can be coached: passing, dribbling, shooting free throws, making plays, rebounding shots, etc. whereas other attributes can never be taught, namely a player’s height. 
I think the equivalent of this expression for entrepreneurs would be, “You can’t coach ambition.”

This expression came to mind again as I witness reverberations in the Silicon Valley echo chamber about the recent funding round of Clubhouse. 

The brouhaha relates to Clubhouse’s Series A fundraising of $10 million from Andreessen Horowitz, which was accompanied by $2 million worth of secondary cash paid directly to the Clubhouse founders.

Perhaps it’s because I spent more of my investing career in Europe then in Silicon Valley, but for me, creative deal structures like this one — even if it looks egregious to some on the surface — do not strike me as eye-popping. 

Although I would not classify most European founders as underprivileged, very few come from positions of extreme wealth. Most of the entrepreneurs I have encountered had been toiling away for years with modest wages (especially on a net basis after significant taxes and social charges), and limited capital gains from other sources such as stock market appreciation. Functioning universal healthcare coverage provides a safety net on the downside, in contrast with the U.S., making entrepreneurship accessible to a wider range of economic classes.

For these and historically cultural reasons, the go-for-broke mentality is far less prevalent among European entrepreneurs.

So I’ve been no stranger to structuring deals with a secondary component for the founders who have been plugging away for years with relatively little concrete monetary value to show for it. No, I have not offered secondaries of $2 million — closer to an order of magnitude smaller — nor have I offered them on Series A rounds, only at later stages. However, I’ve done them on multiple occasions.

In some cases, the secondaries have worked out superbly well, removing obstacles for founders to strive for aggressive growth. On other occasions, they provided little or no improvement, and have sometimes even backfired by misaligning the interests in the cap table.

It was only after numerous experiences with these that I realized the importance of controlling for another variable: the intrinsic ambition of the founder.

If a founder’s self-imposed restraint stemmed from external factors, for instance family responsibilities, alleviating such burdens with a small secondary payout has proven wildly effective. If the risk aversion originated from within, on the other hand, the hoped-for benefits of a secondary structure never seemed to materialize.

Ambition is raw. It sits independently of the support I might provide to portfolio companies, either directly or by finding people who do. Company structuring, financial management, marketing, pitching, fundraising, negotiating, recruiting, exit positioning, etc. all of these skills can be fostered and encouraged.

Real estate in a post-coronavirus world

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. This article was intentionally removed because some of the data has become confidential. Thank you for understanding.

mark-bivens_portrait

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


This article was intentionally removed because some of the data has become confidential. Thank you for understanding.

Remonade launches global edition, helps employees work from home more easily

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Tokyo-based Queue has launched the English version of Remonade, a team management platform that visualizes the performance of employees working from home. This is the third product for the company, following blueprint finder Blue Assistant and global startup database Sunryse. More people not only in startups but also in enterprises started working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new problems managers may face include helping smooth communication between members working apart each other as well as motivating them to maintain loyalty to the company. The Remonade platform is focused on the gap that tools like Slack and Torello cannot fill in addition to eliminating the stress these employees may feel from being watched by colleagues all day long through Skype or other tools. Remonade provides three key features: Today – offering easy daily task management Progress Sharing and Stats – showing shows daily to-dos for each member Dashboard – helping managers collect and analyze duties, granularity, and achievement rates that each of their team members is responsible for as well as their mental changes. For overall task management, you can use existing management tools, Gantt charts, and WBS (Work Breakdown Structure). But the Remonade platform visualizes daily tasks…

Tokyo-based Queue has launched the English version of Remonade, a team management platform that visualizes the performance of employees working from home. This is the third product for the company, following blueprint finder Blue Assistant and global startup database Sunryse.

More people not only in startups but also in enterprises started working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new problems managers may face include helping smooth communication between members working apart each other as well as motivating them to maintain loyalty to the company. The Remonade platform is focused on the gap that tools like Slack and Torello cannot fill in addition to eliminating the stress these employees may feel from being watched by colleagues all day long through Skype or other tools.

Remonade provides three key features:

  • Today – offering easy daily task management
  • Progress Sharing and Stats – showing shows daily to-dos for each member
  • Dashboard – helping managers collect and analyze duties, granularity, and achievement rates that each of their team members is responsible for as well as their mental changes.

For overall task management, you can use existing management tools, Gantt charts, and WBS (Work Breakdown Structure). But the Remonade platform visualizes daily tasks and helps managers grab what each of their members is working on at a glance. That’s why managers will not need to ask each of their members individually: “what are you working on?” or “how much did you work today?”

Queue CEO Naoto Shibata explained.

We wanted to help users share their status quo with their managers and colleagues as non-verbal as possible. While the government is promoting the work style reform in Japan, managers need to have more tasks to help their members work from home, such as asking them to submit a daily report. We wanted to solve this kind of problem.

The platform also has the feature to share snapshots of participating employees every few minutes (the frequency can be set arbitrarily by the user) using their laptop’s built-in camera. You can make your picture into mosaics, or even you can replace it with just an emoji and an icon.

In the future, some ideas include capturing seating times from camera images to help managers analyze the work performance of their members as well as analyzing their facial expressions to get mental feedback of them, Shibata says.

The company came up with Remonade because many of its employees work from home now. The platform can be used in conjunction with a variety of other tools, and a video conferencing tool integration is expected coming soon.