Ready? Fight! A summary of 6 fierce Japanese startup rivalries


See the original Japanese version of this article

If you’re a web startup, chances are you probably have a competitor or two. Maybe more. Here in Japan we are seeing rivals emerge in a number of service categories. Thankfully, with each struggling to stand out from the other, it means that users are most likely to benefit, at least in the short term.

I will talk about the major players across six startup categories that have been getting attention here in Japan.

Round 1: vs BASE (E-commerce platforms)

I almost wanted to write about just this competition by itself, since both services have experienced rapid growth and the quality of their services is increasing by the day. This is a great example of how intense competition brings better quality product.


Round 2: iQON vs Origami vs MONOCO vs Fril (Smartphone x Fashion)

iQON is media, Origami is commerce, Monoco is a concierge service, and Fril is C2C. Those startups all differ slightly but they share two common threads: ‘fashion’ and ‘smartphones’. All have maintained high levels of investor interest. And it is said that this field is about to face a host of new entrants, resulting in even more hype around this space.


Round 3: CrowdWorks vs Lancers (Crowdsourcing)

The platform concept of these two services differs slightly. However, I feel both have the potential to change the concept of the way people work here in Japan, and that’s what differentiates them from other worker-client matching services.


Round 4: Coiney vs Rakuten Smartpay vs Paypal

Competition this category is a little more fierce as the players are not all startups. But when I interviewed Coiney I felt that their strategy is not to compete head on with these other payment giants. Check out interview (in Japanese) for more details.


Round 5: Campfire vs Readyfor vs Countdown (Crowdfunding)

Campfire has gotten a lot of attention so far, but it hasn’t yet resulted in the same kind of impact that we have seen with big overseas players. The first out of the gate in this crowdfunding space was Readyfor, which has differentiated by focusing on social contributions, donations, and NPOs. A critical success factor will be its ability to generate news media exposure.


Round 6: SmartNews vs Gunosy vs Vingow (News technology)

This field is pretty interesting because the competition depends on technology much more so than in the previously mentioned categories. SmartNews shows its users almost all the same news information, which is different from the other two players. The concept of personalized news is common to Gunosy and Vingow. But Vingow offers users updated information in real-time, different from Gunosy which updates information in batches. Many users might use both services, depending on the occasion.


I confess, I also wanted to include C2C platforms in this article (such as ticket selling, for example), but I’ll come back to that another time.

Besides those listed above, Japan also has an abundance of camera applications and casual games, but many lack monetization plans and solid business models – so they are less news-worthy in my book. Most of the services listed above have established business models and firm financials, and of course that is a big attraction for investors.

If you’d like to suggest some other hot startup categories or rivalry, please let me know in the comments.