Anime illustration crowdsourcing platform raises $1.3M

Mugenup CEO Ryota Ichioka

See the original story in Japanese.

Crowdsoucing platforms can be divided into two categories: 1) general purpose and 2) industry-focused. The latter is very much focused on specific business fields such as translation or design, and such crowdsourcing platforms are on the rise.

MugenUp is a Tokyo-based startup that provides a crowdsourcing platform for animated content and illustrations. The company just announced that it has raised series B funding worth 130 million yen (or approximately $1.3 million) from Industrial Growth Platform and SMBC Venture Capital.

MugenUp was launched back in June of 2011 as a social games developer, but that plan didn’t quite work out. So last year they shifted to work on an animation-focused platform, since they thought they would be able to take advantage of the experiences from their past projects. Readers may recall when we spoke with the startup’s CEO Ryota Ichioka back in May, he told us about how they serve as an illustration solution to many game companies who might have just a few full-time illustrators.

We plan to grow into a 100-person team in a year

For crowdsourcing platform operators, if you focus on a specific business sector, the fortunes of your business will obviously be very directly dependent on trends in that sector. The rise of the Japanese social gaming industry has helped the startup’s business grow rapidly, enabling them to raise a 100 million yen ($1 million) in funding from Japanese VC Nissay Capital back in September of 2012.

MugenUp functions as an intermediary between customers and clients, helping them find appropriate matches. A key aspect of this process is a chat system called Mugen Work Station. This allows their directors to communicate with crowdsourced workers, monitor the production process, and give workers revision requests if needed.

We heard more from CEO Ichioka about how business is going these days.

In terms of the orders we’re receiving, projects related to mobile games are continuously growing. But I think the content of games on each gaming platform is changing. For example, illustration work for card battle games is still in a high demand in browser-based gaming apps, but native app developers typically ask us to help them develop animated 3D/2D content developed with Unity.

MugenUp directors advice crowdsourced workers using the chat system.

Ichioka shared a little more about their hiring plan:

Our total number of registered crowdsourced workers will hit 10,000 very shortly. In the office, we have 60 full-time and part-time workers. With these funds, we will add people with skills to handling 3D animated content, and we plan to grow into a 100-person team in a year.

In addition, our chat system has a handy translation feature that helps our directors communicate with foreign crowdsourced workers in English and Chinese.

According to Mr. Ichioka, the chat system also keeps clients updated about how their outsourced projects are going, and an upcoming version will allow them to check how workers are creating character designs at any time.

The startup is receiving many orders for 3D content. Ichioka explained the startup’s future exists in the accumulation of these content data.

We’ve been receiving orders for 3D models of real products. They are typically orders to optimize data for actual production rather than just digital content. So we are aiming to move into a market that will replace the metal mold business.

When we look at the digital fabrication industry, 2D or 3D design data can be alternatives to metal molds. The point is not about creating products featuring popular characters, but the accumulation of design data allows the startup to analyze and predict what kind of characters or shapes will be popular in different markets.

While most of their future plans were not disclosed, they revealed that the accumulated design data includes many useful engineering tips, such as how much shrinkage you need to plan for when creating a vinyl chloride creation with digital 3D data.

We’re aiming at a comprehensive platform for design data, making the most of our experiences through our crowdsourcing platform business. We’re trying to adopt our kind of service operations and database design to genres such as toys or figure sculptures.

For anime studios out there, you will be able to easily digitize your intellectual property (such as anime characters), letting you easily partner with toy makers and co-develop derivative works.

The startup is already profitable and planning to get listed on a stock exchange in a few years. It is interesting to see how crowdsourcing work styles will be adopted here in Japan and around the world.

Engineering team (hiring now!)