One of the trending sectors on the Japanese internet these days is the C2C (consumer to consumer) market. This includes small-sized e-commerce platforms, flea market apps, and crowdsourcing platforms too. But in Japan, the market is not easy to grow without significant effort. In contrast with the US, many C2C players in Japan may be poorly perceived in the eyes of Japanese users, where consumers are more likely to buy from a publicly recognized company.
At the venue of Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Kyoto, we saw many of the key players in the C2C sector. I had a chance to speak with Takahiro Kato, the CEO of Jmty.jp (pronounced as Jimoty). The company provides local classifieds and forums for local communities, including listings for jobs and second-hand items.
The company was launched back in 2011 and raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Infinity Venture Partners (IVP), and additional funding of 150 million yen (about $1.5 million) from KDDI, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, and IVP back in 2012. It also raised money from Fuji Startup Ventures last August.
The story so far
The Bridge: What has happened with Jmty in the last three years?
Kato: We surpassed 1.4 million monthly visitors and 11 million monthly page views back in November. And we surpassed 1 million monthly visitors back in September.
The Bridge: So you mean your users have been rapidly increasing in the last few months?
Kato: Our service was recently featured on Mezamashi TV, a popular morning TV show. I know typically most TV appearances give only a momentary boost but not a sustained increase. However this recent feature brought us many long-standing active users.
The Bridge: Is there any improvement in user activity?
Kato: 20% or 30% of the items presented on our website are unwanted articles that users want to give away for free. When you post a message about this kind of item, you will usually get a comment from other users within 24 hours.
The Bridge: Craigslist is a very similar business to yours. Do you know how large their business is in the US?
Kato: It is said that they still have 60 million monthly visitors with 2 billion monthly page views. That’s really huge.
C2C is different in Japan
A classified platform needs to diversify its business to scale. And I thought acquiring 1.4 monthly visitors in three years was not such a big number. I asked him further about the potential of opportunities in the Japanese C2C market.
The Bridge: Compared to Craigslist, your business is still quite small. Is your growth slower than you expected?
Kato: Craiglist needed five years to surpass 10 million monthly visitors. I know several similar cases in China too. So this speed of growth is within our expectations.
The Bridge: Do you want to see a steeper increase? I think completely open C2C platforms face many obstacles in the Japanese market. For example, many users expect the operators of these platforms to assure the quality of the items they will buy on the platform.
Kato: It’s a fact that we get inquiries from some users asking how we will be responsible for a possible defective purchase. That’s why we added a notice all across our website that we will take no responsibility for any possible defects from trades between users.
The Bridge: So you need to educate users more?
Kato: By adding many notices, it encourages users to police themselves in a way. If you set up a hotline to receiving reports of defective items, many users will kindly tell us who the offending users are.
The platform was launched by Hirofumi Ono, the co-founder partner of Infinity Venture Partners. I asked him where in Jmty’s business he might find some potential to scale up.
The Bridge: When you launched Jmty.jp back in 2011, there was a big rise in classified platforms in mainland China. 58.com (NYSE:WUBA) had recently IPOed. Did these happenings have any impact on your decision to launch?
Ono: When we launched it, we thought it had lots of potential. We saw China’s 58.com and Baixing.com were rapidly growing. We actually asked Baixing.com about the key is to their success.
The Bridge: Did you get some useful advice from them?
Ono: They say it takes a long time to grow. Many C2C services in China have been running since 2005. We were also aware that we divided our topics into too many segments. Jmty.jp has many segments by region as well as by category, and that was intended to result in more accurate message postings.
But a classifieds site has to give users a simple way to interact since all users are not always so savvy. We believe that our service requires simplicity rather than pursuing an experience where topics are focused on special/niche purposes.
The light ahead
There is still a the long way to go in terms of growth for Jmty. And at the end of the interview, I asked Kato how they might emerge from this seemingly endless tunnel.
The Bridge: Will you keep making efforts to increas content topics?
Kato: We will continue to focus on diversifying content that may better suit our users. Regarding posts about jobs or second-hand items, these can be curated a minimal effort.
The Bridge: Can you share any figure on how many trades and transactions you’re facilitating?
Kato: A six-digit number has been already posted, and we’re receiving about 700 new posts every day.
The Bridge: Your service targets average people, so you will need to promote it using mass media, right?
Kato: We received investments from Fuji Startup Ventures, the investment arm of Fuji TV. So we’re planning to do something using television.
The Bridge: I know you will need a long time to achieve your goal, but how do you plan to sustain your business long term? Is there any funding plan?
Kato: We are a six-person team, and currently looking for the next funding opportunity. We hope to get funding from a business entity, rather than a pure investment firm, and partner with them to grow our business together.
The Bridge: Thank you for the time and your great insights!
The key to succeed with a service like this likely depends on how they can increase number the user-generated submissions. We’ll keep our eyes on their progress, so stay with us!