CNet Japan Startup Award nominees: Exploring e-commerce with Monoco, Rinkak, & Base



This is part five of our CNet Japan Startup Awards nominee rundown. The rest can be found here.

Search and recommendation are a tough nut to crack, especially when it comes to e-commerce. We are overloaded by information, and technology struggles to parse relevance that can match our needs. Users now expect sites and services to know what we want before we know we want it (see Amazon and Netflix recommendation algos, for instance). This is a problem that needs solving regardless of where you live, and it can be a huge opportunity for startups to address a real consumer need.

Enter Monoco and Rinkak, looking to connect designers with consumers. Think of them as Japan’s answer to Etsy or Fab. Meanwhile Base is the local version of Squarespace, Shopify, and Strikingly. All three are doing interesting things in Japan’s e-commerce space these days, attempting to solve the same difficult issues that face e-commerce businesses abroad.



Monoco is an e-commerce site focused on selling fashion and craft goods of limited quantities for limited times. The items are curated by buyers the around the globe, and since the site’s launch in April of 2012, it has acquired more than 87,000 users, with more than 1100 designers worldwide.

Because of the quantity and time constraints, it could be easy to write off Monoco as just another flash sales site. But browsing through the site, I think this format makes sense.

When you first log-on, you are immediately greeted by professional grade, high quality images. The products are carefully chosen, often a unique spin on regular products like mugs, phone accessories, handbags, and clothing. It’s easy to lose yourself scrolling and scrolling as you browse the many product offerings.

On the product pages, prices are hidden unless you are a registered user. And this is a pretty clever way to subtly encourage user registration.

The limited sale period and quantity creates a sense of urgency for the user to purchase, and it cycles products to surface designers. It’s a different way to approach recommendation, increasing the site’s overall stickiness factor as users will check, and re-check the site to see new items.

In July, Monoco announced series A funding of an undisclosed amount.



Rinkak (the name means ‘outline of object’ in Japanese) is a 3D printing marketplace that is Japan’s answer to Shapeways. The site opened to the public in September.

They offer a platform for anyone with 3D data to sell their printed designs. Like Shapeways, they offer various materials like plastic, pottery and metals.

3D printing seems to finally be gaining traction beyond the scope of early tech adopters. Shapeways, founded in 2007, most recently closed a $30 million series C round led by Andreessen Horowitz, with a total of $47.3 million raised thus far. With a physical shop, distribution center in NYC, and an API to encourage 3D printing apps, they are clearly the 3D printing market place leader in the US startup space. Let’s wait and see what Rinkak will do similarly or differently. For more on Rinkak, check out our previous feature back in September.


Often referred to as Japan’s Shopify, Base’s e-commerce site is the marketing platform for the founder’s true vision: a mobile payment solution platform. Base has raised a total of $4.73 million and has expanded its team from 12 to 20 people. The CEO states they have acquired 50,000 merchants in the past year, with a monthly growth of 10% when we last spoke with them.

It’s rapid growth shows Japanese small- to mid-sized merchants are looking for e-commerce solutions other than Rakuten and Amazon. 70% of Base’s user activity comes from smartphones — another clear indication that Japanese e-commerce behaviors are shifting.

You can check out the company’s brief promo video below.

Good luck to all three startups on Tuesday night at the CNet Japan Startup Awards.