CNet Japan Startup Award nominees: Otaku Mode, Freee, Schoo, Coiney



The quality of start-ups nominated for tonight’s CNet Japan Startup Awards is high, and Japanese entrepreneurs are seeking to solve problems on par with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. This is part seven of our preview of the nominees. The rest can be found here.

Tokyo Otaku Mode

Tokyo Otaku Mode

Tokyo Otaku Mode (or TOM) is the 500 Startup graduate that exploded on the startup scene with a massive Facebook presence. The most fascinating part about TOM is how its growth trajectory has been the reverse of most startups. The normal flow goes something like this: a few entrepreneurs have an idea, build their product, then market it. But TOM started out by building a massive Facebook following of millions of fans.

Since TOM hit critical mass on Facebook, it has been trying to figure out a problem most entrepreneurs would love to have:

Well, we have reach. What’s next?

From building iOS and Android apps, to an Etsy-like UGC strategy, it’s been fun watching them stumble uphill. Or as one of their angel investors, Craig Mod, perfectly summed up, “building their shrine”.



Like Quickbooks, BodeTree, Xero, Yendo, Zoho, et al., Freee is a cloud based software that helps small businesses with their accounting. Founded by five-year Google veteran Daisuke Sasaki, who led Google’s small-to-medium sized business marketing in the APAC region, Freee fills a much needed hole in Japan. While working for Google, he realized a there was a huge problem with web-based accounting software, often only working on certain browsers and with a not so friendly user experience.

This year has been a huge year for Freee. They re-branded, raised $27M Series A, and added features and functions to streamline tedious paper-to-digital administrative tasks.

Freee addresses relevant problems for any small- to mid-sized businesses and is building partnerships [1], features, and functions that prove they are one step ahead of their competitors. Recently they added a POS (point of sale) system on their iPad app, and last week they announced a collaboration with receipt tracking app ReceReco to simplify the paper receipt tracking process.


From the left: Koizumi, Mori, Nakanishi

Schoo is an online learning platform founded by entrepreneurs with editorial backgrounds. Their vision is to encourage other entrepreneurs to be ‘eternal students’ by providing e-learning content focused on the startup and venture world. We recently talked with the founders about their strategy for building a quality e-learning space, and I encourage you to check out that discussion [2].


Coiney is the fourth major player in mobile payment solutions along with PayPal Here, Square and Rakuten SmartPay. All four have similar products and strategies. Square and PayPal Here have challenges most US based companies have: localization. Coiney knows and understands the Japanese market as the founder is ex-PayPal Japan.

Rakuten SmartPay’s obstacle is that Rakuten is a massive corporation. In order to quickly gain traction in a highly competitive field like mobile payments, agility is a necessity. If Rakuten SmartPay can figure out how to move and iterate quickly, they will become a major player, as Rakuten Ichiba has existing relationships with small businesses in Japan. Keep in mind that Base is also a mobile payment solution player to be reckoned with, tackling market penetration in a different way [3].

This is definitely one race to keep an eye on.

Good luck to all four finalists tonight at the CNet Japan Startup Awards!


  1. Partnerships with Suica and Seven and i Holdings Co. to track, record, and automate transportation and credit card expenditures.  ↩

  2. Read the interview in two parts here and here.  ↩

  3. In the interests of disclosure, I should note here that I’m currently employed by Rakuten.  ↩