Japan’s Fogg Inc is a subsidiary company of United Inc, the developer of popular home screen decoration app CocoPPa 1. And last week Fogg launched a profile card exchanging app named iam. With this app, you can manage all your profile information including telephone numbers and social media accounts, and exchange that profiles with other iam users. The app is available for free on iOS.
Profile exchanging apps are something we have seen many times before, with Bump being one of the leading app’s in that area, acquired by Google in 2013. Here in Japan specifically, we have startups such as EverConnect and Sansan provide services for managing business cards.
I am not going to go into details about the different features of iam. But I’d like to encourage you to download the app and experience it for yourself. For now, I’d like to focus on the two people behind the app.
The CEO of Fogg, Yusuke Sekine, is responsible for starting the fast-growing app, CocoPPa. I spoke with Sekine and Hiroki Teshima, the executive officer at United. Teshima spoke of when the idea of CocoPPA came about, when he convinced the company to let him make a small team to create a service. At the time social gaming was at a peak back then, and developer salaries were rising fast.
Teshima: I collected new graduates. And while their potential skills are high, they don’t have much experience in developing apps. Then I was referred by Kobayashi-san (former CEO of Nobot) to Sekine-san.
Sekine joined Teshima’s team and released a music service app named Discodeer. It went on to achieve 1.8 million downloads, and subsequently got the attention of DeNA. That led Sekine to get involved with DeNA’s new service, Groovy.
Teshima: But our team still had the resources to start another service. We brainstormed ideas, but nothing really clicked. So one day, I invited Sekine-san to join our team meeting.
The meeting was only for an hour. And Teshima was not even there because of another appointment. But at that meeting, the idea of CocoPPa was born.
Sekine: Since most of our team members were women, we came up with some beauty or healthcare service. […] Then the topic happened to turn to Mixi, and how cute their icon was.
Home screens in iOS are not easy to customize. Sekine was researching about the URL scheme for app icons, and he realized that it wasn’t so hard to change app icons. Our female members’ had the idea of making a community to share these icons, and thus first outline of CocoPPa was born.
CocoPPa has gone on to surpass 18 million downloads around the world. And that’s how Teshima and Sekine came to be in charge of building smartphone businesses within United.
Now let’s circle back to iam. When there are already so many competitors in this field, how can iam be successful? Sekine says:
Sekine: Where we’d like to innovate is on the complexity social networking and reducing paper waste. With iam, users can manage multiple profiles, or even create a variety of profiles to choose from later when they want to send it to another user.
So depending on the person with whom you want to share your profile, you can choose which one to send.
At the beginning, we have narrowed down our target users. First was college students. College students tend to seek out a service that enables a high level of customization.
The app was initially tested by about 1000 college students, and was then released from stealth mode to be made public. I hear that creating temporary URLs are very useful way to make profile exchanging viral among friends.
I asked Sekine if an “intrapreneur” can be successful when the atmosphere of the team remains a bit loose. But Sekine says “I told the members that we have to make it this year. If we don’t, there will be no next year for us.”
The team is aiming for 1.3 million downloads by the end of May. That figure represents one sixth of all college students in Japan.
Fogg was founded in June 2013, as the first startup under United’s startup initiative ‘U-Start’. United holds 66% of its shares, and Yusuke Sekine, Fogg’s CEO, holds 34%. ↩