Japan’s outdoor leisure booking site Sotoasobi raises $1.6M from B Dash Ventures



See the original story in Japanese.

These days e-commerce sites are commonplace, with almost everything available for purchase online with a click on a button. Since its launch back in August of 2004, Sotoasobi has been offering carefully-selected outdoor leisure packages for anyone including occasional adventure seekers. The company has fundraised 200 million yen (about $1.6 million) from Tokyo-based B Dash Ventures.

Carefully-selected lineup

From a snorkeling tour in Okinawa arranged via Sotoasobi.

We previously featured Sotoasobi back in July last year when the company rolled out a new website and appointed former Gaiax COO Yu Nakajima as new CEO. More than a year has passed since then, with the pace of bookings through the website doubled and over a thousand leisure plans from 30 kinds of activities available today.

Regardless of the increased variety of tour plans readied, nothing has changed as to the concept of their business. Including Sotoasobi co-founder Takayoshi Yamamoto who has 15 years’ experience in the outdoor leisure industry as well as being a qualified guide for horse riding and rafting, the company has acquired mountain guides and round-the-world cyclists as curators to select and introduce interesting leisure plans. These curators actually visit leisure destinations to hear from plan organizers and publish articles about them in their own words and photos.

In order to provide good tour plans, Nakajima told us that knowing destinations like the back of one’s hand and having leisure activity professionals are key elements.

When it comes to outdoors, many people may have an image that excursion participants have to move about a lot while getting sweaty. However, there are also other types of plans, which let users enjoy nature with their senses on weekends in comfort. Examples include plans that allow one to ride a horse or go out to a treehouse for coffee there, in addition to a plan which takes one to an uninhabited island by sea kayak for BBQ and snorkeling. Our site offers the exceptional experiences one cannot find anywhere else.

Age-specific search interface


Since the content is well curated on the Sotoasobi website, it helps even outdoor beginners to find preferable tour plans regardless of background knowledge. That’s why their users are diverse generationwise, with particular concentration from singles in their 20s and 30s as well as family households. Elderly participants are also increasing, such as an 80-year-old member experiencing one’s first horse ride as well as an elderly couple who have been eager to fly in the sky together with a paraglider.

After Nakajima joined the team, Sotoasobi has been making great efforts to improve user interfaces. The company rolled out a new website design twice over the past year, adding an advanced search function so that users can more easily find a relevant tour option matching their needs.

The new search function is designed for family users, enabling them to find tour plans by specifying the minimum age of an accompanying minor, such as ranging from 0 year old to older than 16 years of age. In response to the recent increase in elderly users, the company has also added checkboxes in the search menu, such as ‘Participants aged over 60 allowed’ or ‘single participants allowed’ not to mention ‘pets allowed’ so that participants can better find their optimal options.

Strengthening human resources

The Sotoasobi team
The Sotoasobi team. Yu Nakajima stands in the upper left.

Sotoasobi will use the latest funds to strengthen recruiting new curators and further improve their website plus develop a booking management tool which will be availed to leisure plan providers. The company plans to double the number of their curators, while polishing up the expertise of neighborhood guides and outdoor activities.

As part of their main portal, the company recently launched a new blog site called Outfitter. It provides visitors with useful information such as the most-recommended trekking shoes for female mountaineers and the best gears for sea kayaking.

They comprise a ten-person team which includes curators, but they are hiring designers and engineers as well as someone who can keep updating the aforementioned blog site. Looking forward, they aim to expand services to help more people enjoy nature.

See also:

Translated by Chieko Frost via Mother First
Edited by Masaru Ikeda and “Tex” Pomeroy