The content of this article first appeared on CNET Japan. It has been translated and reproduced by The Bridge with the approval of CNET Japan and the author of this article. (Text by Yuki Yamadai, Photography by Takao Tsushima)
The Third CNET Japan Startup Awards ceremony was held on December 10th. The CNET Japan Startup Awards are given to startups that were noticed in 2015 and chosen. Selection was done by CNET Japan as well as The Bridge’s editorials with five startups receiving awards.
In addition to the award ceremony, a variety of lectures as well as discussion panels were held with guest speakers. In this article I will be reporting on a discussion that was held on the topic of “How Japanese Media and Foreign Media View Startups in Japan.” The discussion featured four reporters from Japan and abroad and was moderated by The Bridge’s Masaru Ikeda.
A discussion between four reporters from Japan and abroad
First, an introduction of the four panels members. Serkan Toto worked as a Tokyo-based writer for the world’s biggest tech blog, TechCrunch, from 2008 to 2012. Currently he is the CEO of a Tokyo-based consulting company for the video game industry, called Kantan Games. Richard Solomon is the editor of his self-published Beacon Reports and Nikkei Asian Review, as well as a contributing writer of articles on Japanese startups for the Japan Times.
Tim Romero is an entrepreneur who came to Japan twenty years ago, having since established four companies. He is also the host of a podcast program called Disrupting Japan. From CNET Japan, Ryo Fujii, an editor/writer covering Japanese web services and mobile carriers, also participated in the discussion.
What is the most interesting startup in Japan?
The discussion proceeded while referring to the results of a questionnaire that was completed by both Japanese and international writers and media partners.
The first topic of the questionnaire was “What is the most intersting startup in Japan?” Results from the questionnaire included Whill, a startup developing stylish electric wheelchairs, Eureka, a social matching service, Preferred Networks, promoters of the use of real-time machine learning technology in business, Wantedly, a business social network specializing in searching for interns, and others. There was also a percentage of responses from people who said “nothing particular comes to mind.”
Surely there are some startups among the questionnaire results that the discussion panel members recognize. Picking out Preferred Networks, Toto remarked that as for their field, the video game market,
Japan has reached maturity, but in the past year no significant startups have come out.
Solomon, who wrote about Whill three years ago, cited another recognized startup, C Channel, the video sharing social network founded by messaging app Line’s ex-CEO Akira Morikawa. He explained that he sees Japan’s startup scene as being in a transitional phase, until now remaining in a outdated post industrial revolution state, but is now right on the verge of moving to the next level.
On the other hand, Romero, citing crowdsourcing platform CrowdWorks and curated news app Smartnews as examples, sees Japan as having a lot of interesting startups. He explained that one main difference between the startup scene in the US compared to Japan, is that in Japan startups are often founded by entrepreneurs who have left positions at major Japanese companies and thus have a wealth of experience to draw on, making it easier for such startups to succeed.
CNET Japan’s Fujii made note of services that have moved into IoT territory, not limiting themselves only to the web. Especially in 2015, similarly to how mobile healthcare startup FiNC received funding from, for example, ANA (All Nippon Airways), looking back Fujii noted that this has been a year of progress in collaboration between startups and major corporations. He also added that cases where startups have been founded internally in large corporations are also increasing.
On what criteria do journalists choose startups?
The next topic for discussion was, “On what criteria do you choose startups to write articles about?” Questionnaire responses centered around criteria such as “originality” and “the entrepreneur’s vision”.
Discussion moderator Ikeda, a writer and journalist himself, pointed out that “there are startups that can’t very well differentiate PR from media.” Ex-writer for TechCrunch Toto agreed,
That’s true, there are people who misunderstand that difference. What writers and journalists are thinking about is the reader, what the reader is interested in. Why not try approaching media from the same point of view?
As a podcaster himself, Romero’s idea of journalism is a little bit different from journalism as information disseminated in text.
Podcasts are a type of media where you can directly hear the person’s voice, so I want to share that human aspect.
Japanese people, however, generally prefer not to display that “human aspect”, so therein lies somewhat of a challenge, Romero explained.
When searching for startups to write about, Fujii says he looks for “societal potential” and “ability to help large numbers of people overcome challenges”. If, say, some kind of progressive technology is created but we can’t see any concrete application for it in society, we won’t write about the technology on its own, Fujii explained. He also shared that at CNET Japan, they aren’t particularly picky about the scale of the companies they write about, rather, if it is determined that there is information that has some value to the world, they believe it should be shared equally whether it comes from major corporations or startups.
A message to startups in Japan
The discussion’s final theme was, “What message would you like to send to startups in Japan?” One opinion that was frequently present in the questionnaire results was “Please issue press releases in English.” To this, all members of the discussion panel agreed.
Toto brought up what Japanese companies often consider “globalization”.
Hiring one foreigner and putting that person in charge of all international business… that’s not global.
Toto flatly stated.
Hire someone to do the work of globalization and you’ve created a total divide. Instead, companies should make their whole team global.
Moving on to Romero, he said with a wry smile,
I’ve lived in Japan for twenty years and my Japanese isn’t perfect, so I can’t blame anybody for not being able to speak English.
He asserted, however, that for companies that want to globalize, not only language but knowledge of the international market is what is really needed. Companies need to think more about what kind of value they can offer to the international community.
Closing out the discussion, CNET Japan’s Ryo Fujii, citing LINE’s success internationally as a precedent, expressed his opinion regarding globalization.
There have been a lot of companies that tried to expand into the US and failed, but why not first try moving into the Asian market, where at least the culture is somewhat similar?
Translated by Connor Kirk
Edited by Masaru Ikeda