Japanese mobile tutor app Manabo acquired by prep school major Sundai Group

Katsuhito Mihashi, CEO of Manabo

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Manabo, providing the mobile tutor app under the same name, announced on Wednesday that it has been acquired by Japanese prep school major Sundai Group. SATT, one of the group company engaging in IT-related service development, obtained all of Manabo’s share and made it a wholly-owned subsidiary company. The cost of the acquisition was not disclosed.

Manabo was founded in April of 2014. Katsuhito Mihashi, CEO of the firm, developed the idea of a real-time mobile tutor service while studying at a graduate school of the University of Tokyo. He declined employment offers from large enterprises and decided to start up. The following year, the firm secured 40 million yen (about $374,000 at the exchange rate then) in its seed round from CyberAgent Ventures and subsequently secured 330 million yen (about $3.4 million at the exchange rate then) from Benesse in 2014 and 250 million yen (about $2.3 million) from Zoshinkai Holdings in 2016.

On the platform, about 200,000 lectures have been delivered and over 3,500 online tutors are registered. The platform has been introduced mainly to cram schools or prep schools, and that resulted in the buyout this time. Mihashi told that Manabo had been discussing about business cooperation and capital tie-in with Sundai Group since around 2017:

We had been received several offers but decided to accept Sundai’s one in consideration of its general evaluation, future possibility of service development, flexibility in business management and so forth. In the educational service field, “cheap, nasty, brutish and short services” can never be allowed.

Even with the same products, performance could change depending on the presence or absence of a provider’s reliability and business result.

In an analysis conducted through the cooperation with Benesse or Zoshinkai Publishers (Z-kai) in the past, Manabo found the efficacy of online tutorials to be higher in ‘real cram schools’ taught by real actual tutors than in correspondence education system in terms of the point of students’ motivation.

Mihashi, now 31, could not buy reference books for economic reasons and had a frustrating experience suffering some inconveniences in studies due to external factors. That experience brought him to the idea of the mobile tutor app allowing users to be taught by online tutors anytime.

However, after the foundation of Manabo, Mihashi realized that few people have difficulties in studies due to economic reasons but the decline of motivation for learning is a more serious problem for them. That is the reason for the cooperation with a real prep school this time, although Manabo had collaborated mainly with online learning service providers.

Mihashi added:

In real cram schools, tutors lift up students’ motivation. Since Manabo is the tool that motivate such motivate people more, our services are a good match.

The two companies will promote the expanded use of Manabo within and outside of Japan leveraging the network of Sundai Group, in addition to aiming at creating new EdTech services.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy