Japan’s Cluster secures $7.7M in series C to enhance VR hangout and performance platform

Image credit: Cluster

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Cluster, the Japanese startup behind the social VR (virtual reality) platform under the same name supporting thousands-scale events in VR space, announced today that it has secured 830 million yen (about $7.7 million) in a series C round. This follows their series B round back in September of 2018 and brings their total funding raised so far to 1.48 billion yen ($13.7 million).

Participating investors in the latest round are KDDI Innovation Fund (operated by KDDI and Global Brain), TV Asahi Holdings, Gree’s virtual YouTuber management agency Wright Flyer Live Entertainment (WFLE), 31Ventures (operated by Mitsui Fudosan and Global Brain), and several angel investors. Cluster has partnered with TV Asahi and WFLE for joint business development.

Since its official launch back in May of 2017, Cluster has been acquiring gaming companies and virtual YouTuber agencies as clients to provide VR-powered live music and other performance events for viewers. They could offer only one paid event back in 2018 but was seeing solid growth by serving about 100 events last year alone thanks to higher demand promoting virtual YouTubers.

Since users are able to hold VR events for free on the platform, the company monetizes by helping companies produce and hold their events. This B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) model worked well, which helped them improve their cash flow. Because of the growth of viewers from overseas as more events are being organized, Cluster is planning to more focus on global expansion. The company also further develop the platform to support more head-mounted display models including Oculus Quest while it can now work with HTC Vive and Oculus Rift only.

Regarding partnerships with investors participating in this round, Cluster will work with TV Asahi to develop content and TV programs using VR, with KDDI to develop content optimized for 5G networking that enables high bandwidth and low latency connectivity in addition standalone VR that requires no desktop for image rendering, will work with WFLE to integrate their Reality app so that their users can view and participate in events on the Cluster platform. Going forward, the company also plans to enhance it so that real human artists can also perform with virtual YouTubers on the platform.

Naoto Kato, founder and CEO of Cluster, said:

As apps like Mirrativ are being emerged, more individuals want to have their own avatar. I would like to offer user experience allowing such avatars to participate and give virtual gift items each others across different platforms while I don’t think all these functions can be provided by one company. […]

With the business model in place, we will focus on cultivating the content through this financing. We would like more gaming companies and animation studios to use the platform as one not only for live music events and concerts but also for various virtual events.

Not to mention engineers focused on system development, the company will strengthen hiring people for business and content development. While Cluster’s simultaneous viewership record is about 30,000 so far, the company aims to hold larger events attracting a six- to seven-digit number of people in the future.