Japan’s Clear, study notes organizer app, acquired by stationery giant Kokuyo

Clear CEO Goichiro Arai
Image credit: EduLab

See the original story in Japanese.

The parts colored in red were updated on 4:30pm, Feb 12th based on our additional coverage.

We just learned that Tokyo-based Clear, the Japanese startup behind a study notes organizer app under the same name, has been acquired by Japanese stationery giant Kokuyo (TSE:7984). Since its launch back in 2010, the startup has secured about 400 million yen (about $3.8 million) from investors to date. According to Japanese startup database Initial, they were estimated to be valued at 1.938 billion yen (about $18.5 million) after securing the series C round back in 2018.

Clear secured a series D round last year, which brought the company’s funding sum up to 516,748,113 yen (about $4.9 million) according to their website. Initial has not shared Clear’s post series D round valuation.

(Not to be confused with Clear, another Japanese startup developing brands and online media portal focused on Japanese sake products.)

Clear was founded in October of 2010 under its previous name of Arcterus by Goichiro Arai (CEO) who has held various posts including Resort Business Manager at Japanese resort development / management major Hoshino Resort together with Yoshiki Shiraishi (COO/CFO) who was Arai’s classmate at Keio Business School. The Clear app, launched in December of 2013, allows notebooks sorted by subject or educational unit to be shared with other users and is available for Android, iOS and web.

Started in Japan, the app has expanded into several markets including Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, China, and Hong Kong. It has acquired 2.3 million (Arai says it has already reached 2.5 million) active users (MAUs) in Japan and 3.5 million MAUs worldwide, suggesting that one out of four middle and high school students in Japan is using the app.

Image credit: Clear

Aiming to help cram schools attract their potential customers and better market themselves in addition to developing learning content, the company has partnered with several companies such as:

  • Zoshinkai Publishing (Z-kai Group), Japanese major in offering online or distance learning for students
  • Asahi Gakusei Shimbun, Japanese major news company’s subsidiary for publication for students
  • Sprix (TSE:7030), developing content for cram schools
  • Lacicu, developing web services and educational video apps for cram schools
  • Manabi Aid, offering online video classes for students
  • Rakuten (TSE:4755), Japanese leading e-commerce giant

In an interview with Bridge, Arai shared how his company has reached the agreement:

In fall of 2019, we had a chance to meet Kokuyo CEO Hidekuni Kuroda and we decided to work together.

Kokuyo has a large market share with the paper notebook brand Campus while we do so with the digital notebook brand Clear. We thought it would be a good partnership to utilize the respective brand power each other.

In terms of overseas development, for example, Kokuyo has expanded into Mainland China, while Clear has about 800,000 users of their app in Thailand alone. By sending customers to each other’s strong geographical markets, there would be a possibility of increasing the market share of both brands in respective markets. Having not yet decided on the specifics, Clear may be able to add new functions to the app by bridging the paper and digital gap.

In addition to the notebook mobile app, Clear offers two other key services:

  • Meets – helps cram schools in recruiting students, jointly operated with Education Network and Sprix. Educatiional Network is a subsidiary of aforementioned Zoshinkai Publishing.
  • Shinro Erabi (career choice) – helps high school students find their best career path with resources on universities, jointly operated with Shoei Koho, a subsidiary of after-mentioned CHIeru.

Arai says the partnership with these companies will continue even after his company was acquired.

In March of last year, Clear partnered with CHIeru (TSE:3933), the classroom management solutions provider for schools. CHIeru has a subsidiary focused on helping universities promote, and the partnership helps universities market their entrance exam briefing even in a virtual format during the pandemic with the help of Clear.

Clear won the second prize at Startup Asia Jakarta 2014, while also being selected as a finalist at ASIABEAT 2016 in Xiamen, obtaining international spotlight. They won the Japan preliminary round of The Global EdTech Startup Awards (GESA), and then won the global finals in London in 2018.

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