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Japan’s Kaizen Platform, helping optimize website user experience, files for IPO

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese startup Kaizen Platform, offering website user interface improvement solutions, announced on Wednesday that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on December 22 with plans to offer 1,550,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 751,300 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 3,459,000 shares. The underwriting will be led by Mizuho securities while Kaizen’s ticker code will be 4170. Its share price range will be released on December 3 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on December 7 and pricing on December 11. According to the consolidated statement as of December 2019, they posted revenue of 1.3 billion yen (about $12.5 million) with an ordinary loss of 249 million yen ($2.8 million). Based on the estimated issue price of 1,100 yen (about $10.6), the company will be valued at about 16.9 billion yen ($162 million). Kaizen Platform founded a Delaware company with establishing its global headquarters in San Francisco as well its Japan branch in Tokyo in March to April of 2013, followed by launching a website optimization solution back in August of the same year. In addition…

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese startup Kaizen Platform, offering website user interface improvement solutions, announced on Wednesday that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on December 22 with plans to offer 1,550,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 751,300 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 3,459,000 shares. The underwriting will be led by Mizuho securities while Kaizen’s ticker code will be 4170.

Its share price range will be released on December 3 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on December 7 and pricing on December 11. According to the consolidated statement as of December 2019, they posted revenue of 1.3 billion yen (about $12.5 million) with an ordinary loss of 249 million yen ($2.8 million). Based on the estimated issue price of 1,100 yen (about $10.6), the company will be valued at about 16.9 billion yen ($162 million).

Kaizen Platform founded a Delaware company with establishing its global headquarters in San Francisco as well its Japan branch in Tokyo in March to April of 2013, followed by launching a website optimization solution back in August of the same year. In addition to offering website optimization solutions, the company launched the Kaizen Video service as part of the Kaizen Ad business.

Kaizen Platform established a Japanese company and its subsidiary Kaizen Platform USA in April ofo 2017. During this process, the founding company was dissolved in a merger with the US subsidiary, In addition, the company established a joint venture with NTT Ad called DX Catalyst, making it an equity-method affiliate by acquiring its 49% stake in April this year.

In addition to helping clients optimize their websites, the company is now focused on creating client’s video clips utilizing existing content for affordable rates and fast turnaround. They disclosed several KPIs they have achieved as of Q3 this year: 772 companies, 16,480 registered users (clients and professionals), and 2,124,000 yen as ARPU (average revenue per user).

Led by founder and CEO Kenji Sudo (32.43%), the company’s major shareholders include Eight Roads Ventures Japan (18.41%), GREE Ventures (now known as Strive, 9.39%), co-founder and CTO Toshimasa Ishibashi (8.11%), NTT Ad (7.29%), SBI Investment (4.59%), YJ Capital (3.82%), Colopl (3.05%), Dai Nippon Printing (2.88%), and GMO Venture Partners (1.91%).

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Asia-focused KK Fund helps Thai startups meet investors virtually in face of COVID-19 troubles

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Singapore-based KK Fund, the VC firm backed by many Japanese companies and focused on investing in seed stage internet and mobile startups across Southeast Asia, is launching their first Meet Your Match Thailand ​session with the aim to help match investors with Thailand-based startups in light of the uncertain situation due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In order to support the startup ecosystem, KK Fund claims it has signed up with more than 20 investors to participate in this initiative to connect Thai startups with potential investors. Participating investors include Vertex Ventures, Sumitomo Corporation, PTT, Denso, Krungsri Finnovate, Colopl Next, CyberAgent Capital, Monk’s Hill Ventures, Insignia Ventures Partners, Beacon Venture Capital, Sequoia Capital, and other outstanding Thai and Japanese firms. In the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, more than a few startup founders in the world are struggling with meeting up with potential founders because of urgent need of funding or further sustainable business development. As a reason why KK Fund decided to focus on helping Thai entrepreneurs rather than other startup ecosystem, the VC firm’s general partner Koichi Saito says he got inspired by the initiative which the Japanese trade and economy ministry recently rolled out in Bangkok….

Singapore-based KK Fund, the VC firm backed by many Japanese companies and focused on investing in seed stage internet and mobile startups across Southeast Asia, is launching their first Meet Your Match Thailand ​session with the aim to help match investors with Thailand-based startups in light of the uncertain situation due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In order to support the startup ecosystem, KK Fund claims it has signed up with more than 20 investors to participate in this initiative to connect Thai startups with potential investors. Participating investors include Vertex Ventures, Sumitomo Corporation, PTT, Denso, Krungsri Finnovate, Colopl Next, CyberAgent Capital, Monk’s Hill Ventures, Insignia Ventures Partners, Beacon Venture Capital, Sequoia Capital, and other outstanding Thai and Japanese firms.

In the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, more than a few startup founders in the world are struggling with meeting up with potential founders because of urgent need of funding or further sustainable business development. As a reason why KK Fund decided to focus on helping Thai entrepreneurs rather than other startup ecosystem, the VC firm’s general partner Koichi Saito says he got inspired by the initiative which the Japanese trade and economy ministry recently rolled out in Bangkok. Saito has participated in several summits hosted by the ministry with an aim to connect the two countries in tech and startup field.

If you run a startup in Thailand and want to grab this opportunity, simply submit you application through the Google form link by April 10 so that you can get in touch with potential investors who may be interested in your business or idea. Upon successful matching, an online session over Zoom will be arranged by the investor with the startup.

In Japan, Moneyforward Synca, the Tokyo-based consultancy focused on helping startups raise investments or sell through an IPO or M&A deal, has launched a similar scheme with more than 20 local VC firms with an aim to prevent founders from stagnating fundraising.

Japanese crowdsourced translation startup Gengo acquired by Lionbridge

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based crowdsourced translation startup Gengo announced on Thursday that it has been acquired by Lionbridge Technologies. Financial terms on the deal have not been disclosed. Gengo was founded back in 2009 by Robert Laing and Matthew Romaine. Laing served the company as CEO in their early days while the position was handed over to Romaine in 2015. They have raised more than $26 million from Atomico, Intel Capital, 500 Startups and other investors. Since its launch back in 1996, Lionbridge has been globally offering translation and localization services, now in 27 countries. They were listed on NASDAQ back in 1997 but then delisted when they were acquired by private equity firm H.I.G. Capital for $360 million. The acquisition at this time is the first for Lionbridge following H.I.G. Capital’s purchase of them in May 2017. Lionbridge says Romaine and the rest of the Gengo team will join Lionbridge post transaction and assume key leadership roles in the company. It appears that Lionbridge will send someone to the board of Gengo’s directors. In 2018, Gengo launched GengoAI, a learning data platform for natural data processing-focused AI development, which has been fully leveraged by their existing…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based crowdsourced translation startup Gengo announced on Thursday that it has been acquired by Lionbridge Technologies. Financial terms on the deal have not been disclosed.

Gengo was founded back in 2009 by Robert Laing and Matthew Romaine. Laing served the company as CEO in their early days while the position was handed over to Romaine in 2015. They have raised more than $26 million from Atomico, Intel Capital, 500 Startups and other investors.

Since its launch back in 1996, Lionbridge has been globally offering translation and localization services, now in 27 countries. They were listed on NASDAQ back in 1997 but then delisted when they were acquired by private equity firm H.I.G. Capital for $360 million. The acquisition at this time is the first for Lionbridge following H.I.G. Capital’s purchase of them in May 2017.

Lionbridge says Romaine and the rest of the Gengo team will join Lionbridge post transaction and assume key leadership roles in the company. It appears that Lionbridge will send someone to the board of Gengo’s directors.

In 2018, Gengo launched GengoAI, a learning data platform for natural data processing-focused AI development, which has been fully leveraged by their existing translation services. The platform is expected to strengthen Lionbridge’s position in the machine learning and content relevance markets.

Tokyo-based Conyac, another Japanese translation startup launched around the same time with Gengo, was acquired for $14 million by Japanese translation service giant Rosetta back in August of 2018. Our readers may also recall that Korean translation tech startup Flitto has raised funding from Colopl Next for market expansion into the Japanese market.

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via PR TIMES
via Lionbridge Technologies

Japan’s influencer marketing startup BitStar secures $12M series C led by Global Brain

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based BitStar, develoing the BitStar influencer support platform and the E-DGE YouTuber production, announced on Monday that it has fundraised 1.3 billion yen (around $11.8M US) in a series C round. This round was led by Global Brain with participation from ABC Dream Ventures (VC arm of Asahi Broadcasting), Colopl Next, Wright Flyer Live Entertainment (WFLE; a wholly owned subsidiary of Gree that offers a live VTuber app), Intage Open Innovation fund (jointly operated by Intage Holdings and SBI Investment), Makers Fund (a Hong Kong-based fund specialized in entertainment businesses), Asahi Shimbun, and Nagoya TV Ventures (corporate venture capital of Nagoya Broadcasting Network) also participating. Among the investors from this round, Colopl Next was the sole investor for the series A round in August of 2016 (amount undisclosed, estimated at several hundred million yen), and Global Brain was the sole investor for the series B round in June of 2017 (300 million yen investment). From October of 2017 ABC Dream Ventures participated as an investor (investment amount and round not disclosed). Including funds procured in the seed round (amount not disclosed) from East Ventures in 2014, the cumulative procurement from external investors is probably…

The BitStar and Global Brain teams
Image credit: Global Brain / BitStar

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based BitStar, develoing the BitStar influencer support platform and the E-DGE YouTuber production, announced on Monday that it has fundraised 1.3 billion yen (around $11.8M US) in a series C round.

This round was led by Global Brain with participation from ABC Dream Ventures (VC arm of Asahi Broadcasting), Colopl Next, Wright Flyer Live Entertainment (WFLE; a wholly owned subsidiary of Gree that offers a live VTuber app), Intage Open Innovation fund (jointly operated by Intage Holdings and SBI Investment), Makers Fund (a Hong Kong-based fund specialized in entertainment businesses), Asahi Shimbun, and Nagoya TV Ventures (corporate venture capital of Nagoya Broadcasting Network) also participating.

Among the investors from this round, Colopl Next was the sole investor for the series A round in August of 2016 (amount undisclosed, estimated at several hundred million yen), and Global Brain was the sole investor for the series B round in June of 2017 (300 million yen investment). From October of 2017 ABC Dream Ventures participated as an investor (investment amount and round not disclosed). Including funds procured in the seed round (amount not disclosed) from East Ventures in 2014, the cumulative procurement from external investors is probably around 2 billion yen (about $18M US).

Additionally, BitStar announced its partnership with WFLE, in which WFLE will support the 3D conversion, recording, and distribution of VTubers from 2D models produced by BitStar, with the two companies jointly producing multiple VTubers (Virtual YouTubers) in 2019. The investments from multiple broadcasters are reflective of BitStar CEO Taku Watanabe’s previous remarks on moving to produce products in collaboration with them. The company is also collaborating with Asahi Broadcasting and Asahi Shimbun for the creation of next-generation media under the latter two companies’ #ONE! new channel brand.

Makers Fund is a $180 million US fund established by Jay Chi, who led the McKinsey Video Game Project, and Michael Cheung, also hailing from McKinsey and the former Senior Director of Tencent Holdings. In May of this year, BitStar started a promotion for the Greater China and Southeast Asian markets through a business tie-up with Fun! Japan, but Makers Fund seems to further spur this movement.

BitStar (formerly known as Bizcast) was established in July 2014 and launched BitStar, a matching platform for companies looking to do promotions for and with YouTubers. It has more than 1,500 YouTubers who do not belong to a specific MCN (multi-channel network) and their total number of followers exceeds 80 million (as of September 2016). Recently, the company has started new business such as the Costar fan club service Costar, a quantitative analysis program to measure the effect of influencers called Influencer Power Ranking (IPR), and the VTubers business.

Translated Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s influencer marketing startup BitStar expands into Greater China, Southeast Asia

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based startup BitStar, the company behind influencer support platform under the same name and YouTuber production E-DGE, announced earlier this month that it has partnered with Fun Japan Communications (Fun! Japan for short) to start offering promotion services targeting the Greater China and Southeast Asian markets. Fun! Japan is an online community for “Japan freaks” consisting of 4.4 million followers and 760,000 members living in the Asian market. It aims to help Japanese companies expand into Asia or invite more visitors from the region by developing touchpoints with consumers, measuring the performance of online promotional activities,or building up a long-term relationship with locals. The partnership with Fun! Japan will allow BitStar to offer their clients looking into these markets by helping them launch their campaigns with performance measurement. Some of our readers may recall that we covered BitStar (known as Bizcast at that time) in September of 2015 for the first time. But it seems like there have been many changes in the influencer marketing industry since then, gradually but drastically. TV broadcasters initially tended to rival online video services like YouTube due to fears that the latter may take disposable time from consumers…

BitStar CEO Taku Watanabe
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based startup BitStar, the company behind influencer support platform under the same name and YouTuber production E-DGE, announced earlier this month that it has partnered with Fun Japan Communications (Fun! Japan for short) to start offering promotion services targeting the Greater China and Southeast Asian markets.

Fun! Japan is an online community for “Japan freaks” consisting of 4.4 million followers and 760,000 members living in the Asian market. It aims to help Japanese companies expand into Asia or invite more visitors from the region by developing touchpoints with consumers, measuring the performance of online promotional activities,or building up a long-term relationship with locals. The partnership with Fun! Japan will allow BitStar to offer their clients looking into these markets by helping them launch their campaigns with performance measurement.

Some of our readers may recall that we covered BitStar (known as Bizcast at that time) in September of 2015 for the first time. But it seems like there have been many changes in the influencer marketing industry since then, gradually but drastically.

TV broadcasters initially tended to rival online video services like YouTube due to fears that the latter may take disposable time from consumers (for enjoying watching TV shows). But since data covering consumer reactions is not enough with conventional media companies, there’s an increasing number of them partnering or integrating with emerging services including influencer marketing. Taku Watanabe, CEO and Founder of BitStar, thinks a service provider offering three functions at a time: media creation, production and ad agency — all of which used to be separately operated but vertically integrated in the past — can eventually win the game.

Because of such reasons, it seems like BitStar is diversifying its business lines. In addition to online fan club service Costar, quantitative analysis platform Influencer Power Ranking (IPR) and multichannel network for virtual YouTubers, the company is now planning to produce new products in partnership with brand communities, fan communities and TV broadcasters. Although online video media has been getting extremely popular in recent years, if a media company is accepted by an audience in design or format, they are likely to be imitated later on. This is why BitStar thinks it’s very important to have more companies work together.

Comprising of 75 employees as of March of 2018, BitStar raised an undisclosed sum of seed round funding from East Ventures back in 2014, estimated several million US dollars in a series A round from Colopl back in August of 2016, and about $2.7 million in a series B round from Global Brain back in July of 2017, in addition to an undisclosed sum from TBS Innovation Partners and ABC Dream Ventures — investment arms of leading Japanese broadcasters respectively — back in October of 2017.

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Yamap, mountaineers community app from Japan, secures $11M in series B round

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See the original story in Japanese. Fukuoka-based Yamap, which operates a community platform for mountaineers, announced on Friday at a press conference held in Tokyo that it has fundraised about 1.2 billion yen (around $11.2M US) in a series B round. The following 14 companies and funds participated in this round: ICI Ishii Sports Kyushu Wide Area Reconstruction Assistance Fund (managed by REVIC Capital) FFG Venture Business Partners (Investment arm of Fukuoka Bank) Yamaguchi Capital (Investment arm of Yamaguchi Bank) I Mercury Capital SMBC Venture Capital Setouchi Kanko Kasseika Fund (Managed by Setouchi DMO) Japan Asia Group SRL Oita Venture Capital (Investment arm of Oita Bank) Sagin Capital & Consulting (Investment arm of Saga Bank) Hiroshima Venture Capital (Investment arm of Hiroshima Bank) Morinaga (TSE:2201) 01Booster Keeping in mind the participation of numerous funds supported by regional banks, we can assume the intention is for Yamap to contribute to the revitalization of regional tourism. The company revealed that the amount raised from Japan’s largest outdoor retailer, ICI Ishii Sports, is the largest of the 14 contributions, although the amount received from each company and fund individually was not disclosed. For Yamap, this round follows the seed round which saw 5…

Yamap CEO Yoshi Haruyama with the investors who participated this round
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

See the original story in Japanese.

Fukuoka-based Yamap, which operates a community platform for mountaineers, announced on Friday at a press conference held in Tokyo that it has fundraised about 1.2 billion yen (around $11.2M US) in a series B round.

The following 14 companies and funds participated in this round:

  • ICI Ishii Sports
  • Kyushu Wide Area Reconstruction Assistance Fund (managed by REVIC Capital)
  • FFG Venture Business Partners (Investment arm of Fukuoka Bank)
  • Yamaguchi Capital (Investment arm of Yamaguchi Bank)
  • I Mercury Capital
  • SMBC Venture Capital
  • Setouchi Kanko Kasseika Fund (Managed by Setouchi DMO)
  • Japan Asia Group
  • SRL
  • Oita Venture Capital (Investment arm of Oita Bank)
  • Sagin Capital & Consulting (Investment arm of Saga Bank)
  • Hiroshima Venture Capital (Investment arm of Hiroshima Bank)
  • Morinaga (TSE:2201)
  • 01Booster

Keeping in mind the participation of numerous funds supported by regional banks, we can assume the intention is for Yamap to contribute to the revitalization of regional tourism. The company revealed that the amount raised from Japan’s largest outdoor retailer, ICI Ishii Sports, is the largest of the 14 contributions, although the amount received from each company and fund individually was not disclosed.

For Yamap, this round follows the seed round which saw 5 million yen funding (about $46.6K US) from Samurai Incubate and the series A round (March 2016) in which it fundraised 170 million yen (about $1.5M US) from Colopl (TSE: 3668), Daiwa Corporate Investment, and Dogan. With the latest round at this time, the total amount fundraised to date for Yamap has reached about 14 billion yen (around $12.8M US).

Yamap Founder and CEO Yoshi Haruyama explaining the intention behind the fundraising and business partnership
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

In addition to announcing the fundraising, Yamap also revealed that it has partnered with Ishii Sports, one of the investors this time around. Through this partnership the two companies will implement measures such as cooperation between members of Yamap and Ishii Sports, collaboration between Yamap and Ishii Sports stores (33 throughout Japan), and the expansion of joint events put on by the two companies. With the renewal of Ishii Sport’s e-commerce platform planned this fall, they also expect some sort of system integration with Yamap.

Mountaineering enthusiast Yoshi Haruyama (Founder/CEO) established Yamap in 2013 (the name at establishment was Sefuri). Even in mountains unreachable by cellular radio waves, the company has developed a map app called Yamap that allows mountaineers to know their current location by using the GPS radio waves of satellites.

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In 2014, the company was adopted into the first batch of IBM Blue Hub, the IBM Incubation Program in Tokyo, followed by winning the pitch arena of B Dash Camp 2015 Spring held in Fukuoka.

In July of 2015, the company released Yamap Gears, an outdoor equipment review app, its own insurance plans, and the media site .Hyakkei (Dot Hyakkei) specialized in the outdoors. It has also tried to diversify sales by partnering with camera, smartphone, and smartwatch makers.

In addition to Yamap’s user community partnering with Olympus’ open platform camera “Air A01” to develop outdoor camera accessories, Yamap also comes preinstalled on Kyocera’s smartphone Torque for the outdoors and Japan’s first domestic smartwatch WSD-F10 from Casio.

To give an idea of the number of Yamap’s users, the latest figures show that the app has been download 820,000 times with nearly 100 million monthly page views (the precise number of users is undisclosed). Leisure White Paper 2016 published by Japan Productivity Headquarters estimates there are 8.6 million mountaineers in Japan, which means slightly less than 10% of the entire population of mountaineers in Japan is using Yamap. By partnering with Ishii Sports, Yamap aims for synergy with the Ishii Sports member community which totals over 1 million.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s ChatBook secures seed round, helps firms integrate chatbot with Salesforce SFA

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See the original story in Japanese. Japan’s ChatBook, providing the automated marketing solution under the same name utilizing Facebook Messenger chatbot, announced on Monday that it had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Salesforce Ventures, East Ventures and YJ Capital in its seed round. It is estimated to total at hundreds of thousands of dollars. This round follows the one from YJ Capital and East Ventures in 2016 when ChatBook took part in the accelerator program Code Republic, which is managed by the two companies (the investment amount had not been disclosed neither but all the participant teams were evenly given 7 million yen (about $66,000) by the 100 million yen (about $940,000)-valuation. Chatbook was co-founded in September of 2016 (named Hect as its start) by Maiko Kojima who formerly worked for Prime Again as CFO/COO. The firm has been chosen for various accelerator programs so far; the first batch of the Code Public program in 2016, Accelerate course of FbStart which is a developer support program by Facebook in 2017 and the first batch of AI Accelerator organized by the major job information provider Dip (TSE:2379). ChatBook offers an auto-creation function of chatbot capable of information provision or…

ChatBook
Image credit: ChatBook

See the original story in Japanese.

Japan’s ChatBook, providing the automated marketing solution under the same name utilizing Facebook Messenger chatbot, announced on Monday that it had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Salesforce Ventures, East Ventures and YJ Capital in its seed round. It is estimated to total at hundreds of thousands of dollars. This round follows the one from YJ Capital and East Ventures in 2016 when ChatBook took part in the accelerator program Code Republic, which is managed by the two companies (the investment amount had not been disclosed neither but all the participant teams were evenly given 7 million yen (about $66,000) by the 100 million yen (about $940,000)-valuation.

Chatbook was co-founded in September of 2016 (named Hect as its start) by Maiko Kojima who formerly worked for Prime Again as CFO/COO. The firm has been chosen for various accelerator programs so far; the first batch of the Code Public program in 2016, Accelerate course of FbStart which is a developer support program by Facebook in 2017 and the first batch of AI Accelerator organized by the major job information provider Dip (TSE:2379).

ChatBook offers an auto-creation function of chatbot capable of information provision or interaction with website visitors targeting enterprise users, making it difficult to acquire new customers only by landing page. By securing the user flow from landing page to chatbot, enterprise users can achieve more effective marketing.

Chatbook CEO Maiko Kojima gives pitch at Demo Day of Code Public.
Photo credit: Code Republic

With the secured money, ChatBooks begins official operation of its service. It is available at no charge for individual users and no charge for ten days for enterprise users as trial use, while it had been opened as an invitational service based on inquiries. ChatBook has already been introduced to many companies including large enterprises or local government, such as the Marugame Seimen noodle restaurant chain and KAGA Route, the recruitment website for the spa resort area in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan.

In the chatbot-driven automated marketing field in Japan, Hachidori had raised 100 million yen (about $940,000) from Vector, Colopl Next, Evolable Asia, Aucfan and other investors in its series A round last year, as we as ZEALS providing Fanp raised 420 million yen (about $3.9 million) from JAFCO or FreakOut last month. Fanp aims to enhance the conversion by leading potential customers from infeed ad to chatbot, while on the other hand, ChatBook shows a bit different approach in that it aims to improve the conversion by leading customers from existing landing page to chatbot.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

 

Korea’s Zoyi, analytics startup for retailers, gets $4M series B for massive Japan rollout

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See the original story in Japanese. Seoul-based Zoyi Corporation, the Korean startup providing the Walk Insights offline customer analysis service and the Channel.io online sales support service for customers, announced last week that it has fundraised 450 million yen (about $4 million US)  from KDDI Open Innovation Fund (KOIF), which is jointly operated by Japanese VC firm Global Brain and Japanese leading telco KDDI, as well as Colopl Next, among others. Established in 2014, Zoyi raised about 300 million won (around $270,000 US) from Bon Angels and Fast Track Asia in 2014, and in its Series A round succeeded in fundraising a total of 2 billion won (about $1.8 million US) from Korea Investment Partners and Aju IB Investment. Global Brain has previously invested in Korean startups like TeamBlind, iDecca, 5Rocks (later acquired by Tapjoy), and Fluently, but this was only the second investment in a Korean startup by KOIF, with an investment in ESM Lab last August. Walk Insights can be described as an offline version of Google Analytics, and based on the WiFi and Bluetooth signal strengths of customer’s smartphones it can tell whether a customer is inside or outside of a store. If the customer is inside, it…

See the original story in Japanese.

Seoul-based Zoyi Corporation, the Korean startup providing the Walk Insights offline customer analysis service and the Channel.io online sales support service for customers, announced last week that it has fundraised 450 million yen (about $4 million US)  from KDDI Open Innovation Fund (KOIF), which is jointly operated by Japanese VC firm Global Brain and Japanese leading telco KDDI, as well as Colopl Next, among others.

Established in 2014, Zoyi raised about 300 million won (around $270,000 US) from Bon Angels and Fast Track Asia in 2014, and in its Series A round succeeded in fundraising a total of 2 billion won (about $1.8 million US) from Korea Investment Partners and Aju IB Investment.

Global Brain has previously invested in Korean startups like TeamBlind, iDecca, 5Rocks (later acquired by Tapjoy), and Fluently, but this was only the second investment in a Korean startup by KOIF, with an investment in ESM Lab last August.

Walk Insights can be described as an offline version of Google Analytics, and based on the WiFi and Bluetooth signal strengths of customer’s smartphones it can tell whether a customer is inside or outside of a store. If the customer is inside, it shows where in the store they are and how long they spend there, and through cooperation with POS (point-of-sales) it can track the conversion (purchases). Up to now more than 2,000 stores, including eyeglasses retailer Amore Pacific and Samsung Electronics, have employed it, and recently, there has been a wide range of users’ business fields such as local governments interested in the trends of inbound tourists and railroad companies looking into how many people have visited sports facilities owned by their company in a given group of train passengers. Zoyi develops these businesses in the Japanese market together with Walk Insights, the joint venture company of Zoyi and Tokyo-based YSC International.

Channel.io functions as an online concierge service developed for e-commerce business operators. The operator can understand customer trends using the dashboard, call out to the website visitor, and easily add a function that accepts questions from visitors to the operator’s site. Since inquiries and exchanges can be done in real time, the company maintains that visitors are more likely to get immediate answers from online stores than through e-mails and the likelihood of conversion increases. If the visitor is logged in they can be identified, but even if they are not logged in, by asking for the name and telephone number it is possible to continue an exchange via SMS (short message service) even after the visitor leaves the e-commerce site.

According to Zoyi, as long as the website itself is trustworthy, about 80% of visitors are inputting names and telephone numbers without resistance. Currently, 90% of Channel.io users are Korean companies, but Zoyi will secure new Japanese sales representatives to strengthen sales development in Japan using the funds raised this time.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s Sora raises $710K to help hotels set competitive but profitable prices using AI

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See the original story in Japanese. MagicPrice and Hotel Banzuke are both AI-powered pricing strategy support platforms for hotels, helping find them the optimal price, i.e. not too expensive but also not too cheap for lodgings. Tokyo-based Sora, the Japanese startup behind these platforms, announced on Tuesday that it has fundraised 80 million yen (about $710K US) in funding from 500 Startups Japan, Daiwa Corporate Investment, several angel investors, and loans from the Japan Finance Corporation. The funding round is unknown. Sora was founded in 2015 by Daiki Matsumura, who previously worked in ad-tech at Yahoo Japan. In March of 2016 the company won the Colopl Prize at Tech Lab Paak’s 3rd batch Demo Day, and in July 2016 the team participated in Incubate Camp 9th, followed in August 2016 when it was adopted as a participating team in the 500 Kobe Pre-accelerator. Due to its participation in these three events, in July 2016 Sora secured 20 million yen (about $178K US) in a seed round from 500 Startups Japan, Incubate Fund, and Kotaro Chiba (the judge in charge of awarding the Colopl Award at Tech Lab Paak’s 3rd batch Demo Day). MagicPrice, which launched as a beta version in…

The Sora management team along with some of their investors
Image credit: Sora

See the original story in Japanese.

MagicPrice and Hotel Banzuke are both AI-powered pricing strategy support platforms for hotels, helping find them the optimal price, i.e. not too expensive but also not too cheap for lodgings. Tokyo-based Sora, the Japanese startup behind these platforms, announced on Tuesday that it has fundraised 80 million yen (about $710K US) in funding from 500 Startups Japan, Daiwa Corporate Investment, several angel investors, and loans from the Japan Finance Corporation. The funding round is unknown.

Sora was founded in 2015 by Daiki Matsumura, who previously worked in ad-tech at Yahoo Japan. In March of 2016 the company won the Colopl Prize at Tech Lab Paak’s 3rd batch Demo Day, and in July 2016 the team participated in Incubate Camp 9th, followed in August 2016 when it was adopted as a participating team in the 500 Kobe Pre-accelerator. Due to its participation in these three events, in July 2016 Sora secured 20 million yen (about $178K US) in a seed round from 500 Startups Japan, Incubate Fund, and Kotaro Chiba (the judge in charge of awarding the Colopl Award at Tech Lab Paak’s 3rd batch Demo Day).

A screenshot of MagicPrice
Image credit: Sora

MagicPrice, which launched as a beta version in July 2016, allows hotels to calculate optimal prices based on machine learning  using imported their reservation history data and curated pricing data of their neighboring competitor hotels. The prices will be reflected on companies’ website or ticket reservation / OTA (online travel agent) website via ‘site controller’ systems. As hotel back offices are usually busy, the service operates without functions that require literacy, and seeks to automate operations as fully as possible. It can be labeled an RPA (Robotic Process Automation) for hotels. In March of this year, Sora partnered with Dynatec, a Yahoo Japan subsidiary and a  leading system integrator for the hotel industry.

A screenshot of Hotel Banzuke
Image credit: Sora

Meanwhile, the Hotel Banzuke platform was started in late August and allows hotel owners to view how much the competing hotels in their vicinity were reserved for and how many sales they had compared with the users’ own on any particular day. According to calculations using the room price and the number of available rooms open to the public on websites, more than 10,000 cases of hotel data can be calculated automatically every day. Hotel Banzuke is provided completely free, and is assumed to be an introductory promotion for MagicPrice.

Sora has not released the current number of MagicPrice users, but for the time being it is aiming to acquire 5,000 users, which is about 10% of Japanese hotels and ryokan. With regards to Hotel Banzuke, the company has revealed that more than 500 individuals in the hotel sector have completed user registration since its launch about a month ago.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Startups spring into action to secure apex access

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. It was in 2015 that the city of Gotemba led by young Mayor Yohei Wakabayashi availed climbers scaling Mt. Fuji from the Shizuoka side with sturdy lavatory structures able to double as emergency shelters in the event of natural disasters (now, the sheds could be equipped with alarm-sensors to turn them into better sanctuaries…). But since April this year there has been a major push in Gotemba to harness technology emanating from a Japanese startup ー albeit via major telecommunications carrier KDDI, which has just announced the buyout of said startup. Soracom, established in 2014 by former Amazon Web Services (AWS) evangelist Ken Tamagawa, has been offering Internet of Things (IoT) service over circuits leased from the giant NTT group ー formerly the Japanese phone monopoly. The startup last year decided to help KDDI, which has a mobile telephony service called au, build its own IoT network. It is upon this technology that Mt. Fuji entryway Gotemba decided to collaborate in realizing a system to keep track of climbers using the pathway leading up to the mountaintop. Beginning on August…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


Image credit: torsakarin / 123RF

It was in 2015 that the city of Gotemba led by young Mayor Yohei Wakabayashi availed climbers scaling Mt. Fuji from the Shizuoka side with sturdy lavatory structures able to double as emergency shelters in the event of natural disasters (now, the sheds could be equipped with alarm-sensors to turn them into better sanctuaries…). But since April this year there has been a major push in Gotemba to harness technology emanating from a Japanese startup ー albeit via major telecommunications carrier KDDI, which has just announced the buyout of said startup.

Soracom, established in 2014 by former Amazon Web Services (AWS) evangelist Ken Tamagawa, has been offering Internet of Things (IoT) service over circuits leased from the giant NTT group ー formerly the Japanese phone monopoly. The startup last year decided to help KDDI, which has a mobile telephony service called au, build its own IoT network. It is upon this technology that Mt. Fuji entryway Gotemba decided to collaborate in realizing a system to keep track of climbers using the pathway leading up to the mountaintop.

Screenshot of the website

Beginning on August 10, 2017 (a day before the newly-instituted Japanese Mountain Day holiday) an IoT-based tracking experiment is being conducted. IoT sensors have been placed along the hiking route, enabling a more accurate count by the municipal authorities as to those trekking up the Mt. Fuji pathway… search & rescue helicopters in particular being faced with hazards when flying near Japan’s highest mountain.

With technical support from KDDI’s research institute, a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network being run on the KDDI LoRa PoC Kit ー underpinned by Soracom tech prowess utilized to develop said kitー will be tried out until the end of this mountain-climbing season.

It is said KDDI had been eyeing a sizable corporate buyout within the information-communication sector after being beat to the punch by SoftBank in the attempt to acquire mobile carrier eAccess some years ago. Interestingly, KDDI until recently has been working with another startup Colopl, which is strong in games but in past few years have pushed drone use, aiming to utilize IoT and VR/AR for promotion of rural communities in Japan. Furthermore, KDDI has been working with another startup, Fukuoka-based SkyDisc, regarding tropical fruit cultivation as well. It remains to be seen how startups will handle their relations with KDDI.

Conceptual diagram