THE BRIDGE

Takeshi Hirano

Takeshi Hirano

Takeshi is a Japanese tech blogger and a co-founder of The Bridge, and is also the CEO for bootupAsia, Inc. He started his career as a web designer.

Articles

NTT DoCoMo secures 40% stake in Japanese restaurant reservation platform Toreta

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese mobile telco NTT DoCoMo (TSE:9437) has secured a capital and business tie-up with Toreta, the Japanese startup offering a reservation and customer management platform for restaurants under the same name. The telco invested 3 billion yen ($27.2 million US) in the startup this time around, which brings the latter’s total amount raised to date to 6.13 billion yen ($55.5 million US). Through this deal, NTT DoCoMo has secured a 39.7% stake in Toreta by the $27.2 million cash injection as well as buying shares from existing investors for an undisclosed sum. By launching a new service allowing restaurants to take reservations and orders as well as receiving payments in mid-2019, the two companies will promote the telco’s mobile payments and rewards redemption service. Prior to this investment, the telco’s VC arm participated in a $12 million investment in the startup back in September of 2016. Toreta was launched in December of 2013 by Hitoshi Nakamura who has founded multiple food related online businesses. Having successfully acquired almost 1,000 restaurants as users within six months since the launch, the company’s user base hit 12,000 as of November of this year. CEO Nakamura has been…

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese mobile telco NTT DoCoMo (TSE:9437) has secured a capital and business tie-up with Toreta, the Japanese startup offering a reservation and customer management platform for restaurants under the same name.

The telco invested 3 billion yen ($27.2 million US) in the startup this time around, which brings the latter’s total amount raised to date to 6.13 billion yen ($55.5 million US). Through this deal, NTT DoCoMo has secured a 39.7% stake in Toreta by the $27.2 million cash injection as well as buying shares from existing investors for an undisclosed sum.

By launching a new service allowing restaurants to take reservations and orders as well as receiving payments in mid-2019, the two companies will promote the telco’s mobile payments and rewards redemption service. Prior to this investment, the telco’s VC arm participated in a $12 million investment in the startup back in September of 2016.

Toreta was launched in December of 2013 by Hitoshi Nakamura who has founded multiple food related online businesses. Having successfully acquired almost 1,000 restaurants as users within six months since the launch, the company’s user base hit 12,000 as of November of this year. CEO Nakamura has been aggressively promoting digitalizing food businesses through launching a conference called Foodit Tokyo.

See also:

Translated by Masaru Ikeda

Japanese AR sports platform provider Meleap raises $6.6M to cultivate viewership

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Meleap, the Japanese startup developing the Hado augmented reality(AR)-powerd sports game series and expanding a franchise of arcade stores that offer gaming experiences in town, announced on Thursday that it has raised 720 million yen (about $6.3M US) from I-Mercury Capital, DBJ Capital, IncubateFund, Canal Ventures, Yugengaisya Hide Inter, and SMBC Venture Capital. The company has secured a cumulative total of 1.11 billion yen (around $9.8M US) in fundraising so far. It plans to use the funds raised to increase the store numbers, and with the prospect of forming a pro-league in its sights, it will strengthen the business pertaining to viewership. See also: Japan’s Meleap raises $2.6M to offer augmented reality-based sports experiences globally Hado is an AR sports game that requires players to wear a head mounted display and an arm sensor to battle each other three on three. Players use energy balls and shields freely to earn points over a period of 80 seconds. The company currently operates 52 stores in 23 countries in Asia, North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. 1.3 million people have played the game and the overseas sales ratio is 60%. Additionally,…

The Meleap team
Image credit: Meleap

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Meleap, the Japanese startup developing the Hado augmented reality(AR)-powerd sports game series and expanding a franchise of arcade stores that offer gaming experiences in town, announced on Thursday that it has raised 720 million yen (about $6.3M US) from I-Mercury Capital, DBJ Capital, IncubateFund, Canal Ventures, Yugengaisya Hide Inter, and SMBC Venture Capital. The company has secured a cumulative total of 1.11 billion yen (around $9.8M US) in fundraising so far. It plans to use the funds raised to increase the store numbers, and with the prospect of forming a pro-league in its sights, it will strengthen the business pertaining to viewership.

See also:

Hado is an AR sports game that requires players to wear a head mounted display and an arm sensor to battle each other three on three. Players use energy balls and shields freely to earn points over a period of 80 seconds.

The company currently operates 52 stores in 23 countries in Asia, North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. 1.3 million people have played the game and the overseas sales ratio is 60%.

Image credit: Meleap

Additionally, with regards to the pro-league, which is the reason for the fundraising this time around, Meleap will hold the Hado World Cup on December 8th. It has assembled the national teams that won the preliminary rounds held in seven countries around the world, including Japan and the UK, in order to decide the world’s best. With the evolution to a pro-league, from now the company will broadcast content for viewers to watch as teams compete in the game. Furthermore, it has also prepared prizes for the programs.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Open Network Lab showcases 6 teams from 17th batch Demo Day

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See the original story in Japanese. Digital Garage hosted the Demo Day for its Open Network Lab acceleration program earlier this month. The program celebrated its 17th batch and has supported 97 companies so far, with 60% of these successfully raising funds. This year 90 companies applied, and it appears female entrepreneurs, medical services, and inbound travel have become the prominent trends. Recruitment for the 18th batch began on October 9th. Six companies that received support such as mentoring over three months beginning in July took the stage to to share their results. After review, the medicine management platform 9lione (pronounced Kulione) was awarded the Best Team and Audience prizes, while the mental health support app KibunLog secured the Special Award. (Below is an introduction to each companies’ pitch.) Best Team & Audience Awards winner: 9lione Medical facilities using medicines experience the problem of having to discard medicine due to incorrect orders and other reasons. The total amount lost due to discarded medicine is 770 billion yen (nearly $6.9 billion US; estimated to be 10% of the total cost of medicine), which brings the loss per institution to 5 million yen (about $45K US) per year or roughly equivalent to…

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Award winners and other graduating teams from the 17th Batch
Image credit: Takeshi Hirano

See the original story in Japanese.

Digital Garage hosted the Demo Day for its Open Network Lab acceleration program earlier this month. The program celebrated its 17th batch and has supported 97 companies so far, with 60% of these successfully raising funds. This year 90 companies applied, and it appears female entrepreneurs, medical services, and inbound travel have become the prominent trends. Recruitment for the 18th batch began on October 9th.

Six companies that received support such as mentoring over three months beginning in July took the stage to to share their results. After review, the medicine management platform 9lione (pronounced Kulione) was awarded the Best Team and Audience prizes, while the mental health support app KibunLog secured the Special Award. (Below is an introduction to each companies’ pitch.)

Best Team & Audience Awards winner: 9lione

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9lione

Medical facilities using medicines experience the problem of having to discard medicine due to incorrect orders and other reasons. The total amount lost due to discarded medicine is 770 billion yen (nearly $6.9 billion US; estimated to be 10% of the total cost of medicine), which brings the loss per institution to 5 million yen (about $45K US) per year or roughly equivalent to the operating profits of a privately run hospital.

The cause of the problem is simple: information management is still largely done with general-purpose tools such as handwriting and Excel. It is this point that “9lione honed in on.

The company uses a SaaS model to make pharmaceutical management more efficient. It is equipped to read prescriptions using OCR (optical character recognition), can manage the medicine per capsule, and has a function that can keep track of expiration dates using the barcodes of the medicine. Some healthcare providers saw a loss improvement of 75% after introducing the beta version because it is able to manage and propose the optimal order quantity based on consumption data.

The company’s traction is also on the up and up, with 91 companies submitting advance applications in two weeks. The business model is based on monthly subscriptions, with 150,000 medical institutions apart from pharmacies as potential customers. In the future, the company’s aim is to become a buying/selling platform like Amazon which utilizes inventory data.

Special Award winner: KibunLog

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KibunLog

There are 300 million people suffering from depression worldwide, with 5 million of those in Japan alone. It is a difficult illness to cure with just medicine, and while treatment using psychotherapeutics based on “emotional records” is widely known, it is difficult for depression sufferers to accurately grasp and record their symptoms.

Kimamani’s KibunLog is a support app for improving users’ mental health and looks to solve this problem. Psychotherapy work can be carried out in the app itself, and emotions can be recorded and analyzed to make control easier.

The company has prepared an interface that can record situations accurately with the app, and the recorded emotions can be analyzed by easy-to-understand mood classifications. There is also a community function for interested users, and support for mental health improvement with psychotherapy. In terms of business, the company anticipates a community pricing model through sales of content to improve consumers’ health, an online salon, etc.

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Giftpack

Giftpack is an on-demand gifting service that can deliver gifts from remote locations. The company is focusing particularly on gift giving experiences; for example, it offers the fun experience that involves local delivery people singing as they give the gift.

The company began the service after interviewing some 70,000 people, 70% of whom reported dissatisfaction with deliveries and experiences. Deliveries occur within three hours. The fee is 20%-30% and it aims to become the new gifting platform preferred by the millennial generation and as such has implemented a campaign in partnership with the 17 livestreaming app. The company is developing services in five countries, focusing mainly on Taiwan and San Francisco.

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Everyplus

For care recipients at nursing facilities, more than half of the day is spent at leisure. Recreational activities are one way to use this time, but EveryPlus is focusing on the efficiency of this. It is necessary to improve satisfaction with recreational options amongst the elderly using nursing facilities, and while the budget for such places is between 10,000 and 500,000 yen (around $89-$4,445 US), it does not receive priority, so we end up with cases like the facility organizing a magic show for care recipients, who suffer from dementia, who cannot understand it.

Every Plus has partnered with companies, prepared a recreation package for singing karaoke at care facilities, and provides a matching service that takes into consideration the degree of care required and size of the facility. As a result, facility business hours can be reduced more than 700 hours a year, and the number of times the service has been implemented has increased to 3500.

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Signature

Signature focuses on craft beer trends among the 30,000 brewing companies globally. Today, the craft beer market in Japan is attracting attention from all over the world because of the momentum exemplified by the 20% annual growth rate; however, it faces a roadblock in that just 2% succeed in expanding overseas. The reason lies in the alcohol licensing required by each country, and with businesses who possess licenses unwilling to take on inventory risks. Futhermore, when expanding to multiple countries, it is necessary to negotiate with each of them.

Signature is a marketplace that makes these inconvenient points more efficient. The company has eliminated inventory risks with an advance booking model, and has additionally removed the roadblock by offering liquor license bundles. The result is 70% of trial users repeatedly coming back. It is considering a D2C (direct-to-consumer) model in the future based on user data acquired by the company.

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Mediction

Mediction allows “medical tourist” users to settle the procedures required for medical treatment in Japan online. It targets visitors in particular from China as they account for 70% of the 430,000 medical tourists that come to Japan for treatment purposes.

When a user uploads their clinical records to the service, it translates them and matches them with relevant medical providers. Additionally, the service introduces hospitals, seeks missing information, and prepares examination reports. Usually, with this treatment process it takes two months to produce a diagnosis. While it takes one month for the treatment, translation and other processes can be reduced from three weeks to two days, thereby improving efficiency.

The diagnosis plan will check if treatment in Japan is necessary and can be used for 150,000 yen (about $1,334 US). In the future, the company plans to provide treatment services to affluent people by accumulating the medical record data.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

 

Japanese gourmet media startup Favy raises $9M, with 67M MAU closing in on big players

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Favy, the Japanese startup behind a comprehensive food marketing service including gourmet media, has just announced that it raised 1 billion yen (about $8.8 million) from Mynavi, a Japanese leading human resource informaiton portal provider. The two companies formed a capital tie-up and began cooperation in marketing service provision / recruitment business for nationwide restaurant chains. Specifically, Mynavi will introduce restaurant clients who are interested in recruitment to Favy, utilizing Mynavi’s promotion network consisting of 1,000 staffers and 60 bases all over Japan. They are to jointly develop recruitment branding products that target restaurant users as well. At the same timing, Favy announced the launch of Favy Store, a service store for retailers. Boasting 67 million MAU closing in on big players It is newsworthy that Favy succeeded in this large-scale fundraising using an interesting business model, upon which we have been focused since this company started up. As borne out by the investor list consisting of a single company — Mynavi — Favy’s main purpose this time was business tie-up rather than money. According to Takumi Takanashi, CEO of Favy, the number of its staffer has been increased to 210 in which…

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L to R: Kazuma Mori (Manager of Domestic Business Development Dpt. of Mynavi), Takumi Takanashi (CEO of Favy)

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Favy, the Japanese startup behind a comprehensive food marketing service including gourmet media, has just announced that it raised 1 billion yen (about $8.8 million) from Mynavi, a Japanese leading human resource informaiton portal provider.

The two companies formed a capital tie-up and began cooperation in marketing service provision / recruitment business for nationwide restaurant chains. Specifically, Mynavi will introduce restaurant clients who are interested in recruitment to Favy, utilizing Mynavi’s promotion network consisting of 1,000 staffers and 60 bases all over Japan.

They are to jointly develop recruitment branding products that target restaurant users as well. At the same timing, Favy announced the launch of Favy Store, a service store for retailers.

Boasting 67 million MAU closing in on big players

It is newsworthy that Favy succeeded in this large-scale fundraising using an interesting business model, upon which we have been focused since this company started up. As borne out by the investor list consisting of a single company — Mynavi — Favy’s main purpose this time was business tie-up rather than money. According to Takumi Takanashi, CEO of Favy, the number of its staffer has been increased to 210 in which restaurant staffers account for half while its marketing system strengthened to 50 staffers.

Mynavi has not handled food-related contents previously so apparently was in need of a touch-point for its operational portfolio. Mynavi has restaurant accounts based on recruitment of part-time staffers and it is easy to understand that the firm aims to upsell by leveraging such business.

One aspect to scrutinize regarding this news is the increase in Favy’s business reach. Although a simple comparison is impossible with only 67 million MAU (monthly active users) announced this time, as for the status of the two key gourmet media players in Japan, Tabelog has 154.19 million monthly users with the total number of online reservations reaching 40 million (as of June 2018) while Gnavi has 65 million monthly unique users and a membership is 16.05 million (as of July 2018). Figures for both are quoted from their financial result documents for the third quarter of 2019.

Favy plans and operates showcase retailers

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Favy’s Takanashi (left) with Seven Dreamers CEO Shin Sakane (right)

It is difficult to explain Favy’s business model. I had tried to analyze it in the previous round last year, but it does not remain in the same place as in the past. Its core service is Favy Page, the marketing package for restaurants. It is a SaaS (software as a service) model which provides various marketing functions such as introduction article published on Favy, listing advertisement agency, guarantee for no-notice reservation cancellations and customer management, charging 15,000 to 50,000 yen (about $130 to $440) monthly according to service plans. The firm has disclosed that 30,000 restaurant users are using this service, including those who using free plans.

In addition, the firm conducts a showcase-like business with real retailers as introduced before. The aim of this service is to develop business model for restaurants. The firm announced this September that it is going to establish a “co-working space for chefs” wherein their knowledge bases can be integrated.

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Co-working space focusing on food business in Ginza, scheduled to open soon.

Favi Store, the new service announced this time, is also a part of the comprehensive marketing service providing chefs or companies who want to start restaurant business with know-how of restaurant management in the digital marketing era, such as automation of restaurant management, promotion, recruitment, business style planning, hardware purchase or choice of property. Takanashi called it PaaS (platform as a service) for restaurants. Anyway, the firm has acquired Big Data about what 67 million monthly users want to eat, as an entrance into the following services.

If its data tracking is combined with retailers’ visitor data including location or beacon information in the future, this service can likely become an absolute platform connecting readers and restaurants effectively. In fact, I heard ideas beyond that and will introduce it next time. In the Japanese gourmet media field, major players like Tabelog, Gnavi and Hot Pepper have long held dominance but it seems certain that Favy will gradually assert its presence.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s Open8 raises $13M, launches AI-powered video creation tool for business

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  See the original story in Japanese. There are many “seeing is believing” cases in reality; children smiling while participating in a social activity, a small restaurant’s much-vaunted new menu, or marketing documents and employee training manuals that are difficult to explain with words. A cloud solution which can realize these things was launched this month. The keyword for the service is AI (artificial intelligence). Tokyo-based Open8, providing the LeTronc video magazine and some video ad network services, earlier this month launched the AI-powered video creating SaaS (software as a service) named Video Brain.It charges 150,000 yen (about $1,300) monthly, in addition to requiring an annual contract for allowing users to create 20 videos a month maximum. At the same time the company announced it had raised money from WiL (World Innovation Lab) and Mirai Sousei Fund (by SPARX Group). The raised amount is 1.5 billion yen (about $13 million) and the investment ratio was not disclosed. The total secured amount of Open8 reached 4 billion yen (about $36 million). The firm also announced that it had invited Hiroto Ebata who is known for marketing promotion activities of Coca Cola Japan as its video business advisor. See also: Open8, Japan’s…

 

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Video Brain
Image credit: Open8

See the original story in Japanese.

There are many “seeing is believing” cases in reality; children smiling while participating in a social activity, a small restaurant’s much-vaunted new menu, or marketing documents and employee training manuals that are difficult to explain with words. A cloud solution which can realize these things was launched this month.

The keyword for the service is AI (artificial intelligence). Tokyo-based Open8, providing the LeTronc video magazine and some video ad network services, earlier this month launched the AI-powered video creating SaaS (software as a service) named Video Brain.It charges 150,000 yen (about $1,300) monthly, in addition to requiring an annual contract for allowing users to create 20 videos a month maximum.

At the same time the company announced it had raised money from WiL (World Innovation Lab) and Mirai Sousei Fund (by SPARX Group). The raised amount is 1.5 billion yen (about $13 million) and the investment ratio was not disclosed. The total secured amount of Open8 reached 4 billion yen (about $36 million). The firm also announced that it had invited Hiroto Ebata who is known for marketing promotion activities of Coca Cola Japan as its video business advisor.

See also:

The Video Brain platform has developed for enterprise users based on the LeTronc auto-video creation engine LeTronc AI which was launched last October. Analyzing user’s viewing patterns based on retrieval query and others, LeTronc AI automatically edits enormous number of video/  photo materials to match them with each desired scene. With this engine, the firm has been creating and providing 1,000 videos monthly with just 70 staffers.

The platform provides the necessary solution especially focusing on video material editing. Specifically, users upload video / photo materials and a manuscript (text) of the story from browser and choose a template. The platform recognizes the meaning of each uploaded content, and automatically matches them and edits a video content.

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Video Brain’s dashboard
Image credit: Open8

There were already similar services for video creation, but users had to input materials manually and edit the text themselves. The platform eliminated the need for all of these processes. As I took a look at the demonstration, it seemed fantastic that all materials were uploaded just by drag-and-drop and then a video was created by one-click only. The firm began test operation targeting enterprise users this June; it is used for creating video material for news in a major newspaper company or employee training video / sales proposal materials in a restaurant chain.

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Open 8 Yukou Takamatsu

The topics of auto-video creation had come up frequently. For example, I have heard of a concept combining crowdsourcing and AI such as auto-creation / suggestion of subtitle, and that seems to be close to the platform

What matters here is the quality of created products. To be honest, the platform cannot do everything. As Open 8 CEO Yukou Takamatsu mentioned, this service has works in and out of its line. It is good at video creation in which atmosphere is valued such as image video advertisement but weak at video editing in which strict content is required such as business manuals. However, Takamatsu said that he aims to change the communication of enterprises by launching this solution:

Clients with huge budget can focus on planning and photographing so that they can create high-quality videos, of course. However, small retailers or intra-company communication are lacking in such power.

For example, a restaurant chain has been carrying out social contribution activities (corporate social responsibility; CSR) with its team consisting of a few members. They have many photo / video materials about underprivileged children, but it takes much time to edit them. It would cost hundreds of thousands of yen if ordering video editing production.

I thought that the speed of business and the quality of intra-company communication would be improved by making this process efficient. The information which was hard to be understood turns into something providing a strong impression. I would like to meet such requests from companies.

The firm has its R&D department in Singapore, and will conduct development of AI, speech recognition / transcription function and improvement of editing accuracy.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japanese smart wheelchair Whill secures $45M to expand into North America, Europe

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Whill ( US / Europe ) developing personal mobility aids announced on Tuesday that it has successfully raised 5 billion yen (around $44.5M US) from 13 companies: SBI Investment, Daiwa Securities Group, Whiz Partners, Mistletoe, Endeavor Catalyst, Japan Material Technologies Corporation, ES Networks, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Venture Capital, the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, Eight Roads Ventures, Nippon Venture Capital, DG Innovation, and Mizuho Capital. This brings the total amount raised by the company to 8 billion yen (about $71.2M US). Details about this round, such as investment ratios were not released. The funds procured this time around will be used to further expand the sales of Model Ci in the U.S. and Canada, and to begin sales throughout Europe starting with the U.K. and Italy. See also: Tokyo Motor Show 2015: Lots of Misses, Nuts & Bolts but a Lot Amiss Japan’s wheelchair startup Whill raises over $10,000 on Kickstarter in six hours In conversation with Whill, the Japanese personal mobility startup on a roll in Silicon Valley Next-gen Japanese wheelchair startup, Whill, closes seed funding with a total of $1,750,000 Next-gen Japanese wheelchair startup raises $1M from 500 Startups and other…

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Satoshi Sugie, Co-founder and CEO of Whill

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Whill ( US / Europe ) developing personal mobility aids announced on Tuesday that it has successfully raised 5 billion yen (around $44.5M US) from 13 companies: SBI Investment, Daiwa Securities Group, Whiz Partners, Mistletoe, Endeavor Catalyst, Japan Material Technologies Corporation, ES Networks, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Venture Capital, the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, Eight Roads Ventures, Nippon Venture Capital, DG Innovation, and Mizuho Capital.

This brings the total amount raised by the company to 8 billion yen (about $71.2M US). Details about this round, such as investment ratios were not released. The funds procured this time around will be used to further expand the sales of Model Ci in the U.S. and Canada, and to begin sales throughout Europe starting with the U.K. and Italy.

See also:

Whill is a mobility product that supports the elderly and people with disabilities affecting mobility. The company began selling its first product Model A in 2014 in the U.S., and began sales of its second product Model Ci in April of last year.

Additionally, the company has plans to launch a MaaS (Mobility as a SaaS) platform business which will further strengthen its organization. Whill, which previously focused on individual sales, will position itself as a “mobile service” to be offered to businesses with users who may have issues with mobility, such as sports facilities and airports.

We interviewed CEO Satoshi Sugie and asked him about the details of this new project to promote development. (Questions are in bold, responses are by Sugie.)

WHILL

First of all, in regards to the new model being sold. How is it different to the first model?

It’s light. It can be broken down into three parts and packed into a car. Because most people use a car to get around in the US, we adapted to meet these needs. On the flipside, the power is weaker than the first model. And with the price as well, the first model sold for nearly 1 million yen (about $8,900 US) while this new model is less than half that at 450K yen (around $4,000 US).

In terms of purchasing, I think depending on the country there may be subsidies available…

Not in the US. In Japan the entire cost may be born depending on the insurance for people with disabilities. Also, the elderly are eligible for subsidies that cover 10% of monthly rental fees.

And the sales performance thus far?

Of the numbers we’ve published, the first model has sold over 1000 units. We are aiming to sell 10,000 units of the second model.

How about the user feedback?

(One user who has difficulty walking) shared that they are able to take their dog for a walk now. The second model can fit in a car, so we already have feedback that it could be used in emergencies.

I’d like to ask about the new service. With MaaS, there are companies aiming for a mobility platform and talking about “ID business (user billing)” and “data sales”, but what about Whill’s strategy?

I describe it as becoming public transportation for sidewalks. It’s a so-called sidewalk version of Uber. Our first step is to offer services at airports and amusement parks.

Can you elaborate?

Until now, the staff has supported people who have difficulty moving, like the elderly, in public facilities like airports. But in the United States, such operation costs are becoming a burden.

I see. Whill will be placed in these areas for people to share. In the press release it says users are free to use them and they will be equipped with automatic driving technology to return them after use. Are you developing this technology yourselves?

Usually I would answer this with, “No comment,” but we plan to work with partner companies to promote the R&D of automatic driving and the return function, etc.

It seems like many companies are developing automatic driving mobility.

That may be true–for carrying luggage, but I believe we are the only company developing mobility aids that carry humans, while simultaneously developing software.

Mobility sharing services for bicycles and recently for scooters with Bird, are gaining popularity. Any plans to take to the streets?

Currently, none.

Any thoughts on the business side of things?

We aren’t just selling mobility aids, but a fleet management service that can be controlled by the facility. We also provide options such as maintenance. It’s a so-called monthly subscription service.

Any plans to expand the business to general users?

It may be possible at amusement parks.

Thank you.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

 

Japan’s HiNative Q&A app for language learning hits 3.4M registered users, raises $6M

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Lang-8, the company behind a Q&A app for language learning called HiNative, announced on Wednesday that it has fundraised 650 million yen (around $5.8 million US) from YJ Capital, Daiwa Corporate Investment, and FFG Venture Business Partners, along with individual investor Kotaro Chiba. The payment was completed in August of this year. Other details, such as the investment ratios, were not released. As of August 2018 there are 3.41 million registered users on the HiNative app. This is nearly 17 times the amount related 2 years ago when we interviewed the company. According to Lang-8 CEO Yangyang Xi the current number of questions posed has reached 8.54 million and the number of responses totals 27,760,000. These numbers have also increased nearly tenfold compared to two years ago. See also: Japan’s HiNative, Q&A app for language learning, secures $2M to boost user growth Much as Stack Overflow and Yahoo Answers, it is desirable for Q&A services that provide open answers to offer both the “flow experience” where responses can appear immediately and the “stock experience” where answers close to a users’ query pop up on demand after searching. To elaborate on such services, when…

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Lang-8 CEO Yangyang Xi at his new office in Ebisu, Tokyo
Image credit: Takeshi Hirano

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Lang-8, the company behind a Q&A app for language learning called HiNative, announced on Wednesday that it has fundraised 650 million yen (around $5.8 million US) from YJ Capital, Daiwa Corporate Investment, and FFG Venture Business Partners, along with individual investor Kotaro Chiba. The payment was completed in August of this year. Other details, such as the investment ratios, were not released.

As of August 2018 there are 3.41 million registered users on the HiNative app. This is nearly 17 times the amount related 2 years ago when we interviewed the company. According to Lang-8 CEO Yangyang Xi the current number of questions posed has reached 8.54 million and the number of responses totals 27,760,000. These numbers have also increased nearly tenfold compared to two years ago.

See also:

Much as Stack Overflow and Yahoo Answers, it is desirable for Q&A services that provide open answers to offer both the “flow experience” where responses can appear immediately and the “stock experience” where answers close to a users’ query pop up on demand after searching.

To elaborate on such services, when I search for a phrase, in many cases it turns up owned content such as English speaking services on Skype. HiNative has reached a milestone because its search results are open, so the access to them will help the company to stand out in each country. Access to this web index is about 6 million unique users a month.

The company has a wide reach with 110 supported languages in 240 regions, and fast answers to questions posed via the flow experience appear in less than a few minutes. It has built up a community that is able to provide some form of an answer within an hour, and the knowhow garnered from Lang-8 is a big help here. The funds raised this time around will be used to further increase the overseas use rate, and to strengthen the management and development teams, which are currently consist of 10 employees, as well as to further strengthen the company’s marketing activities.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Activ8 raises $5.4M from Gumi, Makers Fund; expands ‘Virtual YouTuber’ business

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Activ8 (pronounced ‘activate’), the Japanese startup behind the Upd8 (pronounced ‘update’) ‘Virtual YouTuber’ supporting project, announced on Tuesday that it has raised 600 million yen (about $5.4M US) in funding from Hong Kong-based Makers Fund and Tokyo-based gaming company Gumi (TSE:3903). Details regarding the payment date and investment ratio were not disclosed. Activ8 graduated from the 3rd batch of Tokyo XR Startups and this is the third time it has raised outside funds. The company has also previously received funds from a fund managed by Gumi, and the current capital stands at 695 million yen (about $6.3M US). The company employs 40 people. Since is launch back in September of 2016, Activ8 has been supporting original “virtual talents” in the expanding field of “Virtual YouTubers”. Kizuna AI, an AI-powered virtual YouTuber backed by the company, is ranked most popular on User Local’s ranking survey based on the number of fans and total number of views. Additionally, at the end of May this year the company released the Upd8 virtual support platform. It provides support projects for virtual talent job matching and original goods sales after passing an examination conducted by the company. They…

From left: Activ8 CEO Takeshi Osaka, Masashi Nakano
Image credit: Activ8

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Activ8 (pronounced ‘activate’), the Japanese startup behind the Upd8 (pronounced ‘update’) ‘Virtual YouTuber’ supporting project, announced on Tuesday that it has raised 600 million yen (about $5.4M US) in funding from Hong Kong-based Makers Fund and Tokyo-based gaming company Gumi (TSE:3903).

Details regarding the payment date and investment ratio were not disclosed. Activ8 graduated from the 3rd batch of Tokyo XR Startups and this is the third time it has raised outside funds. The company has also previously received funds from a fund managed by Gumi, and the current capital stands at 695 million yen (about $6.3M US). The company employs 40 people.

Since is launch back in September of 2016, Activ8 has been supporting original “virtual talents” in the expanding field of “Virtual YouTubers”. Kizuna AI, an AI-powered virtual YouTuber backed by the company, is ranked most popular on User Local’s ranking survey based on the number of fans and total number of views.

Upd8
Image credit: Activ8

Additionally, at the end of May this year the company released the Upd8 virtual support platform. It provides support projects for virtual talent job matching and original goods sales after passing an examination conducted by the company. They have 25 registered talents and 26 registered YouTube channels. In Japan this type of project is preceded by the MCN (Multi-Channel Network) developed by UUUM, and can be regarded as a derivation.

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According to Activ8’s CEO Takeshi Osaka one idea for future expansion includes developing an IP (intellectual property) licensing business. For example, Marvel has produced not only individual titles but has also combined them to form episodes under the main title of Avengers.

Osaka remarked that one strength of virtual talent lies in, “Being able to come in contact with it more frequently, rather than, say, seeing a movie once a year”. Moreover, compared to the period when global access was nearly half what it is now, he noted the borderless feature of this market.

Future plans include increasing the main virtual talent to about 20 by the end of next year, and for Upd8, which is open for general use, the company has a goal of about 1,000 members for the platform as a whole.

Upd8
Image credit: Activ8

Even though everything is virtual, it is still a support platform for gathering talent that will have a strong influence, and since anonymity is high we thought to confirm the level of safety such as the countermeasure to prevent it from being possibly exploited by antisocial forces. Activ8 would like to protect and cherish the world of virtual talent, and unless publicly announced by the talent themselves, the company will not release identities.

Osaka says,

“In terms of judging, we are focusing on diversity. We value the culture of this market.”

With regards to registered talent, the company takes measures to make direct contact with the talent and confirm the safety. When a behavior concern arises the corresponding virtual talent takes direct responsibility and as a platform it will take action according to the code of conduct.

The funds raised this time around will go to strengthening human resources in order to accelerate the company’s virtual talent entertainment activities.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s Crooz launches VC arm, appoints 25-year-old up-and-coming investor as head

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Crooz (TSE:2138), the Japanese company operating online fashion e-commerce site Shoplist and other internet services, announced earlier this month that it has established Seven Woods Investment (SwI) as a fully-owned subsidiary to focus on investment business. Reo Kasai, who previously served as the Managing Partner at IF Angel, was apponted as a representative of the new company. SwI will have multiple investment partnerships under its umbrella. In addition to managing SwI, Kasai manages carries out investment of his fund called Reo Asset Management Investment Limited Partnership No.1 as the managing partner. Along the same lines, Satoshi Babasaki will participate in the company’s investment projects while managing his own fund called Blackswan Capital Investment Limited Partnership No.1. See also: Book discovery service raises $200,000 from Japanese investors Crooz claims that these are part of the company’s management strategy called Everlasting Evolution Initiative. Going forward the company will continue to set up investment limited partnerships with varying strategies and representative with the aim to grow its investment business into one of their core businesses. Kasai founded hits own startup Prosbee back in 2012 when he was still a student. After participating in an acceleration program…

Reo Kasai, CEO and Managing Partner of Seven Woods Investment
Image credit: Takeshi Hirano

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Crooz (TSE:2138), the Japanese company operating online fashion e-commerce site Shoplist and other internet services, announced earlier this month that it has established Seven Woods Investment (SwI) as a fully-owned subsidiary to focus on investment business. Reo Kasai, who previously served as the Managing Partner at IF Angel, was apponted as a representative of the new company. SwI will have multiple investment partnerships under its umbrella.

In addition to managing SwI, Kasai manages carries out investment of his fund called Reo Asset Management Investment Limited Partnership No.1 as the managing partner. Along the same lines, Satoshi Babasaki will participate in the company’s investment projects while managing his own fund called Blackswan Capital Investment Limited Partnership No.1.

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Crooz claims that these are part of the company’s management strategy called Everlasting Evolution Initiative. Going forward the company will continue to set up investment limited partnerships with varying strategies and representative with the aim to grow its investment business into one of their core businesses.

Kasai founded hits own startup Prosbee back in 2012 when he was still a student. After participating in an acceleration program run by a VC firm, he had been involved in investment business as an assistant to Incubate Fund since 2014. He launched his fund called IF Angel at his age of 22 in October 2015 when he was the youngest ever managing partner in the history of the Japanese VC industry.

Kasai told us the following tip to share.

  • With regards to the fund size, the company is expecting to raise 2 billion yen (around $18.1M US) including the funds from companies other than Crooz.
  • Every single investment partnership in the group has a different policy about how much they will invest in a single deal but Kasai’s own managing funds will be focused on supporting young entrepreneurs with an aim to invest 10 to 30 million yen (about $90.4K US to $2.7M US) per project.
  • Joining Crooz Group this time around was triggered by Yasuyuki Kin of Candle, a Japanese startup acquired by the conglomerate back in October of 2016.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

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

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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…

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