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

Japan’s luxury brand consignment app Reclo raises $34M to boost China expansion

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Active Sonar, the startup behind luxury brand consignment app Reclo, announced on Thursday that it has raised 3.6 billion yen (about $33.8 million US) from CITIC Capital, SBI Investment, and SBI Securities with loans from Mizuho Bank. Using the funds, the company will strengthen its China expansion. CITIC Capital is the asset management arm of Chinese largest financial conglomerate CITIC Group. Other details, such as the investment ratio of each investor and market cap, payment dates, were not diclosed. When you have a luxury brand item which is no longer needed, the Reclo platform allows you to ask experts for the appropriate value and price to sell it online. The platform will handle all other time-consuming processes such as selling the item, receiving payments from and shipping to the buyer so that all you have to do is just send the item to the platform. If you are not satisfied with the expert’s assessment, the platform would send you back your item for free. Unlike typical auction platforms or flea market apps, Reclo is not a C2C (consumer-to-consumer) marketplace and can prevent users from buying knock-off items which is often seen in the…

reclo-mobile-app
Reclo
Image credit: Active Sonar

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Active Sonar, the startup behind luxury brand consignment app Reclo, announced on Thursday that it has raised 3.6 billion yen (about $33.8 million US) from CITIC Capital, SBI Investment, and SBI Securities with loans from Mizuho Bank. Using the funds, the company will strengthen its China expansion. CITIC Capital is the asset management arm of Chinese largest financial conglomerate CITIC Group. Other details, such as the investment ratio of each investor and market cap, payment dates, were not diclosed.

When you have a luxury brand item which is no longer needed, the Reclo platform allows you to ask experts for the appropriate value and price to sell it online. The platform will handle all other time-consuming processes such as selling the item, receiving payments from and shipping to the buyer so that all you have to do is just send the item to the platform.

reclo-on-taobao
Reclo’s Chinese version on Taobao

If you are not satisfied with the expert’s assessment, the platform would send you back your item for free. Unlike typical auction platforms or flea market apps, Reclo is not a C2C (consumer-to-consumer) marketplace and can prevent users from buying knock-off items which is often seen in the luxury second-hand market.

The company started the platform’s Chinese version last year, which greatly contributed to the growth of the transactions and doubling the company’s overall sales compared to last year. In addition, over half of the total transactions comes from outside Japan, with China accounting for 70%. With the further business expansion in China, the company set up a local subsidiary in Shanghai last year, planning to curating luxury items in addition to the consignment sales business.

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Translated by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s social gifting and e-voucher rewards platform Giftee files for IPO

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Giftee, the Japanese startup behind the platform allowing users to send friends an e-voucher which they can then redeem at selected retailers, announced on Friday that its IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on 20 September with plans to offer 800,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 658,000 shares in over-allotment options, for a total of 3.59 million shares. Nomura Securities will lead the underwriting. Its share price range will be released on 30 August with bookbuilding scheduled to start on 3 September and pricing on 9 September. According to the consolidated statement as of December 2018, they posted revenue of 1.12 billion yen (about $10.5 million) with an ordinary profit of 283 million yen ($2.7 million). Given that the tentative share price will be set at 1,250 yen and the company has issued a total of 24.03 million shares to date, their market cap is expected to be around 31 billion yen ($290 million). Founded in October of 2008, Giftee started the social gifting platform under the same name back in March of 2011. Subsequently the…

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In addition to its home turf of Japan, Giftee’s eGift system is now available in Malaysia.
Image credit: Giftee

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Giftee, the Japanese startup behind the platform allowing users to send friends an e-voucher which they can then redeem at selected retailers, announced on Friday that its IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on 20 September with plans to offer 800,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 658,000 shares in over-allotment options, for a total of 3.59 million shares. Nomura Securities will lead the underwriting.

Its share price range will be released on 30 August with bookbuilding scheduled to start on 3 September and pricing on 9 September. According to the consolidated statement as of December 2018, they posted revenue of 1.12 billion yen (about $10.5 million) with an ordinary profit of 283 million yen ($2.7 million). Given that the tentative share price will be set at 1,250 yen and the company has issued a total of 24.03 million shares to date, their market cap is expected to be around 31 billion yen ($290 million).

Founded in October of 2008, Giftee started the social gifting platform under the same name back in March of 2011. Subsequently the company launched a B2B service called Giftee for Business back in April of 2016, which allows companies to send an e-voucher to their clients and now accounts for 62% of the total revenue. They formed a capital and business tie-up with Japanese credit card giant JCB and department store operator Marui Group.

Gifttee had attracted a total of 1.1 million users with its original consumer-focused service since its launch to December of 2018, which eventually reached 1.25 million users back in June this year. Led by founder and CEO Mutsumi Ota (20.46%), the company’s major shareholders include telco giant KDDI (15.46%) and VC firm Jafco (15.05%).

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Translated by Masaru Ikeda

Japanese mobile analytics startup Repro sets up shop in Singapore for SEA expansion

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See the original story in Japan. Tokyo-based Repro, the provider of mobile analytics tool under the same name, announced today that it has established a wholly-owned subsidiary in Singapore to strengthen business expansion into Southeast Asian (SEA) markets. The subsidiary, namely Repro Singapore Pte. Ltd., aims to cultivate the client base in Indonesia, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and among others, while it intends to employ five to ten people in each of these respective markets by the end of 2021. See also: Japan’s mobile analytics and marketing tool Repro gets $2.6 million to expand to US Japan’s mobile analytics company Repro secures $835,000 from DG Incubation, others Marking five years since its launch, the tool has been used by 6,500 companies across 59 countries in the world, which has been good enough for the startup to see the potential in the markets outside Japan. In the SEA market, which the startup will be focused on, the growing penetration of mobile devices has much contributed to promoting e-commerce and other online services among local people. The launch of the subsidiary was based on their conviction that there would be more demand in user-focused marketing measure in the region. Translated by Masaru…

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The Repro Singapore team
Image credit: Repro

See the original story in Japan.

Tokyo-based Repro, the provider of mobile analytics tool under the same name, announced today that it has established a wholly-owned subsidiary in Singapore to strengthen business expansion into Southeast Asian (SEA) markets. The subsidiary, namely Repro Singapore Pte. Ltd., aims to cultivate the client base in Indonesia, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and among others, while it intends to employ five to ten people in each of these respective markets by the end of 2021.

See also:

Marking five years since its launch, the tool has been used by 6,500 companies across 59 countries in the world, which has been good enough for the startup to see the potential in the markets outside Japan. In the SEA market, which the startup will be focused on, the growing penetration of mobile devices has much contributed to promoting e-commerce and other online services among local people. The launch of the subsidiary was based on their conviction that there would be more demand in user-focused marketing measure in the region.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda

Pixie Dust Technologies, phased array and digital fabrication startup, secures $44M

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Pixie Dust Technologies, the Japanese startup developing digital fabrication and AI-based solutions, announced on Thursday that it has secured series B round funding. Participating investors in this round include INCJ, SBI Investment, Toppan Printing, SMBC Venture Capital, CSV Venture Fund (managed by NEC Capital Solution and Venture Labo Investment), Mizuho Capital, KDDI Open Innovation Fund (managed by Global Brain), K4 Ventures, Dai-ichi Life Insuarance, and Dentsu. In addition to raising 3.85 billion yen ($35.1 million US) from these investors, the company has secured a loan commitment worth up to 1 billion yen ($9.1 million US) from Shoko Chukin Bank. When altogether, the company can make the most of up to 4.85 billion yen ($44.3 million US) financing. Pixie Dust Technologies will use the funds to hire people, strengthen R&D facilitates, invest in IP strategies as well as enhance technology portfolio to promote co-development of solutions centered on Hagen, the company’s proprietary ultrasonic phased array system, Founded back in May of 2017, the company was led by two CEO Yoichi Ochiai, Associate Professor at University of Tsukuba, and COO Taiichiro Murakami who previously worked at a strategy consulting firm.  Translated by Masaru Ikeda

Pixie-Dust

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Pixie Dust Technologies, the Japanese startup developing digital fabrication and AI-based solutions, announced on Thursday that it has secured series B round funding.

Participating investors in this round include INCJ, SBI Investment, Toppan Printing, SMBC Venture Capital, CSV Venture Fund (managed by NEC Capital Solution and Venture Labo Investment), Mizuho Capital, KDDI Open Innovation Fund (managed by Global Brain), K4 Ventures, Dai-ichi Life Insuarance, and Dentsu.

In addition to raising 3.85 billion yen ($35.1 million US) from these investors, the company has secured a loan commitment worth up to 1 billion yen ($9.1 million US) from Shoko Chukin Bank. When altogether, the company can make the most of up to 4.85 billion yen ($44.3 million US) financing.

Pixie Dust Technologies will use the funds to hire people, strengthen R&D facilitates, invest in IP strategies as well as enhance technology portfolio to promote co-development of solutions centered on Hagen, the company’s proprietary ultrasonic phased array system,

Founded back in May of 2017, the company was led by two CEO Yoichi Ochiai, Associate Professor at University of Tsukuba, and COO Taiichiro Murakami who previously worked at a strategy consulting firm.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda

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.

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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…

WHILL_Satoshi-Sugie
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