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 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…

hinative-yangyang-xi
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.

See also:

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

Japan’s Gumi forms $30M crypto fund, unveils investments in 5 blockchain startups

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese gaming company Gumi recently announced on Thursday the establishment of the Gumi Cryptos fund for investment in cryptocurrency and blockchain technology-based services. It was set up as a limited liability company, and as a fund will add the scheme of silent partnership. The fund is worth $30 million US, with Gumi investing through its venture capital subsidiary Gumi Ventures, and about 10 major Japanese financial institutions also participating.  The company names are not disclosed. Miko Matsumura, the founder of Evercoin is appointed as a co-partner of the fund. He has also been managing other funds as a partner. Gumi Cryptos has already invested in US-based crypto bsinesses. Specifically, it has invested in five companies: Basis (cryptocurrency issuer), Robot Cache (decentralizsed game content distribution platform), Origin (sharing economy marketplace), Pryze (blockchain-based sweepstakes platform), and Theta (decentralized video distribution platform). Tokyo-based Unicon, the startup behind the Bitinvestors crypto evaluation and comparison site, is expected to support the fund in terms of managing tokens. Gumi Cryptos uses SAFT scheme to invest Various methods have arisen with regards to investments in unlisted companies, especially in startups, such as classified stocks and convertible notes. The feeling is that…

Gumi CEO Hironao Kunimitsu
Photographed by Takeshi Hirano in May of 2017

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese gaming company Gumi recently announced on Thursday the establishment of the Gumi Cryptos fund for investment in cryptocurrency and blockchain technology-based services. It was set up as a limited liability company, and as a fund will add the scheme of silent partnership.

The fund is worth $30 million US, with Gumi investing through its venture capital subsidiary Gumi Ventures, and about 10 major Japanese financial institutions also participating.  The company names are not disclosed. Miko Matsumura, the founder of Evercoin is appointed as a co-partner of the fund. He has also been managing other funds as a partner.

Gumi Cryptos has already invested in US-based crypto bsinesses. Specifically, it has invested in five companies: Basis (cryptocurrency issuer), Robot Cache (decentralizsed game content distribution platform), Origin (sharing economy marketplace), Pryze (blockchain-based sweepstakes platform), and Theta (decentralized video distribution platform).

Tokyo-based Unicon, the startup behind the Bitinvestors crypto evaluation and comparison site, is expected to support the fund in terms of managing tokens.

Gumi Cryptos uses SAFT scheme to invest

Various methods have arisen with regards to investments in unlisted companies, especially in startups, such as classified stocks and convertible notes. The feeling is that these formats have been maturing in the last ten years even in Japan.

At the same time, investment through cryptocurrency is undergoing something similar. Initial Coin Offering or ICO, which one commonly hears, is actually closer to crowdfunding than investment, and usually does not include the right to control corporations like through stock voting rights. On the other hand, it causes controversy because of dividend scheme like Airdrop and capital gain functions.

Amid such differences, what kind of method do the Gumi cryptos use to invest in and collect gains from unlisted companies? According to Gumi CEO Hironao Kunimitsu, at present it is customary to use the SAFT scheme.

First of all, crypto investments began with crowdsales or ICO. It is possible for anyone to purchase tokens, and as the reader may be aware, the ability to assign development costs with fluctuating prices due to the expected value of projects has spread like wildfire. Exchanges handle “listings”, and it is recent that they began to handle security-like elements. However, with this method, the investor protection method that is used in the regular stock market was not applied at all and a lot of fraud occurred.

Therefore, a new method was adopted which involved shifting to selling only to a few experts, such as qualified investors and affluent people, and as a result a new version of “SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity)”,  “SAFT (Simple Agreement for Future Tokens)”, was born.

Without going into details, SAFT first provides the initial development costs in order to promote project development. Following this, after the project development has been successfully completed and it is at the stage where ordinary users can buy and sell tokens on exchanges, the fund will have priority in making purchases.

There was also talk that a future scheme may have the initial offering as common stock and preferred stock, after which investors would be able to convert them to tokens. Additionally, the Gumi Cryptos Fund is denominated entirely in dollars, if it is necessary to purchase in cryptocurrency the rate will be determined at the time of investment.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s parking lot sharing platform Akippa raises $7.4M, unveils IoT gate control system

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See the original story in Japanese. Akippa, which provides a peer-to-peer sharing and reservation service for car parking, announced that it has successfully raised funds and entered into new business alliances. Japan Post Holdings, JR East Startup Program, Nippon Rent-a-car, Fukuoka Financial Group Venture Business Partners, Chubu-Nippon Broadcasting, and Chishima Real Estate joined existing investor Sumitomo Corporation bringing the total to seven participating companies. The total amount raised this time was 810 million yen (about $7.4M US) and it brought the cumulative amount raised to $2.4 billion yen (nearly $22M US). In addition to improving the service, Akippa aims to use the funds raised to build a new mobility platform. Prior to this release, the company had also announced Share Gate, a control system for parking lots using IoT gates, in collaboration with electronic key developer/supplier Art. The system can be installed at the entrance/exit of gated parking lots. Until now, parking lots that could use Akippa were limited to those without gates due to the problem of arranging entering and exiting. By using the system, Akippa users can book a parking space, connect to the system via Bluetooth, enter the access code generated by the app, and successfully open…

Akippa CEO Genki Kanaya

See the original story in Japanese.

Akippa, which provides a peer-to-peer sharing and reservation service for car parking, announced that it has successfully raised funds and entered into new business alliances. Japan Post Holdings, JR East Startup Program, Nippon Rent-a-car, Fukuoka Financial Group Venture Business Partners, Chubu-Nippon Broadcasting, and Chishima Real Estate joined existing investor Sumitomo Corporation bringing the total to seven participating companies. The total amount raised this time was 810 million yen (about $7.4M US) and it brought the cumulative amount raised to $2.4 billion yen (nearly $22M US).

In addition to improving the service, Akippa aims to use the funds raised to build a new mobility platform.

Prior to this release, the company had also announced Share Gate, a control system for parking lots using IoT gates, in collaboration with electronic key developer/supplier Art.

The system can be installed at the entrance/exit of gated parking lots. Until now, parking lots that could use Akippa were limited to those without gates due to the problem of arranging entering and exiting. By using the system, Akippa users can book a parking space, connect to the system via Bluetooth, enter the access code generated by the app, and successfully open and close the gates. As a result, even in unmanned parking lots the company can provide advance booking and smart settlement.

With the development of Share Gate, parking lot operators can also use Akippa to rent out parking lots during times of low occupancy. The initial cost of the device is 200,000 yen (about $1,800 US), and installation is an additional 50,000 yen ($457 US). Monthly maintenance is free and the contract period is for two years. However, if a company signs a contract within 2018 all of these costs will be born by Akippa, effectively making it free. Art provides the terminal maintenance. At the time of the release, Daiwa House Parking, Daiwa Lease, and  Izumi Parking had all introduced it.

Akippa aims for MaaS–The Future of an “Akippa ID” Platform

Akippa announced a large funding. It is the first news released in nearly one and a half years, the last being December 2016 with the announcement of its alliance with Toyota. Currently Akippa has 700,000 users and the number of available parking spaces has grown to 20,000. By contrast, the competition among parking sharing is getting more intense. One symbolic example is Softbank’s entry in April of this year.

How does the leader in user numbers, Akippa, dodge the advancement of large companies? CEO Genki Kanaya said the answer lies in the expanded use of Akippa ID.

Kanaya says:

In terms of our business plan, we’ve seen (a growth curve). Our sales prediction includes roughly 1/5th of the coin parking market.

According to Kanaya, the company will continue to push the current Akippa service, and with the acquired user IDs it plans to provide other services. One example he put forward was peer-to-peer car sharing, or other experiences centered around “movement”. While still in the concept stage, the strategy is to construct a mobility platform and involve many external companies.

For example, along with Nippon Rent-a-car, which they aligned with this time, it will take steps to promote sharing the vacant spaces of car rental lots, and through sharing IDs, encourage mutual use among current users.

In the future, the company will expand the parking spots to 100,000 by 2020 and advance the construction of a conceptual mobility platform.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japanese smart lock Akerun secures $9M to foray into entrance/exit logging business

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based startup Photosynth, developing and offering  smart lock Akerun as well as SaaS to manage entrances and exits, announced earlier this month that it raised funds from Globis Capital Partners, Daiwa Corporate Investment, and YJ Capital. The funds raised this time around total about 1 billion yen (about $9.1M US) when added to loans procured from the Japan Finance Corporation and Orix, and brings the cumulative amount of funding to 1.5 billion yen (roughly $13.7M US). Details such as the payment date, investment round, and share ratios were not disclosed, and Globis Capital Partners’ Emre Hidekazu Yuasa was appointed as Outside Director. In addition, the company also revealed that Akerun Pro, a smart lock for businesses, has been introduced by 2,500 companies since its launch in July 2016. In particular, industries which handle personal information such as recruiting, finance, and social work, in addition to companies with multiple offices, and coworking spaces have adopted it. The company will use the funds raised to double the current team of 50 members (this number is based on full-time employees) within two years. Specifically, it plans to strengthen its sales and support systems in order to respond…

Photosynth CEO Kodai Kawase

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based startup Photosynth, developing and offering  smart lock Akerun as well as SaaS to manage entrances and exits, announced earlier this month that it raised funds from Globis Capital Partners, Daiwa Corporate Investment, and YJ Capital. The funds raised this time around total about 1 billion yen (about $9.1M US) when added to loans procured from the Japan Finance Corporation and Orix, and brings the cumulative amount of funding to 1.5 billion yen (roughly $13.7M US).

Details such as the payment date, investment round, and share ratios were not disclosed, and Globis Capital Partners’ Emre Hidekazu Yuasa was appointed as Outside Director.

In addition, the company also revealed that Akerun Pro, a smart lock for businesses, has been introduced by 2,500 companies since its launch in July 2016. In particular, industries which handle personal information such as recruiting, finance, and social work, in addition to companies with multiple offices, and coworking spaces have adopted it.

The company will use the funds raised to double the current team of 50 members (this number is based on full-time employees) within two years. Specifically, it plans to strengthen its sales and support systems in order to respond to the increase in inquiries, and its goal is to be introduced in 10,000 companies by 2020.

Amendments to the Personal Information Protection Law Prove Helpful

Demo of the door installation (Akerun Pro)

Since its inception in September of 2014, Photosynth, which has often been featured on The Bridge, succeeded in raising a large-scale sum. By attaching Akerun Pro to a door handle, it is possible to lock or unlock the door using a smartphone or IC card. It is also linked to the cloud and can issue keys and manage a log of who enters and leaves through the door. There are no introductory costs as the company uses a monthly subscription model for renting the equipment and using web services. It is set at 15,000 yen (around $137 US) per month.

If we take a rough look at the domestic market for this smart lock, there are many uncertainties due to regulations with regards to Airbnb and the like, which the business model favors, and we get the impression that the company is working towards more reliable business development, evident in its partnerships with real estate and other companies.

As mentioned above, Photosynth is using a monthly subscription model, as opposed to selling the product until there is no more. On the business side, if the company does not have a revenue model that can anticipate new business, as the vacation rentals business does, it would definitely run into the problem of the product selling out.

However, right now, the business couldn’t be better. When I asked the company’s CEO Kodai Kawase the reason, it seems that the revision last year of the Personal Information Protection Law had a surprising effect.

According to the amendment of the Personal Information Protection Law in May 2017, roughly speaking, those who do business through memberships are supposed to take entrance and exit logs, but the introduction costs of existing entry and exit systems cost around 1 million yen (about $9.1KUS), including security services.

There are a multitude of small and medium sized businesses that take the personal information of their members. According to Kawase, it is necessary that the companies maintain “entrance/exit logs”, and with the advantage of no introductory cost, inquiries into Akerun keep coming one after another.

Users can get a key by registering through the smartphone app or with an IC card, like those used for public transit.

And there’s more.

Because of the entrance/exit log, it is possible to keep track of who is entering and exiting, so who is working or not working. Yes, that is one way to respond to the problem of overwork. Solutions for overwork, which has become a social problem in recent years, have garnered much attention, and there are many requests for ways to link them to attendance.

Naturally, if such solutions become a part of the service, the argument for monthly subscriptions is strengthened.

On the day of the interview, Kawase gave a demo of how to attach Akerun to a door, but it was easy to complete from installation to registering the key by smartphone in a few minutes. It may take time to set up the cloud service and various onboarding, but this hurdle is low compared to services that require actual alterations to a door.

I feel that Photosynth’s transformation from selling smart locks to taking on the challenge of the “entrance/exit log” is the reason behind its large-scale fundraising.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s analytics startup Plaid snags $25M to help companies refine customer experience

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Plaid, the Japanese startup offering a real-time data analysis of website visitors called Karte, announced last week that it has secured funding from Femto Partners, Eight Roads Ventures Japan, Mitsui & Co., Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Venture Capital, SMBC Venture Capital, Mizuho Capital, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, and others. Combining funds through the investment aforementioned with loans from Mizuho Bank and other financial institutions, the company secured about 2.7 billion yen (around $25M US) at this time. Details including stock holding ratios were not disclosed. The latest announcement means that the company has thus far raised 3.4 billion yen (about $32M) in total, including previous funds from Femto Growth Capital and Eight Roads Ventures Japan. Plaid employs 90 people when all contract forms are included. Since its launch back in March of 2015, Karte had been introduced to 1,430 companies by March of 2017. The number of user companies has been undisclosed since the third year after the launch; instead, the company released the cumulative number of users analyzed by the service, which is 2.2 billion. Also, since around half of the companies introducing Karte are commerce enterprises, the company revealed that the total transactions…

Plaid CEO Kenta Kurahashi

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Plaid, the Japanese startup offering a real-time data analysis of website visitors called Karte, announced last week that it has secured funding from Femto Partners, Eight Roads Ventures Japan, Mitsui & Co., Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Venture Capital, SMBC Venture Capital, Mizuho Capital, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, and others.

Combining funds through the investment aforementioned with loans from Mizuho Bank and other financial institutions, the company secured about 2.7 billion yen (around $25M US) at this time. Details including stock holding ratios were not disclosed. The latest announcement means that the company has thus far raised 3.4 billion yen (about $32M) in total, including previous funds from Femto Growth Capital and Eight Roads Ventures Japan.

Plaid employs 90 people when all contract forms are included. Since its launch back in March of 2015, Karte had been introduced to 1,430 companies by March of 2017. The number of user companies has been undisclosed since the third year after the launch; instead, the company released the cumulative number of users analyzed by the service, which is 2.2 billion. Also, since around half of the companies introducing Karte are commerce enterprises, the company revealed that the total transactions dealt with through the platform was 548 billion yen (nearly $5.1B US). Furthermore, as confirmed by CEO Kenta Kurahashi, this total reflects the total value of products actually purchased after users visit the websites of companies using Karte.

According to the press release, the company also achieved a monthly surplus in March of 2017, and the funds raised this time will be used mainly for marketing, strengthening recruitment for all positions, and overseas service expansion.

Turning into customer experience platform

In the past, Karte used access analysis and marketing-related tools to create simple figures expressed as “1 PV (page views)” and “1 UU (unique users)” and use them as actual visiting opportunities, and opened up the category of “better taking care of online customers” to respond to this while analyzing finer actions.

In its third year the company will now use these existing concepts to provide a new “CX Platform (customer experience platform)” that is a more customer-centered marketing analytics service. Kurahashi explains the difference between Karte and other marketing tools by relating that the total use distribution among companies using Karte becomes larger.

(When talking about companies using Karte) Karte makes people visible, so it can take on the customer’s perspective, what they want, who they want to buy it, and why they want it. Many of the conventional tools (for raising sales and setting indicators) are corporate-oriented, and there is nothing to prompt action by understanding the user’s voice.

Every year since 2011 the Chief Marketing Technologist Blog has been creating and publishing a marketing chaos map (see below), and as the map shows, the number of available tools continues to increase every year. While many claim to automate, there are times when companies must pay high-cost consulting fees to actually introduce the tools. Kurahashi also said, “It’s strange that you have to give it all you’ve got to master them,” but that is the exact world-view.

From Chief Marketing Technologist Blog. Click to enlarge.

Karte is based on the idea of returning marketing to the customer’s viewpoint, which must first be realized by thoroughly visualizing the customers who are hard to see on the web. The company takes what is natural for customer service in spaces with physical stores and brings it to the web. The increase in companies using Karte and the total amount of distribution, as well as the number of users analyzed, demonstrates that this idea is accepted.

Karte has undergone a great renewal in April, and in particular the visualization of user behavior in real time has become more useful. The company introduced a score function this time which measures users’ experiences as satisfactory and unsatisfactory, and adds visibility that allows them to bring forward the users who need support.

Additionally, up to now the company has visualized each user who visited a site as 1 UU on a timeline, and with the renewal it has strengthened this function by introducing mirroring capabilities that allow administrators to see which site flow lines the user actually traced. With this, it has become possible to judge at a glance when, where, and in which situation the user took action.

Kurahashi creates a customer-centered analysis culture through these renewals and aims to acquire and expand Plaid’s own positioning.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s Laboratik secures $745K seed round to help companies visualize teamwork

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Laboratik — the Japanese startup providing insight to optimize team work through a smart bot platform called A; — announced on Monday that it has raised 80 million yen (about $745,000) in a seed round from Archetype Ventures, Mizuho Capital, Eltes Capital, Zertoh.AI, and other angel investors. Coinciding with the latest funding, Professor Reiji Ohtaki of Waseda Business School and Hajime Hotta of Japanese AI startup Cinnamon joined Laboratik as development advisors. The company says it will use the funds to strengthen their engineering and marketing capabilities. Laboratik was founded in July of 2015 by Toyofumi Miura who previously started out his career as a designer at R/GA New York and subsequently worked as an industry manager at Google Japan where he came up with a project regarding a new way of working. In view of adopting Google’s culture where employees are quantitatively evaluated into HR Tech, the Laboratik team was thinking to develop a product to serve crowdsourced work. They came up with “A;” as a side project in this process. Using the company’s proprietary Natural Language Processing technology, “A;” works as a chat bot for Slack to monitor conversation, analyzes the emotional…

Toyofumi Miura, Founder and CEO of Laboratik

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Laboratik — the Japanese startup providing insight to optimize team work through a smart bot platform called A; — announced on Monday that it has raised 80 million yen (about $745,000) in a seed round from Archetype Ventures, Mizuho Capital, Eltes Capital, Zertoh.AI, and other angel investors.

Coinciding with the latest funding, Professor Reiji Ohtaki of Waseda Business School and Hajime Hotta of Japanese AI startup Cinnamon joined Laboratik as development advisors. The company says it will use the funds to strengthen their engineering and marketing capabilities.

Laboratik was founded in July of 2015 by Toyofumi Miura who previously started out his career as a designer at R/GA New York and subsequently worked as an industry manager at Google Japan where he came up with a project regarding a new way of working.

A;
Image credit: Laboratik

In view of adopting Google’s culture where employees are quantitatively evaluated into HR Tech, the Laboratik team was thinking to develop a product to serve crowdsourced work. They came up with “A;” as a side project in this process.

Using the company’s proprietary Natural Language Processing technology, “A;” works as a chat bot for Slack to monitor conversation, analyzes the emotional tendency and positive/negative degree of team members in the project.

In addition, the chat bot can sort conversations by the relative amount of them and topic so that, for example, it can visualizes who is in a negative state of mind or lacks communication with other members as well as proposing topics to discuss he or she is likely to be interested in. Miura plans to expand the platform into other chat tools beyond Slack in the future.

Since its closed beta launch back in February of 2017, “A;” has been used on a test basis by 800 companies in Japan and the rest of the world. Laboratik has been highly evaluated by more than a few acceleration programs such as being recently qualified for the first batch of the Plug and Play Japan accelerator. They will start charging users on an account basis but a detailed pricing plan will be announced when the service is officially launched.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s Sukedachi raises $5M to help match workpeople with construction jobs

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Sukedachi, providing on-demand matching service between construction jobs and workers under the same name, announced on Thursday that it had fundraised about 530 million yen (about $5 million) from Itochu Technology Ventures, Genesia Ventures, Klab Venture Partners, Nippon Broadcasting System, Persol Holdings, Legend Partners and an undisclosed company, plus individual investors including Kotaro Chiba. Among these investors, Genesia Ventures and Klab Venture Partners also participated in the previous seed round back in August. The investment ratio or the payment dates are not disclosed, but the secured money will be spent for marketing and enrichment of human resources for service development. The firm had changed its company name from Tokyo Rocket to the current one in March of this year. Sukedachi allows workpeople specialized in construction works receive to notification of recruitment of construction jobs which meet their pre-registered conditions including residence and occupation. With this service, construction workers who are seeking jobs can contact directly to each desired construction site, and constructors suffering from chronic manpower shortage can recruit workers on almost ideal on-demand conditions. Sukedachi had focused on the unique business habit in the Japanese construction industry that construction workers are order…

Sukedachi
Image credit: Sukedachi

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Sukedachi, providing on-demand matching service between construction jobs and workers under the same name, announced on Thursday that it had fundraised about 530 million yen (about $5 million) from Itochu Technology Ventures, Genesia Ventures, Klab Venture Partners, Nippon Broadcasting System, Persol Holdings, Legend Partners and an undisclosed company, plus individual investors including Kotaro Chiba.

Among these investors, Genesia Ventures and Klab Venture Partners also participated in the previous seed round back in August. The investment ratio or the payment dates are not disclosed, but the secured money will be spent for marketing and enrichment of human resources for service development. The firm had changed its company name from Tokyo Rocket to the current one in March of this year.

Sukedachi allows workpeople specialized in construction works receive to notification of recruitment of construction jobs which meet their pre-registered conditions including residence and occupation. With this service, construction workers who are seeking jobs can contact directly to each desired construction site, and constructors suffering from chronic manpower shortage can recruit workers on almost ideal on-demand conditions.

Yoichi Wagatsuma, CEO of Sukedachi

Sukedachi had focused on the unique business habit in the Japanese construction industry that construction workers are order receivers as workmen themselves and are also orderers as small enterprises, and the firm started this service. According to CEO of the firm Yoichi Wagatsuma, the number of registered workers since its launch in last November until this April reached 7,000 and has been increasing by 100 daily. The total ordering amount handled within Sukedachi exceeded 200 million yen (about $1.9 million).

The last time I covered this service before its launch, the “quality” of matched workers was concerned and the firm was trying to solve that by utilizing evaluation for each worker from orderers after completion of work. Since its launch, the firm has been operating the service with a policy of treating highly-rated workers preferentially, so that visualization or community creation related to this point seems to be a future task.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy