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

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

Japan’s cloud-based house construction management platform Andpad raises $3.8M

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Oct, the Japanese startup developing and providing the Andpad house construction management platform, announced earlier this month that it has fundraised  about 400 million yen ($3.8 million US) from Draper Nexus Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, Beenext, and individual investors. Details of the stock ratios, payment date, and individual investors were not disclosed. In accordance with this, Draper Nexus Venture’s Managing Director Akira Kurabayashi will be appointed as an Outside Director. The company plans to integrate the platform with Salesforce Sales Cloud in the early part of this year, aiming to offer sales updates and construction management information in an integrated manner. The company has been offering the cloud-based platform since April of 2016, helping architects and construction companies keep them updated with construction progress as well as onsite communication at their properties among them. It helps firms focused on constructing or renovating houses share blueprints and schedules with carpenters, electricians, and other project-related workers in addition to helping their managers consolidate reports like building inspections. According to Oct CEO Takeo Inada, the introduction of the service reduced onsite supervisors’ work by one hour per day, strengthening the operation efficiency for a major construction company….

Andpad
Image credit: Oct

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Oct, the Japanese startup developing and providing the Andpad house construction management platform, announced earlier this month that it has fundraised  about 400 million yen ($3.8 million US) from Draper Nexus Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, Beenext, and individual investors. Details of the stock ratios, payment date, and individual investors were not disclosed. In accordance with this, Draper Nexus Venture’s Managing Director Akira Kurabayashi will be appointed as an Outside Director.

The company plans to integrate the platform with Salesforce Sales Cloud in the early part of this year, aiming to offer sales updates and construction management information in an integrated manner.

The company has been offering the cloud-based platform since April of 2016, helping architects and construction companies keep them updated with construction progress as well as onsite communication at their properties among them. It helps firms focused on constructing or renovating houses share blueprints and schedules with carpenters, electricians, and other project-related workers in addition to helping their managers consolidate reports like building inspections.

According to Oct CEO Takeo Inada, the introduction of the service reduced onsite supervisors’ work by one hour per day, strengthening the operation efficiency for a major construction company.

The funding announced this time around follows that of January 2017 when the company raised an amount in the tens of millions of yen from individual investors. The number of contracted companies released at the time of the previous fundraising was 350, but as of January 2018 that number has increased to 800 companies, the majority of which pay to use the service. Going forward, the company’s goal is to sign with 10,000 companies soon. With the funds raised, it will also increase the number of staffers to 30 and focus especially on strengthening system development capabilities.

From a tool to an integrated management platform

Oct CEO Takeo Inada

The leap forward of B2B-focused SaaS (business-to-business focused software as a service) specialized in specific verticals has been a hot topic for these last two to three years. It provides online efficiency tools for the progress of specific industries, such as restaurant, education, logistics and distribution, and other businesses. Andpad is one example of them. With such tools, if the user experience proves good it leads to adoption, but because they are specialized in specific industries, using it only as a tool leads to inferior scaling when compared with accounting or personnel and labor relations services that can cross different industries.

Inada’s explanation of this point was clear.

First of all, the 800 companies currently announced are so-called project owners, and it seems that there are about ten times the number of issued accounts for free users (for example, carpenters and electric companies).

In other words, Andpad has a track record of having used nearly 8,000 related companies in the industry.

These naturally become candidates for the next paying users (pay contracts are necessary when creating projects, such as for new construction or renovation), and at the same time by utilizing this “aspect” there is a good possibility of evolving into an information platform for the construction/architecture industry.

Although it is still in the concept stage, Andpad accumulates a lot of architecture and construction data. Which makers are using which building materials frequently and what are the reactions? This kind of information is, of course, important marketing data for manufacturers and if they can draw some kind of connection with Andpad it will directly affect sales.

Unlike content media such as industry journals, touchpoints are necessary for business, so if the company can provide a well rounded plan it would be a very useful information platform for business operators. Incidentally, Inada declined capital alliances with specified businesses and makers.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s Coinboard, app for managing multiple crypto portfolios, secures $940K

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Logica, the Japanese startup behind the Coinboard multiple crypto portfolio management tool, announced on Wednesday that it has raised 100 million yen (about $942K US) in funding. Participating investors are Ceres, Cyberagent Ventures, Adways, and Monex Ventures. Details such as the payment date and investment ratios were not disclosed. Coinboard allows users to manage their crypto portfolios by linking their registered crypto exchange accounts. As of this writing, the platform supports 10 exchanges in Japan and the rest of the world: Bitbank, BitFlyer, Coincheck, Quoinex, Zaif, Binance, Bittrex, Kraken, Liqui, and Poloniex. The Coinboard platform helps users aggregate their crypto balances, their transaction history, their total asset amount and the like from multiple different exchanges. We’ve seen similar services like Blockfolio and Cryptofolio but these require users to manually input all of their transaction history by themselves, which makes it inconvenient especially for those who trade often. The Coinboard platform has automated this input process using an API (application program interface). Given that other similar crypto platforms like Coin View having also recently supporting the same function, automated data import is becoming essential for a crypto portfolio management platform. Logica was founded in…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Logica, the Japanese startup behind the Coinboard multiple crypto portfolio management tool, announced on Wednesday that it has raised 100 million yen (about $942K US) in funding. Participating investors are Ceres, Cyberagent Ventures, Adways, and Monex Ventures. Details such as the payment date and investment ratios were not disclosed.

Coinboard allows users to manage their crypto portfolios by linking their registered crypto exchange accounts. As of this writing, the platform supports 10 exchanges in Japan and the rest of the world: Bitbank, BitFlyer, Coincheck, Quoinex, Zaif, Binance, Bittrex, Kraken, Liqui, and Poloniex.

The Coinboard platform helps users aggregate their crypto balances, their transaction history, their total asset amount and the like from multiple different exchanges. We’ve seen similar services like Blockfolio and Cryptofolio but these require users to manually input all of their transaction history by themselves, which makes it inconvenient especially for those who trade often.

Logica CEO Masaru Matsunaga

The Coinboard platform has automated this input process using an API (application program interface). Given that other similar crypto platforms like Coin View having also recently supporting the same function, automated data import is becoming essential for a crypto portfolio management platform.

Logica was founded in November of 2015 by Masaru Matsunaga who previously worked for Japanese news curation app Gunosy as an engineer. With the support of angel investors he originally worked on image analysis products. After several trial and errors, including a hotel comparison site, he arrived at Coinboard last summer. At first glance it may seem inconsistent among all the services he had developed to date, but in fact all these were concerned with information aggregation, and are manifestations of Matsunaga’s interest in improving the convenience of amounts of information.

Using the funds raised this time, the company plans to strengthen its engineering capabilities for developing a mobile app as well as integrating the platform with more crypto exchanges including DEX (decentralized exchange).

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Delighted gets $1.1M series A, notifies office workers of visitor arrivals in smarter way

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Delighted, the Japanese startup offering an iPad-powered unmanned reception system called Receptionist, announced on Wednesday that it had fundraised 120 million yen (about $1.13M US) from Daiwa Corporate Investment, Tsuneishi Capital Partners, and an undisclosed private investment partner in a series A round. The investment ratios and payment dates are undisclosed. Receptionist is a cloud-based reception service that substitutes existing messaging tools from Facebook, Slack, etc., through an iPad app for companies that are dependent upon internal landlines. When a visitor chooses a contact person with the iPad app, a notification of the visit is sent directly to his or her messaging tool. It has also a management function to collect the visitor’s information, such as the visitor’s name and company name (only when provided) in addition to the number of visits or visit times by contact person. The company is currently promoting service development and implementation with a team of about 20 people, and will further strengthen its personnel with this funding. Supporting Smartphones to Improve Usability Following the announcement of answering accumulated 10,000 calls at receptions across their user base as of March 2017, the unmanned reception app has steadily increased…

Delighted CEO Mariko Hashimoto
Image credit: Delighted

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Delighted, the Japanese startup offering an iPad-powered unmanned reception system called Receptionist, announced on Wednesday that it had fundraised 120 million yen (about $1.13M US) from Daiwa Corporate Investment, Tsuneishi Capital Partners, and an undisclosed private investment partner in a series A round. The investment ratios and payment dates are undisclosed.

Receptionist is a cloud-based reception service that substitutes existing messaging tools from Facebook, Slack, etc., through an iPad app for companies that are dependent upon internal landlines. When a visitor chooses a contact person with the iPad app, a notification of the visit is sent directly to his or her messaging tool. It has also a management function to collect the visitor’s information, such as the visitor’s name and company name (only when provided) in addition to the number of visits or visit times by contact person.

The company is currently promoting service development and implementation with a team of about 20 people, and will further strengthen its personnel with this funding.

Supporting Smartphones to Improve Usability

The number of visitors as visualized on the management screen of Receptionist
Image credit: Delighted

Following the announcement of answering accumulated 10,000 calls at receptions across their user base as of March 2017, the unmanned reception app has steadily increased their users. It has grown up to 210,000 calls in total as of March this year, and according to Delighted CEO Mariko Hashimoto there are examples among them of companies on a scale of 500 people.

The company is also preparing for new services that are compatible with smartphones. Those that have used Receptionist probably understand, but entering the name of the contact person on the iPad or inputting one’s own name or company name is still troublesome (however, writing it out by hand is more so). It was said that the smartphone app currently under development will eliminate such poor usability, but unfortunately the details cannot be published yet.

Companies customize the reception display and make their own “Face”
Image credit: Delighted

I often come across the unmanned reception app now in my visit to companies. Regarding use cases, some examples include: in a development room when you do not want to put a landline due to the noise it causes, or if you move seats or change the floor layout and do not want to use a landline because they are cumbersome to move around. Essentially, it solves problems often found at companies with a lot of movement, especially Internet-based ones.

On the other hand, I also looked into cases of companies that did not introduce it, and on the contrary, some said they prefer the sound of a landline, and for those companies where internal communication equals telephones with the fixed concept of “telephone families” it appears difficult to accept such a new tool.

As a slight digression, I believe the way people are thinking about the telephone, even around me, has changed considerably. While there are many people taking the “tactless” way of calling suddenly and depriving each other of time for communication purposes, there are also those times where it is better to explain important issues, especially when trouble arises, with voice. With the number of tools increasing, perhaps we have to think more about what’s the right tool for the right place.

Additionally, it appeared the company was considering various uses of the visitor data gradually accumulated in each company. News regarding this will be released as development progresses.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s online fashion giant Start Today sets up R&D arm, pursues best user experience

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See the original story in Japanese. Start Today (TSE:3092), the Japanese company behind online fashion marketplace Zozotown, announced in January that it has set up a project team called Start Today Research (Research for short) as its R&D arm. Yuki Kanayama, CEO of Vasily which was recently acquired by Start Today, will lead the arm and conduct projects leveraging big data owned by the fashion giant. The specific Big Data set as its analysis data include 30 million brand-official product data (product information, category, size, material), 10 million fashion coordination data, 23 million user information (user attribute, purchase history, held items), shop information and distribution-related data, in addition to human body dimension data measurements from Zozosuit as had recently been announced and is seen being accumulated in the future. According to Kanayama, although he cannot disclose details about the current team, he aims to build an organization a few hundred-strong comprising doctorate holders in such fields as machine learning, encryption technology, material science or hydrodynamics, so as to analyze fashion from the scientific perspective in the future. In tandem with the announcement, we held a short interview with Start Today CEO Yusaku Maezawa and Kanayama, inquiring into their objectives in…

L to R: Start Today CEO Yusaku Maezawa, Vasily CEO Yuki Kanayama
Image credit: The Bridge

See the original story in Japanese.

Start Today (TSE:3092), the Japanese company behind online fashion marketplace Zozotown, announced in January that it has set up a project team called Start Today Research (Research for short) as its R&D arm. Yuki Kanayama, CEO of Vasily which was recently acquired by Start Today, will lead the arm and conduct projects leveraging big data owned by the fashion giant.

The specific Big Data set as its analysis data include 30 million brand-official product data (product information, category, size, material), 10 million fashion coordination data, 23 million user information (user attribute, purchase history, held items), shop information and distribution-related data, in addition to human body dimension data measurements from Zozosuit as had recently been announced and is seen being accumulated in the future.

According to Kanayama, although he cannot disclose details about the current team, he aims to build an organization a few hundred-strong comprising doctorate holders in such fields as machine learning, encryption technology, material science or hydrodynamics, so as to analyze fashion from the scientific perspective in the future. In tandem with the announcement, we held a short interview with Start Today CEO Yusaku Maezawa and Kanayama, inquiring into their objectives in establishing Research [interviewer questions indicated in boldface].

Approaching fashion from scientific angle

Zozosuit
Image credit: Start Today

I give due warning; the whole picture of the R&D arm is still unclear. As mentioned above, it is a fact that the firm has been storing an enormous amount of data related to fashion especially in Japan. The data content will enable more multidimensional analysis by adding body dimension data measured by Zozosuit that astonished the world. The two guys explained about the outline of the new arm.

Although Research was introduced with a bit ambiguous expression as “scientific approach of fashion utilizing big data” in the press release, would you explain about the outline of it again?

Kanayama: The purpose of Research is to utilize fashion data including human body dimension data. We will jointly research with external companies or educational organization about what can be grasped from fashion data or how we can utilize it into our service. The output of Start Today is thought to be divided into two types: the one is academic approach via papers or learned societies and the one is to make it into services or products led by companies. As acquiring an enormous amount of data, I would like to improve the state of the world together with outside collaborators.

Is it a R&D department of Start Today?

Maezawa: We had sometimes conducted planning or development as needed, but here we will cover a wide range of R&D activities in Research.

I ask you more about the organization. While Mercari had also announced the establishment of R&D department with detailed research themes or organization scale, how about is that in Research?

Kanayama: We plan to construct a several hundred-scale organization having Ph.D. members, in addition, we will start researching about fact or theory which has not been commercialized. Fashion has both “protection” and “emotion” aspects. The protection aspect is to wear clothes to protect himself against the cold or to cover up himself. The emotion aspect is to lift the spirit or to gain confidence or satisfaction. To meet the emotion aspect, measurement technology is needed, and the size suit must be improved further. We will explore themes about combination or coordination utilizing algorithm, machine learning, or deep learning. If health factor were required for fashion, healthcare field would become one of our research targets.

These data, Kanayama compared to “petroleum”, is just a string if it remains as it was. Refining it and synthesizing it, they turn it into a form available. The direction Research pursues may be to quantify fashion that had been determined based on the sense and to change fashion into a knowledge that everyone can share as common recognition.

Perfect-fitting by one-centimeter pitch

L to R: Start Today CEO Yusaku Maezawa, Vasily CEO Yuki Kanayama
Image credit: The Bridge

What are the specific views the two guys are going to cultivate, while it seems to a big project they imagine? I continued interviewing.

I will ask you about the research contents. For example, Amazon has a simple view like Echo Look, suggesting fashion which suits each user by taking photos. Do you have any specific ideas as outputs from Research?

Kanayama: Yes, we have some plans for services but cannot reveal them now. I want to pursue the point what is cool for him seen from himself just as seen from those around him.

Maezawa: The purpose of Research is to seek the answer to the problem as for what is cool for each user, by suggesting satisfactory fashion that looks cool seen him and also seen from surrounding people. We aim to digitize what is cool and what is cute. Off course, it is important for a user to be satisfied himself, but we want a proof that other people will be sure to admire the fashion enough to recommend them to him.

We will digitize the ambiguous concept of “cool”; for example, a coordination is cool because it is formed by combining this one and that one it is highly evaluated by 85 in 100 people qualitatively. Anyone may be worried about whether clothes will suit him. I think it is important to tell him that it really suits him or looks cool qualitatively to make him positive. To do that, first of all, we want everyone to experience wearing perfect-fitting clothes and to be impressed with them. Then, digitalized data outputted from Research will work as a support. That is our future vision.

As hearing Maezawa’s explanation, I had a dim impression that standardized information related to fashion like “fashion score” will be born from here. Of course, that will be incorporated into the group’s services, but standardized data can be used by external companies too.

Start Today CEO Yusaku Maezawa
Image credit: The Bridge

Let’s continue the interview. If you could acquire any outputs from the data in Research, how the world will change? For example, with the advent of fast fashion represented by Uniqlo, we no longer have difficulties in having clothes just to live. How are they going to change the world?

We no longer have difficulties in having clothes thanks to the advent of fast fashion. On the other hand, ocular changes have occurred in the street; homogeneity in fashion can be seen. What impacts do you expect Research to have?

Maezawa: I think the silhouette of aman wearing T-shirt is an art; it completely differs according to person. In autos’ body lines, there is a ratio called golden section which is digitalized to a certain degree. Similarly, we will try to sublimate the silhouette in a size suitable for each person to an art. I believe there is “a point” of perfection.

Currently, we have been producing T-shirts with size intervals of several centimeters pitch and wish everyone to find their favorite silhouette. An impression of clothes changes greatly only with one-centimeter difference in size, but there had not been such line-ups allowing customers to choose thus far. Few people are particular about one-centimeter difference in clothes, right? That is why I wish them to find their own perfect T-shirts.

Although I cannot refer to Zozosuit because I have not experienced Zozosuit yet, how does it feel to wear a perfect T-shirt?

Kanayama: It makes you positive.

I see.

Should the day arrive when we really can obtain perfect-fitting clothes, we will surely get to enjoy fashion from all over the world via online more easily or more people will gain confidence about one’s own fashion by utilizing the abovementioned Fashion Scoring.

Will it bring another change just as fast fashion created? I would like to wait for their outputs with great interest.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s Lancers raises $9M from HR giant and bank, offers loans to freelance workers

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Lancers, the Japanese startup providing a major crowdsourcing platform under the same name, announced last month that it had raised 1 billion yen (about $9 million) from Persol Holdings (TSE:2181) and Shinsei Bank (TSE:8303). Concluding business partnership contracts with both companies concurrently, Lancers will commence its new financing business targeting freelance workers. According to Lancers, the current number of freelancers in Japan is 11.22 million comprising 17% of the entire working population, showing a 5% increase from last year. It is said that more and more Japanese workers are coming to choose a ‘new work style’ which is neither full-time nor contract work. On the other hand, Persol Group, one of the investors this time, has developed various businesses that enhance job mobility of the Japanese working population, by using temporary staff company Tempstaff (TSE:2476) or staffing agency Persol Career (TSE:4757, formerly known as Intelligence) that it owns. While the two companies had been affiliated through investment via Persol Career, by adding Shinsei Bank into this framework, they aim to develop and provide a new loan service to individual workers who need equipment investment or education / training upon starting new business. At…

Yosuke Akiyoshi, CEO of Lancers

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Lancers, the Japanese startup providing a major crowdsourcing platform under the same name, announced last month that it had raised 1 billion yen (about $9 million) from Persol Holdings (TSE:2181) and Shinsei Bank (TSE:8303). Concluding business partnership contracts with both companies concurrently, Lancers will commence its new financing business targeting freelance workers.

According to Lancers, the current number of freelancers in Japan is 11.22 million comprising 17% of the entire working population, showing a 5% increase from last year. It is said that more and more Japanese workers are coming to choose a ‘new work style’ which is neither full-time nor contract work. On the other hand, Persol Group, one of the investors this time, has developed various businesses that enhance job mobility of the Japanese working population, by using temporary staff company Tempstaff (TSE:2476) or staffing agency Persol Career (TSE:4757, formerly known as Intelligence) that it owns.

While the two companies had been affiliated through investment via Persol Career, by adding Shinsei Bank into this framework, they aim to develop and provide a new loan service to individual workers who need equipment investment or education / training upon starting new business.

At the press conference held last April, Lancers announced that its sales in 2016 exceeded 2.1 billion yen and then revealed a new concept of Open Talent Platform as its business strategy out of an otherwise conventional online work matching platform. It presented several action plans for gearing up of its service operation as part of the concept, such as start of individual skill matching platform Pook or the spin-off of Quant for corporate customers.

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The loan business to individuals announced this time is an extension of the concept, and is expected to be a system enabling individual workers to receive credit examination or third-party evaluation as with full-time workers. Specifically, they plan to visualize individual workers’ skill or work style as ‘Talent Score’ based on evaluation data accumulated by Persol Group or Lancers, and input it into business activities leveraging Shinsei Bank’s financial know-how.

Yohsuke Akiyoshi, CEO of Lancers, explained that the firm will jointly develop Talent Score as an evaluation criterion for the establishment of ‘Lancer Economies’:

Our cumulative fundraised amount is 2.3 billion yen (about $21 million) including this round. I see the two companies as partners to establish Talent Score together in order to increase freelancers’ working option under the framework of Open Talent Platform.

With Persol Holdings, we will jointly develop an evaluation system of freelancer’s work style and skill. Even in Lancers or Persol, full-time workers taking up freelance works as side jobs have been appearing.

Akiyoshi said the kind of workers that are expected to benefit most through this business partnership is those who hold full-time jobs and freelance work concurrently, called ‘parallel worker’:

Conventionally, work contents or performance evaluation were completely separated between the main job and the extra job.

However, in the economic area we are going to create, users can receive higher salary in their main job reflecting feedback of the subsidiary job performance at Lancers, or vice versa.

With the other partner Shinsei Bank, Lancers plans to carry out activities related to credit examination based on the score, according to Akiyoshi:

We also develop Talent Score with Shinsei Bank. Although Lancers has own unique data, the bank has a strength in individual credit data in terms of quality and quantity.

By cooperating with the institution, we will upgrade Talent Score and invest in Lancers users who are scored at a certain level, in order to change the current situation where it is harder for freelancers to borrow money than full-time workers. Imagine how we can improve their work style together as well as their life generally.

With respect to the concept of scoring individuals, Japan’s Crowd Works had also announced a similar lending service called Crowd Cash. The two players seem to lead the construction of infrastructure surrounding the Japanese new work style now in formation.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s MiddleField secures $2.2M to drive customer traffic to autoparts makers, shops

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based MiddleField, operating the auto parts database website Garage, announced back in December that it had raised 250 million yen ($2.2 million) from Femto Growth Fund 2.0. The detail of the investment including share ratio is not disclosed. Femto Growth Fund 2.0 is managed by Femto Growth Capital where Tetsuya Isozaki acts as General Partner. Garage provides information about auto parts from engine to exterior by category / manufacturer, used for dressing-up or tuning-up of autos for race or enjoyment. When a user chooses a car model on the website, the car is displayed by linking with information about each additional part, allowing him / her to make inquiries for purchasing. Currently, Garage covers 1,500 brands and is tied up with 300 shops which deal with attachable aftermarket parts. Garage does not only provide auto parts information, but also intermediates between purchase wishers and shops supporting mounting work to allow users to get reservation. Shota Nakayama, CEO of MiddleField, says most of its users visit Garage by smartphone: Like other industries, the major inflow path is the search with smartphone shifted from magazine in this field as well, and 80% of our users visit…

Garage
Image credit: MiddleField

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based MiddleField, operating the auto parts database website Garage, announced back in December that it had raised 250 million yen ($2.2 million) from Femto Growth Fund 2.0. The detail of the investment including share ratio is not disclosed. Femto Growth Fund 2.0 is managed by Femto Growth Capital where Tetsuya Isozaki acts as General Partner.

Garage provides information about auto parts from engine to exterior by category / manufacturer, used for dressing-up or tuning-up of autos for race or enjoyment. When a user chooses a car model on the website, the car is displayed by linking with information about each additional part, allowing him / her to make inquiries for purchasing.

Garage
Image credit: MiddleField

Currently, Garage covers 1,500 brands and is tied up with 300 shops which deal with attachable aftermarket parts. Garage does not only provide auto parts information, but also intermediates between purchase wishers and shops supporting mounting work to allow users to get reservation. Shota Nakayama, CEO of MiddleField, says most of its users visit Garage by smartphone:

Like other industries, the major inflow path is the search with smartphone shifted from magazine in this field as well, and 80% of our users visit Garage with smartphone. The purchase wishers of auto parts tend to take enough time to consider which parts to choose within the budget. Although they formerly used to collect information mainly from magazines, magazines are not suitable for carrying and covering information only about a part of auto makers, so that they have come to search with smartphone.

The author of this article also likes cars and have purchased such magazines covering parts information (have not attached parts though). As the main information gathering means having shifted from magazine to smartphone, a certain format is needed to overcome problems such as underdevelopment of shops’ website or complexity of information about attachment means or costs, and Garage aims to fill in the blank. According to Nakayama, the firm plans to renew the website early this year.

 

MiddleField was founded in December of 2015 by Nakayama, who had experienced business development in the racing team Lexus Team Sard which participated in many races, and have developed auto-related media Motorz.

In 2017, with Garage, the firm took part in the Asahi Shimbun Accelerator Program, an acceleration program by the Japanese major newspaper company Asahi Shimbun. After its Demo Day, the service was showcased at Incubate Camp 10th held by Incubate Fund or StarBurst managed by ProtoStar, and was highly evaluated by investors.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy