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

How do you create a strong management team? Japanese internet execs discuss.

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See the original story in Japanese. Below is a condensed, translated version. For startups in their launching phase, sometimes the founders may have interpersonal issues, and the team may fall apart as a result. In order to find some insight from some of Japan’s more successful companies, we recently heard from the executives of three Japanese internet giants, giving us a behind-the-scenes look at their management systems. The panel, which took place at last week’s Infinity Ventures Summit, included: Yoshikazu Tanaka, CEO at GREE Kotaro Yamagishi, executive vice president at GREE Yusuke Hidaka, vice president at CyberAgent Tetesuhito Soyama, managing director at CyberAgent Yasuhiro Hagino, managing director at Mixi Yuichi Kawasaki, executive officer at Mixi Moderator: Etsuko Okajima, CEO at Pronova Most executives at GREE have been working together for a long time. Yoshikazu Tanaka, the company’s CEO explains: GREE’s Tanaka: At some companies, growth heavily relies on the founder’s effort. I previously worked at Rakuten where I saw how Hiroshi Mikitani managed the company, I sometimes wanted to work in a way that followed his management style. From my perspective, mobility of personnel is not essential as long as the company keeps growing. But for a startup founder, if…

japanese executives

See the original story in Japanese. Below is a condensed, translated version.

For startups in their launching phase, sometimes the founders may have interpersonal issues, and the team may fall apart as a result. In order to find some insight from some of Japan’s more successful companies, we recently heard from the executives of three Japanese internet giants, giving us a behind-the-scenes look at their management systems. The panel, which took place at last week’s Infinity Ventures Summit, included:

  • Yoshikazu Tanaka, CEO at GREE
  • Kotaro Yamagishi, executive vice president at GREE
  • Yusuke Hidaka, vice president at CyberAgent
  • Tetesuhito Soyama, managing director at CyberAgent
  • Yasuhiro Hagino, managing director at Mixi
  • Yuichi Kawasaki, executive officer at Mixi
  • Moderator: Etsuko Okajima, CEO at Pronova

Most executives at GREE have been working together for a long time. Yoshikazu Tanaka, the company’s CEO explains:

GREE’s Tanaka: At some companies, growth heavily relies on the founder’s effort. I previously worked at Rakuten where I saw how Hiroshi Mikitani managed the company, I sometimes wanted to work in a way that followed his management style. From my perspective, mobility of personnel is not essential as long as the company keeps growing. But for a startup founder, if you still keep a large stake in your company, your management board does not work anymore – because all the other board members do is just follow your judgment.

To avoid this particular issue, GREE is working on adding external people to its board of directors.

GREE’s Yamagishi: Our business has been rapidly expanding in the last few years, we actually have many issues to address in our management process. Recently we invited someone new to our board of directors, and asked him to provide some general business advice. He’s 65 years old but has been working in the global manufacturing business.

CEO Tanaka described the external director as a sort of mirror, since he can restrain himself based on things that person points out. When asked by the moderator about a possible change of board members, Tanaka responded he would add more people as the company becomes larger.

In a contrast with GREE, CyberAgent takes a different approach to deliver a improved and efficient management. The system is called CA8, and changes the board members every two years. This was deployed to eliminate employees’ anxiety that they might have no chance to join the board of directors in the future.

CyberAgent’s Hidaka: Our CEO Fujita has alone decided everything about the CA8 system. He said we would create the rules of personnel management and employee welfare from the scratch. If a rule works appropriately, we’ll keep using it in the company. To be honest, the system has some negative effects, but the positive aspects surpass the negative one.

A person from the audience asked if the company has any intention to invite a non-employee to become an executive at a future subsidiary. In response, Hidaka explained:

CyberAgent’s Hidaka: For an entrepreneur running a startup, if you can understand our corporate culture, we can acquire your startup and invite you to our team, which will work well. We haven’t yet done this because we haven’t found such a high-potential talent or startup. We are used to growing a business with our own employees rather than acquiring new business from outside the company. This trend will continue.

Perhaps by this he means that the company requires no drastic changes as long as its business keeps growing.

Mixi’s Ogino: Unlike the other two companies, our growth is in a crucial stage right now. In this situation, some of our employees started to stand in the way of their most competitive colleagues. That is unfortunate. In the beginning of 2010, my previous company was acquired and I joined the team. At that time our people were always following what their boss said, and they had no interest in competing with other internet companies or aiming for the top in the global markets.

In the crucial moments for management or executives, unless you change your mind significantly, your people are likely to see that you are not seriously determined to make things happen. But I learned the entire company may change if a small number of people change their mind.

Mixi acquired Naked Technology back in 2011, and Kamado in 2012. Those startups’ co-founders Yusuke Asakura and Yuichi Kawasaki joined Mixi, and now its board is filled with experienced entrepreneurs.

MugenUp: Disrupting the anime production industry with a crowdsourced workforce

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See the original story in Japanese. The anime business consists of many fundamental tasks, such as rough drawing, storyboard writing, and painting. Even for digitalized anime productions, these tasks still exist. It’s not the most efficient process, and can result in a harsh work environment for many who are employed in the industry. But now there’s a startup that may change all that. It’s called Mugenup. In our recent interview with its CEO Ryota Ichioka, he told us the company has acquired several thousands of crowdsourced workers, and with rapid growth thus far, it could hit 20,000 by the end of this year. The emergence of vertical crowdsourcing sites Japan’s crowdsourcing market is pretty hot right now. Crowdworks is showing good numbers, and Lancers recently completed a big funding round. We asked Ichioka to share some figures on their business, and while he couldn’t go into specifics, he says they are generating revenue in the tens of thousands of dollars every month. This is despite the fact that the startup is less than one year old. In contrast with general-purposed crowdsourcing sites like Crowdworks or Lancers, Mugenup is far more niche with its focus on anime. It functions as an…

mugenup_screenshot1

See the original story in Japanese.

The anime business consists of many fundamental tasks, such as rough drawing, storyboard writing, and painting. Even for digitalized anime productions, these tasks still exist. It’s not the most efficient process, and can result in a harsh work environment for many who are employed in the industry. But now there’s a startup that may change all that. It’s called Mugenup.

In our recent interview with its CEO Ryota Ichioka, he told us the company has acquired several thousands of crowdsourced workers, and with rapid growth thus far, it could hit 20,000 by the end of this year.

The emergence of vertical crowdsourcing sites

Japan’s crowdsourcing market is pretty hot right now. Crowdworks is showing good numbers, and Lancers recently completed a big funding round. We asked Ichioka to share some figures on their business, and while he couldn’t go into specifics, he says they are generating revenue in the tens of thousands of dollars every month. This is despite the fact that the startup is less than one year old.

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Some artwork on the Mugenup website

In contrast with general-purposed crowdsourcing sites like Crowdworks or Lancers, Mugenup is far more niche with its focus on anime. It functions as an intermediary between clients and crowdsourced workers, helping both parties match up with the other much easier than they could before.

Until March of 2012, the startup was developing social gaming apps. But unfortunately that plan didn’t work so well. So they shifted their target client slightly to focus more on mobile game developers.

Most of the projects they’ve dealt with have been single-picture illustrations, but it’s gradually changing to character designs or 2D drawings for Unity, a gaming app integration environment for smartphone.

Things are tough for mobile game studios recently, and most would like to avoid to increase their amount of full-time workers, which means they have to rely on freelance animators or outsourced illustrators. But while most gaming studios typically have in-house programmers, they usually have just a few animators or artists. Ichioka adds:

In addition to individual workers, about 50 studios are registered on our service to receive crowdsourced orders from us, they typically create content for pachinko machines or animated films, but they usually work on our crowdsourced projects during their downtime. In terms of making the most of that downtime, our business model is sort of similar to Raksul, a discount printing startup that makes use of printing factories during their downtime.

Mugenup is a 30-person team for now, and about 20 of those are professional art directors, all comfortable providing directions to crowdsourced animators or illustrators.

For many crowdsourcing sites, what’s the most important is how to create an environment where clients and crowdsourced workers can efficiently work on projects together. At Mugenup, directors use a chat system to communicate with crowdsourced workers, monitor the production process, and give workers revision requests if needed. Surprisingly, production management processes are standardized and workers’ skill sets are well managed.

mugenup_screenshot2

Their retention rate for such crowdsourced workers is as much as 60%, which indicates they are highly motivated. Mugenup plans extend its business beyond Japan and to start receiving orders from publishing companies or cartoonists later on.

Some project tasks are difficult to split among different crowdsourced workers. Such tasks include rough sketches or storyboard writing, which are typically an important step to determine the overall character design. To get past this obstacle, the startup asks clients to pick their favorite crowdsourced animators before placing an order, one who fits their taste exactly.

Mugenup has each client fill out a checklist, recording why they have chosen a certain animator. This process helps when placing future orders, because if a client complains that an outcome is not what they expected, they are asked to update form to give better results that can more accurately fit their preference. This process takes some time, but it definitely helps business proceed more efficiently overall. Ichioka further adds:

We believe possible to make our business more scalable, and we’ll be extending our offerings to include three-dimensional or characters in motion as well. […] In this internet era, we are aspiring to build up a new business that leverages fine Japanese craftsmanship.

He hopes that his company can go public in a few years. And given his success so far, it will certainly be a company to watch in the future.

Mugenup was launched in June of 2011, received a seed funding from Incubate Fund in December of 2011, subsequently fundraised 100 million yen (approximately $1 milllion) from Nissay Capital.

CyberAgent CEO Susumu Fujita chats with Japanese entrepreneurs about their journey

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See this story in Japanese. Below are selected excerpts from the original. This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo, Japan. You can read more of our reports from this event here. In this panel, CyberAgent CEO Susumu Fujita spoke with five young Japanese entrepreneurs to find out more about how they got to where they are today. Participants in the discussion included: Riki Kojima, CEO of Willgate (an SEO solution provider) Nobuhiro Ariyasu, CEO of Coach United (a private lesson provider) Shintaro Otake, the CEO of Tri-fort (social app and smartphone app developer) Kensuke Furukawa, the CEO of Nanapi (an archive of how-to and daily tips) Natsuko Shiraki, the CEO of Hasuna (jeweler) Startup strategies in the face of hardships Otake: I intended to take a radical approach in order to make it successful. I set a target that we surpass Facebook, and I learned that we need radical and rapid growth to reach that goal. Kojima: At the age of 20, my company was still two years old but employed too many people, even though I didn’t have much business experience at that time. With our 100 million yen funding ($1 million), I…

See this story in Japanese. Below are selected excerpts from the original.

This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo, Japan. You can read more of our reports from this event here.


In this panel, CyberAgent CEO Susumu Fujita spoke with five young Japanese entrepreneurs to find out more about how they got to where they are today. Participants in the discussion included:

  • Riki Kojima, CEO of Willgate (an SEO solution provider)
  • Nobuhiro Ariyasu, CEO of Coach United (a private lesson provider)
  • Shintaro Otake, the CEO of Tri-fort (social app and smartphone app developer)
  • Kensuke Furukawa, the CEO of Nanapi (an archive of how-to and daily tips)
  • Natsuko Shiraki, the CEO of Hasuna (jeweler)

Startup strategies in the face of hardships

Otake: I intended to take a radical approach in order to make it successful. I set a target that we surpass Facebook, and I learned that we need radical and rapid growth to reach that goal.

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Willgate’s CEO Riki Kojima

Kojima: At the age of 20, my company was still two years old but employed too many people, even though I didn’t have much business experience at that time. With our 100 million yen funding ($1 million), I hired 30 people but the company unexpectedly collapsed too soon. Subsequently I found a colleague’s chat post that mentioned ‘I shouldn’t work with this company.”

Fujita: What are the advantages and disadvantages of launching your business when attending school?

Kojima: I had no business experience, so that I couldn’t figure out what was the best approach. I was forced to take a roundabout route and fail repeatedly. I’m still young, so people tend to see me as an immature business person, but in fact this makes me better at feeling people’s pains.

Monetization and business strategies

Fujita to Furukawa: I frequently visit your blog, and I know you’re quite good at writing stories. You, the company’s president, often show up on the web. What is there to gain from that?

Nanapi's CEO Kensuke Furukawa
Nanapi CEO Kensuke Furukawa

Furukawa: If you’re running an internet service, you should be familiar with the space. But on the other hand, it was once pointed out at an important business appointment that I might have too much time to spare. Many employee applicants come to us through my blog. Compared to applicants we find through talent search services, they are highly motivated and bring much benefit to our business.

Fujita: For today’s business owners, your blogging strategy makes sense. Not only to help your hiring efforts, but it may also help you bring your vision and message to employees as well. But what’s your overall strategy behind Nanapi? Are you just focused on growing it without considering monetization? Do you plan to sell it off to other companies?

Furukawa: In order to monetize the service, we need to make it grow. We have 20 million monthly unique users, not yet sufficient for the monetization. In Japan, if you monetize an internet service, it should be among the top 50 sites in the country in terms of internet traffic. Some web media companies have succeeded to monetize, but my interest is in making big stuff.

Coach United's CEO Nobuhiro Ariyasu
Coach United CEO Nobuhiro Ariyasu

Fujita: In my view, Cyta.jp (Coach United’s private lessons portal) is not very ‘Internettish’. How do you feel about it?

Ariyasu: No, our operations are not ‘Internettish’, as you say. For many online service providers, you typically send inquires to consumers to find out if they are satisfied with the customer experience. We actually use mystery shoppers to conduct surveys. In case that we can’t acquire users by e-mail marketing, sometimes even use telephone marketing.

Entrepreneurial culture in Japan

Fujita to Furukawa: Gradually we’re getting a culture where people admire exits. Do you plan to run your business independently without funding? Or are you interested in selling off?

Furukawa: We actually fundraised from Globis Venture Partners. In terms of our business model, our focus is on enlarging our media business. Selling off is a good option. But for now, we’d like to look at buying someone else’s service in order to enlarge our business.

I developed the Nanapi service because I couldn’t find any similar one. In our four-year experience since the launch, I eventually learned that it’s not so promising. Everyone wanted to have it but nobody actually did it, since it’s a bother.

Fujita: In Japan, entrepreneurs are generally not admired much. What do you think about this?

Furukawa: In my understanding, Japan is a country where we can easily launch a startup. We can also receive orders from big companies regardless of the size or maturity of the business. Compared to foreign countries, startup founders in Japan are relatively older, probably because we (generally) prefer to launch a business after getting work experience at a big company. For me, I’ve worked at Recruit for three years, which I think helps me do business more easily. If you are a student, people typically look down on you.

Kojima: When I failed in my business, I was bothered by the issues surrounding capitalization strategy and employment. I wanted more details about this information. I failed once but I bounced back even though I was immature. I hope our society can be tolerant of people who fail.

Ariyasu: Japan is heaven for entrepreneurs. Considering the huge amount of cash flow available in the market, the population of entrepreneurs going after that cash is extremely low. We need more success stories than we need government efforts to help entrepreneurship. If we get more billionaires, more people will get excited about entrepreneurship.

Fujita: Absolutely. If we have more success stories, that will certainly have an impact on people’s mindsets.

IMGP7076
Tri-fort CEO Shintaro Otake

Otake finishes by asking Fujita a question: When are you planning to retire? What kind of people would you want to hand the company over to?

Fujita: To be honest, I’ve been always thinking [about] stepping down — when our business became profitable, when we completed the launch of Ameba (CyberAgent’s blog service). But the fact is, every time that we make an achievement, another new goal comes up.

For our media business especially, I was heavily involved in building it up. I did too much, and now I can’t really hand it over to someone else. (big laugh from the audience.)

How can Line monetize its 150 million users?

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See the original story in Japanese. This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo, Japan. You can read more of our reports from this event here. In contrast with that GREE and Mobage (by DeNA) who released a wide range of web-based game titles, native apps are grabbing much more attention, notably Puzzle & Dragons and Line’s repertoire of gaming apps. But can their revenue be sustained? And how will they lead the smartphone app market? We had a chance to hear from Jun Masuda, chief officer at Line Corporation, where he spoke about how to monetize apps and open the platform to the third-party developers. According to the stats from App Annie CEO Bertrand Schmitt, the Line app was ranked in 4th as of last March, based on consolidated global revenues from the iOS Appstore and Google Play. Masuda: For message app developers, you usually make money by selling stickers, ads, and charging for derivative services. For social network providers, you may might make your living with advertising. But if you rely only on that revenue stream, it’s far too difficult to sustain your business. It’s important to mix up revenue streams, both…

IMGP7018

See the original story in Japanese.

This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo, Japan. You can read more of our reports from this event here.


In contrast with that GREE and Mobage (by DeNA) who released a wide range of web-based game titles, native apps are grabbing much more attention, notably Puzzle & Dragons and Line’s repertoire of gaming apps. But can their revenue be sustained? And how will they lead the smartphone app market?

We had a chance to hear from Jun Masuda, chief officer at Line Corporation, where he spoke about how to monetize apps and open the platform to the third-party developers.

According to the stats from App Annie CEO Bertrand Schmitt, the Line app was ranked in 4th as of last March, based on consolidated global revenues from the iOS Appstore and Google Play.

IMGP7037

Masuda: For message app developers, you usually make money by selling stickers, ads, and charging for derivative services. For social network providers, you may might make your living with advertising. But if you rely only on that revenue stream, it’s far too difficult to sustain your business. It’s important to mix up revenue streams, both charging users and with advertising, and keep that in balance. Sale of stickers is showing good numbers, and the app is ranked in first place if you exclude gaming apps, both on the Google Play and the iOS app store.

Popular stickers, popular characters

Masuda: We’ve had success acquiring users in the Thai market, so non-Japanese also like this concept of decorative communications, adding stickers in chat. Our revenue comes primarily from the Japanese market. Prices for our stickers are common in all around the world. Prices are relatively high for Thai users, but they still like to buy the stickers.

In terms of sticker sale trends, we’re not seeing any apparent gap between the globally version and locally-optimized versions. A sticker showing familiar characters, Brown & Cony, is the best selling one in the global markets. In the countries where local people typically watch Japanese animation films or understand what kawaii means, the Line app business does well. In the rest of the world, however, business is not so good.

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Make the most of 150 million users

Masuda: In the latter half of last year, the Line Pop app was the best selling of our gaming apps. For games there have been 140 million downloads, and 25 titles. I can’t disclose revenue numbers, but our strategy is to acquire new gaming users on the Line user base.

We intend to keep introducing titles that female users will like, but we carefully set prices that won’t force them to pay too much. They typically play the games where they like to talk with someone over the phone. We’ll try to think further on how to monetize.

If an app has its name associated with the Line app, it usually has a very high rank in the app store. Prior to the launching the app in the gaming app category, we check if the app behaves as intended, and assure the quality of its user experience.

Opening the platform to third-party developers

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Line’s Jun Masuda

Masuda: We are actually receiving many inquires about opening the platform to third-party developers. But there’s no plan for the time being. As we’ve been doing until now, we’ll work with partner developers who have ideas on what kind of games are suitable for Line users. We shutdown the in-company gaming studio team back in April. Kakao has more than 200 gaming titles, which makes me feel the life-cycle of a title is getting shorter. We’re now carefully thinking what to do next.

For more information on the growth of Line, please check out our interactive Line Timeline which chronicles its growth from its launch back in 2011 up until the present day.

Japanese mobile livestreaming app TwitCasting raises $634,000

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese mobile livestreaming app TwitCasting announced today that it has raised 64.8 million yen (approximately $634,000) from East Ventures, as well as Japanese serial entrepreneur Masao Ito who runs a web traffic analysis startup called User Local. In addition, East Ventures’ co-founding partner Taiga Matsuyama and Masao Ito will join the board of directors for TwitCasting. TwitCasting was launched back in February of 2010 by Moi Corp. When we got in touch with the company back in March, CEO Yoski Akamatsu explained that the app’s userbase has significantly grown since the latter half of 2012, acquiring more than 200,000 users every month. The number of users is currently 2.4 million, and it’s expected to surpass 4 million by the end of this fiscal year. As the userbase continues to skyrocket, the startup has been suffering from a lack of resources in terms of infrastructure management and system developments. Akamatsu explains that they decided to pursue funding to intensify engineering resources so they could improve the service’s back-end. He added: If our user base keep growing at this pace, it will definitely be about 4 million people soon. With this funding, we will hire more engineers and form a sound…

twitcasting_screenshot

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese mobile livestreaming app TwitCasting announced today that it has raised 64.8 million yen (approximately $634,000) from East Ventures, as well as Japanese serial entrepreneur Masao Ito who runs a web traffic analysis startup called User Local. In addition, East Ventures’ co-founding partner Taiga Matsuyama and Masao Ito will join the board of directors for TwitCasting.

TwitCasting was launched back in February of 2010 by Moi Corp. When we got in touch with the company back in March, CEO Yoski Akamatsu explained that the app’s userbase has significantly grown since the latter half of 2012, acquiring more than 200,000 users every month. The number of users is currently 2.4 million, and it’s expected to surpass 4 million by the end of this fiscal year.

As the userbase continues to skyrocket, the startup has been suffering from a lack of resources in terms of infrastructure management and system developments. Akamatsu explains that they decided to pursue funding to intensify engineering resources so they could improve the service’s back-end. He added:

If our user base keep growing at this pace, it will definitely be about 4 million people soon. With this funding, we will hire more engineers and form a sound development team. When we actually reach the target [of 4 million], we will look ahead to our next goal.

Taiga Matsuyama added his thoughts:

I’ve known Yoski since 2006, and his expertise are admired [by many other engineers]. The service’s user base is also rapidly growing and has also penetrated the overseas market as well. We’ll work with him to help them accelerate their business much further. I believe TwitCasting is a rare but precious startup that has big potential in the English-speaking community or even in the Asian region.

Interestingly, they actually are seeing 10% of their traffic coming from Brazil. Yoski isn’t exactly sure why this is the case, but he also related a curious story about how traffic saw a big drop at when school started in April in Japan.

I called it “the school-entry season shock”. Most likely our users must be busy making new friends, so that they didn’t set aside time to livecast [with the app].

Currently Twitcasting is getting revenue from advertising and charging paid users. In terms the breakdown of mobile platforms, they have a more traffic from Android than iPhone.

Japanese crowdsourcing marketplace Lancers raises $2.9 million

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese crowsourcing marketplace Lancers announced today that it has raised 300 million yen ($2.9 million) from Globis Capital Partners (GCP) and GMO Venture Partners (GMO-VP). Coinciding with this funding, GCP partner Shinichi Takamiya has joined Lancers’ the board of directors. Readers may recall that we previously wrote about Lancers back in April. Since the service launched in 2008, it has acquired about 140,000 members (crowdsourced workers) and has transactioned about 7 billion yen ($68.3 million). The amount of the transactions reached 3.5 billion yen ($34.2 million) in the previous fiscal year, which is same amount as its total dealings up to that point (i.e. from 2008 and 2011). The company recently moved its headquarters from Shibuya to Kamakura, just outside of Tokyo. Why now? Lancers’ CEO Yosuke Akiyoshi explained why they raised funds at this particular point: Our business is growing well, and we’re not suffering from cash flow issues. However, we made up our minds to fundraise so we can massively speed up our business at this time. […] Now we need to focus on standardizing the format of crowdsourcing projects. By enhancing its database of crowdsourcing workers, the startup is now exploring…

c178bae1ca44b6abbe9e745f61da610b

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese crowsourcing marketplace Lancers announced today that it has raised 300 million yen ($2.9 million) from Globis Capital Partners (GCP) and GMO Venture Partners (GMO-VP). Coinciding with this funding, GCP partner Shinichi Takamiya has joined Lancers’ the board of directors. Readers may recall that we previously wrote about Lancers back in April.

Since the service launched in 2008, it has acquired about 140,000 members (crowdsourced workers) and has transactioned about 7 billion yen ($68.3 million). The amount of the transactions reached 3.5 billion yen ($34.2 million) in the previous fiscal year, which is same amount as its total dealings up to that point (i.e. from 2008 and 2011).

The company recently moved its headquarters from Shibuya to Kamakura, just outside of Tokyo.

Why now?

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Lancers’ CEO Yosuke Akiyoshi

Lancers’ CEO Yosuke Akiyoshi explained why they raised funds at this particular point:

Our business is growing well, and we’re not suffering from cash flow issues. However, we made up our minds to fundraise so we can massively speed up our business at this time. […] Now we need to focus on standardizing the format of crowdsourcing projects.

By enhancing its database of crowdsourcing workers, the startup is now exploring partnerships with other category-focused crowdsourcing services such as ADFlow (crowdsourcing banner ad design) or MugenUp (crowdsouring illustration or cartoon-drawing work).

Cultivating local workers in local markets

Regarding expanding their business in local markets, he explains:

In order to make our business grow further, I believe it’s also important to help freelancers grow. They aren’t our employees but we need to invest in cultivating these workforces. If you compare outsourcing tasks to overseas markets with doing so in local markets, there will be no significant gap in terms of cost. But there’s a big gap in the volume of the tasks between the two. We’d like to gather more users and partners by promoting the new freelance working style as well as our own platform.

The startup is planning to launch a new system in the future, where they will conduct interviews to find potential leaders among freelancers at many locations across the country. They will be approved as ‘qualified freelancers’ and lead projects with other workers located at various locations.

People typically see crowdsourcing as a sort of quick and dirty solution. To overcome this stigma, Akiyoshi plans to increase the amount of quality deals on the marketplace.

We actually get more offers from corporate users, [although] we’re haven’t intensified our sales efforts. Once a company uses our service, we’ve seen that its subsidiaries or group companies follow suit.

The company also plans to provide further support to workers, with health insurance or welfare services, and from a freelancer’s point of view that certainly helps make this sort of work become an attractive option.

Japanese knowledge sharing site Qiita could reach as many as half the nation’s programmers

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See the original story in Japanese. Qiita is a knowledge sharing platform for programmers, a place where they can exchange information and code snippets in order to learn from each other. It has been growing well too, as Increments Inc (the company behind Qiita) announced yesterday that the platform has reached the 20,000 user milestone, boasting about 220,000 monthly unique visitors too. Coinciding with this announcement, the startup also launched brand new service called ‘Qiita Team’, which allows users to share knowledge among a closed group. Qiita was initially launched back in September of 2011, as part of the fourth batch of Open Network Lab incubation program. Of course on a global level, Github is the social coding community with almost 3 million engineers — but there is no overwhelming favorite in Japan [1]. Qiita is quite niche but is dominating this space for now. Interestingly, according to the startup’s designer and co-founder Tomoya Konishi, recent surveys indicate that there are about 400,000 programmers working in the Japanese IT industry [2]. Given that Qiita’s total monthly unique visitors is 220,000, that roughly accounts for 50% of the entire population of Japanese programmers. In addition to Qiita Team, the company has…

register-user-graph-en

See the original story in Japanese.

Qiita is a knowledge sharing platform for programmers, a place where they can exchange information and code snippets in order to learn from each other. It has been growing well too, as Increments Inc (the company behind Qiita) announced yesterday that the platform has reached the 20,000 user milestone, boasting about 220,000 monthly unique visitors too.

Coinciding with this announcement, the startup also launched brand new service called ‘Qiita Team’, which allows users to share knowledge among a closed group.

Qiita was initially launched back in September of 2011, as part of the fourth batch of Open Network Lab incubation program. Of course on a global level, Github is the social coding community with almost 3 million engineers — but there is no overwhelming favorite in Japan [1]. Qiita is quite niche but is dominating this space for now.

Interestingly, according to the startup’s designer and co-founder Tomoya Konishi, recent surveys indicate that there are about 400,000 programmers working in the Japanese IT industry [2]. Given that Qiita’s total monthly unique visitors is 220,000, that roughly accounts for 50% of the entire population of Japanese programmers.

In addition to Qiita Team, the company has also launched a job/talent matching site called ‘Qiita Carrer’. But how does the company intend to monetize all these services? Konishi explains:

Qitta Career is a gateway for our partner recruiting companies which might be a suitable fit for our users as they advance their careers. We’re currently exploring other business models too by adding some features.

If Qiita can reach half of the country’s programmers, the startup likely has a promising future.

qiita


  1. Although Github itself is certainly a favorite here too.  ↩

  2. The figure comes from a white paper on IT human resources in Japan by Japan’s IT Promotion Agency.  ↩

Japanese fashion startup Muse & Co raises $3.4 million

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See the original story in Japanese. Here’s more news from Japan’s fashion commerce space. Apparel-focused, flash marketing startup Muse & Co has announced that it has raised series B funding worth 350 million yen, or about $3.4 million. Investors include Itochu Technology Ventures, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, and Infinity Ventures Partners (IVP). According to IVP’s managing partner Masashi Kobayashi, this round brings the total money raised by the startup to a sum of approximately 500 million yen ($5 million). Previously, IVP invested in the startup back in May of 2012. Consumers love fashion startups To see a seed-stage startup fundraise such a huge amount, it reminds us that there’s a real trend emerging at the intersection of fashion, e-commerce, and smartphones. Some of our readers will remember, for example, mobile commerce startup Origami also raised about the same amount last month. Muse & Co is a members-only flash sale site that gives users a substantial discount off the market price for a limited time. In Japan, there are some similar sites in this space. Gilt Groupe has been operating a joint venture with Softbank since 2008. Other competitors include Glamour Sales, Brands for Friends, and Monoco. According to startup’s CEO Hirotake…

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See the original story in Japanese.

Here’s more news from Japan’s fashion commerce space. Apparel-focused, flash marketing startup Muse & Co has announced that it has raised series B funding worth 350 million yen, or about $3.4 million. Investors include Itochu Technology Ventures, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, and Infinity Ventures Partners (IVP).

According to IVP’s managing partner Masashi Kobayashi, this round brings the total money raised by the startup to a sum of approximately 500 million yen ($5 million). Previously, IVP invested in the startup back in May of 2012.

Consumers love fashion startups

To see a seed-stage startup fundraise such a huge amount, it reminds us that there’s a real trend emerging at the intersection of fashion, e-commerce, and smartphones. Some of our readers will remember, for example, mobile commerce startup Origami also raised about the same amount last month.

Muse & Co is a members-only flash sale site that gives users a substantial discount off the market price for a limited time. In Japan, there are some similar sites in this space. Gilt Groupe has been operating a joint venture with Softbank since 2008. Other competitors include Glamour Sales, Brands for Friends, and Monoco.

According to startup’s CEO Hirotake Kubo, Muse & Co targets the so-called ‘F1 layer’ in Japan (female users in their 20s and early 30s), thus differentiating from conventional competitors. In terms of differentiation from similar smartphones services, they expect to showcase items in the casual fashion category, which may be not so sophisticated but better suited to wearing on a day-to-day basis.

Over $500,000 in monthly sales, 70% traffic from mobile

Muse & Co sells merchandise on commission and has no inventory stocked at all. They showcase clothes from three brands every day, and in total about 30 new items are sold every day. The duration of the flash sale is usually about seven days, but most items sell out on the first day. Their flash marketing starts at 8pm every day, the peak time for user traffic.

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Kubo explains that the site’s monthly revenue has reached around 50 million yen, with 50% coming from mobile, and 20% from the smartphone app. They’ve never made any promotion efforts for smartphone users, so it’s not unlikely that these access metrics (in terms of mobile/desktop ratio) are common for most e-commerce sites in Japan.

A good start

Muse & Co was established back in February of 2012. The startup’s founder, Hirotake Kubo, previously worked at global consulting firm AT Kearney, where he has been conducting due diligence on the apparel industry for five years.

From my experience seeing the apparel industry, I wanted to help domestic fashion brands solve the problems they’re facing. Beyond that, I also want to contribute to the strengthening of our economy.

Currently Muse & Co is 20-person team including 5 merchandising staffers. They have acquired approximately 200,000 users since launch, and are hoping to surpass 1 million users in the near future.

NTT Docomo unveils the first 6 startups for its new incubation program

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See the original story in Japanese. NTT Docomo held a kick-off event for its incubation program today, unveiling six startups chosen for its first batch. The program, which was first announced back in February, selected these six from 124 applicants. The startups are to be incubated and mentored for the next five months. Here’s a quick run down of the chosen six: Easeeat by Willmore This service helps consumers buy allergy-free food products at supermarkets. They presented last year at our pitch event, and we’re delighted to see them among those selected. The new app appears to be based on its previous app, Allergy Checker (pictured above), which allowed you to scan a barcode on the product’s package, and then it tells you the ingredients and whether or not its safe for you. Pairy by Timers This couples app is a sort of Japanese alternative to Couple (US & UK) or Between (Korea), specializes in establishing communication just for couples. It’s already live, and has plans to extend its business to online-to-offline marketing and e-commerce services. Some of our readers may recall that they presented at Myojo Waraku in Fukuoka last years. Nanovel by Gadget This service aggregates short novels authored…

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See the original story in Japanese.

NTT Docomo held a kick-off event for its incubation program today, unveiling six startups chosen for its first batch. The program, which was first announced back in February, selected these six from 124 applicants. The startups are to be incubated and mentored for the next five months.

Here’s a quick run down of the chosen six:

Easeeat by Willmore

allergychecker_screenshot2

This service helps consumers buy allergy-free food products at supermarkets. They presented last year at our pitch event, and we’re delighted to see them among those selected. The new app appears to be based on its previous app, Allergy Checker (pictured above), which allowed you to scan a barcode on the product’s package, and then it tells you the ingredients and whether or not its safe for you.

Pairy by Timers

pairy_screenshot

This couples app is a sort of Japanese alternative to Couple (US & UK) or Between (Korea), specializes in establishing communication just for couples. It’s already live, and has plans to extend its business to online-to-offline marketing and e-commerce services. Some of our readers may recall that they presented at Myojo Waraku in Fukuoka last years.

Nanovel by Gadget

nanovel_screenshot

This service aggregates short novels authored by professional writers and dramatists. Each of the stories are shorter than 2,000 Japanese characters long, so readers won’t take more than five minutes to finish. It’s good material for avid readers to fill up spare ‘in-between’ time, in much the same way that casual gaming does.

Coromo

Using NFC (near-frequency communication) technology, this service allows users to design their smartphone home screen easily, with the idea of using it for advertising purposes. The team aims to build a platform where Android phone users can exchange home screen designs each other.

Funpicty (tentative name) by Soda

This service allows users to mix up pictures shot by various photo apps, and then share them with others. (Sorry, but not too many more details beyond this were disclosed.)

DecoAlbum by Prime Again

decoalbum_screenshot

This app lets you share your photos with your friends, giving you the ability to decorate with them numerous effects and features.

Foursquare has 240M check-ins in Japan, will leverage its big data for next business phase

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This is a part of our coverage of B Dash Camp Fukuoka 2013. See the original story in Japanese. Foursquare debuted at SxSW in 2009. Its gamification elements (check-ins, mayor, badges) made it a smash hit all around the world. Now four years since its launch, the company is ready for the next phase of its business. At B Dash Camp 2013 in Fukuoka yesterday, Holger Luedorf, the head of business development at Foursquare, explained what’s on the horizon for the location-based app. In the process he revealed some interesting figures about their userbase, as well as some metrics for Japan. Big data makes predictive search possible Holger began his talk with a screen capture from when he arrived in Fukuoka, showing him that everyone was inviting friends to lunch. Recommendations for restaurants popped up as it was almost noon. He explains that when he is located far from his home, the app detects that he is on a trip and presents him with nearby sightseeing spots. When he checked in at Grand Hyatt (the venue of for event), the app suggested that visit a nearby Starbucks based on his check-in history. He noted that the latest version of the Foursquare…

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This is a part of our coverage of B Dash Camp Fukuoka 2013.

See the original story in Japanese.

Foursquare debuted at SxSW in 2009. Its gamification elements (check-ins, mayor, badges) made it a smash hit all around the world. Now four years since its launch, the company is ready for the next phase of its business.

At B Dash Camp 2013 in Fukuoka yesterday, Holger Luedorf, the head of business development at Foursquare, explained what’s on the horizon for the location-based app. In the process he revealed some interesting figures about their userbase, as well as some metrics for Japan.

Big data makes predictive search possible

Holger began his talk with a screen capture from when he arrived in Fukuoka, showing him that everyone was inviting friends to lunch. Recommendations for restaurants popped up as it was almost noon.

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He explains that when he is located far from his home, the app detects that he is on a trip and presents him with nearby sightseeing spots. When he checked in at Grand Hyatt (the venue of for event), the app suggested that visit a nearby Starbucks based on his check-in history.

He noted that the latest version of the Foursquare app is optimized for search functions, proposing some places to visit as well as finding destinations in the search box. The more your friends accumulate check-ins, the more precise the app will be when recommending places of interest.

240 million check-ins in Japan

Holger tells the audience that Foursquare has acquired 3.5 billion check-ins, 30 million users, 50 million points of interest, and 50 million public photos around the world.

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In Japan, Foursquare has 240 millions check-ins with 1.6 million total venues, all of which are user generated. The top venues for check-ins include Shinjuku Station, Akihabara Station, and Shibuya Station, as you can see in the slide above. When asked about their progress in Asia, Holger points out that they had good growth in the region in 2012, in places like Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. But recently Turkey, Brazil, and Russia have been growing the fastest. He explains:

The nice thing about being a social network is that most of our growth is really viral, so we don’t have anyone on the ground right now in Asia. But I think for finding developers who want to use our data, later on in the next phase we will seek partners for both the platform and the advertising side. I’m pretty confident we’ll have to work with partners here in Japan when it comes time for sales and monetization.

Foursquare’s big data shows people on the move

Holger also showed the following visualization illustrating the fluctuations of the people during the day in both New York and Tokyo. You can even make out the Yamanote Line if you look closely!

If you use any of the apps shown on the slide below, you’re also using Foursquare in a way, because they all make use of its data. Instagram uses Foursquare’s geotag, for example. Holger explained that they have 75 million API calls a day, and if you include all the users of these Foursquare-integrated apps, it totals about 100 million active users.

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Their API is used by 40,00 companies, including game developers who use it to build ‘real world’ games. There are also messaging services and navigation app providers. Holger explains that there are lots of interesting ways that people are using Foursquare data, in ways that the company wouldn’t have come up with itself.

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