THE BRIDGE

Takeshi Hirano

Takeshi Hirano

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

Articles

Japan’s Mobcast partners with 13 content providers, wants to dominate sports gaming on mobile

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See also the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based games company Mobcast announced on Monday that it has launched a sport-focused social gaming platform. The company also launched a distribution platform for Open Social-compatible apps called Mbc Connect, a payment solution for content providers called Mbc Wallet, and a knowledge base site for partnering developers. In addition to that, the company announced that it has partnered with 13 content developers including Konami Digital Entertainment, Koei Temco Games, as well as a Japanese pro baseball team. According to its financial statements for the fiscal period ending December 2012, Mobcast saw 5 billion yen (approximately $50 million) in revenue, which is 2.5 times what it was the previous year. User growth was not explosive but it did recently surpass 3 million users. We heard from Takashi Sato, the CSO (chief strategic officer) of Mobcast Inc. regarding the growth of the sports category in social gaming and their future international expansion. What differentiates the Mobcast platform from others like GREE or Mobage? We’ll be focusing on the sports category in gaming, and we want to partner with participating content providers to acquiring a userbase that loves sport. We’re hoping to work with as many companies as possible….

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See also the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based games company Mobcast announced on Monday that it has launched a sport-focused social gaming platform. The company also launched a distribution platform for Open Social-compatible apps called Mbc Connect, a payment solution for content providers called Mbc Wallet, and a knowledge base site for partnering developers.

In addition to that, the company announced that it has partnered with 13 content developers including Konami Digital Entertainment, Koei Temco Games, as well as a Japanese pro baseball team.

According to its financial statements for the fiscal period ending December 2012, Mobcast saw 5 billion yen (approximately $50 million) in revenue, which is 2.5 times what it was the previous year. User growth was not explosive but it did recently surpass 3 million users.

We heard from Takashi Sato, the CSO (chief strategic officer) of Mobcast Inc.
regarding the growth of the sports category in social gaming and their future international expansion.


What differentiates the Mobcast platform from others like GREE or Mobage?

We’ll be focusing on the sports category in gaming, and we want to partner with participating content providers to acquiring a userbase that loves sport. We’re hoping to work with as many companies as possible.

Considering your recent financials, how much potential do you think there is in the sport games market?

This category accounts for 15% of the entire gaming industry, so we need be in position to dominate the niche. I can’t disclose too much about business performance, but we’re thinking about what to do next to ensure our sustained growth.

Your company recently announced it had branched into the media business. It doesn’t account for much of your overall revenue, so why do this?

We thought it would be important to explore non-gaming services such as media, so we could acquire new users as well as the retain our existing ones. In the future, this will enhance our business channels, like e-commerce for example.

When you took over gaming company Entercrews, you spoke a bit about future international expansion, especially in the Asian region. What’s your plan?

We started overseas operations on March 28th. […] We’re seeing what difficulties are ahead for international services. We just landed in the Korean market and will start expansion to the rest of Asia very shortly. Considering that the World Cup is next year, we’re devoting ourselves to making our platform reach as many consumers as possible.

We expect to acquire 1 million users in Korea alone. To date, we’ve already acquired around 17,000 users in Korea, (just in the early phase).

Yoshiaki Maeda on how Docomo plans to tackle Japan’s smartphone app market

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See the original story in Japanese. This is a part of our coverage of B Dash Camp Fukuoka 2013. You can’t discuss the history of the Japanese mobile business without talking about i-mode. This is the featurephone content platform from NTT Docomo, which many content providers used to achieve significant growth and revenue. Of course in recent years, the market need has shifted to smartphones, especially the iPhone, and not many people have their their eyes on i-mode these days. But many of the ideas developed in i-mode live on. For example, Docomo’s competitor KDDI has had much success with SmartPass, a flat rate app subscription program similar to i-mode in terms of its subscription model. How exactly will Docomo respond to KDDI’s smartphone success so far? At B Dash Camp 2013 in Fukuoka yesterday, Yoshiaki Maeda, the managing director of smart communication services at NTT Docomo, explained a little about the company’s upcoming strategy, revealing a few interesting figures in the process. Docomo’s smartphone content sales generates $180 million a month To date, Docomo has acquired 18 million smartphone users. The figure is expected to reach 40 million by the end of 2014. Their smartphone content sales grew to a…

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See the original story in Japanese.

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

You can’t discuss the history of the Japanese mobile business without talking about i-mode. This is the featurephone content platform from NTT Docomo, which many content providers used to achieve significant growth and revenue.

Of course in recent years, the market need has shifted to smartphones, especially the iPhone, and not many people have their their eyes on i-mode these days. But many of the ideas developed in i-mode live on. For example, Docomo’s competitor KDDI has had much success with SmartPass, a flat rate app subscription program similar to i-mode in terms of its subscription model.

How exactly will Docomo respond to KDDI’s smartphone success so far? At B Dash Camp 2013 in Fukuoka yesterday, Yoshiaki Maeda, the managing director of smart communication services at NTT Docomo, explained a little about the company’s upcoming strategy, revealing a few interesting figures in the process.

Docomo’s smartphone content sales generates $180 million a month

To date, Docomo has acquired 18 million smartphone users. The figure is expected to reach 40 million by the end of 2014. Their smartphone content sales grew to a market worth of $180 million, and that’s continuously on the rise each month.

Conversely, the i-mode content market is shrinking.

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The growth of Docomo’s smartphone subscribers
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The growth of revenue from smartphone content sales

On-the-spot purchase needs surpasses that of monthly subscription model

In the era of featurephones, monthly subscription models were very strong but it’s shifted to an ‘on-the-spot’ purchase model as our more subscribers move to smartphone users.

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Monthly subscription sales vs. on-the-spot purchase sales
in the last three years

For us, by bringing the subscription user base from the featurephone market (i-mode) to the smartphone content market, we expect monthly revenue to increase to $300 million.

Partnering with new content providers

Some content providers brought conventional (featurephone optimized) content to the smartphone app marketplace, and that will never attract our subscribers.

We value our providers though, but we further expect to get new providers involved to cultivate the market. We also have our Docomo Innovation Ventures as a touch point for new companies or startups. We’ve exploring ways to work with brand new people.

When will Docomo start ‘Sugotoku’, its monthly flat-rate subscription program for smartphone apps?

We’re preparing for it to be launched very soon. It would be similar to our competitor KDDI’s strategy, but we’re still in talks with partner content providers (and/or app developers). We aspire to make it comfortable enough so that our customers will be happy to use it.

B Dash Camp panel: Trends in the Japanese online ad business

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See the original story in Japanese. This is a part of our coverage of B Dash Camp Fukuoka 2013. Along with the evolution of web services, online advertising platforms have drastically evolved. In the past, we used to place simple banner ads on our websites, and subsequently search advertising emerged. Now we’ve adopted impression-based ads using ad tools like DSP (demand-side platform). But the further ad solutions evolve, the more issues we face. Here’s a quick rundown on the panel discussing issues facing the online advertising space in Japan. The panelists for the session include: Osamu Aranami, Corporate Office, Head of Marketing Solutions Company, Yahoo Japan Kenichi Sugawara, CMO, ScaleOut Koki Sato, President and CEO, Septeni Holdings Moderator: Toru Kawarazuka, Senior Manager, Sales Management Dept., Sony Bank Does social media have much of an impact on the conventional ad business? Aranami: I can’t disclose our figures because we’re heading towards the announcement of our financial statements in the week ahead. In terms of browsing devices, it’s changing. The share of smartphone and tablets is on the rise. Sato: Social media allows users to create a sort of user pool as well as owning their official website. The engagement helps acquire…

20130422-184449

See the original story in Japanese.

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

Along with the evolution of web services, online advertising platforms have drastically evolved. In the past, we used to place simple banner ads on our websites, and subsequently search advertising emerged. Now we’ve adopted impression-based ads using ad tools like DSP (demand-side platform).

But the further ad solutions evolve, the more issues we face. Here’s a quick rundown on the panel discussing issues facing the online advertising space in Japan. The panelists for the session include:

  • Osamu Aranami, Corporate Office, Head of Marketing Solutions Company, Yahoo Japan
  • Kenichi Sugawara, CMO, ScaleOut
  • Koki Sato, President and CEO, Septeni Holdings
  • Moderator: Toru Kawarazuka, Senior Manager, Sales Management Dept., Sony Bank

Does social media have much of an impact on the conventional ad business?

Aranami: I can’t disclose our figures because we’re heading towards the announcement of our financial statements in the week ahead. In terms of browsing devices, it’s changing. The share of smartphone and tablets is on the rise.

Sato: Social media allows users to create a sort of user pool as well as owning their official website. The engagement helps acquire high-profile users, and may work well for global business expansions. But it’s still in the stage of trial and error.

Using personal profiles for advertising

Sugawara: DSPs allow you a specific ad space on an impression-basis. In terms of placing ads using this platform, you can specify a target audience segment or ad spaces. The audience segments requires personal profiles. For example, when you visit a motor comparison site (overseas), they will use your profile and propose target vehicles for you.

Aranami: Yahoo Japan has users’ purchase histories on our shopping site and auction site. We’re considering to use that data for our ad delivery. But at the same time, we have to be careful on how we should handle such data.

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Septeni Holdings CEO Koki Sato speaking on the panel

What’s ahead for rich media ads?

Aranami: To help with promotional activities for the Olympic bid in Tokyo, we’ve created an ad where athletes move when you mouse over them. It generated a lot of buzz, but we’re still preparing for movie ads.

Sato: At my company, the demands of rich media ads account for a lesser share of our business, especially compared to English-speaking countries. There are two key points here: How much can premium (rich media) ads bring value compared to conventional TV ads? And how many users are shifting from desktop browsing to smartphone devices.

Sugawara: There are rights management issues as well. Some TV ads cannot be reproduced for online advertising because of rights issues.

Aranami: Yahoo Japan is working on finding out how we can create a safe and secure ad networks for our clients, as well as deploy further extensive developments on YDN, our Yahoo Display-ad Network. We can take minor requests from our clients, such as which domain they would like to place ads on. We proudly think ourselves as Japan’s largest DSP operator.

B Dash Camp panel: Social gaming principles can also be applied to e-learning

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See the original story in Japanese. This is a part of our coverage of B Dash Camp Fukuoka 2013. The e-learning industry is changing drastically with new technologies like cloud technology or social media. One of notable startups in this space is Schoo, which provides real-time online lecture services on many topics. We had a chance to check out a panel on online e-learning services at B Dash Camp 2013 today in Fukuoka. In the fist, Dylan Arena, the chief learning scientist of the e-learning solution provider Kidaptive, introduced four keywords to describe the latest trends in the US e-learning market. Access: Giving access to online lecture services anywhere at anytime. Attention: Giving teachers an efficient way to pay an attention to what their students are doing in their classrooms. Assessment: An advanced e-learning system gives teachers a way to assess their students far better than before. Personalization: Using the three points stated above, explore a way to personalize lecture content to individual students. For the people who have less learning opportunities for economic reasons, Kidaptive’s solution allows teachers reach students by providing a combination of an online e-learning environment as well as private tuition opportunities. Subsequently teachers can check…

20130422-160309

See the original story in Japanese.

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

The e-learning industry is changing drastically with new technologies like cloud technology or social media. One of notable startups in this space is Schoo, which provides real-time online lecture services on many topics.

We had a chance to check out a panel on online e-learning services at B Dash Camp 2013 today in Fukuoka. In the fist, Dylan Arena, the chief learning scientist of the e-learning solution provider Kidaptive, introduced four keywords to describe the latest trends in the US e-learning market.

  • Access: Giving access to online lecture services anywhere at anytime.
  • Attention: Giving teachers an efficient way to pay an attention to what their students are doing in their classrooms.
  • Assessment: An advanced e-learning system gives teachers a way to assess their students far better than before.
  • Personalization: Using the three points stated above, explore a way to personalize lecture content to individual students.

For the people who have less learning opportunities for economic reasons, Kidaptive’s solution allows teachers reach students by providing a combination of an online e-learning environment as well as private tuition opportunities. Subsequently teachers can check up on how students are doing in a more systematic manner.

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From the left: Drecom’s Yuki Naito and Quipper’s Akifumi Yokoi

Interestingly, social gaming players are showing an interest in the e-learning area. On this panel, Drecom‘s CEO Yuki Naito and Quipper‘s Akifumi Yokoi discussed what’s ahead for the intersection of gaming and education services. Naito explained a bit about their e-learning platform, adding:

The know-how for improving user retention rate in the social gaming areas can also work in managing e-learning services.

While it’s doubtful that social gaming developers will sidetrack their businesses into this space, it will interesting to see them occasionally deploying their ideas to different business spaces such as this one.

Ticket Street: How Japan’s ticket-reselling site keeps up rapid growth

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See the original story in Japanese. Ticket Street is a Tokyo startup that provides a platform focused on the buying and selling of show tickets. Its monthly transaction value has surpassed 70 million yen (almost $700,000). The startup was originally launched by a freelance engineer and was subsequently incorporated in August of 2011. It has acquired over 100,000 members to date and has grown into to a C2C marketplace with more than 5,000 kinds of tickets available at all times. It fundraised 15 million yen (over $150,000) from Incubate Fund in 2012, and 60 million yen from Mitsubishi UFJ Capital and Mizuho Capital in March of this year. We spoke with the startup’s co-founder and chairman Kei Nishiyama, who explained five key points about finding a new market like this one as well as how to create a value proposition for users. Identify the enormous demand in C2C trading Nishiyama: In terms of the volume of C2C transactions, the biggest market opportunity can be seen in web-based community services. But in these niche markets, if you create a service that allows users to buy securely, without worry of possible fraud, it might be a great business chance. People have always…

ticket.st_screenshot

See the original story in Japanese.

Ticket Street is a Tokyo startup that provides a platform focused on the buying and selling of show tickets. Its monthly transaction value has surpassed 70 million yen (almost $700,000). The startup was originally launched by a freelance engineer and was subsequently incorporated in August of 2011.

It has acquired over 100,000 members to date and has grown into to a C2C marketplace with more than 5,000 kinds of tickets available at all times. It fundraised 15 million yen (over $150,000) from Incubate Fund in 2012, and 60 million yen from Mitsubishi UFJ Capital and Mizuho Capital in March of this year.

We spoke with the startup’s co-founder and chairman Kei Nishiyama, who explained five key points about finding a new market like this one as well as how to create a value proposition for users.

Ticket Street's CEO Kei Nishiyama
Ticket Street’s Chairman Kei Nishiyama

Identify the enormous demand in C2C trading

Nishiyama: In terms of the volume of C2C transactions, the biggest market opportunity can be seen in web-based community services. But in these niche markets, if you create a service that allows users to buy securely, without worry of possible fraud, it might be a great business chance.

People have always wanted to resell unneeded concert tickets, and C2C deals frequently appear on auction or community sites. The success of our business depends on how much we can identify these needs and incorporate the solutions into our service.

Finding hidden demand

Nishiyama: In the Japanese entertainment or live show market, more than 70 million tickets are traded a year. Only 3% of the entire volume are considered to be second-hand sales. But a recent survey showed 6% of people would like to resell their unwanted tickets to someone else. So we can deduce that the other 3% are people are who are trading their tickets face to face.

By providing a safe platform that might fit the C2C market needs for an appropriate commission fee to users, we can create a very sound and widely proven ticket resale market.

The platform must provide security, safety, and rules

Nishiyama: Typical C2C platforms will not broker trades between a seller and a buyer. However, as a value proposition for their customers, Ticket Street gets in between the two sides as a middleman. For a ticket buyer, if you complete the payment but have not receive a ticket, we (Ticket Street) will try to get your money back from the seller.

To secure the delivery of tickets, we’re requesting sellers to use registered mail and enter a tracking number that allows buyers to easily check shipping status. These optional services cost a lot but help our sales. It’s proving that our customers prefer a sense of security when buying.

Analyze market trends

Nishiyama: In early 2000s, the entertainment industry tolerated a loss in the concert business, primarily because it was an important part of promotional activities in selling CD albums. But everything has changed during the last five years.

Today, there’s no good news even in the ring tone business. So the concert business is forced to monetize more. For example, if we look at Lady Gaga, after she had a live performance, it subsequently aired on a pay tv channel to make more money. We must not miss recent changes in market trends like this.

A world enhanced by second-hand business

Nishiyama: Some people think a C2C platform for the second-hand business could not penetrate the mainstream. However, it’s encouraging that an e-commerce giant like eBay can provide ticket reselling services through StubHub, a company they previously acquired.

When you have a chance to buy a ticket for a concert, for example, taking place six months from now, you may hesitate to buy because you could have to work overtime or have a critical appointment on that day. But with an easy-to-access second-hand platform, you won’t hesitate to buy, because if you need to cancel your ticket, you can sell it to someone else with ease. By adding such options for consumers, they won’t think twice about buying the tickets in the first place.

Mr. Nishiyama started his career as an entrepreneur while in university, and he has been working in the startup community for more than ten years.

In Japan, there has been a lot of buzz lately around C2C businesses, including notable startups like Base, Stores.jp, or flea-market smartphone app Fril. This is not only about merchandising either, but also we’ve seen many many C2C startups selling intangible things, like private coaching service Cyta.jp.

Up-and-coming mobile payments startup Coiney is exploring business opportunities in C2C payment needs. Most likely the increasingly high penetration of smartphone devices and developments payment methods are helping such businesses grow further and faster.

Meet the Twilio Japan hackathon winners: 3 great ideas using the cloud telephony API

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See the original story in Japanese. As we reported previously, KDDI Web Communications has just announced the official launch of telephony API service Twilio in Japan. The tie-up will give users easier access to low-latency services and additional features which may fit local market needs. Here’s brief introduction of the three standout ideas that won prizes at Twilio’s hackathon event on launch day. Anpiru: a safety confirmation system for use in emergencies (Top prize and AWS Architect award winner: Takeshi Ambiru) The Anbiru system lets you to confirm the safety of your friends or family members in the event of a natural disaster or crisis. The service uses data from Japan’s Meteorological Agency and will start calling your people via Twilio. When they receive the call, they can indicate their safety by sending touch-tone signals. In contrast to conventional e-mail services, this might be easier for less tech savvy people such as elderly folks or children. Potential users are local governments, schools, and big companies. Guide Call: An easy, on-demand interpreter service for travelers (Award winner: Daisuke Ito) Japanese people often run into trouble when speaking foreign languages. When you’re traveling, Guide Call helps you find an available interpreter using…

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See the original story in Japanese.

As we reported previously, KDDI Web Communications has just announced the official launch of telephony API service Twilio in Japan. The tie-up will give users easier access to low-latency services and additional features which may fit local market needs.

Here’s brief introduction of the three standout ideas that won prizes at Twilio’s hackathon event on launch day.

Anpiru: a safety confirmation system for use in emergencies

(Top prize and AWS Architect award winner: Takeshi Ambiru)

The Anbiru system lets you to confirm the safety of your friends or family members in the event of a natural disaster or crisis. The service uses data from Japan’s Meteorological Agency and will start calling your people via Twilio. When they receive the call, they can indicate their safety by sending touch-tone signals.

In contrast to conventional e-mail services, this might be easier for less tech savvy people such as elderly folks or children. Potential users are local governments, schools, and big companies.

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Guide Call: An easy, on-demand interpreter service for travelers

(Award winner: Daisuke Ito)

Japanese people often run into trouble when speaking foreign languages. When you’re traveling, Guide Call helps you find an available interpreter using a crowdsourcing platform. By using the speaker phone feature on your mobile phone, you can have an interpreter join your conversation.

They expect to apply a per-minute charge system, and will consider selling it in partnership with travel agencies.

Annai Call: Easy-to-deploy multilingual hotline service for hotels and inns

(Winner of the Microsoft award: Kyoko Otagaki)

This service targets hotel management or inn owners, letting them present a designated phone number on your website to receive inquires or reservations from foreign language speakers. Any calls to the number will be transfered to an interpreter available on a crowdsoucing platform.


In the US, Twilio is being used by Uber, Airbnb and Hulu for customer support services. It will be really interesting to see what kinds of services will come out with the new telephony solution here in Japan.

FrogApps CEO Nakamura steps down, has another startup in the works

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See the original story in Japanese. FrogApps is the Tokyo-based startup behind the notable Japanese food photo sharing app, Miil. The company’s CEO Hitoshi Nakamura recently announced he would step down from his current position, and board member Hawk Takahashi will be appointed as the new head. Mr. Nakamura will stay on the board of directors and support the startup as it grows further. FrogApps was founded in September of 2010 and went on to introduce Miil in 2011 [1]. Subsequently the startup fundraised 20 million yen from CyberAgent Ventures in 2011, and 240 million yen from Lead Capital Management and Dentsu Digital Holdings in 2012. According to Mr. Nakamura’s blog post, the food photo app has surpassed 300,000 downloads and 50,000 daily postings and comments. So why the change at the top? What’s this we’re hearing about a new company co-founded by FrogApps and Mr. Nakamura? We spoke with both the ex-CEO Hitoshi Nakamura, as well as his successor, Mr. Takahashi. Why step down now? Nakamura: I’m better at creating something from scratch. I really like to create something in a form of a service or a product, and then find its value proposition for consumers or markets. I’m…

See the original story in Japanese.

miil_screenshotFrogApps is the Tokyo-based startup behind the notable Japanese food photo sharing app, Miil. The company’s CEO Hitoshi Nakamura recently announced he would step down from his current position, and board member Hawk Takahashi will be appointed as the new head. Mr. Nakamura will stay on the board of directors and support the startup as it grows further.

FrogApps was founded in September of 2010 and went on to introduce Miil in 2011 [1]. Subsequently the startup fundraised 20 million yen from CyberAgent Ventures in 2011, and 240 million yen from Lead Capital Management and Dentsu Digital Holdings in 2012. According to Mr. Nakamura’s blog post, the food photo app has surpassed 300,000 downloads and 50,000 daily postings and comments.

So why the change at the top? What’s this we’re hearing about a new company co-founded by FrogApps and Mr. Nakamura? We spoke with both the ex-CEO Hitoshi Nakamura, as well as his successor, Mr. Takahashi.

Why step down now?

Nakamura: I’m better at creating something from scratch. I really like to create something in a form of a service or a product, and then find its value proposition for consumers or markets. I’m feeling that I’ve already done for the app. However, we needed to form a more sound team to keep the service growing. […] From now on, our key focus is finding how we can further boost our business.

Looking back to when you first launched, how much has your business achieved to date?

Nakamura: I can’t say we have taken the path that I expected. We had a minimum milestone to achieve, and I believe we have passed it. For our users, we have acquired many influencers who can spread the word about food and gourmet. We assumed food-savvy people like dining around town, but the facts were different. Our users like dining at home. I’ve been involved in restaurant business for a long time, and that’s why I thought we wanted to start building a user base among restaurant addicts.

From left: founder Hitoshi Nakamura and FrogApps's new CEO Hawk Takahashi
From left: ex-CEO Hitoshi Nakamura and new CEO Hawk Takahashi

Did you find the right sort of business model to accelerate your business?

Takahashi: We ran a promotion campaign using food photos, and that was well received by our users. In terms of reaching our target for our possible sponsors, our service is too small to compete against conventional big mass media. However, our user base is specifically filtered around foodies and gourmets. We’ve discovered unexpected insights from our users’ feedbacks.

Nakamura: For example, we got sponsorship from Morinaga Milk (TYO:2264) and promoted their chocolate condensed milk products using the app. The chocolate product is an old product, as old as a plain-type condensed milk, but has not been featured so much publicly. When we asked our users to post recipes using the chocolate milk product, we received a bunch of great recipe ideas that the milk maker had never expected. These recipes were subsequently featured on the Morinaga website.

Why did a milk company like the Miil app? Was it something like market research for them?

Takahashi: Our clients (potential sponsors) may not be satisfied with only spreading the words about their products. They want to create value through interaction with our users. We turned to see how to improve our service and explore more potential business models including using the app for our client to fill their market research needs. In the next year, we’ll be much working on projects in partnership with restaurant businesses.

Nakamura: We need switch ourselves from the investment phase to a monetization phase someday. In order to make the business more sound and more sustainable, I handed over my role to Mr. Takahashi.

I heard you will be launching a new business called Froggy. What’s that about?

Nakamura: I’ve been in restaurant business for a long time, and I’ve learned there’s no innovation in this space. The restaurant business is labor-intensive, and for workers the conditions are not always the best, possibly with long hours or little to no paid vacation. That’s something technology can solve, and it can make a great impact on the industry as well. I can’t disclose much about what I’ll be working on, but I believe there’s more room for services which can work both for restaurant owners and their customers. The new project might be integrated with the Miil app as well, and I hope both can help each other, like the two wheels of the same cart, for example.


My interview with them was unfortunately quite short, and they couldn’t disclose too much about future plans. I thought they were expecting to develop a service for driving customers to real restaurants, but I could be wrong. The new project seems to have a different business model from that of the Miil app, and that may be a clue as to what they’ll do next.

Disclosure: The author’s wife has a business relationship with FrogApps.


  1. Available in both English and Japanese for both Android and iOS.  ↩

Base: The Japanese freemium e-commerce platform that’s following Shopify’s lead

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See original story in Japanese. Base is a Tokyo startup that provides an easy-to-implement e-commerce platform. It was born from Project Liverty, a tech savvy team led by serial entrepreneur Kazuma Ieiri. On Friday, the service added a new feature called BASE apps, allowing users to set up a shop under their own domain name. it also includes SEO (search engine optimization), and packaging material that merchants can use when shipping. With the exception of credit card surcharges, the service is provided completely free, and that includes these new features. The company’s CEO Yuta Tsuruoka explains that they will gradually add new features week by week, such as logo design, the ability to offer limited time discounts to customers, and even photo shoots for merchandise. Following Shopify’s successful ‘plug-in strategy’ Base was inspired by Shopify, the third-ranked e-commerce platform behind Amazon and eBay in terms of transaction volume (about $1 billion) in the US. In contrast to competitors, Shopify generates its revenue partially from plug-in usage. Essentially this means that when you add features or services to your e-shop, you will be requested to pay extra. Yuta adds: In the US, many merchants who have their e-shops on multi-tenant e-commerce…

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See original story in Japanese.

Base is a Tokyo startup that provides an easy-to-implement e-commerce platform. It was born from Project Liverty, a tech savvy team led by serial entrepreneur Kazuma Ieiri. On Friday, the service added a new feature called BASE apps, allowing users to set up a shop under their own domain name. it also includes SEO (search engine optimization), and packaging material that merchants can use when shipping.

With the exception of credit card surcharges, the service is provided completely free, and that includes these new features. The company’s CEO Yuta Tsuruoka explains that they will gradually add new features week by week, such as logo design, the ability to offer limited time discounts to customers, and even photo shoots for merchandise.

Following Shopify’s successful ‘plug-in strategy’

Base was inspired by Shopify, the third-ranked e-commerce platform behind Amazon and eBay in terms of transaction volume (about $1 billion) in the US. In contrast to competitors, Shopify generates its revenue partially from plug-in usage. Essentially this means that when you add features or services to your e-shop, you will be requested to pay extra. Yuta adds:

In the US, many merchants who have their e-shops on multi-tenant e-commerce platforms have [not been doing well], and they are now moving to marketplace platforms. I really want this shift to come to Japan.

01457154ec60f6301cf4ceecd664147b

The startup’s plug-ins motivate small merchants and even individuals to open shops online. They also provide outsourced logistics service for merchants, and plan to provide vendor-managed inventory services. You can order logo design or a website template from partnering crowdsourced services via the Base platform.

Among the available plug-ins, some allow goods producers to even offer to develop merchandise for you. See apps.thebase.in to learn more about what features they provide.

Monetizing the payment process

Does the Base platform fully drive its business only with these plug-ins? Yuta says the answer is no:

During the testing period, we’ve seen merchants were using our platform in many different ways. Some merchants were selling web services, digital content, or other non-tangible services on the platform. It shows us there’s e-commerce potential far beyond just merchandise distribution. That’s the key for making our business successful, I believe.

He aspires to make this into another Paypal, as opposed to the next Rakuten or Amazon. The Base platform aspires to handle not only merchandise logistics but also monetary transactions between merchants and shoppers which may generate a huge volume of commission.

The e-commerce platform has acquired more than 23,000 merchants in the four months since its launch, where a variety of items ranging from luxury furniture to show tickets are being sold. The average price per customer reaches around 3,500 yen (around $35).

In January, the startup fundraised 23 million yen ($230,000) from Partyfactory, East Ventures, and several angel investors. We’ll keep you updated about how their business further grows from here.

Can crowdsourcing startups change Japan’s employment landscape?

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This article is based on an interview published on our Japanese-language site (see part one and two). It has been partially modified for our global audience. Lancers, CrowdWorks Employment in Japan has traditionally been a cradle-to-grave sort of system, but given modern day economic challenges, many people are facing difficulties. Many workers are faced with finding alternatives when the notion of a full-time job doesn’t work out. Recent government statistics show that 94% of 4.5 million Japanese companies only have a single office. Larger companies with more than 10 offices across multiple locations only account for 0.4% of all Japanese business. But in which category of business do most employees fall under? 31% of the entire national workforce belongs to the 0.4% of big companies. Out of the entire Japanese workforce of 62.3 million people, 55 million of those are employed by someone else, and 7 million people are self-employed or working with their family businesses [1]. These figures show that many workers are concentrated among a very small number of big companies here in Japan. Given that this distribution will likely not change soon, how can Japanese workers prepare for what will happen to the national economy in the future? Being a so-called ‘crowdsourced’ worker…

This article is based on an interview published on our Japanese-language site (see part one and two). It has been partially modified for our global audience.

Lancers, CrowdWorks
Lancers, CrowdWorks

Employment in Japan has traditionally been a cradle-to-grave sort of system, but given modern day economic challenges, many people are facing difficulties. Many workers are faced with finding alternatives when the notion of a full-time job doesn’t work out.

Recent government statistics show that 94% of 4.5 million Japanese companies only have a single office. Larger companies with more than 10 offices across multiple locations only account for 0.4% of all Japanese business.

But in which category of business do most employees fall under? 31% of the entire national workforce belongs to the 0.4% of big companies. Out of the entire Japanese workforce of 62.3 million people, 55 million of those are employed by someone else, and 7 million people are self-employed or working with their family businesses [1].

These figures show that many workers are concentrated among a very small number of big companies here in Japan. Given that this distribution will likely not change soon, how can Japanese workers prepare for what will happen to the national economy in the future?

Being a so-called ‘crowdsourced’ worker is an alternative solution when it comes to finding employment. Crowdsourcing (in the context of this discussion) is a concept that matches task requests with individuals who can do the work. The most notable examples of this process are US-based services oDesk and Elance. These days some people can even make a living from such jobs.

Recently we spoke with two key people in Japan’s crowdsourcing space: Yosuke Akiyoshi, the co-founder and CEO of Lancers Inc., and Koichiro Yoshida, the co-founder and CEO of CrowdWorks Inc.

Lancers: Helping users crowdsource a career

Yosuke Akiyoshi, Co-founder/CEO of Lancers
Yosuke Akiyoshi, Co-founder/CEO of Lancers

Mr. Akiyoshi says that with his Lancers service, some workers can earn as much as 7 or 8 million yen ($70,000 to $80,000).

The traditional concept of crowdsourcing has been that someone in a remote location helps you finish minor tasks at an affordable rate. But recently platforms like Lancers are being used for more, serving as a primary income stream for some. Mr. Akiyoshi shared a few key indicators from his platform:

  1. The platform is home to 120,000 freelancers from all around Japan.
  2. 1,000 of those users are earning about 50,000 yen (approximately $500) a month
  3. 70% of users reside in suburban areas or countryside.
  4. Some people make more than 3 million yen (about $30,000) using the platform. Needless to say, that’s enough to make a living.
  5. There are now about 10,000 tasks listed on the platform, three times the amount of tasks listed last year.

Akiyoshi adds:

We saw the rapid growth since 2011. Our operations have expanded from two people in 2008, to 11 people in 2011, to the 30-person team we have now.

Helping people work regardless of geographical location is the startup’s concept. And true to that notion, Lancer itself is based in the quiet Tokyo suburb of Kamakura, where they can concentrate more on the service development.

Recently they are seeing a decent number of task proposals including jobs like copywriting, proposal writing, web design, or sales outsourcing.

With the platform, Akiyoshi hopes to contribute to creating a world where people can find good work and better living.

lancers_screenshot

CrowdWorks: An opportunity to work and live better

CrowdWorks'  CEO Koichiro Yoshida
CrowdWorks’ CEO Koichiro Yoshida

CrowdWorks is another key player in this field, and its website features many voices from people who use the platform. When I asked CrowdWorks’ CEO Koichiro Yoshida if crowdsourced work has become a mainstream working style, he answered me by relating the following story from a housewife who lives in Tokushima Prefecture and uses their app.

I’m glad to see a world I’ve never seen before, getting in touch with the interests of the younger generation. I’m also amazed that the platform provides us with equal accessibility to tasks regardless of where we live. I retired and moved to the countryside but the platform gives me the great opportunity to keep working at home.

For most people, their daily work is more than just earning money. It’s also a means of giving your life a sense of purpose. Crowdsourcing can help them find such a purpose in their lives as well.

Every worker has a preferred style for working. And CEO Yoshida says that freelancers can pursue a sort of career optimization in finding the projects that best suit their needs and style.

Take for example, PC operating systems. These days we have many choices ranging from licensed systems (like Windows or Mac) to open source (Linux) systems. Likewise, people employed at governmental offices or big companies can be seen as a ‘licensed’ way of working. What we’re proposing is to develop an open source way of working. Some people use the platform to finding a side job, and others use it to making a living. It’s meaningless to try to figure out which is the better route, but what’s important is give people more options, more ways to work.

The service was launched in March of 2012, and has acquired more than 5,000 corporate clients who are posting jobs on the platform. So far projects worth more than $12 million have been matched in the year since the launch. Back in last October, Crowdworks raised a total amount of $3.75 million (300 million yen) from Itochu Technology Ventures, Digital Garage, and Suneight Investment, with aiming to expand their business in the South East Asian region.

Working styles changed after the 2011 earthquake

We’ve asked the both startups about why the Japanese crowdsourcing market has been on an upswing during the last few years. Both Akiyoshi and Yoshida say that it appears to have stemmed from the tragic 2011 earthquake. That disaster also encouraged several Japanese crowdfunding sites to launch as well.

Akiyoshi pointed out that the disaster might have triggered the recent boom in the crowdsourcing market. It has brought us newly-coined phrases like ‘nomad working,’ and it has prompted many companies to permit their employees to work from home.

These crowdsourcing startups are presenting a fascinating alternative to conventional working styles in Japan, and in the process they are creating an employment ecosystem that’s helping many individual workers face the challenges of our current economy.

Crowdworks
Crowdworks

Live-streaming app TwitCasting surpasses 2 million users, but founder is a little distressed

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See the original story in Japanese. TwitCasting is an app that allows you to stream videos from iPhone or Android handsets. The service was launched early in 2010, and there have been good numbers in terms of user acquisition: reaching 250,000 users in 2010, 750,000 in 2011, and 1.75 million in 2012. On Thursday, we had a chance to speak with Yoski Akamatsu, the CEO of Moi Corp., the company behind the app. He explained more about the services sudden growth: I feel it rapidly shifted gears last November. Since the beginning of this year, we are acquiring almost 200,000 users a month. We may surpass 4 million users by the end of this year. […] The livecast channel has 200,000 to 300,000 visitors a day, and they usually stay for about 4 to 5 minutes on average. While I invented the service, I can’t really explain what has caused the recent rapid user growth. More than a half of our entire user base is people who are younger than 25 years old. He showed us a list of livecast programs, where thumbnail portrait of users livecasting can be seen for each one. As the CEO mentioned, they are pretty…

twitcasting

See the original story in Japanese.

TwitCasting is an app that allows you to stream videos from iPhone or Android handsets. The service was launched early in 2010, and there have been good numbers in terms of user acquisition: reaching 250,000 users in 2010, 750,000 in 2011, and 1.75 million in 2012. On Thursday, we had a chance to speak with Yoski Akamatsu, the CEO of Moi Corp., the company behind the app. He explained more about the services sudden growth:

I feel it rapidly shifted gears last November. Since the beginning of this year, we are acquiring almost 200,000 users a month. We may surpass 4 million users by the end of this year. […] The livecast channel has 200,000 to 300,000 visitors a day, and they usually stay for about 4 to 5 minutes on average. While I invented the service, I can’t really explain what has caused the recent rapid user growth. More than a half of our entire user base is people who are younger than 25 years old.

twitcasting_screenshot

He showed us a list of livecast programs, where thumbnail portrait of users livecasting can be seen for each one. As the CEO mentioned, they are pretty young – probably high school students, junior high school students, and teenagers. When we opened one program, it was explaining about how to put on make-up. Viewers then would leave comments on the video via Twitter.

[The sudden influx of] younger users might be caused by Atsushi Tamura, a comedian known for using the Twitcasting app on his TV show. Users visit our service with the expectation of making new friends online. They’re using it as a chat app.

The service is getting so popular so that has been featured in some magazines for teenagers, but it seems the CEO can’t keep up with this unforeseen popularity.

Compared to other similar services like Ustream or the live channels of Nico Nico Douga, the service pursues quality user communication. Instead of video quality, they are focusing on gaining real time capabilities like live radio programming, aligning the direction for the user community by adopting a real name-based membership system. But now that the younger generation shares a big portion of the user base, he has to intensify monitoring of video posts to ensure there’s no illegal activity involving minors.

TwitCasting was launched as a part of Yoski’s other startup, Sidefeed. It was spun-off in February of 2012 and incorporated as a new startup called Moi Corp.

They intend to monetize with advertising and paid-subscriptions, and currently revenue is roughly split between these two streams. The paid subscription from the Android app is showing good growth too.

The startup is now in talks with big companies exploring possible business partnerships.