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

SHARE:

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

Yosuke Akiyoshi, CEO of Lancers

See the original story in Japanese.

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

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

SHARE:

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

Garage
Image credit: MiddleField

See the original story in Japanese.

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

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

Garage
Image credit: MiddleField

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

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

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

 

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

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

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japanese e-commerce platform Base raises $13M, launches payments service subsidiary

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Base, the e-commerce platform provider dubbed Japan’s answer to Shopify, announced on Thursday that it has fundraised 1.5 billion yen (about $13.3 million US) from Japanese VC firm Global Brain and Japanese accounting SaaS (Software as a service) provider Money Forward (TSE:3994). This round was led by Global Brain but no financial term of the deal has been disclosed. Base has partnered with Money Forward to share a potential user base of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) with each others. Using the funds, Base plans to strengthen hiring talents to solidify management foundation. On the same day, Base announced that it has spun off payments platform businesses, such as PAY.JP and PAY ID, to set up a fully-owned subsidiary called Pay. Kenichi Takano, the current project leader for payment platform businesses at Base, was appointed CEO for the new company while Base CEO Yuta Tsuruoka joined the management board. See also: Base, Japan’s answer to Shopify, snags $14M to strengthen payment solutions unit Expanding beyond e-commerce platform The highly anticipated e-commerce platform has been advanced to the next stage by serving 450,000 merchants and 3 million mobile app users while their payments business…

L to R: Pay CEO Kenichi Takano, Base CEO Yuta Tsuruoka
Image credit: Base

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Base, the e-commerce platform provider dubbed Japan’s answer to Shopify, announced on Thursday that it has fundraised 1.5 billion yen (about $13.3 million US) from Japanese VC firm Global Brain and Japanese accounting SaaS (Software as a service) provider Money Forward (TSE:3994). This round was led by Global Brain but no financial term of the deal has been disclosed. Base has partnered with Money Forward to share a potential user base of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) with each others. Using the funds, Base plans to strengthen hiring talents to solidify management foundation.

On the same day, Base announced that it has spun off payments platform businesses, such as PAY.JP and PAY ID, to set up a fully-owned subsidiary called Pay. Kenichi Takano, the current project leader for payment platform businesses at Base, was appointed CEO for the new company while Base CEO Yuta Tsuruoka joined the management board.

See also:

Expanding beyond e-commerce platform

PAY.JP
Image credit: Pay

The highly anticipated e-commerce platform has been advanced to the next stage by serving 450,000 merchants and 3 million mobile app users while their payments business has processed transactions 40 times more than that one year ago. Tsuruoka showed his confidence by seeing some actual performance indicators are higher than disclosed ones while his company claims that it saw the greatest growth last year since its launch.

In response to our question about the situation of Base Live, the company’s recently-launched live commerce platform that enables merchants to introduce and sell products through live performance, he told us that it still gives them some impact on transactions while there are many apparel merchants whose monthly sales reach nearly 1 million yen ($8,800). However, the live commerce platform has become popular among merchants in view of another channel for creating a fan base.

This large-scale funding may be based on all these results. Regarding the purpose of the funding, Tsuruoka says:

Our funding purpose has been changed from surviving to growing.

No doubt that the payments business was spun off because this space has high potential for extensive growth. While the Base platform has been esteemed because it allows anyone to easily build an e-commerce presence, the company’s payments businesses have to deal with different types of data and serve diverse user demographics. So the company spin-out is reasonable in optimizing their decision-making process from now on.

The company now has a staff of about 100 people, which is doubled from last year, including 20 staffers in charge of payments businesses.

On a related note, Base unveiled on Thursday that it has launched another fully-owned subsidiary called Base Bank. They claim the new company will target a new business area but no further details have been disclosed. In view of Japanese C2C marketplace startup Mercari having invested in Base and founded a new business-focused subsidiary called Souzoh, Base Bank may aim at a similar goal like building various apps and diversifying businesses.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japanese fashion commerce giant Zozotown acquires fashion coordination startup Vasilly

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based startup Vasily, which runs online fashion coordination service iQON, announced on Thursday that it has been acquired by Start Today (TSE:3092), the company behind Japan’s leading fashion commerce site Zozotown. Details on financial terms have not been disclosed. See also: Japan’s fashion coordination app iQon unveils native advertising service Japanese fashion coordination site iQON surpasses 1 million users Japanese fashion site iQon lands partnership with Italian online mall Yoox.com Japanese fashion coordination site iQON raises $3.2M, will boost marketing efforts Vasily was founded back in 2008 and subsequently launched fashion coordination service iQON back in April of 2018. Using the mobile app or desktop, the service allows one to combine clothing and accessories online while sharing fashion coordination ideas with other users. Each item has a direct link to fashion e-commerce sites where purchases are made, and the startup will generate revenue from partner sites using an affiliate model. Their mobile app is highly evaluated and has been selected as the best apps several times on the Apple iTunes Appstore and Google Play. Meanwhile, Start Today, the company behind Zozotown, launched a fashion coordination app called Wear back in 2013, having since acquired…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based startup Vasily, which runs online fashion coordination service iQON, announced on Thursday that it has been acquired by Start Today (TSE:3092), the company behind Japan’s leading fashion commerce site Zozotown. Details on financial terms have not been disclosed.

See also:

Vasily was founded back in 2008 and subsequently launched fashion coordination service iQON back in April of 2018. Using the mobile app or desktop, the service allows one to combine clothing and accessories online while sharing fashion coordination ideas with other users. Each item has a direct link to fashion e-commerce sites where purchases are made, and the startup will generate revenue from partner sites using an affiliate model. Their mobile app is highly evaluated and has been selected as the best apps several times on the Apple iTunes Appstore and Google Play.

Meanwhile, Start Today, the company behind Zozotown, launched a fashion coordination app called Wear back in 2013, having since acquired 9 million downloads and 6 million coordination pattern posts. According to the financial report of Start Today, the company has annually transacted 212 billion yen (about $1.9 billion US) as of March this year on the Zozotown marketplace.

See also:

The content of the partnership between the two companies has not been disclosed. However, it is expected that Start Today and Vasily will jointly conduct a measure to encourage sales leveraging items and user preference data collected by both companies respectively.

Yuki Kanayama, CEO and founder of Vasily, declined our request to disclose the details but he says,

We can’t yet disclose the details about for how much we have been acquired or what we will jointly work with Start Today on. However, all I can sa is that the key will be data. We believe that we can do more business than ever by combining existing and future data held by Start Today and our own Vasily technology.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s LaFabric, shirt and suit tailor startup, gets $6.6M to enrich original product lineup

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Lifestyle Design, running the LaFabric online store focused on made-to-measure shirts and custom business suits for men, announced on Monday that it has secured a total of 740 million yen (about $6.6 million) from Globis Partners, Nissay Capital and Spiral Ventures Japan (previously known as IMJ Investment Partners Japan) in funding with loans from Japan Finance Corporation. Detailed financial terms have not been disclosed. Coinciding with the funding, the company appointed their former CFO Kenichiro Mishima as a managing director while adding Globis Capital Partners’ Yuki Watanabe and Nissay Capital’s Kenko Nagai to the management board. Following the launch of online fashion store back in February of 2014, the company successfully raised 100 million yen from Nissay Capital in 2015. Subsequently they launched a real flagship store in Shibuya back in 2016 while occasionally before that opening pop-up stores here and there. They secured 400 million yen (about $3.5 million) in funding back in January this year, seeing a steady growth these days. In order to the strengthen direct-to-consumer model, Lifestyle Design will use the funds to improve user experience at both online and offline stores while enriching the lineup of their original…

Image credit: Lifestyle Design

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Lifestyle Design, running the LaFabric online store focused on made-to-measure shirts and custom business suits for men, announced on Monday that it has secured a total of 740 million yen (about $6.6 million) from Globis Partners, Nissay Capital and Spiral Ventures Japan (previously known as IMJ Investment Partners Japan) in funding with loans from Japan Finance Corporation. Detailed financial terms have not been disclosed.

Coinciding with the funding, the company appointed their former CFO Kenichiro Mishima as a managing director while adding Globis Capital Partners’ Yuki Watanabe and Nissay Capital’s Kenko Nagai to the management board.

Following the launch of online fashion store back in February of 2014, the company successfully raised 100 million yen from Nissay Capital in 2015. Subsequently they launched a real flagship store in Shibuya back in 2016 while occasionally before that opening pop-up stores here and there. They secured 400 million yen (about $3.5 million) in funding back in January this year, seeing a steady growth these days.

In order to the strengthen direct-to-consumer model, Lifestyle Design will use the funds to improve user experience at both online and offline stores while enriching the lineup of their original fashion products.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

LaFabric Real Store in Shibuya
Image credit: Lifestyle Design

Japan’s Crevo raises $2.8M, aiming to help crowdsourced animators work smarter

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Crevo, the Japanese startup offering crowdsurced animation production platform, announced on Thursday that it has secured 310 million yen (about $2.8 million US) in funding. This round was led by Itochu Technology Ventures with participation from Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Capital, AG Capital, and D4V. Detailed financial terms such as share ratios and the payment date have not been disclosed. Additionally, the company will launch the Collet animation production management tool, which until now had been used internally only. The tool organizes the portfolio of animation creators, a job board, video files generated during the production process, and chatting function with clients. The company believes that conducting meetings with clients online can cut time down by 1/5th. The company will initially open this tool up to 30 ad agencies and video production companies. According to Crevo CEO Kensuke Shibata, the usage fees remain undecided, but we should expect it to be cheaper than the monthly fees of hiring an assistant for process management. The funds raised this time around will go towards the future development of this platform. For better serving creators In recent years, several specialized crowdsourcing platforms geared at creators have appeared….

The Crevo team

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Crevo, the Japanese startup offering crowdsurced animation production platform, announced on Thursday that it has secured 310 million yen (about $2.8 million US) in funding. This round was led by Itochu Technology Ventures with participation from Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Capital, AG Capital, and D4V. Detailed financial terms such as share ratios and the payment date have not been disclosed.

Additionally, the company will launch the Collet animation production management tool, which until now had been used internally only. The tool organizes the portfolio of animation creators, a job board, video files generated during the production process, and chatting function with clients. The company believes that conducting meetings with clients online can cut time down by 1/5th.

Collet

The company will initially open this tool up to 30 ad agencies and video production companies. According to Crevo CEO Kensuke Shibata, the usage fees remain undecided, but we should expect it to be cheaper than the monthly fees of hiring an assistant for process management. The funds raised this time around will go towards the future development of this platform.

For better serving creators

In recent years, several specialized crowdsourcing platforms geared at creators have appeared. Similar to Crevo, these platforms in Japan like Kaizen (growth hacking / online experience optimization), Viibar (video production) and Mugenup (game character illustration) are aiming to create their own way of systematizing workflows by linking together creators scattered all over the world online.

The creative field, not just animation or video production, is populated by those with individualized skills. If a company puts out similar orders, as expected the client’s output will have little variation. The crowdsourcing method also has a great advantage in terms of presenting options from the client’s perspective.

On the one hand, giving directions online can be difficult. Even if you prepare tools to ensure efficiency, if someone cannot use them, it could lead to further inefficiency. Crevo made the decision to open up Collet to the public after refining it through projects with 700 companies over the past three years. According to Shibata, there has been an increase in requests for animation production from media publishers and printing companies.

What stands out is that the orders are coming from departments separate from the companies’ advertising divisions. The business is still developing and, while it is trivial, I’d like to see some explanatory materials, but it seems that Crevo’s service is prepared to meet those needs.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru IKeda

Japan’s Tech Bureau raises $14.7M to boost blockchain apps, cryptocurrency exchange

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Tech Bureau, the Japanese startup offering cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, announced today that it has fundraissed 1.6 billion yen (about $14.7 million) from Tokyo-based enterprise software company Infoteria (TSE:3853) and investment firm Jafco (TSE:8595). According to the Nikkei, the funds will be used to enhance infrastructure and service development of Zaif, the company’s cryptocurrency exchange, also focusing on expanding Mijin and their other private blockchain-based products to the European and Asian markets. The company is about to launch a token sale on October 2nd for their COMSA platform for ICOs (initial coin offerings) while the Nikkei article says that the project has remarkably attracted over 120,000 registrants who manifest interest in the sale. The COMSA platform will raise funds through a token sale for improving the service environment of itself. So the funds in the latest announcement is cash injection into Tech Bureau rather than the COMSA platform, separately dealt with by the purpose of use. Speaking of the COMSA platform, Japanese financial information provider Fisco (TSE:3807), Nippon Technology Venture Partners (NTVP) and ABBALab have recently committed to investing in CMS (the platform’s token coin) and XEM (NEM cryptocurrency). Tech Bureau announced yesterday that…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tech Bureau, the Japanese startup offering cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, announced today that it has fundraissed 1.6 billion yen (about $14.7 million) from Tokyo-based enterprise software company Infoteria (TSE:3853) and investment firm Jafco (TSE:8595). According to the Nikkei, the funds will be used to enhance infrastructure and service development of Zaif, the company’s cryptocurrency exchange, also focusing on expanding Mijin and their other private blockchain-based products to the European and Asian markets.

The company is about to launch a token sale on October 2nd for their COMSA platform for ICOs (initial coin offerings) while the Nikkei article says that the project has remarkably attracted over 120,000 registrants who manifest interest in the sale.

The COMSA platform will raise funds through a token sale for improving the service environment of itself. So the funds in the latest announcement is cash injection into Tech Bureau rather than the COMSA platform, separately dealt with by the purpose of use.

Speaking of the COMSA platform, Japanese financial information provider Fisco (TSE:3807), Nippon Technology Venture Partners (NTVP) and ABBALab have recently committed to investing in CMS (the platform’s token coin) and XEM (NEM cryptocurrency). Tech Bureau announced yesterday that Japanese angel investor Kotaro Chiba has invested bitcoins worth $1 million US in the COMSA platform in the pre-sale phase.

See also:

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edted by “Tex” Pomeroy

WAmazing, offering free SIM cards for foreign visitors to Japan, secures $9.2 million

SHARE:

This is the abridged version from our original article in Japanese. Tokyo-based WAmazing, the Japanese startup offering free SIM cards and tourism services to foreign visitors to Japan, announced today that it has secured funding in the latest round. Participating investors in this round were SBI Investment, Mizuho Capital, Sony Innovation Fund, Beenos, Opt Ventures and Shizuoka Capital, as well as two angel investors, Naoki Aoyagi (former Gree CFO) and Nobuhiro Ariyasu (founder of Coach United / member of Tokyo Founders Fund). Coinciding with loans from government-backed Japan Finance Corporation along with Mizuho Bank and Shizuoka Bank, WAmazing secured a total of 1 billion yen (about $9.2 million) in funding and debt but the financial terms have not been disclosed. The company claims that the funds will be used to enhance service development and human resources. See also: This startup offers free SIM cards at airport to help foreign visitors get around Japan The service packages together a SIM card, a tour guide app and information on reservations by working with smartphones. In addition to an iOS app which has been available since the launch of the service, they released an Android app back in August and expanded the locations…

Foreign visitors picking up a free SIM card from a WAmazing vending machine at Chubu Centrair Airport
Image credit: WAmazing

This is the abridged version from our original article in Japanese.

Tokyo-based WAmazing, the Japanese startup offering free SIM cards and tourism services to foreign visitors to Japan, announced today that it has secured funding in the latest round. Participating investors in this round were SBI Investment, Mizuho Capital, Sony Innovation Fund, Beenos, Opt Ventures and Shizuoka Capital, as well as two angel investors, Naoki Aoyagi (former Gree CFO) and Nobuhiro Ariyasu (founder of Coach United / member of Tokyo Founders Fund).

Coinciding with loans from government-backed Japan Finance Corporation along with Mizuho Bank and Shizuoka Bank, WAmazing secured a total of 1 billion yen (about $9.2 million) in funding and debt but the financial terms have not been disclosed. The company claims that the funds will be used to enhance service development and human resources.

See also:

The service packages together a SIM card, a tour guide app and information on reservations by working with smartphones. In addition to an iOS app which has been available since the launch of the service, they released an Android app back in August and expanded the locations of vending machines offering SIM cards from all three terminals at Narita Airport into Chubu Centrair Airport in central Japan, near Nagoya. The number of hotels that users can book through the app has reached 10,000 as of now.

In response to our question to Fumiko Kato, CEO of WAmazing, she told us the app had been installed 35,000 times and 12,000 SIM cards had been distributed as of the end of August. These stats are only for iOS app users and do not include that of Android users.

Kato shared their future outlook:

About 80% of visitors from Hong Kong and Taiwan, the demographics we are targeting, are using Android handsets. According to the survey we conducted among our 2,000 users, we found that about 70% of them had visited Japan at least once an year.

Since the interval between their visits to Japan is shorter than expected, we expect these repeat users to contribute more to our user growth. We aim to surpass 100,000 users by the end of next March.

The company recently added a payments function to its mobile app so that users can complete payments when booking a hotel online. Now they are planning to introduce a robot for distributing SIM cards to users at more locations, aiming to gain 80% of the market for foreign visitors using all airports across Japan within this year.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s Anri launches $56M third fund

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Anri, the startup-focused investment fund led by Anri Samata, revealed on Thursday that it has formed Anri Investment Fund Limited Partnership No.3. Participating investors in this fund include Yahoo Japan, SME Support JAPAN, Mizuho Bank, and Seibu Shinkin Bank as well as existing investors such as Mixi, Gree, Adways in addition to Voyage Group. The fund is worth about 6 billion yen, or $55.6 million US. The fund also unveiled that it will form an in-house team with expertise necessary to build and manage companies, aiming to give their portfolio companies intensive follow-on support from the aspects of legal affairs, intellectual property, team management, public relations, marketing strategy, among others, which we have seen at US firms like Andreessen Horowitz offering to their investee companies. The fund currently has two offices in Shibuya (Tokyo’s largest startup neighborhood) and Hongo (near the University of Tokyo), each of which has teams undergoing incubation. It plans to add some locations to nourish more seed startups which are typically comprised of one to three team members. Samata says that his firm has invested in 47 companies through its No.1 and No.2 funds. Renowned investees include UUUM (multichannel…

Anri Samata (right), Masahiro Samejima (left)

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Anri, the startup-focused investment fund led by Anri Samata, revealed on Thursday that it has formed Anri Investment Fund Limited Partnership No.3. Participating investors in this fund include Yahoo Japan, SME Support JAPAN, Mizuho Bank, and Seibu Shinkin Bank as well as existing investors such as Mixi, Gree, Adways in addition to Voyage Group. The fund is worth about 6 billion yen, or $55.6 million US.

The fund also unveiled that it will form an in-house team with expertise necessary to build and manage companies, aiming to give their portfolio companies intensive follow-on support from the aspects of legal affairs, intellectual property, team management, public relations, marketing strategy, among others, which we have seen at US firms like Andreessen Horowitz offering to their investee companies. The fund currently has two offices in Shibuya (Tokyo’s largest startup neighborhood) and Hongo (near the University of Tokyo), each of which has teams undergoing incubation. It plans to add some locations to nourish more seed startups which are typically comprised of one to three team members.

Samata says that his firm has invested in 47 companies through its No.1 and No.2 funds. Renowned investees include UUUM (multichannel network offering business opportunities to YouTubers), Raksul (on-demand printing), Coincheck (bitcoin exchange), Coiney (SaaS-based credit card processor), Smart Drive (automobile data tracking), Schoo (online learning for business skills), Kanmu (rewarding platform for credit card holders), Clue (drone service), and Hacosco (instant VR solution). The firm has made an exit regarding five startups from the No.1 fund by selling their stake, namely Mery (women-focused fashion curation site), Mamari (mom-focused Q&A app), U-note (collaborative event summary platform), and Anydoor (crowdsourced translation).

Actively supporting “high-maintenance” seed stage companies

Uuum: IPO-ed as of August 30th

Six years since the establishment of Anri’s first fund, it was Uuum, which IPO-ed on the TSE Mothers Market on August 30th, that began to attract significant attention to the company. Four years ago and before YouTuber-related businesses heated up, Uuum secured seed round funding from Anri and successfully led the Japanese livestreaming sector. According to Uuum’s securities report, Anri has a about 17% stake in the YouTuber management startup.

Samata explained that the company’s style will not change, holding 10% in the seed round, raising that to 15% to commit to the business as the lead investor, and after additional follow-on investment their plan is to keep the final shareholding ratio at about 25%. It is a concept that includes actively engaging in the business without taking over the big corporate decisions.

On one hand, this method requires a lot of work. If we look at the investment style of other funds, the IPO (TSE) ranges from a 10 billion yen ($91M US) to 20 billion ($181M US) yen scale, or with acquisitions the range is in the tens of billions of yen. By making a big commitment to businesses, investors can expect a big return upon exiting, or they can invest many times and take a hands-off approach.

However, at the young age of 33, Samata chose such a thorny path out of the desire to show himself working hard as an entrepreneur. Since the size of the fund increased this time around, the company is prepared to offer up to 500 million yen (about $4.5M US) as a follow-on investment.

The potential of collaborations with ICO funding

Eiji Tsukiyama, CEO of Sapeet, one of Anri’s portfolio companies

Another characteristic of Anri is their belief in aggressive investment in technology-centric seed companies. Some of these examples include Hacosco (instant VR solution) and Smart Drive (car telematrics), as well Sapeet (avatar-based 3D try-on) launched by Eiji Tsukiyama, a student majoring in fluid mechanics at the University of Tokyo. According to Samata’s explanation, although seed companies in these technological and research areas have administrative funding support, for most there is a deep “valley of death” situated between them and a series A round when these startups can finally turn their idea into a market-ready product.

According to Samata’s explanation, although seed companies in these technological and research areas have administrative funding support, for most there is a deep “valley of death” situated between them and a series A round when startups can finally turn their idea into a market-ready product.

Masahiro Sameshima, a partner participating in Anri, is originally from the University of Tokyo’s Edge Capital and has a deep knowledge of technical fields. Nonetheless, seed investment is difficult in that there is no guarantee of success 100% of the time.

I asked Samata about the possibility of using ICO (Initial Coin Offering) funding, which has become increasingly popular recently. In the US there is information that firms like Union Square Ventures and Winklevoss Capital are seeking to form a “hybrid” with VC funding.

In regards to this, Samata expressed his thoughts by referencing the investments in Branch, a matching service for children with developmental disorders and experts.

I believe a fund is a product of venture capital. For example, I, myself, am donating 10 million yen annually, but the problems that can be solved in the non-profit and for profit sectors are different. However, at first glance, it looks like even problems that can only be solved through donations may also be able to use VC funding. Currently information regarding this is being gathered through making donations.

The method of token sales is also fundraising, which also leads to the possibility of exit (management buy-out for entrepreneurs and, in some cases, dividends) for investors and backers.

This is my personal opinion, but I think that the destiny of the stock market includes always being under pressure from shareholders to “rise”. However, it is difficult to confirm every company involved in social activities, such as the above-mentioned Branch, with their advanced technologies in specialized areas, as a “rising” one. If the business is rich in variety, it stands to reason they should have more funding and exit options.

While the conversation never drifted to the discussion of concrete information this time around, Samata definitely demonstrated his deep knowledge of token sales. Anri aims to support 100 companies with their 3rd fund.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Sapeet brings avatar-based 3D try-on tool using only web browser for online shoppers

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Sapeet, the Japanese fashion-tech startup spun of from the University of Tokyo, recently announced the launch of an online virtual try-on service for online shoppers called 3D Sapeet EC tool. This service has been introduced on the VAYoreLA basketball clothing e-commerce site. Unlike typical virtual try-on services superimposing clothes images over wearer images, Sapeet EC tool prepares customer’s 3D avatar modelled after data on their body type and 3D clothes in actual size acquired from CAD data, and displays the try-on image created through physical simulation. With this method, customers can finely check the clothes’ size, length, or silhouette online – hardly imaginable from image compositions. The service also supports various dressing styles such as tuck-in of shirts, as well as expression of wearing pressures (tightness) which he /she will feel while actually wearing it. In addition, the firm aims to support specific posing / motion or custom-made clothing in the future. Try-on on cloud This system was developed by Sapeet CEO Eiji Tsukiyama. He applied his knowledge about hydrodynamics that he learned through studies in the University of Tokyo into fashion. Some readers may have seen the behavior of Tsunami expressed by…

Operaing screen of the 3D virtual try-on
Image credit: Sapeet

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Sapeet, the Japanese fashion-tech startup spun of from the University of Tokyo, recently announced the launch of an online virtual try-on service for online shoppers called 3D Sapeet EC tool. This service has been introduced on the VAYoreLA basketball clothing e-commerce site.

Unlike typical virtual try-on services superimposing clothes images over wearer images, Sapeet EC tool prepares customer’s 3D avatar modelled after data on their body type and 3D clothes in actual size acquired from CAD data, and displays the try-on image created through physical simulation.

With this method, customers can finely check the clothes’ size, length, or silhouette online – hardly imaginable from image compositions. The service also supports various dressing styles such as tuck-in of shirts, as well as expression of wearing pressures (tightness) which he /she will feel while actually wearing it. In addition, the firm aims to support specific posing / motion or custom-made clothing in the future.

Try-on on cloud

Eiji Tsukiyama, CEO of Sapeet

This system was developed by Sapeet CEO Eiji Tsukiyama. He applied his knowledge about hydrodynamics that he learned through studies in the University of Tokyo into fashion. Some readers may have seen the behavior of Tsunami expressed by hydrodynamic images in news programs, for example.

Tsukiyama had been involved in research of clothing simulation, then he hit on the idea of more real online try-on and decided to take on this product. This field is placed in so-called 3DCG tech, led by top players such as Disney, CAD software developer Autodesk, or graphic chip manufacturer Nvidia having the cutting-edge technologies and information.

However, some of readers familiar with internet may not regard it as something new. In Second Life provided by Linden Lab, users were able to create their own online avatars whose outfits can easily be changed. Similar metaverse products had appeared one after another. In addition, MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) games also realized the same concepts with them.

So, what is the potentiality for Sapeet?

Remember that Second Life users had to download the viewer prior to playing. The graphic processing capacity was necessary for local PC capable of detailed 3DCG rendering. In contrast, all services of Sapeet are provided via general web browser and the processing almost completes within cloud.

According to Tsukiyama, this system succeeded in reduction of the processing amount by focusing on the try-on situation, rather than applying 3DCG processing which are used in movies or games directly to cloud.

Wearing pressure condition; tight parts are colored in red
Image credit: Sapeet

In short, this try-on service works in multi-device environment including smartphone, unrestricted by the browsing device or environment.

In the future, every kind of social media will certainly evolve into what closely copies information about our daily lives. It can be clearly seen in the trend of recent conferences for developers that Facebook invested 5% of its whole human resources into the AR (Augmented Reality) or VR (Virtual Reality) development and have been gradually realizing metaverses in “really practical” quality as reported in the past article as the movement of web 3.0.

Therefore, Sapeet’s technology may become one of the essential ones needed in the forthcoming online life. Unfortunately, the author is not familiar with this field well and cannot compare it with other services / technologies, but found it being operated easily even in smartphone in demo use.

Tsukiyama told us that the in-between communication environment influences on the operation more significantly rather than the try-on processing, but it appears a very interesting service for me as one of the people who dreamed a virtual life in metaverse.

Co-authored by Takeshi Hirano and Sekiko Suzuki
Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy and Masaru Ikeda