THE BRIDGE

Masaru Ikeda

Masaru Ikeda

Masaru started his career as a programmer/engineer, and previously co-founded several system integration companies and consulting firms. He’s been traveling around Silicon Valley and Asia exploring the IT industry, and he also curates event updates for the Tokyo edition of Startup Digest.

Articles

Japan music marketplace Audiostock secures $5.8M for global subscription service

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Okayama, Japan-based Audiostock, the Japanese startup behind a marketplace for music composers and sound creators under the same name, has secured 670 million yen (about $5.8 million) in its latest round, according to Nikkei’s report on Wednesday. Participating investors include Susquehanna International Group, Ceres (TSE:3696), and HBCC Technology Investment. This follows the company’s series B round back in July of 2020 and previous funding from Link-U and CiP Council in April of 2020 as well as previous rounds in March of 2018 and October of 2012. The company has partnered with overseas companies to sell foreign-branded background music and sound effects to the Japanese market. With the latest round, the company is planning to sell Japanese music and sound effects to the global market on a subscription basis. Previously known as Cleoguga, Audiostock was founded in October of 2007 and subsequently launched the music marketplace in 2013. The company claims that it has attracted over 10,000 amateur composers and has helped promote games and music artists.

Image credit: Audiostock

Okayama, Japan-based Audiostock, the Japanese startup behind a marketplace for music composers and sound creators under the same name, has secured 670 million yen (about $5.8 million) in its latest round, according to Nikkei’s report on Wednesday. Participating investors include Susquehanna International Group, Ceres (TSE:3696), and HBCC Technology Investment.

This follows the company’s series B round back in July of 2020 and previous funding from Link-U and CiP Council in April of 2020 as well as previous rounds in March of 2018 and October of 2012.

The company has partnered with overseas companies to sell foreign-branded background music and sound effects to the Japanese market. With the latest round, the company is planning to sell Japanese music and sound effects to the global market on a subscription basis.

Previously known as Cleoguga, Audiostock was founded in October of 2007 and subsequently launched the music marketplace in 2013. The company claims that it has attracted over 10,000 amateur composers and has helped promote games and music artists.

Japan’s sticker character production Quan to merge with cartoonist agency Wwwaap

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Quan, the Japanese startup producing characters like Betakkuma and Business Fish for messaging stickers, has announced that it will merge with Wwwaap (pronounced ‘warp’), an agency of cartoonists and influencers. The two companies will be merged by January of 2022 to establish a new company called Minto. Quan’s CEO Kazuhiro Mizuno will be appointed as the CEO of the new company while Wwwaap’s CEO Genta Nakagawa, Wwwaap’s director Nobuyuki Takahashi, and Quan’s director Jun Oagawa will join the new company’s director board. In the U.S., influencing creators such as YouTubers, Instagramers, and Tiktokers are expanding their fan base all over the world, which has grown the creator economy up to over $104 billion US. Meanwhile, Japan’s creator economy is centered on two-dimensional content, mainly on manga and anime illustration. Webtoons originally from South Korea has recently spread into the Japanese market, which lets Kakao Japan operating the Piccolo manga app become valued over $7 billion US by riding on the wave. We won’t go into detail about Quan’s business here because we’ve covered them many times while Wwwaap was founded in 2016 by Nakagawa, who started a manga editing team and an app…

Nobuyuki Takahashi (Co-CEO of Wwwaap), Kazuhiro Mizuno (CEO of Quan), Genta Nakagawa (Co-CEO of Wwwaap)
Image credits Quan, Wwwaap

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Quan, the Japanese startup producing characters like Betakkuma and Business Fish for messaging stickers, has announced that it will merge with Wwwaap (pronounced ‘warp’), an agency of cartoonists and influencers. The two companies will be merged by January of 2022 to establish a new company called Minto. Quan’s CEO Kazuhiro Mizuno will be appointed as the CEO of the new company while Wwwaap’s CEO Genta Nakagawa, Wwwaap’s director Nobuyuki Takahashi, and Quan’s director Jun Oagawa will join the new company’s director board.

In the U.S., influencing creators such as YouTubers, Instagramers, and Tiktokers are expanding their fan base all over the world, which has grown the creator economy up to over $104 billion US. Meanwhile, Japan’s creator economy is centered on two-dimensional content, mainly on manga and anime illustration. Webtoons originally from South Korea has recently spread into the Japanese market, which lets Kakao Japan operating the Piccolo manga app become valued over $7 billion US by riding on the wave.

We won’t go into detail about Quan’s business here because we’ve covered them many times while Wwwaap was founded in 2016 by Nakagawa, who started a manga editing team and an app marketing team at a major digital ad agency. With more than 250 creators, mainly manga and anime creators attracting fans through social network channels, the company has successfully monetized their content by making companies to use them for promotion. It claims that 80 to 90% of the manga illustrations used in Twitter ads in Japan are created by them. In other words, they can be called a multi-channel network for manga artists.

Nakagawa says,

In this industry, even if you are extremely talented (as an artist), you can’t make a living. While there are many people quitting, we have succeeded in monetizing their works to tell them how much we can pay them if they have a certain number of followers. We have over than 250 manga artists having 10,000 followers, and some of them are housewives earning 10 million yen ($8.8 million US) a year.

By joining forces, the two companies are expected to create several complementary relationships. It allows Quan to distribute Wwwaap’s creators’ works through Quan’s vast region-wide network in Asia while Wwwaap will be able to expand its sales channels. In addition to their own characters, Quon will be able to play a trader role in the distribution of third-party content.

Mizuno says,

Whether it’s webtoon or animation, there are so many small productions are working here. It is true that this has created diversity, but in order to be strategic and dynamic business, a certain level of scale is necessary. If we only had our own characters, we would not be able to cover all the demands form clients. After subsiding the pandemic, it would be especially difficult to differentiate ourselves from other competitors from the rest of the world.

Some of characters and manga titles by Quan and wwwaap
Image credit: Quan, Wwwaap

Mizuno’s and Nakagawa’s different areas of expertise will complementary work. Despite several business models in hand Quan has been focused on monetizing by character merchandising as well as promotion use for companies in Asia after gaining popularity of unique characters through the use of free messaging stickers. Having successfully established his own business in Japan, Nakagawa expressed confidence in the business potential after the merger in terms of diversifying revenue stream in the region.

Japan’s Flatt Security nabs $1.8M to help developers fix security issues in codes

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Tokyo-based cybersecurity startup Flatt Security announced on Monday that it has secured about 200 million yen (about $1.8 million US) in equity and loans from B Dash Ventures, FinTech Global, and an unnamed business company. For the startup, this follows their $2 million funding back in July of 2019. The latest round brought their total sum of funding up to date to 450 million yen (about $4 million). Under its previous name of Flatt, the company was founded in May of 2017 with most of its members from millennials attending the University of Tokyo. Initially, they had been developing a live commerce app called PinQul but subsequently pivoted to the cybersecurity business and rebranded themselves in 2019. Flatt Security currently provides vulnerability assessment service as well as a secure coding learning platform for web engineers called Kenro. The company is launching a new product called Shisho for the global market, aiming to eliminate the gap between product development and cybersecurity measure within a team. In the app development, we see sometimes a trade-off between security and usability, and also that between ensuring safety and enriching functionality. The company’s solutions are designed to bridge the gap between app development engineers and…

The Flatt Security team
Image credit: Flatt Security

Tokyo-based cybersecurity startup Flatt Security announced on Monday that it has secured about 200 million yen (about $1.8 million US) in equity and loans from B Dash Ventures, FinTech Global, and an unnamed business company. For the startup, this follows their $2 million funding back in July of 2019. The latest round brought their total sum of funding up to date to 450 million yen (about $4 million).

Under its previous name of Flatt, the company was founded in May of 2017 with most of its members from millennials attending the University of Tokyo. Initially, they had been developing a live commerce app called PinQul but subsequently pivoted to the cybersecurity business and rebranded themselves in 2019.

Flatt Security currently provides vulnerability assessment service as well as a secure coding learning platform for web engineers called Kenro. The company is launching a new product called Shisho for the global market, aiming to eliminate the gap between product development and cybersecurity measure within a team.

In the app development, we see sometimes a trade-off between security and usability, and also that between ensuring safety and enriching functionality. The company’s solutions are designed to bridge the gap between app development engineers and security management engineers, who are often completely separated in doing their jobs each other.

Shisho
Image credit: Flatt Security

In addition to general cloud configuration and app diagnostics, Flatt Security offers diagnostics specific to the users of Firebase, one of popular no-code backend environment tools. When Japanese accounting company Freee acquired bookkeeping app Taxnote in June, Flatt Security’s diagnostics were adopted for evaluation upon acquisition and throughout subsequent operations.

The company has been focused on consulting and a learning platform but is aiming to expand its business with greater scalability by launching a security product for developers around the world.

In Bridge’s interview with Flatt Security’s Chief Creative Officer Keijiro Toyoda, he says,

Shisho’s goal is to create security tools that are easy for developers to use. Previous tools did not support modern technology stacks and did not support the latest diagnostic methods. […]

We would like to eliminate the gap between operating companies and security vendors which we have seen in the system development. First of all, we will closely work with ecosystems of developers, and eventually create a system that can suggest code fixes with just a single click.

Flatt Security hopes to expand Shisho’s global reach by penetrating the developer community. In order to achieve this, the company has released the vulnerability detection and correction engine, which is the technical core of Shisho, as open source software, and also released the SaaS-based beta version of the product earlier this month. They plan to use the revenue from existing businesses and the funds from the latest round to accelerate the launch of the new product.

SmartRyde helps travelers book airport cabs in 150 countries, nabs series A round

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SmartRyde, the Japanese startup behind a global airport transfer marketplace under the same name, announced that it has secured approximately 180 million yen (about $1.6 million) in a Series A round. This round was led by Angel Bridge with participation from SMBC Venture Capital, Hiroshima Venture Capital, SG Incubate, Yamaguchi Capital, Iyogin Capital, Inventum Ventures, Optima Ventures, and two individual investors: Shoji Kodama(Founder and CEO of Laxus Technologies) and Nobuaki Takahashi (Founder of Phil Company, Representative Partner of NOB). For the company, this follows their seed round in December 2019 when Angel Bridge poured cash injection into the startup for the first time. Originally known as DLGP, SmartRyde was founded in March 2017 by founder Sota Kimura, a student at Ritsumeikan University, after he was ripped off by a cab driver on his way from the airport to the city in Thailand. The company has worked with more than 650 airport transfer cab companies in 150 countries, as well as with more than 25 OTAs (online travel agencies) such as Booking.com, Expedia, Trip.com, Traveloka, and Despega. The company offers airport transfer cab sales service to users purchaing airline tickets through OTAs. The service is beneficial to both OTAs and travelers….

SmartRyde, the Japanese startup behind a global airport transfer marketplace under the same name, announced that it has secured approximately 180 million yen (about $1.6 million) in a Series A round. This round was led by Angel Bridge with participation from SMBC Venture Capital, Hiroshima Venture Capital, SG Incubate, Yamaguchi Capital, Iyogin Capital, Inventum Ventures, Optima Ventures, and two individual investors: Shoji Kodama(Founder and CEO of Laxus Technologies) and Nobuaki Takahashi (Founder of Phil Company, Representative Partner of NOB).

For the company, this follows their seed round in December 2019 when Angel Bridge poured cash injection into the startup for the first time.

Originally known as DLGP, SmartRyde was founded in March 2017 by founder Sota Kimura, a student at Ritsumeikan University, after he was ripped off by a cab driver on his way from the airport to the city in Thailand. The company has worked with more than 650 airport transfer cab companies in 150 countries, as well as with more than 25 OTAs (online travel agencies) such as Booking.com, Expedia, Trip.com, Traveloka, and Despega. The company offers airport transfer cab sales service to users purchaing airline tickets through OTAs.

The service is beneficial to both OTAs and travelers. For travelers, it frees them from the hassle of finding transportation to downtown at the airport. You may know Uber, Grab, and other ridehailing services are not allowed to operate to protect the employment of local cab drivers in selected countries. Furthermore, it may be very helpful to have a driver with your name waiting for you in the arrival lobby, and to have a means of transportation in advance in an environment where you may be less familiar with the language in the destination.

Meanwhile, OTAs are a very thin margin business. They are trying to diversify their product lines to car rentals and various activities in addition to airline tickets and accommodations, but price competition among them intensifies as users try to choose the cheapest option by comparing results from multiple OTAs. Furthermore, OTAs can’t sign contract with every single airport cab operator in the world, but having a bundler like SmartRyde simplifies the coordination process and creates an additional revenue stream.

In general, it is difficult to grab the status quo of demographics of visitors because their nationality may differ from their actual place of residence, but SmartRyde asks for a contact phone number at the time of sign-up, and from that country code, they are able to understand which region’s residents are visiting. According to the company, although business travel demand has decreased due to the pandemic, recently there has been an increase in cases of leisure use by families of 4-6 people, and users from the US (19%) and the UK (16%) have been visiting resorts in the Caribbean such as Cancun and Dominica.

The company will use the funds to hire business developers and engineers from around the world, strengthening system integration with OTAs and building a reservation management system for cab operators. In Japan, as you may see from the names of investors participating this round, the company will focus on revitalizing countryside and tourist destinations in collaboration with local cab operators and these VC firms.

Japan’s cloud-based CCTV solution provider Safie hits $1.6B market cap after IPO

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Safie (TSE: 4375), the Japanese startup offering cloud-based CCTV solutions, went public on the TSE Mothers market on Wednesday. The company has priced its initial public offering at 2,430 yen (about $22) a share but it hit the highest price of 3,700 yen (about $33) last week which brought the company’s market cap up to over 180 billion yen (about $1.6 billion). In Japan, Safie is this year’s fourth IPO-ed company with a market cap over 100 billion yen (about $900 million) at its opening price, following Taiwanese AI startup Appier, job-placement portal site BizReach’s parent company Visional, and data analysis firm Plus Alpha Consulting. Safie was founded in October of 2014 by Ryuhei Sadoshima (currently CEO) and his two longtime colleagues who all previously worked at Japanese image processing startup Motion Portrait, a spin-off of Sony’s Kihara Research Center. Sadoshima is also known for Daigakunote.com, his previous startup running a university student portal. The company launched a cloud-based CCTV solution back in 2015. Safie has so far secure funds from NTT Docomo Ventures, 31Ventures (by Mitsui Fudosan and Global Brain), Innovation Fund 25 (by Senshu Ikeda Bank and others), Orix, Kansai Electric…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Safie (TSE: 4375), the Japanese startup offering cloud-based CCTV solutions, went public on the TSE Mothers market on Wednesday. The company has priced its initial public offering at 2,430 yen (about $22) a share but it hit the highest price of 3,700 yen (about $33) last week which brought the company’s market cap up to over 180 billion yen (about $1.6 billion).

In Japan, Safie is this year’s fourth IPO-ed company with a market cap over 100 billion yen (about $900 million) at its opening price, following Taiwanese AI startup Appier, job-placement portal site BizReach’s parent company Visional, and data analysis firm Plus Alpha Consulting.

Safie was founded in October of 2014 by Ryuhei Sadoshima (currently CEO) and his two longtime colleagues who all previously worked at Japanese image processing startup Motion Portrait, a spin-off of Sony’s Kihara Research Center. Sadoshima is also known for Daigakunote.com, his previous startup running a university student portal. The company launched a cloud-based CCTV solution back in 2015.

Safie has so far secure funds from NTT Docomo Ventures, 31Ventures (by Mitsui Fudosan and Global Brain), Innovation Fund 25 (by Senshu Ikeda Bank and others), Orix, Kansai Electric Power, Canon Marketing Japan, NEC Capital Solutions, and others.

Japan’s Citadel AI secures seed round to automatically detect errors in predictions

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Citadel AI, the Japanese startup developing automated AI quality maintenance tools, announced on Monday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $900,000 US) in a seed round from UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC) and Anri. For the startup, this is the first funding from external investors. They launched Citadel Rader in beta in May, aiming to help companies protect themselves from AI-specific risks by automatically monitoring their AI systems, detecting, blocking, and visualizing anomalies. Citadel AI was launched in December by CEO Hironori “Rick” Kobayashi and CTO Kenny Song. Prior to Citadel AI, Kobayashi served Loyalty Marketing as president, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas) as SVP, and US-based meat processing firm Indiana Packers Corporation as CEO. Meanwhile, Song led the development of TensorFlow and AutoML as a product manager at Google Brain, the tech giant’s AI research and development unit. Unlike traditional hardware-based software, AI systems are exposed to an ever-changing real-world environment that degrades their accuracy and quality day by day. It is important for businesses to maintain the quality of AI functions by automatically detecting anomalies before they are misrecognized and misjudged, resulting in business losses and compliance issues. Citadel Rader has an XAI (eXplainable Artificial Intelligence) function that…

Image credit: Citadel AI

Citadel AI, the Japanese startup developing automated AI quality maintenance tools, announced on Monday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $900,000 US) in a seed round from UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC) and Anri. For the startup, this is the first funding from external investors. They launched Citadel Rader in beta in May, aiming to help companies protect themselves from AI-specific risks by automatically monitoring their AI systems, detecting, blocking, and visualizing anomalies.

Citadel AI was launched in December by CEO Hironori “Rick” Kobayashi and CTO Kenny Song. Prior to Citadel AI, Kobayashi served Loyalty Marketing as president, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas) as SVP, and US-based meat processing firm Indiana Packers Corporation as CEO. Meanwhile, Song led the development of TensorFlow and AutoML as a product manager at Google Brain, the tech giant’s AI research and development unit.

Unlike traditional hardware-based software, AI systems are exposed to an ever-changing real-world environment that degrades their accuracy and quality day by day. It is important for businesses to maintain the quality of AI functions by automatically detecting anomalies before they are misrecognized and misjudged, resulting in business losses and compliance issues. Citadel Rader has an XAI (eXplainable Artificial Intelligence) function that automatically detects and blocks AI input and output anomalies and visualizes them in a form that humans can understand.

Kobayashi says,

In the development stage, AI reads only clean data, but when it moves to actual operation, it receives a variety of data, including those with input errors. Basically, people think that computers will give correct answers, and even if they give wrong answers, it is difficult to point them out.

Since it is difficult for companies to allocate human resources to monitor the output of AI, our tool may help AI engineers who are usually busy with their daily work find the time to concentrate on their original work.

Image credit: Citadel AI

When a system integrator receives an order for an AI system, they will typically implement the system but not provide services to automate the operation and maintenance afterwards.

Kobayashi continued,

If the accuracy and quality of the data deteriorates, in the worst case scenario, it could lead to errors in sales forecasting, or in credit approval. For example, think FATF (Financial Action Task Force, the global organization working with money laundering regulators in various countries). A single node with poor security in determining a money laundering case could lead to the vulnerability of the entire global network, which could lead to the node not being allowed to join the organization.

He added that Citadel Rader is currently used by more than 10 companies on a trial basis and is in talks with more than 100 companies as potential users. The company plans to use the funds to expand its engineering team for the product’s official launch which is scheduled next spring.

Japanese smart lock developer Photosynth files for IPO

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Tokyo-based Photosynth, the Japanese startup developing and offering smart lock Akerun as well as cloud-based room-entry access control system, announced on Thursday that its application to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on November 5 with plans to offer 700,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 946,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 5,613,300 shares. The underwriting will be led by Daiwa Securities and Credit Suisse while Photosynth’s ticker code will be 4379. Based on the estimated issue price of 1,500 yen (about $13.4), the company will be valued at 22.9 billion yen (about $204.2 million). Its share price range will be released on October 19 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on October 20 and pricing on October 26. According to the consolidated statement as of December 2020, they posted revenue of 1,175.9 million yen ($10.5 million) with an ordinary loss of 683.5 million yen ($6.1 million). Founded back in September 2014 by Kodai Kawase, Photosynth aims to allow people to gain access to spaces without carrying physical keys. They have developed IoT-based connected smart locks and a cloud-based authentication platform, offering them to…

Photostynth CEO Kodai Kawase

Tokyo-based Photosynth, the Japanese startup developing and offering smart lock Akerun as well as cloud-based room-entry access control system, announced on Thursday that its application to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on November 5 with plans to offer 700,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 946,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 5,613,300 shares. The underwriting will be led by Daiwa Securities and Credit Suisse while Photosynth’s ticker code will be 4379.

Based on the estimated issue price of 1,500 yen (about $13.4), the company will be valued at 22.9 billion yen (about $204.2 million). Its share price range will be released on October 19 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on October 20 and pricing on October 26. According to the consolidated statement as of December 2020, they posted revenue of 1,175.9 million yen ($10.5 million) with an ordinary loss of 683.5 million yen ($6.1 million).

Founded back in September 2014 by Kodai Kawase, Photosynth aims to allow people to gain access to spaces without carrying physical keys. They have developed IoT-based connected smart locks and a cloud-based authentication platform, offering them to users based on a subscription basis.

Last year, the company introduced the Akerun Access Intelligence, an access authentication platform to realize a keyless society, as well as a new service called the Akerun visitor management system. In this scheme, users can associate their unique identity used in real life, such as NFC transit card, smartphone, employee ID and entrance pass with their digital entity such as e-mail address and phone number, and then register all them in to the cloud. This allows users to gain access to various spaces such as their office, building and home with just a single ID.

The company won the grand prize at the JR East Startup Program, a startup accelerator program by Japan’s largest railway company, with a system offering access control for the entry to office buildings using JR’s Suica NFC transit card. They established a joint venture with Japanese leading lock and security company Miwa Lock in January.

Led by CEO Kawase (18.35%), the company’s major shareholders include Globis Capital Partners (9.81%), Norinchukin Bank (7.45%), Jafco (5.47%), Fidelity Funds (4.34%), Globis Fund (4.19%), Daiwa Corporate Investment (4.18%), Gaiax (3.82%), Tokyo Metropolitan Government (3.48%), Fidelity Japan Trust (3.10%), and Executive Vice President Hiroaki Uesaka (2.65%).

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Japan’s Incubate Fund launches $147M fund for growth-stage startups

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Tokyo-based VC firm Incubate Fund announced on Tuesday that it has established a new growth fund called IFGO worth 16.1 billion yen (about $147 million). This is the sixth flagship fund for the firm since its first fund established in 2010 (excluding regional funds and franchise funds in India, the US, and Brazil). With the launch of the new fund, Incubate Fund’s AUM (assets under management) has reached approximately 62 billion yen (about $567 million). Focusing on follow-on investments in their more than 400 portfolio companies, the firm will start investing in middle- and later-stage startups. The firm has been focused on investing in early-stage startups, especially those in seed to series B rounds. When a promising startup in need of funding came to the firm but they are in the middle or later stage, the firm may have experienced to decline the startup’s request due to scope mismatch. In an interview with Bridge, Masahiko Honma, the firm’s founder and managing partner says, the new fund is to actively invest in the firm’s portfolio startups preparing for IPO and help them become unicorns. The fund’s ticket size is expected to be 500 million to 2.5 billion yen (about $4.6 million…

Image credit: Incubate Fund

Tokyo-based VC firm Incubate Fund announced on Tuesday that it has established a new growth fund called IFGO worth 16.1 billion yen (about $147 million). This is the sixth flagship fund for the firm since its first fund established in 2010 (excluding regional funds and franchise funds in India, the US, and Brazil). With the launch of the new fund, Incubate Fund’s AUM (assets under management) has reached approximately 62 billion yen (about $567 million). Focusing on follow-on investments in their more than 400 portfolio companies, the firm will start investing in middle- and later-stage startups.

The firm has been focused on investing in early-stage startups, especially those in seed to series B rounds. When a promising startup in need of funding came to the firm but they are in the middle or later stage, the firm may have experienced to decline the startup’s request due to scope mismatch. In an interview with Bridge, Masahiko Honma, the firm’s founder and managing partner says, the new fund is to actively invest in the firm’s portfolio startups preparing for IPO and help them become unicorns.

Image credit: Incubate Fund

The fund’s ticket size is expected to be 500 million to 2.5 billion yen (about $4.6 million to 22.8 million), aiming to actively lead pre-IPO rounds. If it is possible for middle- and later-stage startups to secure billions of yen in their pre-IPO round, they will no longer have to rush into an IPO but will be able to gain sufficient profitability, recognition, an appropriate valuation before it. The Japanese market used to be ridiculed for having many small IPOs compared to the U.S. and other countries, but the recent emergence of growth funds and large funds in Japan may help resolve these issues.

The firm also disclosed some of the investees from the new fund: ispace (lunar development), BellFace (online sales SaaS), Wovn (website multilingualization solution), Timers (parenting app development), Caster (online secretary and assistant), and Satori (marketing automation tool developer). Since all these startups have won a certain level of recognition from the market, there’s no doubt if any of them has started countdown to an IPO.

Image credit: Incubate Fund

About 57% of the new fund is backed by financial institutions and university foundations from North America, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Honma says there may be two main reasons behind the fact. First, the firm proactively disclosed their track records, sharing their performance to date in terms of DPI (Distributions to Paid in Capital) with potential investors, which helped gain the latter’s great understanding.

Secondly, geopolitical trends have also had a significant impact on the market. Due to the offensive between the U.S. and Chinese governments, as well as the restrictions imposed by the Chinese government, China’s big tech market is becoming increasingly suspicious. Even though we don’t know much about the inner workings of the market, the world’s money, with its huge appetite for consumption and expectations of speculative growth, is losing its way here. The Japanese market has been attracting attention because of its moderate market size, stable politics and economy, and steady real returns.

Honma says,

I have wanted to launch such a fund for a long time. Asked about why we could do it at this time this year, I think it’s significantly triggered by the momentum.

Incubate Fund has a strong presence in Japan, but I had a strong impression that they are pouring money from Japanese investors into promising startups in Southeast Asia, as Homma is based out of Singapore and they have invested in KK Fund other funds in the region. With the launch of the new fund, a two-way money flow will be created where funds from overseas will be invested in Japanese startups, which will benefit their international business expansion in the future.

Since the beginning of this year, Japanese independent VC firms have launched a series of large funds worth over 10 billion yen (about $9.1 million): One Capital closed its first fund with 16 billion yen while University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) launched its 30 billion yen fifth fund. Coral Capital launched its third fund worth 14 billion yen, revealing that a third of its investors are from overseas.

Kamereo secures $4.5M in series A to expand food supply chains in Vietnam

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Ho Chi Minh City-based Kamereo, the startup behind a B2B food marketplace for restaurants in Vietnam under the same name, announced today that it has raised 500 million yen (about $4.5 million US) in a Series A round. Participating investors in this round are CPF Group (the food distribution arm of the Thai business conglomerate Charoen Pokphand), Singapore-based Quest Ventures, Tokyo-based Genesia Ventures, and several unnamed individual investors. Genesia Ventures follows Kamereo’s previous round back in January of 2019. Quest Ventures is a VC firm founded in 2010 by Singaporean entrepreneur James Tan and Chinese entrepreneur Yunming Wang, both of whom successfully launched Chinese Groupon clone Wowo a.k.a. 55Tuan and subsequently listed it on NASDAQ. The firm has so far invested in more than 60 startups including notable names in South East Asia such as automobile marketplace and subscription-based rental startup Carro (joined the Unicorn Club last month), flea market app Carousell (reportedly planning the US IPO via SPAC within this year). Kamereo was founded back in June of 2018 by HCMC-based Japanese entrepreneur Taku Tanaka. Prior to launching the startup, he previously worked at Credit Suisse followed by joining Pizza 4Ps, one of the most popular pizza chains in…

KAMEREO management: CEO Taku Tanaka stands in the third from left, CTO Hiroshi Tokaku stands in the fifth from left.
Image credit: Kamereo

Ho Chi Minh City-based Kamereo, the startup behind a B2B food marketplace for restaurants in Vietnam under the same name, announced today that it has raised 500 million yen (about $4.5 million US) in a Series A round. Participating investors in this round are CPF Group (the food distribution arm of the Thai business conglomerate Charoen Pokphand), Singapore-based Quest Ventures, Tokyo-based Genesia Ventures, and several unnamed individual investors. Genesia Ventures follows Kamereo’s previous round back in January of 2019.

Quest Ventures is a VC firm founded in 2010 by Singaporean entrepreneur James Tan and Chinese entrepreneur Yunming Wang, both of whom successfully launched Chinese Groupon clone Wowo a.k.a. 55Tuan and subsequently listed it on NASDAQ. The firm has so far invested in more than 60 startups including notable names in South East Asia such as automobile marketplace and subscription-based rental startup Carro (joined the Unicorn Club last month), flea market app Carousell (reportedly planning the US IPO via SPAC within this year).

Kamereo
Image credit: Kamereo

Kamereo was founded back in June of 2018 by HCMC-based Japanese entrepreneur Taku Tanaka. Prior to launching the startup, he previously worked at Credit Suisse followed by joining Pizza 4Ps, one of the most popular pizza chains in Vietnam, as the Chief Operating Officer. In a previous interview with Bridge, they were advocating a platform that would streamline communication, trading, and management that restaurants have with a variety of suppliers, similar to what Infomart (TSE: 2492) has been doiing in Japan, but it looks like their business has pivoted a bit since then.

Tanaka explained:

The structure of food supply chains is different in Japan and Vietnam. In Japan, there are many restaurant chains with multiple stores, and once a supplier starts selling to one store, it may be relatively easy to expand into other store in the same chain. Restaurants can also receive exactly what they have ordered to suppliers.

However, in Vietnam, both the system of restaurants and suppliers are still developing. There are many family-run restaurants which don’t usually require a huge amount of food supply so they buy directly from a nearby market. That’s why we pivoted to a food supplier in August of 2019. We are buying foods from producers and delivers to stores.

The Kamereo team
Image credit: Kamereo

If you’ve visited Ho Chi Minh City, you may know that there are still narrow alleys in the old town area while development is going on all over the city. In order to deliver food to restaurants in these places in a timely manner, motorcycles are very useful. Although motorcycles cannot carry a large amount at once, the company has set up multiple distribution centers in the city to ensure efficient deliveries to these restaurants. In addition to Cash on Delivery, the company accepts selling on credit on a semi-monthly or monthly payment basis.

On the contrary to most vegetables which can be procured from small-scale businesses such as farmers, it will be necessary to deal with majors for obtaining meats because it requires capital investment such as slaughterhouses and HACCP-certified fresh meat plants. With this background, Kamereo decided to raise funds from CPF Group.

B2B food supply platforms are showing steady growth in many countries, such as FoodMarven in the U.S., Meicai in China (Bloomberg reported in May that it’s preparing for an IPO in the U.S.), Ninjacart in India (with a market cap of US$500 million as of May), Twiga Foods in Kenya, and Supp.li in Poland and Hungary. Kamereo currently has about 100 employees, and aims to become a leading player in this sector in Vietnam by 2022 by expanding into Hanoi, the country’s capital and second most populous city.

Japanese chat fiction app Peep secures series D from Tencent for global expansion

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Tokyo-based Taskey, the Japanese startup behind chat fiction app Peep, announced last week that it has secured a series D round from Chinese tech giant Tencent. For the startup, this follows their previous funding rounds in June of 2015, July of 2018, and May of 2019. The funding amount of the latest round has not been disclosed but it is estimated seven-digit or more figures in US dollars based on the size of previous rounds. The company was founded in 2014 by Hiromu Oishi who is also known as novelist Romy Oishi for his works “Love is a Loaded Pistol” and “Escalator Boy”. In December of 2017, his startup launched the Peep app, which allows subscribers to read stories in the category of chat fiction, a format of web fiction written solely in the form of text-message or instant messaging conversations. A flock of excellent works created by novelists and editors have contributed to achieving the 3 million downloads milestone to date. Compared to comics and video clips, text may seem unremarkable but it can be a base for derivative works in other formats, which is very advantageous for creating more potential for films or TV drama series. Despite only…

Image credit: Taskey

Tokyo-based Taskey, the Japanese startup behind chat fiction app Peep, announced last week that it has secured a series D round from Chinese tech giant Tencent. For the startup, this follows their previous funding rounds in June of 2015, July of 2018, and May of 2019. The funding amount of the latest round has not been disclosed but it is estimated seven-digit or more figures in US dollars based on the size of previous rounds.

The company was founded in 2014 by Hiromu Oishi who is also known as novelist Romy Oishi for his works “Love is a Loaded Pistol” and “Escalator Boy”. In December of 2017, his startup launched the Peep app, which allows subscribers to read stories in the category of chat fiction, a format of web fiction written solely in the form of text-message or instant messaging conversations. A flock of excellent works created by novelists and editors have contributed to achieving the 3 million downloads milestone to date.

Compared to comics and video clips, text may seem unremarkable but it can be a base for derivative works in other formats, which is very advantageous for creating more potential for films or TV drama series. Despite only 2,000 titles available on the app at the moment, “let’s read” video clips featuring these titles have been viewed more than 45 million times to date. It has also succeeded in winning the hearts of the Gen Z by creating clips starring notable influencers.

The company plans to use the funds to add a new viewing experience called Illustrated Novels (literally translated) to the app. In addition, they will launch a global version app in August where users can read English translation of the works from the Peep app. By teaming up with Tencent, the Chinese tech giant renowned for its strength in promoting and developing various types of games, Taskey expects to turn their smash-hit fictions into games and expand them globally.

 

 

Webtoons have been driving force behind the creation of movies and TV drama series in Korea. Our readers may recall that Korean webtoon studio Tapas Media was acquired by portal giant Kakao for US$510 million last year, and more recently, Korean short-form drama startup WhyNot Media secured funding from Japanese telco KDDI to expand into the Japanese market.

Kakao Japan, the Japanese subsidiary of Korean platform giant known for running the Piccoma digital comics platform, secured $526.5 million in funding, which brought their market cap to $7.7 billion and is expected to soon join the so-called Decacorn Club. Rocket Staff, the Japanese startup joining the umbrella of Japanese anime conglomerate Animate back in January, is aiming to develop its webtoon business in Japan while Korean portal giant Naver has announced that it will integrate Wattpad, a Canadian novel creation social networking service acquired earlier this year, with its webtoon business to begin full-scale global expansion.

In this way, a number of platforms have been emerged to distribute content born out of the community. Although Japanese manga is highly regarded worldwide, it takes a long time to create a smash-hit due to the shortage of manga artists and their candidates.

Taking their advantage of the lower cost for finding artists and the ability to output interesting stories, Taskey will focus on developing more fictions and other intellectual properties that can be transformed into a variety of entertainment formats.