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 satellite startup Synspective launches ground deformation monitoring solution

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Synspective is building a constellation system for earth observation mini-satellites employing Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and integrates SAR data with a variety of ground truth data. The Japanese startup launched today a new service called Land Displacement Monitoring, which enables millimeter-scale ground deformation monitoring over wide areas based on image analysis of SAR satellites. Traditionally, understanding the risk of land settlement and landslide risk over wide areas has required a lot of time and effort. The service can be used to reduce the cost and time involved in observing and managing the risk of ground deformation and can be used to manage risks associated with construction projects, airport maintenance and underground construction, the company said. Synspective has been conducting Proof-of-Concept (PoC) projects with several companies as well as the Singapore Land Authority. Based on the feedback from these early users, the service has been improved and its user-friendly web-based interface requires no installation of software and has now allowed even users who are less familiar with satellite data to intuitively understand the results of the analysis. Synspective was founded in February of 2018 by CEO Motoyuki Arai and co-founder/managing director Seiko Shirasaka (Shirasaka is a professor at System Design and…

Land Displacement Monitoring
Image credit: Synspective

Synspective is building a constellation system for earth observation mini-satellites employing Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and integrates SAR data with a variety of ground truth data. The Japanese startup launched today a new service called Land Displacement Monitoring, which enables millimeter-scale ground deformation monitoring over wide areas based on image analysis of SAR satellites.

Traditionally, understanding the risk of land settlement and landslide risk over wide areas has required a lot of time and effort. The service can be used to reduce the cost and time involved in observing and managing the risk of ground deformation and can be used to manage risks associated with construction projects, airport maintenance and underground construction, the company said.

Synspective has been conducting Proof-of-Concept (PoC) projects with several companies as well as the Singapore Land Authority. Based on the feedback from these early users, the service has been improved and its user-friendly web-based interface requires no installation of software and has now allowed even users who are less familiar with satellite data to intuitively understand the results of the analysis.

Synspective was founded in February of 2018 by CEO Motoyuki Arai and co-founder/managing director Seiko Shirasaka (Shirasaka is a professor at System Design and Management, Keio University). The company announced about $80 million funding in a series A round last year, which let them make the fastest record in terms of securing such a large amount funds in such a short period since the launch of a company according to a report by Japanese space business consultancy CSP Japan.

Synspective signed agreements with Arianespace in April of 2019 and with RocketLab in April this year for the launch of its StriX-alpha SAR satellites, which is scheduled to be launched by the end of this year. The company plans to build a constellation of these satellites to offer high-frequency and stable monitoring service leveraging it.

Synspective plans to launch one small SAR satellite by 2020, six satellites by 2022, and 25 satellites after that. So far, the company has secured funds enough for six satellites in operation, which will enable on-demand earth observation at least one time a day for 99 cities with an over-one million population in Asia.

Japan’s powered prosthetic leg developer BionicM secures $5M in series A funding

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Tokyo-based BionicM, the Japanese startup developing powered prosthetic legs, announced today that it has secured 550 million yen (about $5 million US) in a Series A round. Participating investors are The University of Tokyo Edge Capital (UTEC), Utokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyoIPC), and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). UTEC’s investment follows the startup’s seed round last year. UTokyoIPC financially backed BionicM by selecting for the third batch of the former’s entrepreneur support program in 2018. BionicM is developing a powered prosthetic leg that solves the challenges of traditional non-powered passive prostheses. Since the pre-foundation research stage, it has received high recognition from the public, such as winning the SXSW Interactive Innovation Award and the James Dyson Award in Japan. BionicM will represent Japan to participate in the Advanced Technology and Engineering Challenge (A-TEC), the global startup competition to be held later this month in Shenzhen by Leaguer Group, a Chinese startup support company. Founded by Xiaojun Sun who himself had to have his right leg amputated at the age of 9 due to osteosarcoma, BionicM began research and development in 2015 at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Information Science and Technology. Of the 10 million potential users…

Image credit: BionicM

Tokyo-based BionicM, the Japanese startup developing powered prosthetic legs, announced today that it has secured 550 million yen (about $5 million US) in a Series A round. Participating investors are The University of Tokyo Edge Capital (UTEC), Utokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyoIPC), and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). UTEC’s investment follows the startup’s seed round last year. UTokyoIPC financially backed BionicM by selecting for the third batch of the former’s entrepreneur support program in 2018.

BionicM is developing a powered prosthetic leg that solves the challenges of traditional non-powered passive prostheses. Since the pre-foundation research stage, it has received high recognition from the public, such as winning the SXSW Interactive Innovation Award and the James Dyson Award in Japan. BionicM will represent Japan to participate in the Advanced Technology and Engineering Challenge (A-TEC), the global startup competition to be held later this month in Shenzhen by Leaguer Group, a Chinese startup support company.

Founded by Xiaojun Sun who himself had to have his right leg amputated at the age of 9 due to osteosarcoma, BionicM began research and development in 2015 at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Information Science and Technology. Of the 10 million potential users of prosthetic legs worldwide, only about 40% actually have access to them because they are expensive or have limited functionality. The company established a corporate entity in 2018 to commercialize the product in order to bring a high-performance prosthetic leg to all those who need it at a low price.

According to BionicM, more than 99% of the global prosthetic leg market deals with passive type, and has not benefited from the technological advancements that have taken place in recent years with the proliferation of robotic technology. Passive leg prostheses not only place a heavy physical burden on the user, but also place a mental burden on the user, as they are unable to walk naturally or take turns walking up and down stairs in both legs, making them uncomfortable to watch. Powered prostheses have the potential to solve this problem.

BionicM is preparing for the mass production of powered prosthetic legs with a view to commercial launch in 2021, and the financing at this time is intended to strengthen the company’s structure to achieve this goal. The company hopes to establish a B2B2C business model where powered leg modules are offered to artificial limb factories to be built into sockets for lower-limb amputees.

BionicM hopes to have its powered leg certified as a complete prosthetic component from the government by next year. Once certified, the company would generally be eligible for the government’s subsidies under the Services and Supports for Persons with Disabilities Act, but powered prosthetic legs are high-end and expensive and may not be eligible for subsidies at the time of user purchase. The company is also looking to collaborate with other companies to introduce installment payments and leasing.

Sun says,

It is difficult to get subsidies for expensive prosthetic legs. BionicM will not only innovate in technology, but will also look to partner with other companies to provide services such as rentals and leases in a new way.

BionicM established a subsidiary in China in June where four employees have begun sales development. Due to the large population in China, the Chinese prosthetic market is larger than that of Japan. From a sales standpoint, there is a good chance that the company’s post-start-up growth will be greater in China than in Japan, Sun said.

In conjunction with the funding, BionicM also announced that Tao Cheng, founder and CEO of Japanese online ad startup popIn, has joined the company’s board of directors. Sun and Cheng are both from China and have similar backgrounds in that they were spun off from the University of Tokyo and were initially backed by UTEC. Looking up to Cheng as a predecessor who has completed an exit in Japan (popIn was acquired by Baidu in 2015), Sun said Cheng’s experience in running a software company will be of a great help of BionicM as a hardware company.

Reference:

Studist ties up with Docomo Asia to expand visual workflow management tool into Singapore, APAC

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Tokyo-based Studist announced today that it has partnered with NTT Docomo Asia to expand the former’s TeachMe Biz visual workflow management platform in Singapore and other Asia pacific regions. In Singapore, the Circuit Breaker measure has been forcing people to stay home for working and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studist wants to help companies digitize their employee training and adot e-learning programs through the platform. Founded in March of 2010, Studist learned about 90% of all jobs in the world do not rely on qualifications, experience, or sensory knowledge through a survey, which let them decide to develop the platform. Its official version was launched back in late 2012 September of 2013. The company has raised over $12 million US in total, including a series C round back in April of last year. At that time, the company said it would focus on strengthening marketing, targeting sales boost in Southeast Asia, integrating APIs with other various cloud-based platforms in addition to upgrading the platform into the one for managing standard operating procedures. The company has already set up a Thai subsidiary which are expanding sales to Thai companies in addition to having started serving the platform in Malaysia in…

Tokyo-based Studist announced today that it has partnered with NTT Docomo Asia to expand the former’s TeachMe Biz visual workflow management platform in Singapore and other Asia pacific regions. In Singapore, the Circuit Breaker measure has been forcing people to stay home for working and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studist wants to help companies digitize their employee training and adot e-learning programs through the platform.

Founded in March of 2010, Studist learned about 90% of all jobs in the world do not rely on qualifications, experience, or sensory knowledge through a survey, which let them decide to develop the platform. Its official version was launched back in late 2012 September of 2013. The company has raised over $12 million US in total, including a series C round back in April of last year. At that time, the company said it would focus on strengthening marketing, targeting sales boost in Southeast Asia, integrating APIs with other various cloud-based platforms in addition to upgrading the platform into the one for managing standard operating procedures.

The company has already set up a Thai subsidiary which are expanding sales to Thai companies in addition to having started serving the platform in Malaysia in partnership with TK International, a local IT service provider in Kuala Lumpur. Leveraging the partnership with Docomo Asia, Studist wants to boost the sales in Singapore and APAC to help companies in these regions solve their challenges over human resource development.

The platform is serving 2,600 companies in Japan (as of February 2020) and 66 companies in ASEAN countries as of today. The company aims to introduce it to 100 companies by the end of February 2021.

Daiz rolls out plant-based meat burger to nearly 180 fast-food restaurants in Japan

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Kumamoto-based Daiz, the Japanese startup developing plant-based substitutes for meat products, announced today that it is offering The Good Burger using the company’s proprietary meat alternative as a patty at all stores of the Freshness Burger fast-food restaurant chain all across Japan. The Good Burger has been offered at selected stores in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area on a trial basis since the middle of this month. In the burger, a patty made from soybeans is smothered in teriyaki sauce and sandwiched with low-carb buns and vegetables. Freshness Burger, the fast-food brand operated by Japanese restaurant chain giant Colowide (TSE:7616), has 183 locations nationwide and is ranked in the sixth place in Japan by number of outlets. The new product will be available from September 1 through the end of the month exclusively to Freshness Burger app members, and will be available to all customers after October 1. DAIZ adopts the patented Ochiai method in germinating soybeans, which activates enzymes and increases the amount of free amino acid contained by imparting stress such as lower oxygen level and higher temperature at the right timing of germination. This eventually contributes to bringing out the flavor of the raw ingredients and reproducing the…

The Good Burger ordered at Jiyugaoka store, the Freshness Burger fast-food chain restaurant.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Kumamoto-based Daiz, the Japanese startup developing plant-based substitutes for meat products, announced today that it is offering The Good Burger using the company’s proprietary meat alternative as a patty at all stores of the Freshness Burger fast-food restaurant chain all across Japan.

The Good Burger has been offered at selected stores in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area on a trial basis since the middle of this month. In the burger, a patty made from soybeans is smothered in teriyaki sauce and sandwiched with low-carb buns and vegetables.

Freshness Burger, the fast-food brand operated by Japanese restaurant chain giant Colowide (TSE:7616), has 183 locations nationwide and is ranked in the sixth place in Japan by number of outlets. The new product will be available from September 1 through the end of the month exclusively to Freshness Burger app members, and will be available to all customers after October 1.

DAIZ adopts the patented Ochiai method in germinating soybeans, which activates enzymes and increases the amount of free amino acid contained by imparting stress such as lower oxygen level and higher temperature at the right timing of germination. This eventually contributes to bringing out the flavor of the raw ingredients and reproducing the meat-like texture without adding any additives.

In May, the company secured about $6 million US in a series A round, which brought the total sum of funding to date up to about $11.4 million US.

Japan’s Medmain nabs over $10M to expand AI-powered telepathology diagnostic system

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See the original story in Japanese. Fukuoka-based Medmain, the Japanese MedTech startup behind the PidPort telepathology solutions and the Medteria cloud for medical students, announced on Monday that it has secured 1.1 billion yen (about $10 million US) through the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that Hike Ventures has set up for this round. The company has not mentioned the stage of the rounud but it’s believed as a series A round. The latest round follows the 100 million yen funding back in August 2018, and brought the total sum of funding to date up to 1.2 billion yen (about 11.3 million US). Participating investors in this round are Fukuoka Wajiro Hospital Group, IHW Group from International University of Health and Welfare (IUHW), QTnet, Hike Ventures, Innovations and Future Creation, Deepcore, Dogan Beta as well as unnamed angel investors. Deepcore and Dogan Beta participated in the previous round. SPVs have advantages for startups, including lowering the time and effort required to raise funds, and some of our readers may recall that Japanese HRTech startup SmartHR used this scheme for their Series B round. Medmain said it adopted the scheme this time to streamline raising a large sum of funding from multiple…

The Medmain team, CEO Osamu Iizuka stands on the center.
Image credit: Medmain

See the original story in Japanese.

Fukuoka-based Medmain, the Japanese MedTech startup behind the PidPort telepathology solutions and the Medteria cloud for medical students, announced on Monday that it has secured 1.1 billion yen (about $10 million US) through the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that Hike Ventures has set up for this round. The company has not mentioned the stage of the rounud but it’s believed as a series A round. The latest round follows the 100 million yen funding back in August 2018, and brought the total sum of funding to date up to 1.2 billion yen (about 11.3 million US).

Participating investors in this round are Fukuoka Wajiro Hospital Group, IHW Group from International University of Health and Welfare (IUHW), QTnet, Hike Ventures, Innovations and Future Creation, Deepcore, Dogan Beta as well as unnamed angel investors. Deepcore and Dogan Beta participated in the previous round.

SPVs have advantages for startups, including lowering the time and effort required to raise funds, and some of our readers may recall that Japanese HRTech startup SmartHR used this scheme for their Series B round. Medmain said it adopted the scheme this time to streamline raising a large sum of funding from multiple investors including hospital managements.

The Fukuoka Wajiro Hospital Group has 24 medical institutions and seven medical education institutions in Japan, while the IHW Group from IUHW is made of medical, educational, and welfare groups with about 60 facilities nationwide. With the participation of these groups, the company intends to accelerate product development involving the clinical environment.

The PidPort functions.
Image credit: Medmain

Medmain is the first startup born out of Kyushu University’s officially approved club activity for encouraging entrepreneurship. PidPort, one of the startup’s flagship products, leverages deep learning and proprietary computer vision technology to enable quick and accurate pathology diagnosis.

In partnership with the Kyushu University School of Medicine and Kyushu University Hospital, the company has been using supercomputers to conduct high-speed learning for artificial intelligence (AI). Launching the alpha version back in winter in 2018 followed by the official version in February this year, it is conducting joint research with over 50 medical institutions in Japan.

Medical care and computer vision are considered to be a good match. Among many medical applications (e.g., radiological and endoscopic images), the company has chosen pathology as a focus because it believed this area was particularly behind in digitalization. In pathology, a doctor takes tissue samples from a patient’s body and a pathologist uses a microscope to check them. Medmain provides pathologists with an environment so that they can remotely complete this process by checking scanned images. In addition, the more images and learning data are collected, the more precise diagnosis the platform can provide. This may contribute to solving the delay in diagnosis due to the shortage of pathologists.

PidPort viewer’s image
Image credit: Medmain

Because of the restrictions of medical-related laws, PidPort is used only on a research basis at this point in Japan, but it is used for actual medical diagnosis in other countries. In countries and regions where pathologists are scarce, pathologists in Japan have provided consultation and advice to a local doctor based on images of the latter’s patient’s tissue using the platform.

In addition, the spread of the novel coronavirus has restricted the movement people including even pathologists, but the platform allows pathologists to make diagnoses online without traveling multiple hospitals, which becomes a good opportunity to advance digital pathology.

Medmain plans to use the funds to enhance its AI algorithms, investing in image scanning equipment in addition to hiring talents for global business expansion effort. In Japan, the AI-powered diagnostic function is currently limited to research use due to legal restrictions, so the company will highlight the potential of remote pathological diagnosis leveraged by digital scanning and cloud storage functions for domestic sales.

Japan’s Yenta, Tinder-inspired business networking app, expands into India

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Some of our readers may recall that Tokyo-based Atrae (TSE:6194) has introduced a mobile app called Yenta, an AI-powered professional matching app leveraging the Tinder-like Swipe UI (user interface). It was revealed today that the company has just launched the global edition ( iOS / Android ) and chosen India as the first destination of their global expansion effort. The app helps users connect with businesspersons upon widening their network through profile registration and repeated swipes on a screen. It recommends 10 persons the user may be interested in connecting with at noon daily. After choosing which persons the user wants to meet by swiping on it, the matching result with other users will be sent out later at 8pm on the same day. When both users confirm to meet (or e-meet) each other, they can start chatting via the app to make an appointment. The latest version of the app allows even Japanese users to have their English profile so that they can connect with Indian users. We have learned that the app has contributed to helping users build significant business relationships such as Japanese factoring startup Olta’s CEO having found his CSO as co-founder in addition to Japanese…

Some of our readers may recall that Tokyo-based Atrae (TSE:6194) has introduced a mobile app called Yenta, an AI-powered professional matching app leveraging the Tinder-like Swipe UI (user interface). It was revealed today that the company has just launched the global edition ( iOS / Android ) and chosen India as the first destination of their global expansion effort.

The app helps users connect with businesspersons upon widening their network through profile registration and repeated swipes on a screen. It recommends 10 persons the user may be interested in connecting with at noon daily. After choosing which persons the user wants to meet by swiping on it, the matching result with other users will be sent out later at 8pm on the same day. When both users confirm to meet (or e-meet) each other, they can start chatting via the app to make an appointment.

The latest version of the app allows even Japanese users to have their English profile so that they can connect with Indian users. We have learned that the app has contributed to helping users build significant business relationships such as Japanese factoring startup Olta’s CEO having found his CSO as co-founder in addition to Japanese satellite antenna-sharing startup Infostellar having succeeded in finding a new seed investor through it.

Since its launch back in 2016, the Yenta has not disclosed the size of its user base but it is estimated about hundreds of thousand of users in Japan. The company revealed that it has connected users each other over 3 million times to date.

To promote the India expansion, Atrae announced that it is hosting a data analysis competition in partnership with Tokyo-based DataGateway which boasts a local community of more than 20,000 data scientists in India. Based on the Open Innovation approach, the competition is aimed to encourage them to invent a new algorithm to create better matchmaking experience in the app. The competition winner can get 10,000 US dollars as a prize.

As for business matching apps with the Tinder-like swipe UI in the English-speaking market, New York/Paris-based Shapr, launched by a French entrepreneur, has secured US$16.5 million through a total of four rounds with over 2.5 million users as of May 2019 (according to The Independent’s sponsored article). In 2018, Tinder’s founders launched an app called Ripple with the back of the dating app’s parent company Match Group, but it is believed to be already in the deadpool given various situation.

TalentEx offers online course for Russian developers to work with Japanese IT firms

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Bangkok-based TalentEx, offering recruitment-focused online media and SaaS (software as a service) for human resource affairs, unveiled on Sunday that its Russian subsidiary has launched an online school business called CyberSamurai (КиберСамурае in Russian). The monthly subscription-based class is intended for Russian-speaking IT developers and engineers, helping them keep updated with IT industry and technology updates as well as business practices from Japan. It may also aim to allow them to enjoy commentary on Japanese anime and subculture in addition to giving them opportunities to e-meet up with CTOs from Japanese companies. TalentEx was launched back in 2013 by Yojiro Koshi who previously worked for Japanese ad network startup Nobot (Nobot was acquired by Japanese telco giant KDDI’s subsdiary Mediba in 2011). The company has several core businesses: the Wakuwaku online and offline recruiting service to find Japanese-speaking talents in Thailand, community management at the Monstar Hub Bangkok co-working space, and sales and marketing of the Michiru RPA software for Japanese companies in Thailand. See also: Meet Japanese entrepreneur trying to disrupt Thai recruitment market In July of 2018, the company founded a local subsidiary in Russia for a new project supplying Russian IT engineers to Japanese companies. After a…

Anatoli Kolbinov (left up), Dasha An (right up), and Ryosei Suginaka (left down) speak during the opening event on Sunday. All these TalentEx members can speak more than two languages including Japanese and Russian.

Bangkok-based TalentEx, offering recruitment-focused online media and SaaS (software as a service) for human resource affairs, unveiled on Sunday that its Russian subsidiary has launched an online school business called CyberSamurai (КиберСамурае in Russian). The monthly subscription-based class is intended for Russian-speaking IT developers and engineers, helping them keep updated with IT industry and technology updates as well as business practices from Japan. It may also aim to allow them to enjoy commentary on Japanese anime and subculture in addition to giving them opportunities to e-meet up with CTOs from Japanese companies.

TalentEx was launched back in 2013 by Yojiro Koshi who previously worked for Japanese ad network startup Nobot (Nobot was acquired by Japanese telco giant KDDI’s subsdiary Mediba in 2011). The company has several core businesses: the Wakuwaku online and offline recruiting service to find Japanese-speaking talents in Thailand, community management at the Monstar Hub Bangkok co-working space, and sales and marketing of the Michiru RPA software for Japanese companies in Thailand.

See also:

In July of 2018, the company founded a local subsidiary in Russia for a new project supplying Russian IT engineers to Japanese companies. After a little more than a year after its launch, the Russian business had been outpacing other businesses in Thailand in terms of revenue, but the recent coronavirus pandemic has halted it. After several months of their efforts to keep the Russian operation alive leveraging the sales from their Thai business, their Russian team of young members decided to launch a new business called CyberSamurai at this time.

The service’s mascot looks like a fox but they told us it is modeled after Masaru, renowned Russian figure skater Alina Zagitova’s Japanese dog.
Image credit: TalentEx

Many startup businesses use a model that makes money by bridging the gap between the two sides of the transaction, such as information asymmetry and arbitrage. That’s something TalentEx is good at because of having presence in four markets – Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Russia. Coming up with moving talent from market to market, we may think the biggest challenge is language gap. According to Koshi, however, he turned to recognize that’s not true while work from home is more common in a huge country like Russia in addition to the fact that such a working style is becoming the global norm due to the pandemic.

When a Japanese company hires a Russian engineer, language gap is certainly a concern at first. Recently, however, these companies have been forced to shift to work from home, job instructions and other communication among colleagues are now often done through Slack and other online tools.

Koshi continued.

With more communication using tools than face-to-face meetings, the language barrier has been lowered for foreigners than in the past. In fact, we need to more focus on the cultural gap that cannot be fully verbalized but is often seen in business practices and work processes, which is more important when working with a Japanese company.

CyberSamurai’s Telegram group

Many of my foreign friends have learned the Japanese language as a result of watching Japanese TV drama series and anime titles in their country. Japanese anime was also a source of inspiration for Hong Kong Democracy Movement stalwart Agnes Chow to learn Japanese. Perhaps what makes her so popular in Japan may be our perception that she deeply understands Japanese culture and social customs rather than just her ability speaking the language.

That’s why the service is not just about language learning but rather giving opportunities to learn industry trends and subculture commentary which are not directly related to business operations or professional activities. The company charges membership fee but it may be hard for them to see significant revenue with the new business alone compared to their past human resources business in Russia. Perhaps the company sees the member base as kinda talent pool for the time when the demand of Japanese companies hiring Russian engineers recovers after the pandemic settle down.

Run by TalentEx’s team of a few young Japanese and Russian members in Russia, the service is wow focused on community building using Telegram which is one of the most popular messaging apps in the country. Going forward, they are expanding into other Russian-speaking markets including former CIS countries.

Japan startup Styler partners with Tencent to help fashion retailers adapt to pandemic changes

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Styler, the Japanese startup offering an O2O (offline to online) support service for fashion and apparel stores called Facy, announced in late July that it has partnered with Tencent Cloud, the cloud service division of Chinese tech giant Tencent. Styler had been running the Facy app as a way to drive potential customers from online to offline fashion retailers. However, the company recognized that the expanding pandemic will significantly influence consumer purchasing behavior and decided to evolve the business into supporting Online merges with Offline (OMO) effort where retailers can seemly integrate user experience at their e-commerce site and brick-and-mortar stores. Pandemic accelerates fashion retailers’ shift to digital operations While fashion e-commerce represents a large proportion of the overall e-commerce market (around 20% of the total in terms of market size), it is yet difficult to completely take over all real store sales. Similar to what tech conferences and events are challenging amid the pandemic, one of the problems here is how to give consumers serendipity on online shopping. Unlike giving users recommendations using a collaborative filtering-based engine, it may be difficult for online platforms to give users a chance meeting with the…

Image credit: Tencent Cloud / Styler

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Styler, the Japanese startup offering an O2O (offline to online) support service for fashion and apparel stores called Facy, announced in late July that it has partnered with Tencent Cloud, the cloud service division of Chinese tech giant Tencent.

Styler had been running the Facy app as a way to drive potential customers from online to offline fashion retailers. However, the company recognized that the expanding pandemic will significantly influence consumer purchasing behavior and decided to evolve the business into supporting Online merges with Offline (OMO) effort where retailers can seemly integrate user experience at their e-commerce site and brick-and-mortar stores.

Pandemic accelerates fashion retailers’ shift to digital operations

While fashion e-commerce represents a large proportion of the overall e-commerce market (around 20% of the total in terms of market size), it is yet difficult to completely take over all real store sales. Similar to what tech conferences and events are challenging amid the pandemic, one of the problems here is how to give consumers serendipity on online shopping.

Unlike giving users recommendations using a collaborative filtering-based engine, it may be difficult for online platforms to give users a chance meeting with the brands they have never met before while sales associates at real stores can do it.

Image credit: Alibaba

In China in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, we saw many sales associates at fashion stores setting up lights and tripods to to introduce and sell their products via live video streaming. For fashion brands, it would be difficult to integrate a typical live commerce app with their own customer-facing app while Tencent Cloud’s solutions apparently makes it easier.

Tencent Cloud’s solutions allow stores and customers to interact with each other while seeing each other’s faces through mobiles. The same technology has been adopted to Telelive, CyberAgent subsidiary Cyber Pal’s platform for holding fan meetings online, as well as Ignis’s dating service’s video call app.

Styler plans to introduce Tencent Cloud’s solutions to fashion brands, aiming to help them better implement the OMO into their environment. These solutions allow brands not only offer seamlessly their front-end customer experience online and offline but also to support back-end operations such as integrated inventory management of online and offline sales as well as optimized inventory operations across multiple real stores.

Image credit: Tencent Cloud

In the ever-changing fashion industry, fashion stores often come and go at shopping malls thanks to the growing prominence of direct-to-consumer(D2C) brands. Tencent Cloud’s solutions allow shopping malls to keep their store directory signage updated at all times simply by importing CAD data indicating tenant locations within the mall building. To ensure the practicality of the solution, Styler plans to conduct Proof of Concept trials with Tokyu Land Corporation (TSE:3289) which is known for operating a number of shopping malls in Tokyo.

More D2C brands focusing on online sales are expected to enter the market in the future. In view of having a lot of ups and downs, their real stores’ character don’t fit a typical long-term lease contract for shopping malls. Even in such a tough environment, keeping offering retention opportunities at real stores to brands is a big challenge for shopping malls.

Styler CEO Tsubasa Koseki explained in a recent interview with Bridge.

Leveraging Tencent Cloud’s solution, Styler is being focused on helping brands make their communication and inventory management available in a digital manner. As there is no significant player in Japan with knowledge that straddles between online and offline sales, I think Styler can take an overwhelming lead in this area.

Facy wants to be lifestyle-focused super app

Image credit: Styler
Image credit: Styler

In addition to offering the OMO solutions to fashion brands, Styler is working on upgrading their own flagship Facy app so that brands can easily catch up with the OMO trend. The completely newer version is expected to be out this fall.

We are currently benchmarking super apps like Southeast Asia’s Grab (turned from a ride-hailing app), China’s Meituan (previously known as a restaurant discovery/group buying site), and Columbia-born Rapii

Koseki continued:

Unlike these apps targeted at commodity consumers, Facy wants to be a lifesytle-focused OMO app serving those looking at mid-range priced products. We’re moving forward under the strategy symbolized by two keywords: New Retail and Luxury. Going forward, we’ll be also expanding into other categories like cosmetics and furniture.

In Japan, I think that tech giants like Line and Rakuten as well as other payments apps are probably trying to be a super app, but they have yet less variety in service offerings like what Grab, Meituan, and Rappi are doing. Hence, the Facy app has the potential to dominate this market in Japan if they can succeed in expanding their service offerings.

Japanese serial entrepreneur taking on post-pandemic rise of audio social media

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Since Taka Iguchi has developed so many products and services if you include those that already shut down, I don’t want to mention all of them in this story. But for the past four years he has focused on audio social services, starting with the Baby app in 2016 followed by its enhanced app Ball in 2017. After another pivot, his new app Dabel was launched in the US in January of last year under the previous name of Ear.ly. Iguchi has been based in San Francisco and Kyoto for some time now, but since the global pandemic of COVID-19, he has been unable to travel abroad and has been forced to stay mostly in Kyoto. I thought this may have been a headwind for him, but the app is apparently growing well. What is it about Dabel that attracts so many people? Last week I could have a chance to meet Iguchi in Kyoto to find out. Using audio social app to discover new friends It’s hard to find the best word to describe Dabel. Needless to say, the app’s name comes from the Japanese word meaning chatting but Iguchi himself describes it as “an app for well-side gossip…

Taka Iguchi stands in a temple in his neighborhood in Kyoto.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Since Taka Iguchi has developed so many products and services if you include those that already shut down, I don’t want to mention all of them in this story. But for the past four years he has focused on audio social services, starting with the Baby app in 2016 followed by its enhanced app Ball in 2017. After another pivot, his new app Dabel was launched in the US in January of last year under the previous name of Ear.ly.

Iguchi has been based in San Francisco and Kyoto for some time now, but since the global pandemic of COVID-19, he has been unable to travel abroad and has been forced to stay mostly in Kyoto. I thought this may have been a headwind for him, but the app is apparently growing well. What is it about Dabel that attracts so many people? Last week I could have a chance to meet Iguchi in Kyoto to find out.

Using audio social app to discover new friends

The Dabel app
Image credit: Doki Doki

It’s hard to find the best word to describe Dabel. Needless to say, the app’s name comes from the Japanese word meaning chatting but Iguchi himself describes it as “an app for well-side gossip meeting,” which gives me the impression that it allows you to be a radio anchor. Looking similar to other Japanese audio social apps like Voicy, Radiotalk and Stand.fm at first glance, what makes Dabel unique is that listeners can join the show and talk to each other upon the host’s approval.

It was only in May of last year that the app began to gain popularity in the US since AppleVis, a community website for the visually impaired, featured us. So, in June, we focused on the the Voiceover screen-reading function in the app (in aim to assist the visually impaired), and then more of them started actively using the app as a tool to find their new friends.

Iguchi continued.

In March this year, Mikke CEO Takumi Inoue (arranging an online meetup series called O-Cha) and apparel maker All Yours’ CEO Masashi Kimura started using the app, which triggered a boom in Japan. These users are often hyperactive and full of energy, having been looking for a place to release it. That’s why their content is interesting. You can listen to recording later on but 90% of listeners join their favorite shows live.

That’s probably the biggest advantage of audio social apps, although Dabel recommends that both the talking host and the listening listener use AirPods, so that you can deliver and listen to the show almost regardless of no matter where both of they are. There’s no need to set up your phone on a tripod or use a selfie stick like what YouTubers usually do. In fact, my friend Dabel host brought an afternoon talk show with three of her friends physically located apart each other while she broadcasted the show from the standing bar at a sushi bar on another occasion.

In my opinion, good sound quality and a sense of realism is one of Dabel’s hallmarks. When I heard the aforementioned talk show, I felt as if I, as a listener, were just standing before the sushi bar. There’s no need to shout so loudly, which doesn’t bother people around, and the minimal audio delay makes it easy to enjoy the interaction when the host allows the listener to join in.

Coronavirus pandemic reveals brutal truth

One of the things I like to talk about these days is the “what’s lost in looking for ways to coexist with the novel coronavirus may be serendipity”. With so many tech conferences going online, it’s hard to replicate online the “chance encounter” that might lead to an intimate relationship with someone you happen to meet at a party, as opposed to identifying and communicating with the person you want to talk to. Many of our current relationships are totally based on the result of these chances. Paul Graham explains that such uncertainty is essential to the fostering of the tech community.

But here a new insight: Dabel may bring a bright future to our world. Iguchi explains:

There’s a brutal truth that attracted our attention after the pandemic occurred.

Before the pandemic, we used to chat with acquaintances, family, friends and partners. But the pandemic prevented us from seeing each other. People started using Dabel to find new friends. And then, we found out that it doesn’t eventually matter whomever you chat with.

Originally, communities were often dependent on the physical environment where people found themselves. With the advent of the Internet and mobile, this physical constraint was removed to some extent, but the spread of the novel coronavirus spurred the loss of freedom of movement and caused people to start talking to the people they really wanted to talk to regardless of location.That person you are talking to might be someone you’ve never met, or it might be someone who lives on the other side of the planet. Dabel’s user experience, which relies on common interests to talk to each other but not on the physical environment or existing relationships, is also similar to that of Talkstand, another Japanese mobile app launched in beta back in May.

The world is catching up with the trends

Iguchi speaks at the 10841 launch event in Kyoto in February.
Image credit: Masahiro Noguchi

In May, Clubhouse, the US startup behind an audio social app under the same name, secured $10 million US from Andreesen Horowitz in a series A round, which raised their valuation to $100 million in just a couple of months after the launch. Clubhouse is recognized as one of the fastest growing startups in the region right now. In addition to an accomplishment for audio social networks to get some recognition from the market, it is perhaps a tailwind for Doki Doki, Iguchi’s startup behind the Dabel app, to secure the next round of funding in the not-too-distant future. Doki Doki raised 40 million from Skyland Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures, and Umeda Startup Fund in early 2016 followed by 50 million yen from Kyoto University Innovation Capital in a pre-seed round in February of 2017.

However, audio social is not all good because it’s a very new field. In the US, a recent closed discussion among venture capitalists on the Clubhouse app, in which they criticized Bay Area journalists for having too much power, has been leaked to the public and is causing a stir. There is always the risk that the whispering in the corner of the room can be exposed to the public via new technology. The future is unclear as the exchange of banter extends to issues such as gender and racial discrimination. Iguchi sees it as an object lesson to his venture.

Audio social is a highly intimate form of media. It’s easy to post emotions and passions, but it can also contain sensitive content when shared with the public. This is a double-edged sword, and the Clubhouse case was a bad pattern.

He added.

Dabel has also improved features such as the console banning users who violate the terms and conditions, but still we could experience “flaming cases” in the future. However, it’s not all bad. It’s a new medium, so there is always the risk of flamming, but Dabel is going to be on the offensive, aiming to become a safe and secure platform.

Of the 40,000 current Dabel users, about 30% are women while 67% are American and 10% are Japanese, which boasts a diversified demographic user base as a service by a Japanese startup. The total number of times people have participated in conversations on the app has reached 550,000, and the average dwell time per session on the app is around 57 minutes, which is much longer than that of Facebook.

Audio social is attracting a lot of attention because of its high level of user engagement. Pouring his energy into his enthusiasm, Iguchi wants to dominate the new field globally.

Japanese video tech startup Paronym secures funding from Thai telecom giant

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Tokyo-based Paronym, the Japanese startup behind the TIG interactive video technology, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum from Intouch Holdings (BKK:INTUCH), the parent company of Thailand’s largest telecom operator AIS (BKK:ADVANC). Paronym has been raising a series B round since last year, and has so far secured approximately 230 million yen (about $2.1 million) from Japan Post Capital and NTT Docomo Ventures. The company says it has closed the latest round with the funding from Intouch Holdings. This entire round brought the startup’s funding sum up to date to 690 million yen ($6.4 million). Founded back in 2016, Paronym has developed the TIG interactive video solution that allows viewers to obtain necessary information by tapping an item in a video clip. Use cases include e-commerce sites selling interiors and fashion outfits, recipe sites (linking to foods and ingredients in the recipe), and online travel guides (linking to travel destinations). The platform offers tracking editing tool that allows content owners to associate objects in a clip with link destinations in addition to heat map tool showing them which part of the clip their viewers are tapping. The company offers a different line-up for each of six different…

Paronym CEO Michio Kobayashi presented at Rock Thailand in Bangkok in December.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Tokyo-based Paronym, the Japanese startup behind the TIG interactive video technology, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum from Intouch Holdings (BKK:INTUCH), the parent company of Thailand’s largest telecom operator AIS (BKK:ADVANC).

Paronym has been raising a series B round since last year, and has so far secured approximately 230 million yen (about $2.1 million) from Japan Post Capital and NTT Docomo Ventures. The company says it has closed the latest round with the funding from Intouch Holdings. This entire round brought the startup’s funding sum up to date to 690 million yen ($6.4 million).

Founded back in 2016, Paronym has developed the TIG interactive video solution that allows viewers to obtain necessary information by tapping an item in a video clip. Use cases include e-commerce sites selling interiors and fashion outfits, recipe sites (linking to foods and ingredients in the recipe), and online travel guides (linking to travel destinations). The platform offers tracking editing tool that allows content owners to associate objects in a clip with link destinations in addition to heat map tool showing them which part of the clip their viewers are tapping.

Kobayashi shareed the development timeline of his company’s video technology service.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

The company offers a different line-up for each of six different verticals including movies splitting off into multiple case scenarios, magazines, digital signage, commerce, learning and live (performance). Due to its high interactivity, they claim that the platform can help e-commerce sites gain their conversion rate twice that of Instagram, three times that of YouTube.

In December, Paronym was qualified and invited to present at the second batch of Rock Thailand, a joint project by the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok and Thailand’s largest conglomerate CP Group with an aim to encourage business partnerships between the two countries, where Paronym CEO Michio Kobayashi explained his company has been seeking business alliances, series B funding, and potential sales partners in Thailand. So the latest funding means his efforts have paid off. Palonym plans to hold a joint press briefing with Intouch Holdings, and detailed plans are expected to be revealed at that time.