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

Central prefecture of Aichi kicks off prep for Japan’s entrepreneurial superhub

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See the original story in Japanese. Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, located in the very center of the archipelago, held a kick-off event for PRE-STATION Ai, the preparation initiative for their startup hub and community STATION-Ai which will be totally rolled out in 2024 in Nagoya. Nagoya is the prefecture’s capital and most populous neighborhood, and also known as the country’s third largest city. This is based on the strategy which the prefecture formulated in 2018 to help bring more startups from the central Chubu Region. With a total floor area of approximately 23,000 square meters, the 7-story hub is scheduled to be completed in 2024 in south of Tsurumai Park of Nagoya. In reponse to the prefecture decision to entrust SoftBank for managing the facility and community, the telco and investment giant established a special-purpose subsidiary called STATION Ai last year. Until the official launch of the hub, the prefecture will have been conducting PRE-Station Ai, the preparation initiative, at WeWork Global Gate Nagoya for the next two years. Launched last year, it selected 85 startups (43 in-person and 42 work-from-home participating teams) its FY22 batch this year followed by letting 34 startups graduate from its previous FY21 batch last year….

Teams selected for PRE-STATION Ai’s FY22 batch with Hideaki Omura (Governor of Aichi Prefecture) on center right and Hirotaka Sahashi (CEO of STATION Ai) on center left). They took mask off for photo.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

See the original story in Japanese.

Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, located in the very center of the archipelago, held a kick-off event for PRE-STATION Ai, the preparation initiative for their startup hub and community STATION-Ai which will be totally rolled out in 2024 in Nagoya. Nagoya is the prefecture’s capital and most populous neighborhood, and also known as the country’s third largest city.

This is based on the strategy which the prefecture formulated in 2018 to help bring more startups from the central Chubu Region. With a total floor area of approximately 23,000 square meters, the 7-story hub is scheduled to be completed in 2024 in south of Tsurumai Park of Nagoya. In reponse to the prefecture decision to entrust SoftBank for managing the facility and community, the telco and investment giant established a special-purpose subsidiary called STATION Ai last year.

Until the official launch of the hub, the prefecture will have been conducting PRE-Station Ai, the preparation initiative, at WeWork Global Gate Nagoya for the next two years. Launched last year, it selected 85 startups (43 in-person and 42 work-from-home participating teams) its FY22 batch this year followed by letting 34 startups graduate from its previous FY21 batch last year. They expect to qualify 140 startups by the end of this year, aiming to have 1,000 startups be based in the hub by 2029, five years after its official launch.

(As a side note, Station F, the Paris-based entrepreneurial hub which STATION Ai is modeled after, has revealed that 1,034 startups consisting of 4,882 people had been resided there during its first year of 2017.)

This is an area reserved for selected teams for this year’s PRE-STATION Ai batch in WeWork Global Gate Nagoya. You can see Nagoya station skyscrapers through the windows.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

The prefecture says it’s offering over 200 startup support program centering on the aforementioned strategy, having partnered with Station F, the University of Texas at Austin, Tsinghua University-affiliated Tus Holdings for supporting global expansion, building cross-border community as well as sharing practices for better incubation. The initiative has appointed experienced entrepreneurs as supervisors / community managers to support budding startups and entrepreneurs.

The Japanese government has selected several cities in the central Chubu region as as “Global Hub Cities, including Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya City, and Hamamatsu City. The prefecture launched a local VC firm network to help investors and entrepreneurs better connect each others. Startup Guide, the global brand of startup local ecosystem guides, published its Nagoya edition last year in association with Nagoya City and the Chubu Region Innovation Promotion Organization, which made Nagoya become the second Japanese city covered by the publication after Tokyo. In the region, local universities has been jointly organizing an entrepreneurship program called Tongali to encourage their students to launch startups.

Conceptual drawing at completion of STATION-ai.
Image credit: Startup Promotion Section, Bureau of Economy and Industry, Aichi Prefectural Office

LA-based Tippsy raises $1.6M, operating subscription-based tasting club of Japanese sake

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Los Angeles-based startup Tippsy operates Tippsy Sake Club, offering a subscription-based tasting kit to Japanese sake fans in the US. The company announced on Thursday that it has secured about 200 million yen (about $1.6 million US) in a pre-series A round. This round was led by W ventures with participation from Deepcore, KSK Angel Fund (the investment vehicle of Japanese football player Keisuke Honda), Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron, and several unnamed Japanese angel investors. This follows their seed funding last year when the company secured $500,000 from DG Ventures, Silicon Valley-based deeptech-focused TSVC, San Francisco-based StratMinds, and others. DG Ventures operates Open Network Lab’s Seed Accelerator Program in Tokyo where Tippsy was selected and participated in the program’s 20th batch last year. The latest round brought the company’s funding sum up to date to 260 million yen (about $2.1 million). Tippsy was founded in 2018 by Genki Ito who has a 10-year experience of marketing Japanese sake products at a Japanese food importer in the US. Tippsy brings its members tasting kits of mini bottles from a selection of 400 varieties of sake for $99 for three months on a subscription basis. Japanese sake has been recently gaining popularity…

Tippsy’s tasting kit of mini bottles
Image credit: Tippsy

Los Angeles-based startup Tippsy operates Tippsy Sake Club, offering a subscription-based tasting kit to Japanese sake fans in the US. The company announced on Thursday that it has secured about 200 million yen (about $1.6 million US) in a pre-series A round. This round was led by W ventures with participation from Deepcore, KSK Angel Fund (the investment vehicle of Japanese football player Keisuke Honda), Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron, and several unnamed Japanese angel investors.

This follows their seed funding last year when the company secured $500,000 from DG Ventures, Silicon Valley-based deeptech-focused TSVC, San Francisco-based StratMinds, and others. DG Ventures operates Open Network Lab’s Seed Accelerator Program in Tokyo where Tippsy was selected and participated in the program’s 20th batch last year. The latest round brought the company’s funding sum up to date to 260 million yen (about $2.1 million).

Genki Ito
Image credit: Tippsy

Tippsy was founded in 2018 by Genki Ito who has a 10-year experience of marketing Japanese sake products at a Japanese food importer in the US. Tippsy brings its members tasting kits of mini bottles from a selection of 400 varieties of sake for $99 for three months on a subscription basis. Japanese sake has been recently gaining popularity in the US, especially among millennials, and 99% of the club’s members are Americans.

Despite the boom in sake, it has some challenges in sales and marketing. First, even if you find good sake at a restaurant, it’s hard to find the place to buy it in the US for drinking at home. Detailed descriptions on sake bottles and on the brewer’s website are written in Japanese, which the average Americans cannot read. Furthermore, there are also restrictions to sell sake products based on the direct-to-consumer model due to laws created during the Prohibition Era. In addition, because the supply chain of alcohol drinks is fragmented, there is no culture for sake brewers or manufacturers to educate their brands to retailers.

Tippsy’s website showcases a number of Japanese sake products with characteristics.
Image credit: Tippsy

Tippsy has been focusing on brand communication, including storytelling for each brewery, to introduce the differences in taste to American consumers who are less familiar with Japanese sake. It now introduces over 400 sake brands and has received over 5,000 product reviews from members and others. By sending a mini-bottle of different sake brands each time, the club allows members to discover new brands as well as a direct marketing channel for brewers allowing them to reach their potential fans.

Tippsy works with a logistics partner with a license to distribute alcohol drinks directly to consumers throughout the US, building close relationships with members consuming sake products. Having been collecting details from breweries and providing them to users, the company plans to provide feedback on members’ preferences to breweries for better marketing and product development in the future. The Tippsy team includes a graduate of Sake School of America, the largest sake tasting school in the US, aiming to strengthen its effort to help consumers more learn about Japanese sake.

In the space close to Tippsy’s business, our readers may recall Cool Japan has invested $10 million in Winc, a US-based e-retailer and wholesaler of wine products, aiming to help cultivate the demand of Japanese sake in North America. The company achieved a postponed IPO on the New York Stock Exchange last year, with a current market cap of just under $43 million.

Evolving wheelchairs, LifeHub’s next-gen mobility can move even over bumps or stairs

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based LifeHub, the Japanese startup developing a chair-type mobility that can stretch its legs to move in bipedal motion like human, announced on Tuesday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $870,000) from CyberAgent Capital and Incubate Fund in a seed round. This follows their previous pre-seed round securing 30 million yen (about $260,000) from Incubate Fund. LifeHub was launched back in 2021 by three founders. Having been fascinated with building robots since he was a child, CEO Hiroshi Nakano studied robotics and drones at university, and later worked at one of the world’s largestcomputer-aided engineering vendor where he was involved in mobility development and research. CTO Kazuhiro Nomiya designs and develops biomechanics and artificial muscles while CSO Yasuhiro Arakawa specializes in control systems and autonomous driving. The company advocates human augmentation. Unlike conventional wheelchairs, Transella, their flagship product, is able to crouch, stand up, climb over steps, and ride escalators. The mobility is mainly comprised of parts made in Japan which excels in miniaturization technology. It can solve the problems of conventional wheelchairs because of its extended mobility of not only horizontal but also vertical range of movement. Toru Akaura, one of…

From left: Toru Akaura (Incubate Fund), Hiroshi Nakano (LifeHub), Hirofumi Kondo (CyberAgent Capital)

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based LifeHub, the Japanese startup developing a chair-type mobility that can stretch its legs to move in bipedal motion like human, announced on Tuesday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $870,000) from CyberAgent Capital and Incubate Fund in a seed round. This follows their previous pre-seed round securing 30 million yen (about $260,000) from Incubate Fund.

LifeHub was launched back in 2021 by three founders. Having been fascinated with building robots since he was a child, CEO Hiroshi Nakano studied robotics and drones at university, and later worked at one of the world’s largestcomputer-aided engineering vendor where he was involved in mobility development and research. CTO Kazuhiro Nomiya designs and develops biomechanics and artificial muscles while CSO Yasuhiro Arakawa specializes in control systems and autonomous driving.

The company advocates human augmentation. Unlike conventional wheelchairs, Transella, their flagship product, is able to crouch, stand up, climb over steps, and ride escalators. The mobility is mainly comprised of parts made in Japan which excels in miniaturization technology. It can solve the problems of conventional wheelchairs because of its extended mobility of not only horizontal but also vertical range of movement.

The conceptual image of Transella
Image credit: LifeHub

Toru Akaura, one of the representative partner at Incubate Fund, decided to invest in the mobility startup’s first funding round (pre-seed round). He says,

I couldn’t believe it when I heard a lot of ideas from Nakano-san for the first time. But he passionately said “We can do it,” so I bet 30 million yen on them. And his team created the half-size prototype. I’m very much in love with their ability to make things happen.

Hirofumi Kondo, President and CEO of CyberAgent Capital participating in the latest round, first met LifeHub’s Nakano last year at Incubate Camp, an annual entrepreneurship bootcamp program organized by Incubate Fund. In the event, Kondo mentored Nakano and then won the third place of the Capitalist Award which lets entrepreneurs evaluate capitalists as mentors. Kondo says,

Still in a seed round, so we decided our investment based on not only technical or business advantage but also on his personal character. We can help make their business global.

Kondo introducing LifeHub’s Nakano as mentors at Incubate Camp 14th.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

LifeHub is not the first robotics startup aiming to assist people’s movements, but many of conventional solutions are not suitable for daily use due to cumbersome wearing or installation process. Because of its shape, the mobility device can be used by anyone by simply sitting down to move even on stairs, steep slopes, and rough roads, so it must have a huge need all over the world. The company plans to use the funds to develop a full-scale model of the product by this spring but the global semiconductor shortage may impact their schedule or force them to push it back.

The company is about to set its business model, likely starting with a high-function wheelchair for the elderly and physically challenged. In the future, they are aiming to make it used for climbing stairs, autonomous driving, sharing mobility services for business-to-business use as well as global business expansion. For now, the company plans to offer a unit of the wheelchair for 1.5 million yen (about $13,000) for purchase, or 10,000 yen (about $86) per month on a subscription basis for nursing care, but the price may vary greatly as they have completed no full-scale prototype yet.

Nakano delivers his pitch at Incubate Camp 14th.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

We’ve seen more than a few startups developing smart wheelchairs, mobility devices, and robots for transportation, but LifeHub’s mobility clearly takes a different approach in terms of moving like a vehicle as well as human bipedal movement. Based on the potential of the technology and the business, Akaura and Kondo praised Nakano, saying that he might be “Elon Mask from Japan”.

Akaura concluded our conversation with saying,

This will be a world-class product. I believe that Nakano has the potential to lead the world from Japan.

Japan’s free insurance startup Warrantee files for IPO on NASDAQ

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Osaka-headquartered Warrantee, the Japanese startup offering free insurance services in the US and Singapore, has publicly filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for its initial public offering (IPO), according to a source close to the company. We were told that the company plans to trade under the symbol WRNT on the NASDAQ. Warrantee declined to further comment when contacted by Bridge despite admitting the news is true. Generally speaking, profiles of companies are available on the SEC website just after their IPO application is accepted, but Warrantee’s one does not appear there as of this writing. According to a person familiar with IPO applications  in the U.S., the SEC search and retrieval function is not applied for foreign companies until the listing is approved. If the schedule follows SEC’s convention, financial terms are expected to become clear in April followed by the IPO in May as long as everything goes well. Founded back in October of 2013 by CEO Yusuke Shono, Warrantee started its business with helping consumers turn product warranties into digital followed by foraying into the on-demand insurance market in 2017 in collaboration with insurance companies. Subsequently the company started offering free or low-cost on-demand…

Yusuke Shono
Image credit: Warrantee

Osaka-headquartered Warrantee, the Japanese startup offering free insurance services in the US and Singapore, has publicly filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for its initial public offering (IPO), according to a source close to the company. We were told that the company plans to trade under the symbol WRNT on the NASDAQ. Warrantee declined to further comment when contacted by Bridge despite admitting the news is true.

Generally speaking, profiles of companies are available on the SEC website just after their IPO application is accepted, but Warrantee’s one does not appear there as of this writing. According to a person familiar with IPO applications  in the U.S., the SEC search and retrieval function is not applied for foreign companies until the listing is approved. If the schedule follows SEC’s convention, financial terms are expected to become clear in April followed by the IPO in May as long as everything goes well.

Founded back in October of 2013 by CEO Yusuke Shono, Warrantee started its business with helping consumers turn product warranties into digital followed by foraying into the on-demand insurance market in 2017 in collaboration with insurance companies. Subsequently the company started offering free or low-cost on-demand insurance services in the US and Singapore where state-run affordable and universal health insurance systems are less common unlike Japan.

Warrantee’s core team is located in Tokyo and Osaka, but they also have offices in Singapore, New York City, and Silicon Valley. In our coverage last year, someone anonymous involved in the company suggested the possibility of an IPO in the US via a SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company). However, the effort is not via a SPAC but a direct one.

Regarding recent NASDAQ listings by Japanese firms, our readers may recall Medirom, the operator of the Re.Ra.Ku massage chain, went public in December of 2020. The youngest Japanese entrepreneur having succeeded in IPO on NASDAQ was Yo Matsushima, who listed his company Crayfish (now known as e-Machi Town) on both the U.S. market and the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers market in 2000 at his age of 26. 36-year-old Warrantee’s Shono appears to be the youngest Japanese entrepreneur ever to go public his company on NASDAQ only.

This is a developing story and may be updated for further details.

Commmune, customer success support platform from Japan, announces US expansion

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Tokyo-based Commmune, the Japanese startup behind a customer success support platform under the same name, revealed on Friday that it is expanding into the US market. The company has raised funds from several investors, including DNX Ventures, in Series A and Series B rounds. Yuya Takada, founder and CEO of Commmune, plans to move to the U.S. himself and start operations at DNX Ventures’ Silicon Valley office in San Mateo, CA. The specific timing of the start of activities has not yet been determined due to logistical arrangements but is expected to be early next year. Commmune was founded in May of 2018 by Yuya Takada (CEO) and Shota Hashimoto (initially COO, now CPO), both of whom graduated from the University of Tokyo and had previously worked in the U.S. prior to the startup. Commmune currently has about 100 employees and contractors working in its Japan office. After the announcement, Takada will focus on decision making and market fit effort for the US market while Hashimoto will supervise team building in the Japan office. The startup offers companies with a online community environment to improve their user engagement, enabling them to get their words out as well as receiving responses…

Yuya Takada, Founder and CEO of Commmune
Image credit: Commmune

Tokyo-based Commmune, the Japanese startup behind a customer success support platform under the same name, revealed on Friday that it is expanding into the US market. The company has raised funds from several investors, including DNX Ventures, in Series A and Series B rounds. Yuya Takada, founder and CEO of Commmune, plans to move to the U.S. himself and start operations at DNX Ventures’ Silicon Valley office in San Mateo, CA. The specific timing of the start of activities has not yet been determined due to logistical arrangements but is expected to be early next year.

Commmune was founded in May of 2018 by Yuya Takada (CEO) and Shota Hashimoto (initially COO, now CPO), both of whom graduated from the University of Tokyo and had previously worked in the U.S. prior to the startup. Commmune currently has about 100 employees and contractors working in its Japan office. After the announcement, Takada will focus on decision making and market fit effort for the US market while Hashimoto will supervise team building in the Japan office.

The startup offers companies with a online community environment to improve their user engagement, enabling them to get their words out as well as receiving responses from users, which is quite challenging with conventional communication channels like blogs and other platforms like Medium.com. For companies managing online accounts for their users, the platform allows them to integrate their member database to enable single sign-on login. The startup’s user base of enterprises is growing as the pandemic has forced various companies to keep in touch with their customers in a digital manner.

Commmune
Image credit: Commmune

This enterprise need is not limited to Japan, but is likely to exist in Western markets that pursue a good customer journey. However, Takada says platforms like Commmune do not yet exist in the Western market, and some services with similar functions are not sufficiently recognized and are small in scale. Given that there must be a market there, Takada expressed his determination to go to SF Bay Area and take on the global market before other startups from Europe and the US do it.

Takada says,

We know a Dutch startup called inSided. In contrast to our platform mainly serving B2C startups, they have more B2C services as users and their scale is still small. Some people say we have to dominate the Japanese market and IPO here first before expanding into the US market. However, I thought that we might not stand a chance if we do that after IPO. It will be too late because US startups grow at least three times faster than Japanese startups.

He continued,

We know a Dutch startup called inSided. In contrast to our platform mainly serving B2C startups, they have more B2C services as users and their scale is still small. Some people say we have to dominate the Japanese market and IPO here first before expanding into the US market. However, I thought that we might not stand a chance if we do that after IPO. It will be too late because US startups grow at least three times faster than Japanese startups.

Looking at the Japanese market, major tools in CRM (Customer Relationship Management), MA (Marketing Automation), SFA (Sales Force Automation), and among others are all provided by foreign firms. Commmune is solving a problem that is not dependent on the culture of a particular country. Even in the areas of customer success and community management, history tells us that we will eventually see strong players from outside the country if we don’t make a global expansion. We have no choice but to go now.

One of the reasons why Takada could make this decision was probably due to the changing perspective of Japanese investors. In the past, both entrepreneurs and investors used to prioritize the Japanese market which has a reasonably large domestic demand. More foreign institutional investors pouring larger sums of cash into Japanese VC firms, making it easier for them to understand the need to expand into the global market in terms of maximizing growth potential. A good recent example is Snkrdunk (pronounced as Sneaker Dunk), which secured funds from SoftBank Vision Fund 2 earlier this month and announced its full-scale expansion into the Asian market.

Takada does not believe that their product in Japan will work in the US without tailoring to the local context. It will need certain time to reach product-market fit. For this reason, he will appoint no country manager but hire and manage several local employees during the initial stage of market development because he hasn’t yet fixed what it looks like they want to offer to US businesses.

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.