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

Tokyo-based social network service Storys.jp raises another $300,000

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Tokyo-based startup ResuPress Inc., the company behind the social network service Storys.jp, announced today that it has raised 30 million yen (approximately $300,000) from Incubate Fund and the Anri startup fund. The new funding will be used to improve the service and intensify marketing efforts. For those not familiar with the service, Storys.jp helps you easily write information about your background and experience by connecting to Facebook and pulling from your history. Some of our readers may recall that we recently featured the startup and how it intends to differentiate from conventional social network services. The service was founded last year by ex-JP Morgan employee James Riney and TIT student Koichiro Wada, with an initial investment of 30 million yen from Incubate Fund, the Anri fund, and Hong Kong-based angel investor Teddy Lo.

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Tokyo-based startup ResuPress Inc., the company behind the social network service Storys.jp, announced today that it has raised 30 million yen (approximately $300,000) from Incubate Fund and the Anri startup fund. The new funding will be used to improve the service and intensify marketing efforts.

For those not familiar with the service, Storys.jp helps you easily write information about your background and experience by connecting to Facebook and pulling from your history. Some of our readers may recall that we recently featured the startup and how it intends to differentiate from conventional social network services.

The service was founded last year by ex-JP Morgan employee James Riney and TIT student Koichiro Wada, with an initial investment of 30 million yen from Incubate Fund, the Anri fund, and Hong Kong-based angel investor Teddy Lo.

Japanese online dating site Qrunch raises funds from Mitsubishi UFJ Capital

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Tokyo-based startup Qrunch, the company behind online dating site MatchAlarm, announced today it has raised an unspecified amount of funds from Mitsubishi UFJ Capital. The dating site targets single people looking to marry, and helps you connect with a likely match who you aren’t connected with on Facebook. The service is well-suited for busy office workers who might be otherwise occupied from morning until night, left with little time to date. With this service, users are sent the profile of another member every day at 8am, much like your alarm clock wakes you up every morning. This makes it pretty easy to use the service, because typical Japanese office workers will check messages on their smartphone at that time during their morning train commute. The service is not yet public, but it was chosen as one of seven finalists at Startups 2011 Spring, a semi-annual startup competition run by CyberAgent Ventures. At that time it was pitching the concept of being a Q&A service. The startup was incorporated last September, subsequently raised funds from CyberAgent Ventures, and then changed its strategy to this matchmaking service which will likely be easier to monetize.   On a related note, Tokyo-based startup Frigg…

matchalarm_logoTokyo-based startup Qrunch, the company behind online dating site MatchAlarm, announced today it has raised an unspecified amount of funds from Mitsubishi UFJ Capital.

The dating site targets single people looking to marry, and helps you connect with a likely match who you aren’t connected with on Facebook.

The service is well-suited for busy office workers who might be otherwise occupied from morning until night, left with little time to date. With this service, users are sent the profile of another member every day at 8am, much like your alarm clock wakes you up every morning. This makes it pretty easy to use the service, because typical Japanese office workers will check messages on their smartphone at that time during their morning train commute.

The service is not yet public, but it was chosen as one of seven finalists at Startups 2011 Spring, a semi-annual startup competition run by CyberAgent Ventures. At that time it was pitching the concept of being a Q&A service.

The startup was incorporated last September, subsequently raised funds from CyberAgent Ventures, and then changed its strategy to this matchmaking service which will likely be easier to monetize.  

On a related note, Tokyo-based startup Frigg (backed by IMJ Investment Partners) has been providing similar matchmaking services since last April. It has acquired more than 2,000 registered users in seven months since launch. Interestingly they are disclosing the demographics of their user base in terms of gender balance, age, geography, academic background, annual income, occupation, and whether or not they were previously married.

matchalarm_wall

Yahoo Japan to launch online ticket sales service, poised to shake up $10B market

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Japan’s Nikkei reports that Yahoo Japan (TYO:4689) will launch an online ticket sales service that will allow users to join live events by presenting e-tickets on their smartphone screen at the event venue [1]. So far in this space, convenience store chain Lawson, Sony-backed Entertainment Plus, and 7-Eleven-backed Pia already have a head start, and Yahoo Japan will to be the fourth major player. The ticket sales market in Japan is said to be worth about 1 trillion yen (or about $10 billion). Yahoo Japan is expected to launch its box office service, to be called Pass Market, in a couple of days. All Yahoo Japan users will have access to the service, and when you buy a ticket it will be deducted from your bank account according to the information in your registered user profile. The ticket will be sent to the user’s smartphone in the form of a unique QR code. After presenting the code to a ticket checker at the event venue, they can scan it using a smartphone camera to confirm its validity. With conventional ticket sales platforms, an event organizer usually pays several thousand dollars to starting selling tickets, as well as a 10% commission…

yahoo_logo

Japan’s Nikkei reports that Yahoo Japan (TYO:4689) will launch an online ticket sales service that will allow users to join live events by presenting e-tickets on their smartphone screen at the event venue [1]. So far in this space, convenience store chain Lawson, Sony-backed Entertainment Plus, and 7-Eleven-backed Pia already have a head start, and Yahoo Japan will to be the fourth major player. The ticket sales market in Japan is said to be worth about 1 trillion yen (or about $10 billion).

Yahoo Japan is expected to launch its box office service, to be called Pass Market, in a couple of days. All Yahoo Japan users will have access to the service, and when you buy a ticket it will be deducted from your bank account according to the information in your registered user profile. The ticket will be sent to the user’s smartphone in the form of a unique QR code. After presenting the code to a ticket checker at the event venue, they can scan it using a smartphone camera to confirm its validity.

With conventional ticket sales platforms, an event organizer usually pays several thousand dollars to starting selling tickets, as well as a 10% commission on the ticket sales. But Yahoo Japan will take no set-up fee, and only a 5% commission charge of the ticket sales.

As Japan’s largest internet portal, with more than 27 million user accounts, this new service should represent a significant revenue stream for event organizers – and for Yahoo Japan too, of course.

On a related note, there are also many startups that provide simple ticket sales services for meetups and events, including Peatix, Tixee, Zussar, EventRegist, Everevo, and Atnd.

Our readers may recall that Yahoo Japan has recently acquired on-demand cinema service DreamPass last month.


  1. The Nikkei report can be found here, although it’s paywalled.  ↩

KDDI to migrate its music service to Kkbox, joining Asia’s largest music network

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Japan’s second largest telco KDDI (TYO:9433) announced today that it would rebrand Lismo, its subscription mobile music service, to the ‘Kkbox’ effective in June. KDDI subsidized Taiwan-based Kkbox in December of 2010, and has been using the platform for its existing flat-rate music subscription services, Lismo unlmited and Utapass. For those not familiar with it, Kkbox is an on-demand music subscription service, founded in 2004 in Taiwan. KDDI acquired a majority share of its outstanding stock in 2010, and Taiwanese handset maker HTC took a 11.1% stake in 2011. The service is now operating in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, and has acquired more than 10 million users in those countries. More than 10 million songs are available for play, either using desktops, laptops, smartphones, or tablets. One of its more remarkable features is ‘Listen With,’ which allows you to share what you’re listening to with other users. With the rebranding, KDDI joins Asia’s largest music distribution network, providing more music titles not just to KDDI customers but also to mobile users on rival carriers NTT Docomo and Softbank Mobile. Competition is starting to heat up in the online music distribution space in Japan. DeNA launched Groovy a couple…

kddi_kkbox_logos

Japan’s second largest telco KDDI (TYO:9433) announced today that it would rebrand Lismo, its subscription mobile music service, to the ‘Kkbox’ effective in June.

KDDI subsidized Taiwan-based Kkbox in December of 2010, and has been using the platform for its existing flat-rate music subscription services, Lismo unlmited and Utapass. For those not familiar with it, Kkbox is an on-demand music subscription service, founded in 2004 in Taiwan. KDDI acquired a majority share of its outstanding stock in 2010, and Taiwanese handset maker HTC took a 11.1% stake in 2011.

The service is now operating in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, and has acquired more than 10 million users in those countries. More than 10 million songs are available for play, either using desktops, laptops, smartphones, or tablets. One of its more remarkable features is ‘Listen With,’ which allows you to share what you’re listening to with other users.

With the rebranding, KDDI joins Asia’s largest music distribution network, providing more music titles not just to KDDI customers but also to mobile users on rival carriers NTT Docomo and Softbank Mobile.

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Kkbox app

Competition is starting to heat up in the online music distribution space in Japan. DeNA launched Groovy a couple of weeks ago, and Music Unlimited, Sony’s online music subscription service available in 18 countries worldwide, also recently reduced its subscription rate to 980 yen a month, the same price as Kkbox.

Global player Spotify is expected to launch in the Japanese market soon, as they have begun hiring in Tokyo. There are also other newcomers like Mironi as well.

Kyodo reports today that Japan has just surpassed the US as the biggest recorded music market in the world, with $4.3 billion in sales of CDs and music downloads. Interestingly, 80% of that figure was non-downloadable items like CDs and records, so there’s a lot of money just waiting to shift to the online space.

It will be interesting to see which of companies above can best position itself to capitalize on Japan’s love of music.

Cerevo invents a smart, Apple-like power strip that keeps your wires under control

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Tokyo-based hardware startup Cerevo, best known for its LiveShell livestreaming device, recently introduced another new, intriguing product. It’s called Otto. Otto is a wifi and web app enabled power strip which designed to hide the AC adapters from all your laptops and smartphones. And what’s more, the power supply from all eight of its sockets can be controlled over the internet. Two of them can even be controlled by a dimmer, which in addition to letting you turn lights on or off, lets you dim or brighten lights with your smartphone. This sleek, smart enclosure was designed by Japanese product designer Satoshi Yanagisawa, who is based in the UK. The intent of his design was to harmonize with your living room while at the same time pursuing advanced functions. Cerevo is now exhibiting Otto at Salone Internazionale del Mobile, currently underway at Milan, Italy. If you have a chance to attend the event, drop by their booth at Pavilion 24-22 and give Otto a try. And if you can’t make the trip to Italy, head over to TV Tokyo’s website where there’s a video demonstration of the device. Cerevo was founded by ex-Panasonic product producer Takuma Iwasa (aka Waren-osyo) in…

otto

Tokyo-based hardware startup Cerevo, best known for its LiveShell livestreaming device, recently introduced another new, intriguing product. It’s called Otto.

ottoapp_screenshotOtto is a wifi and web app enabled power strip which designed to hide the AC adapters from all your laptops and smartphones. And what’s more, the power supply from all eight of its sockets can be controlled over the internet. Two of them can even be controlled by a dimmer, which in addition to letting you turn lights on or off, lets you dim or brighten lights with your smartphone.

This sleek, smart enclosure was designed by Japanese product designer Satoshi Yanagisawa, who is based in the UK. The intent of his design was to harmonize with your living room while at the same time pursuing advanced functions.

Cerevo is now exhibiting Otto at Salone Internazionale del Mobile, currently underway at Milan, Italy. If you have a chance to attend the event, drop by their booth at Pavilion 24-22 and give Otto a try. And if you can’t make the trip to Italy, head over to TV Tokyo’s website where there’s a video demonstration of the device.

Cerevo was founded by ex-Panasonic product producer Takuma Iwasa (aka Waren-osyo) in 2007. It fundraised 120 million yen from EC Navi, Kronos Fund, and P&A in 2009; and 250 million yen from Enova, Inspire, and Neostella Capital in 2011.

otto

New Docomo startup fund invests in two up-and-coming Japanese companies

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As we reported back in February, NTT Docomo launched a new startup fund worth 10 billion yen (about $100 million), along with an incubation program with 500 Startups and Japan’s B Dash Ventures. Today, the telco-backed investment arm unveiled the first selection of companies for the fund: tech news media company Iid and CRM solution developer Repica. Iid was founded back in 2000 as a subsidiary of internet research company IRI. That company has been running 23 web media entities across 16 different genres, including the notable tech news site RBBToday.com. The company also has developed an e-commerce site solution called Marble ASP as well. With the new funds, the company expects to intensify further mobile optimization of these news sites for its e-commerce platform. IID’s sharehoders include Globis Capital Partners, Inspire Investment, Itochu Technology Ventures, and Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings. Repica was founded in 2006 by former executives at Japanese mobile service giant Cybird Holdings. The company provides merchants with several customer-facing white-label CRM solutions such as a customer reward system, a gift coupon system, and a mobile-optimized e-mail distribution system. The company’s subsidiary Arara is known for running restaurant clipping app called Gugulog, as well as a smartphone app…

As we reported back in February, NTT Docomo launched a new startup fund worth 10 billion yen (about $100 million), along with an incubation program with 500 Startups and Japan’s B Dash Ventures.

Today, the telco-backed investment arm unveiled the first selection of companies for the fund: tech news media company Iid and CRM solution developer Repica.

IID's RBBToday.com
IID’s RBBToday.com

Iid was founded back in 2000 as a subsidiary of internet research company IRI. That company has been running 23 web media entities across 16 different genres, including the notable tech news site RBBToday.com. The company also has developed an e-commerce site solution called Marble ASP as well. With the new funds, the company expects to intensify further mobile optimization of these news sites for its e-commerce platform.

IID’s sharehoders include Globis Capital Partners, Inspire Investment, Itochu Technology Ventures, and Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings.

Repica's Appli-sommelier
Repica’s Appli-sommelier

Repica was founded in 2006 by former executives at Japanese mobile service giant Cybird Holdings. The company provides merchants with several customer-facing white-label CRM solutions such as a customer reward system, a gift coupon system, and a mobile-optimized e-mail distribution system. The company’s subsidiary Arara is known for running restaurant clipping app called Gugulog, as well as a smartphone app review site called Appli-sommelier.

Repica raised 113.4 million yen, hoping to integrate its apps and services on smartphone devices, and to intensify its global business expansion.

A new service gives Japanese students key info about their classes and profs

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For businesses, school systems, and lots of organizations in Japan, everything starts around April. For new students to in universities, they have passed the entrance exams successfully and are full of expectations for what will happen. Capitalizing on this phenomenon, a mobile app called Sugoi Jikanwari, roughly translated as ‘Timetable Wow’ in English, is getting lots of traction among students right now, despite the fact that it was first introduced last July. Available on desktop, Android and iOS, the app features user-generated content from university students, allowing them to find information about universities. For example, they could find out which courses are an easy credit, which professor gives especially interesting lectures, or even which lecturers strictly check attendance. There is a social networking feature for sharing knowledge with classmates, where you can easily find out about a sudden lecture cancellation without going to your school campus. Android version Timetable Wow was invented by a Tokyo-based web startup called Labit, which is led by young standout entrepreneur Hiroyuki Tsuruta, aka Mocchi. When the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the country in 2011, he developed a website called PrayforJapan.jp. That site was a place where people around the world could share their…

labit_logoFor businesses, school systems, and lots of organizations in Japan, everything starts around April. For new students to in universities, they have passed the entrance exams successfully and are full of expectations for what will happen. Capitalizing on this phenomenon, a mobile app called Sugoi Jikanwari, roughly translated as ‘Timetable Wow’ in English, is getting lots of traction among students right now, despite the fact that it was first introduced last July.

Available on desktop, Android and iOS, the app features user-generated content from university students, allowing them to find information about universities. For example, they could find out which courses are an easy credit, which professor gives especially interesting lectures, or even which lecturers strictly check attendance.

There is a social networking feature for sharing knowledge with classmates, where you can easily find out about a sudden lecture cancellation without going to your school campus.

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Android version

Timetable Wow was invented by a Tokyo-based web startup called Labit, which is led by young standout entrepreneur Hiroyuki Tsuruta, aka Mocchi. When the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the country in 2011, he developed a website called PrayforJapan.jp. That site was a place where people around the world could share their thoughts and prayers for disaster victims, and more than 10 million people have the site in total.

As of last January, the Timetable app had acquired more than 90,000 users, with profiles of more than 380,000 lectures given at 1,114 universities and colleges in Japan. In terms of monetization, the app might be a good platform for potential advertisers to reach out to the university student demographic.

Labit was founded in April of 2011, and fundraised unknown amount (probably several tens of million yen) from NetAge, Recruit Incubation Partners, and six Japanese serial entrepreneurs.


From a presentation at the Infinity Venture Summit 2011

Pitapat launches invitation-only Q&A app for startups and entrepreneurs

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Tokyo-based startup Pitapat, known for having developed a Facemash-like girl-finding app, introduced its first (more pragmatic) app for business people today. It’s called Qixil [1], an invitation-only service which is open to entrepreneurs or venture founders only. Non-entrepreneurs can also sign up for the service if they receive an invitation from any of the existing users. The app is available on desktop and mobile, and is designed for entrepreneurs sharing knowledge about startups. It allows you to ask other users for tips or key advice on how to drive your startup. Pitapat has developed an algorithm to show you metrics on how much available advisors are trusted by the startup community, in important growth areas like investment, hiring, marketing etc. The service tries to make you feel as if you were discussing your choice with a group of mentors at an incubator. Pitapat won the top award at the 2011 Breakthrough Camp with its girl-hunting app called FaceMatch, and it became later a subsidiary of CyberAgent (TYO:4751) [2]. The app received much attention from the younger generation in Japan, mostly among males. But it suddenly shut down last September, and we’ve been looking forward to what they produce next. I’m…

pitapat_logoTokyo-based startup Pitapat, known for having developed a Facemash-like girl-finding app, introduced its first (more pragmatic) app for business people today. It’s called Qixil [1], an invitation-only service which is open to entrepreneurs or venture founders only. Non-entrepreneurs can also sign up for the service if they receive an invitation from any of the existing users.

The app is available on desktop and mobile, and is designed for entrepreneurs sharing knowledge about startups. It allows you to ask other users for tips or key advice on how to drive your startup. Pitapat has developed an algorithm to show you metrics on how much available advisors are trusted by the startup community, in important growth areas like investment, hiring, marketing etc. The service tries to make you feel as if you were discussing your choice with a group of mentors at an incubator.

Pitapat won the top award at the 2011 Breakthrough Camp with its girl-hunting app called FaceMatch, and it became later a subsidiary of CyberAgent (TYO:4751) [2]. The app received much attention from the younger generation in Japan, mostly among males. But it suddenly shut down last September, and we’ve been looking forward to what they produce next.

I’m not sure how they intend to monetize this new app, but it will be a really helpful tool for startup owners whenever they need some helpful advice.

qixil_screenshot
Qixil

  1. The pronunciation in Japanese sounds like ‘ask’ and learn’.  ↩

  2. No figures were disclosed for the acquisition.  ↩

Japanese social restaurant finder app Retty teams up with major portals on booking deal

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Retty, a Tokyo-based startup providing social restaurant recommendations, has announced a partnership with three Japanese major restaurant guides and reservation sites: restaurant.ikyu.com (operated by Ikyu, TSE:2450), Gurunavi (TSE:2440), and Akiran.jp. Retty users can find the best restaurants according to their social contacts. With the agreement users will gain instant access to book restaurants via the partnering services, with integration set to start on April 8th. The deal’s scope is far-reaching too, covering more than 600,000 restaurants in Japan. Retty initially started its journey backed by CyberAgent Ventures back in November of 2010. The startup raised 100 million yen (or about 1 million dollars) from GREE Ventures, NTT Investment Partners, and Mitsubishi UFJ Capital last October in order to drive international expansion to the US and Singapore. However, we’ve not yet confirmed the company’s presence in those markets yet. Most likely Retty is still building business strategies so they can take on competitors such as Yelp or Singtel’s HungryGoWhere. Partnering with these Japanese restaurant portals that have online booking capabilities could be a great shortcut to monetization. Money can be made by driving user traffic businesses without the need to make agreements with every single establishment in the local restaurant market. In…

retty_gurunavi_ikyu_logo

Retty, a Tokyo-based startup providing social restaurant recommendations, has announced a partnership with three Japanese major restaurant guides and reservation sites: restaurant.ikyu.com (operated by Ikyu, TSE:2450), Gurunavi (TSE:2440), and Akiran.jp.

Retty users can find the best restaurants according to their social contacts. With the agreement users will gain instant access to book restaurants via the partnering services, with integration set to start on April 8th. The deal’s scope is far-reaching too, covering more than 600,000 restaurants in Japan.

Retty initially started its journey backed by CyberAgent Ventures back in November of 2010. The startup raised 100 million yen (or about 1 million dollars) from GREE Ventures, NTT Investment Partners, and Mitsubishi UFJ Capital last October in order to drive international expansion to the US and Singapore. However, we’ve not yet confirmed the company’s presence in those markets yet. Most likely Retty is still building business strategies so they can take on competitors such as Yelp or Singtel’s HungryGoWhere.

retty-gurunavi_screenshot
Still under development, and the new feature will go live on April 8th.

Partnering with these Japanese restaurant portals that have online booking capabilities could be a great shortcut to monetization. Money can be made by driving user traffic businesses without the need to make agreements with every single establishment in the local restaurant market.

In my view, Ikyu or Gurunavi are likely to take over the startup in the near future. Both companies are listed on the TSE stock market, have sound financial foundations, and are interested in launching restaurant-related information businesses in Asia and the rest of the world. But they are struggling to find new business models for further expansion and development.

Can a small startup help a Japanese convenience store giant promote itself abroad?

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Japanese convenience store chain Lawson has partnered with up-and-coming startup Tokyo Otaku Mode (TOM) to establish a special promotion page to increase the store’s brand awareness in Asia and the rest of the world. Lawson has more than 10,000 stores in Japan, but it also has presences in China, Indonesia, and Hawaii. With plans to penetrate South East Asian markets it is launching more than 50 stores in Thailand by the end of this year. In the Asia region, people seem to have a deep affinity for Japanese anime and comics, so the convenience store chain decided to ask Tokyo Otaku Mode (which has more than 11 million of such geeky fans on its Facebook page) to help out with its promotion campaign. On the promo page (located at otakumode.com/sp/lawson) there are many posts of certain characters introducing what you can buy at the convenience store. Fans can like the posts, which should give Lawson increased visibility even in regions where it doesn’t yet have a presence. In addition to 11 million likes on Facebook, the startup’s Otaku Camera app has seen 2.5 downloads in five months since its launch. With the funds raised from three major VC firms last month,…

tom_and_lawson

Japanese convenience store chain Lawson has partnered with up-and-coming startup Tokyo Otaku Mode (TOM) to establish a special promotion page to increase the store’s brand awareness in Asia and the rest of the world.

Lawson has more than 10,000 stores in Japan, but it also has presences in China, Indonesia, and Hawaii. With plans to penetrate South East Asian markets it is launching more than 50 stores in Thailand by the end of this year. In the Asia region, people seem to have a deep affinity for Japanese anime and comics, so the convenience store chain decided to ask Tokyo Otaku Mode (which has more than 11 million of such geeky fans on its Facebook page) to help out with its promotion campaign.

On the promo page (located at otakumode.com/sp/lawson) there are many posts of certain characters introducing what you can buy at the convenience store. Fans can like the posts, which should give Lawson increased visibility even in regions where it doesn’t yet have a presence.

In addition to 11 million likes on Facebook, the startup’s Otaku Camera app has seen 2.5 downloads in five months since its launch. With the funds raised from three major VC firms last month, the company is preparing to launch an e-commerce channel which could be its first significant revenue stream. But with partnerships such as this one with Lawson, the startup could also bring in some revenue by tying up with big Japanese companies struggling to get attention from global audiences.

To learn more about TOM, please see our exclusive feature interview from last month.