THE BRIDGE

Article

Japan’s retail solution startup Hey secures $66M from Bain Capital, acquires Coubic

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Hey, the Japanese tech firm behind payments startup and e-shop builder, announced today that it has secured series E round funding. Participating investors in this round are Bain Capital, Hong Kong-based Anatole, Goldman Saches, PayPal, YJ Capital (investment arm of Yahoo Japan) as well as World Innovation Lab (WiL). Hey has not disclosed the size of the entire round but their statement reveals Bain Capital alone will invest 7 billion yen (about $66 million) in this deal. Hey will use the funds to double its team from 200 to 400 staffers. Along with the funds, the company will acquire a full stake in Coubic, a Japanese startup behind scheduling and appointment booking solution under the same name. Coubic has recently integrated with “Reserve with Google”, which now allows consumers to make bookings or purchase tickets through Google Search and Maps from the local businesses using Coubic. Coubic has also recently integrated with Zoom in aim to help retailers offer online counseling or other learning services under the COVID-19 pandemic. Founded in October 2013 by ex-Googler Hiroshi Kuraoka, Coubic has now 2.5 million monthly active users and is serving more than 80,000 companies and…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Hey, the Japanese tech firm behind payments startup and e-shop builder, announced today that it has secured series E round funding.

Participating investors in this round are Bain Capital, Hong Kong-based Anatole, Goldman Saches, PayPal, YJ Capital (investment arm of Yahoo Japan) as well as World Innovation Lab (WiL). Hey has not disclosed the size of the entire round but their statement reveals Bain Capital alone will invest 7 billion yen (about $66 million) in this deal.

Hey will use the funds to double its team from 200 to 400 staffers.

Along with the funds, the company will acquire a full stake in Coubic, a Japanese startup behind scheduling and appointment booking solution under the same name. Coubic has recently integrated with “Reserve with Google”, which now allows consumers to make bookings or purchase tickets through Google Search and Maps from the local businesses using Coubic.

Coubic has also recently integrated with Zoom in aim to help retailers offer online counseling or other learning services under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Founded in October 2013 by ex-Googler Hiroshi Kuraoka, Coubic has now 2.5 million monthly active users and is serving more than 80,000 companies and individuals across over 180 business categories.

Here’s what Hey CEO Yusuke Sato says in an official statement:

I’ll never forget the words of a customer I got the other day. That’s from President Suzuki of Hamanoyu, who use our Stores platform to sell his traditional inn’s flagship menu of red bream fish boiled with soy sauce.

He said in his letter to us:

“The kitchen, which had been bereft of guests, has been revitalized by orders online from from all over the country. Our staffs were encouraged by the fact that there were customers who wanted to stay with us, and we felt anew that we had to take a stand for the customers who wanted to come back someday.”

We were reminded that what we can do is small in the face of a major disaster, but nevertheless, we could be a source of hope and vitality for those who are in such a difficult situation.

Through this funding and the acquisition (of Coubic), we will further accelerate the rollout of features for individuals and small and medium-sized businesses in response to the new normal, such as early withdrawal of sales proceeds, support for opening an online store, and simplified online lesson booking through integration with the Zoom video conferencing service, which we have released to address the challenges associated with the pandemic and business restraint measures.

Together with Hey team and our new colleagues from Coubic, we will contribute to creating a society supported by an economy driven by persistence, passion and fun, rather than just pursuing profit and scale.

See also:

Mantra’s AI-powered translation engine wants to help Japanese manga expand global fan base

SHARE:

This is the abridged version of our original article in Japanese. Tokyo-based Mantra, the Japanese startup developing machine learning-based translation technology for manga, announced on Tuesday that it has officially launched its cloud-based translation platform called Mantra Engine. The platform is specifically designed for translating manga content. It allows comic productions and distributors to release manga titles in foreign languages by helping them manage almost all work processes for manga translation through a single web-based interface. Combining with corrections and proofreading by professional translators, the platform makes it possible for users to produce foreign language versions in about half the time for the traditional workflow. It supports English and Chinese at the moment, but more languages will be added in due course. In aim to help the global expansion of the Japanese manga industry and reducing their economic loss due to piracy, the platform is intended to provide three functions to streamline producing foreign language versions: character recognition (reading Japanese characters in speech bubbles), machine translation, and replacing text in speech bubbles by script typesetting in a targeted language. As electronic versions of manga become more widely available, the platform’s ability to publish a new episode in a foreign language…

Screenshot of Mantra Engine ©️Kuchitaka Mitsuki
Image credit: Mantra

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

Tokyo-based Mantra, the Japanese startup developing machine learning-based translation technology for manga, announced on Tuesday that it has officially launched its cloud-based translation platform called Mantra Engine.

The platform is specifically designed for translating manga content. It allows comic productions and distributors to release manga titles in foreign languages by helping them manage almost all work processes for manga translation through a single web-based interface.

Combining with corrections and proofreading by professional translators, the platform makes it possible for users to produce foreign language versions in about half the time for the traditional workflow. It supports English and Chinese at the moment, but more languages will be added in due course.

In aim to help the global expansion of the Japanese manga industry and reducing their economic loss due to piracy, the platform is intended to provide three functions to streamline producing foreign language versions: character recognition (reading Japanese characters in speech bubbles), machine translation, and replacing text in speech bubbles by script typesetting in a targeted language.

As electronic versions of manga become more widely available, the platform’s ability to publish a new episode in a foreign language even on a weekly basis is a powerful tool for the industry which is looking to increase sales through global licensing and multilingual distribution. As is common among tech companies, especially for AI firms, the more scope of automated processing expands, the greater value they can provide.

In terms of machine translation, the company added the “glossary of terminology management” function in the official version unveiled today, which is to tackle the biggest issue they found during the trial phase according to CEO Shonosuke Ishiwatari.

In manga, many proper nouns unique to a title or an artist are often used. Using Google Translate, if you find mistakes in translation for a proper noun, it may take a lot of work to correct them all. Registering each new one into the glossary as it appears is a simple idea but very effective.

Mantra raised 80 million yen (about $760,000) from Japanese AI-focused VC Deepcore, DMM Ventures, Legend Ventures, and other unnamed angel investors back in June.

Japan’s Umitron launches satellite ocean data map service for aquaculture farmers

SHARE:

Singapore- and Tokyo-based aquatech startup Umitron announced on Tuesday that it has launched a web-based ocean satellite data service called Umitron Pulse. Leveraging satellite remote sensing technology, high resolution marine data for various areas of the world can be checked on a daily basis, enabling aquaculture businesses to manage growth and risk more efficiently. The service offers oceanographic data such as seawater temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll concentration and wave height, and can be zoomed in and out on the screen. In addition to offering real-time oceanographic data, the system can predict changes in the marine environment over the next 48 hours. More types of marine environment data, hourly updates of various types of data, and the function to compare and analyze past marine environment data will be added. A mobile app will be available soon. Umitron secured 1.22 billion yen ($11.5 million US) from several investors back in 2018 followed by a $2 million funding from the innovation lab of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) lat year in an aim to help the local economy near Lake Titicaca in Peru improve their salmon trout farming productivity using the startup’s AI-powered remote sensing device Umitron Cell. Last year, the startup…

Umitron Pulse
Image credit: Umitron

Singapore- and Tokyo-based aquatech startup Umitron announced on Tuesday that it has launched a web-based ocean satellite data service called Umitron Pulse. Leveraging satellite remote sensing technology, high resolution marine data for various areas of the world can be checked on a daily basis, enabling aquaculture businesses to manage growth and risk more efficiently.

The service offers oceanographic data such as seawater temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll concentration and wave height, and can be zoomed in and out on the screen. In addition to offering real-time oceanographic data, the system can predict changes in the marine environment over the next 48 hours. More types of marine environment data, hourly updates of various types of data, and the function to compare and analyze past marine environment data will be added. A mobile app will be available soon.

Umitron secured 1.22 billion yen ($11.5 million US) from several investors back in 2018 followed by a $2 million funding from the innovation lab of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) lat year in an aim to help the local economy near Lake Titicaca in Peru improve their salmon trout farming productivity using the startup’s AI-powered remote sensing device Umitron Cell.

Last year, the startup partnered with Thailand’s CP Foods, the world’s largest shrimp farming operator, to launch a proof-of-concept on advancing shrimp farming. Earlier this year, they successfully crowdfunded a project supportiing branded fish farming in Ehime Prefecture in the western part of Japan.

See also:

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

SHARE:

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.

You can’t coach ambition

SHARE:

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. Red Auerbach — winning basketball coach of the Boston Celtics for 9 NBA championships in the 1950s and 60s, famously remarked that, “You can’t coach height.” He made the statement in response to a reporter‘s question on why he drafted somebody who turned out to be a fantastic player but didn’t possess much in the way of basketball skills other than being super tall. In other words, some favorable basketball attributes can be coached: passing, dribbling, shooting free throws, making plays, rebounding shots, etc. whereas other attributes can never be taught, namely a player’s height.  I think the equivalent of this expression for entrepreneurs would be, “You can’t coach ambition.” This expression came to mind again as I witness reverberations in the Silicon Valley echo chamber about the recent funding round of Clubhouse.  The brouhaha…

mark-bivens_portraitThis guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


Image credit: PhotoFond

Red Auerbach — winning basketball coach of the Boston Celtics for 9 NBA championships in the 1950s and 60s, famously remarked that, “You can’t coach height.” He made the statement in response to a reporter‘s question on why he drafted somebody who turned out to be a fantastic player but didn’t possess much in the way of basketball skills other than being super tall. In other words, some favorable basketball attributes can be coached: passing, dribbling, shooting free throws, making plays, rebounding shots, etc. whereas other attributes can never be taught, namely a player’s height. 
I think the equivalent of this expression for entrepreneurs would be, “You can’t coach ambition.”

This expression came to mind again as I witness reverberations in the Silicon Valley echo chamber about the recent funding round of Clubhouse. 

The brouhaha relates to Clubhouse’s Series A fundraising of $10 million from Andreessen Horowitz, which was accompanied by $2 million worth of secondary cash paid directly to the Clubhouse founders.

Perhaps it’s because I spent more of my investing career in Europe then in Silicon Valley, but for me, creative deal structures like this one — even if it looks egregious to some on the surface — do not strike me as eye-popping. 

Although I would not classify most European founders as underprivileged, very few come from positions of extreme wealth. Most of the entrepreneurs I have encountered had been toiling away for years with modest wages (especially on a net basis after significant taxes and social charges), and limited capital gains from other sources such as stock market appreciation. Functioning universal healthcare coverage provides a safety net on the downside, in contrast with the U.S., making entrepreneurship accessible to a wider range of economic classes.

For these and historically cultural reasons, the go-for-broke mentality is far less prevalent among European entrepreneurs.

So I’ve been no stranger to structuring deals with a secondary component for the founders who have been plugging away for years with relatively little concrete monetary value to show for it. No, I have not offered secondaries of $2 million — closer to an order of magnitude smaller — nor have I offered them on Series A rounds, only at later stages. However, I’ve done them on multiple occasions.

In some cases, the secondaries have worked out superbly well, removing obstacles for founders to strive for aggressive growth. On other occasions, they provided little or no improvement, and have sometimes even backfired by misaligning the interests in the cap table.

It was only after numerous experiences with these that I realized the importance of controlling for another variable: the intrinsic ambition of the founder.

If a founder’s self-imposed restraint stemmed from external factors, for instance family responsibilities, alleviating such burdens with a small secondary payout has proven wildly effective. If the risk aversion originated from within, on the other hand, the hoped-for benefits of a secondary structure never seemed to materialize.

Ambition is raw. It sits independently of the support I might provide to portfolio companies, either directly or by finding people who do. Company structuring, financial management, marketing, pitching, fundraising, negotiating, recruiting, exit positioning, etc. all of these skills can be fostered and encouraged.

Real estate in a post-coronavirus world

SHARE:

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. This article was intentionally removed because some of the data has become confidential. Thank you for understanding.

mark-bivens_portrait

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


This article was intentionally removed because some of the data has become confidential. Thank you for understanding.

Japanese UX design firm Goodpatch files for IPO, pushing its valuation to $40M

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based user experience and interface (UX/UI) design agency Goodpatch announced today it has applied to be listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and was approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on June 30with plans to offer 308,900 shares for public subscription and to sell about 98,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of about 350,900 shares. The underwriting will be led by Daiwa Securities while Goodpatch’s ticker code will be 7351. Based on the estimated IPO price of 610 yen (about $5.7) a share, the company’s market valuation will be about 4.3 billion yen (about $40 million). Its share price range will be released on June 11 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on June 15 and pricing on June 19. According to the consolidated statement as of August 2019, they posted revenue of 1.41 billion yen (about $13.1 million) with an ordinary profit of 93 million yen (about $865,000). Goodpatch was founded in August of 2011. Prior to the company, CEO Naofumi Tsuchiya worked as an intern at San Francisco’s digital agency Btrax, and founded Goodpatch after returning home to Japan. The company’s name comes from the incubation…

Image credit Goodpatch

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based user experience and interface (UX/UI) design agency Goodpatch announced today it has applied to be listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and was approved.

The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on June 30with plans to offer 308,900 shares for public subscription and to sell about 98,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of about 350,900 shares. The underwriting will be led by Daiwa Securities while Goodpatch’s ticker code will be 7351.

Based on the estimated IPO price of 610 yen (about $5.7) a share, the company’s market valuation will be about 4.3 billion yen (about $40 million).

Its share price range will be released on June 11 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on June 15 and pricing on June 19. According to the consolidated statement as of August 2019, they posted revenue of 1.41 billion yen (about $13.1 million) with an ordinary profit of 93 million yen (about $865,000).

Goodpatch was founded in August of 2011. Prior to the company, CEO Naofumi Tsuchiya worked as an intern at San Francisco’s digital agency Btrax, and founded Goodpatch after returning home to Japan. The company’s name comes from the incubation space Dogpatch Labs in San Francisco. Their prototyping tool Prott, which was officially launched in October of 2014, has been introduced in major IT companies, startups, design farms, and so on.

Led by founder and CEO Naofumi Tsuchiya, the company’s major shareholders include Digital Garage Group (21.4%, DG Lab and DG Ventures), Blue Rose (8.24%), SBI Investment (7.93%), and Salesforce Ventures (3.08%).

See also:

Asia-focused EdTech startup Manabie raises $4.8M seed round from Japanese investors

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Singapore-based Manabie, the EdTech startup offering e-learning service in the Southeast Asian region, announced today that it has fundraised $4.8 million US in a seed round. This round was led by Tokyo-headquartered Genesia Ventures with participation from notable Japanese angel investors including: Keisuke Honda (Professional football player) Mochio Umeda (US-based IT consultant known for having introduced Web2.0 issues to Japan) Nobuhiro Ariyasu (Founder of Coach United) Yasukane Matsumoto (CEO of Raksul) Yoshinori Fukushima (Co-founder of Gunosy, CEO of LayerX) Masayuki Watanabe (Founder of Quipper) Shunsuke Oyu (Founder of Connehito) Details of Financial terms have not been disclosed. Earlier this month, the company published a Japanese article aiming to help teachers turn their classes into virtual ones while many schools are forced to be closed due to the COVIT-19 pandemic. Prior to the launch of Manabie back in April of 2019, the company’s CEO Takuya Honma previously co-founded UK-based EdTech startup Quipper which was subsequently acquired by Japanese human resources and internet service company Recruit Holdings (TSE:6098) back in 2015. Quipper has been helping thousands of schools in the world launch their classes online. Manabie is offering e-learning apps for elementary, junior high, and high…

See the original story in Japanese.

Singapore-based Manabie, the EdTech startup offering e-learning service in the Southeast Asian region, announced today that it has fundraised $4.8 million US in a seed round. This round was led by Tokyo-headquartered Genesia Ventures with participation from notable Japanese angel investors including:

  • Keisuke Honda (Professional football player)
  • Mochio Umeda (US-based IT consultant known for having introduced Web2.0 issues to Japan)
  • Nobuhiro Ariyasu (Founder of Coach United)
  • Yasukane Matsumoto (CEO of Raksul)
  • Yoshinori Fukushima (Co-founder of Gunosy, CEO of LayerX)
  • Masayuki Watanabe (Founder of Quipper)
  • Shunsuke Oyu (Founder of Connehito)

Details of Financial terms have not been disclosed. Earlier this month, the company published a Japanese article aiming to help teachers turn their classes into virtual ones while many schools are forced to be closed due to the COVIT-19 pandemic.

Prior to the launch of Manabie back in April of 2019, the company’s CEO Takuya Honma previously co-founded UK-based EdTech startup Quipper which was subsequently acquired by Japanese human resources and internet service company Recruit Holdings (TSE:6098) back in 2015. Quipper has been helping thousands of schools in the world launch their classes online.

Manabie is offering e-learning apps for elementary, junior high, and high school students as well as running learning centers in the Southeast Asian region, especially in Vietnam for now.

The company plans to use the funds to expand their business into all across Vietnam in addition to offering extensive support for educational institutions in Japan which are in urgent need of making their classes online in face of the pandemic-caused temporarily closure.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda

10 crisis initiatives for startups

SHARE:

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. A fair bit of ink has been spilled with VC recommendations to startups on how to best confront the business challenges catalyzed by the covid-19 crisis. In fact, it’s practically compulsory writing for any VC on social media these days. Rather than write yet another of one of those posts, I’m taking a different angle. The preponderance of the various VC tips permeating the ether these days — worthwhile as they are — tend to be fairly prescriptive in nature. So, in complement to all that good wisdom out there and rather than preach from the perch of my Peloton®, I’m going to highlight some best practices from the people on the front lines of this economic crisis, i.e. our portfolio company CEOs. Here is an extract of some of the most concrete and actionable…

mark-bivens_portrait

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


Image credit: Pxfuel

A fair bit of ink has been spilled with VC recommendations to startups on how to best confront the business challenges catalyzed by the covid-19 crisis. In fact, it’s practically compulsory writing for any VC on social media these days.

Rather than write yet another of one of those posts, I’m taking a different angle. The preponderance of the various VC tips permeating the ether these days — worthwhile as they are — tend to be fairly prescriptive in nature. So, in complement to all that good wisdom out there and rather than preach from the perch of my Peloton®, I’m going to highlight some best practices from the people on the front lines of this economic crisis, i.e. our portfolio company CEOs. Here is an extract of some of the most concrete and actionable ideas which have been initiated by a variety of our investments. [I have restricted my own comments to brackets.] Hopefully some of these initiatives will inspire ideas that are more directly relevant to your own unique situations.

  1. Anticipating that things will get worse before they get better. Erring on the side of abundant caution and taking measures early even if they seem excessively prudent.
  2. Holding candid discussions with their investors, early and often, to find out whether they have the capacity, the will, and the dry powder to provide some bridge financing in the event that things do get worse.
  3. Providing their employees the tools to work from home. Not all of them rock the same home office crib that the CEO does. Those who could afford it have given their employees a “work-from-home stipend” to enable them to purchase the equipment they need to be productive. [Not only is the productivity boost covering the expense, but I have a feeling that the staff loyalty they generate from moves like this will probably prove priceless
  4. Designating to each employee a special additional role during the crisis [hat tip to Eric Ries for this idea], for example
  • A person who contacts suppliers, customers, and partners purely to check in on their well-being
  • A point person to keep up with the evolving dynamic of local government subsidies for which the startup might be eligible
  • A person who posts any good news on a regular basis about covid-19 developments
  • A person to ensure there’s adequate supply of hand sanitizer in the office
  • [an initiative like this brings several benefits: it gives every employee a clear responsibility; it aligns employees with the problem-solving mission; it relieves much of the burden on the CEO (if you haven’t learned how to delegate yet, now would be a good time, and quick); it enhances productivity; etc.]
  1. Giving themselves some time (usually two weeks) to brainstorm with all staff on how to creatively generate more short-term revenue, free of ideological mindset constraints. [if you’re product purists, could you provide some services ? are there any work-for-hire opportunities ? could you monetize some of your company’s talents or technologies in a different way ?]
  2. Over-communicating with transparency and candor to all employees about the potential financial challenges
  3. Leading by example first, by postponing 100% of their own salary and then asking employees to postpone 50% of theirs. In the event that layoffs are absolutely necessary, finding the most humane manner possible to do them [extending option exercise periods, offering to re-hire, granting use of facilities, etc.]
  4. Postponing fees to external board members [exploring the postponement of such fees could hardly be considered offensive if you have already established a relationship of transparent communication with your board.]
  5. Pursuing every possible government aid available [government-backed loans, partial unemployment subsidies, tax deferrals, etc.]
  6. Generally extending the same level of transparency to their suppliers, sharing openly their financial predicament and exploring potential flexibility in payment terms [I know of one startup who told their landlord with sincere apologies that they will temporarily need to stop paying rent for a few months, were prepared to accept the consequences, and genuinely hope that the landlord understands their situation.]

[On a related note, I recall one CFO from a portfolio company in the distant past who found himself forced to navigate crises on almost a bi-annual basis. I’m going to dedicate a whole future post to this individual one day. One of his most creative ideas when in a cash crunch was to approach each supplier with a proposition of flipping a coin: heads he pays them within 30 days; tails he postpones payment for 60 days. I love trotting out this anecdote every time a startup manager tells me that they’re in a cash crisis and they’ve tried absolutely everything. “Have you really tried everything? If you haven’t flipped coins with your suppliers yet, then you haven’t tried absolutely everything,“ I like to respond.]

A healthy company culture will be one of your greatest assets to navigate this crisis. Leverage it.

‘Virtual YouTuber’ startup Activ8 secures $9.3M series C funding for global expansion

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Activ8 (pronounced ‘activate’), the Japanese startup behind the Upd8 (pronounced ‘update’) ‘Virtual YouTuber’ supporting project, announced on Wednesday that it has raised about 1 billion yen (about $9.3 million US) in a series C round. Participating investors include leading manga publisher Shogakukan, design-related solutions provider Too, talent agency Horipro, and others. No details on financial terms have been disclosed. For Activ8, this follows their previous $5.4 million funding from Makers Fund and Gumi back in 2018. The startup was founded back in September of 2016, subsequently graduated from the 3rd batch of the Tokyo XR Startups accelerator back in December of 2018. They have been focused on supporting and nurturing ‘Virtual YouTubers’ through the Upd8 project since then. Notable ‘Virtual YouTubers’ belonging to the project include Kizuna Ai (Love-chan), Kashikomari, and Fukuya Master. Active8 says that they will use the funds to accelerate developing content business centered on developing a virtual reality (VR) live performance system in addition to global business expansion. Based on the partnership with Too, one of the investors participating in this round, the startup will offer systems and services for VR live performance as well as developing new products…

Image credit: Activ8

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Activ8 (pronounced ‘activate’), the Japanese startup behind the Upd8 (pronounced ‘update’) ‘Virtual YouTuber’ supporting project, announced on Wednesday that it has raised about 1 billion yen (about $9.3 million US) in a series C round.

Participating investors include leading manga publisher Shogakukan, design-related solutions provider Too, talent agency Horipro, and others. No details on financial terms have been disclosed. For Activ8, this follows their previous $5.4 million funding from Makers Fund and Gumi back in 2018.

The startup was founded back in September of 2016, subsequently graduated from the 3rd batch of the Tokyo XR Startups accelerator back in December of 2018. They have been focused on supporting and nurturing ‘Virtual YouTubers’ through the Upd8 project since then. Notable ‘Virtual YouTubers’ belonging to the project include Kizuna Ai (Love-chan), Kashikomari, and Fukuya Master.

Active8 says that they will use the funds to accelerate developing content business centered on developing a virtual reality (VR) live performance system in addition to global business expansion. Based on the partnership with Too, one of the investors participating in this round, the startup will offer systems and services for VR live performance as well as developing new products in collaboration with virtual talents.

The new platform, tentatively named Spectacle, is still under development with an aim to offer next-gen VR content for multi-devices. Turning high-end graphics into VR live performance to be delivered via real-time streaming, it pursues offering users with the value experiencing music live performance with higher user experience even for VR users as well as YouTuber viewers.

Below is an example created using the platform: