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In conversation with Whill, the Japanese personal mobility startup on a roll in Silicon Valley

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Based on the original article, written in Japanese Whill is a Japanese startup developing next-generation personal mobility vehicles. Currently they’re based in Silicon Valley having been selected by 500 Startups to participate in its incubation program. Kiyo Kobayashi recently spoke with CEO Satoshi Sugie for us to learn more about their product and its launch. Kobayashi: Can you give me a brief introduction about Whill. Sugie: We are developing next-gen personal mobility. Our mission is to make mobility fun and smart for everyone. Kobayashi: You are based here in San Francisco now. What is the advantage of having the office here? Sugie: We have more users here. The market here is nearly eight times bigger than the Japanese market. We thought we would eventually have to expand in the US even if we had started in Japan. But then we thought it would be better to start in the US from the beginning, as we were getting more inquiries from American users. So this was a natural decision. And there are many more early adopters and gadget enthusiasts here. It could be a good idea to export our products from the US to Japan. Kobayashi: What is the most challenging…

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Based on the original article, written in Japanese

Whill is a Japanese startup developing next-generation personal mobility vehicles. Currently they’re based in Silicon Valley having been selected by 500 Startups to participate in its incubation program. Kiyo Kobayashi recently spoke with CEO Satoshi Sugie for us to learn more about their product and its launch.

Kobayashi: Can you give me a brief introduction about Whill.

Sugie: We are developing next-gen personal mobility. Our mission is to make mobility fun and smart for everyone.

Kobayashi: You are based here in San Francisco now. What is the advantage of having the office here?

Sugie: We have more users here. The market here is nearly eight times bigger than the Japanese market. We thought we would eventually have to expand in the US even if we had started in Japan. But then we thought it would be better to start in the US from the beginning, as we were getting more inquiries from American users. So this was a natural decision. And there are many more early adopters and gadget enthusiasts here. It could be a good idea to export our products from the US to Japan.

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Kobayashi: What is the most challenging part of running your business here?

Sugie: Um… English.

Kobayashi: I am struggling with that as well.

Sugie: This is something very basic, but it was hard to launch an office here. I had no idea and it would be such a huge challenge for me. But fortunately, we could join 500 Startups, and we were referred to lawyers and banks.

Kobayashi: My understanding is that 500 Startups has many B2B startups, but not many hardware markers. As a hardware maker, did you benefit a lot by joining 500 Startups?

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Sugie: Maybe not so much. (laughs) But 500 Startups has an amazing network. As Japanese guys who came all the way to North America, people usually wonder, who are those guys? But 500 Startups turned us into something, giving us huge credability. We pitched to investors on DemoDay, and because they knew we are in 500 Startups, the chance they would meet with us increases a lot. […] Investors take it as an indicator that a startup’s business is beyond a certain level.

Kobayashi: I heard patent issues are quite tough.

Sugie: We put our first priority on patent-related matters. Our CTO Muneaki Fukuoka has experience handling patent issues at Olympus in the past. So along with him and the international patent office, I work on these matters. We pay a lot of attention to the safety level of the product too. There is an international standard, which we have passed, in order to make our products reliable, safe, and durable.

Japanese engineering still has a high reputation for durability and high quality, and people have such a positive image of Japanese products. We created promotion video, and one American even told us to put the caption ‘Japanese engineering’ in it. I cannot think of any better advantage than that.

Kobayashi: Very interesting.

Sugie: It would be nice to produce locally for local consumption. And the best combination is made-in-USA and Japanese engineering. That’s what I heard.

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Kobayashi: According to your AngelList page, about 20 angels have funded your company, is that right?

Sugie: The ratio is 50% Japanese, 40% American, and 10% Taiwanese. We decided to accept those who have a strong network here or have strength in manufacturing.

Kobayashi: Investors are from 500 Startups network?

Sugie: I heard they looked for hardware startups from the portfolios of 500 Startups, Y-Combinator, and such.

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Kobayashi: Were there any services which were particularly helpful when launching your business?

Sugie: AngelList helped a lot. Not only in terms of fundraising, but also for hiring as well. We have five or six applications for internships every week.

Kobayashi: What skill sets do you see the most in those applicants?

Sugie: Those who want to launch a startup. And Stanford students.

Kobayashi: I remember you said you want to work with someone who has a specific vision rather than someone who is interested in money.

Sugie: Vision and skills are important. We ask for resumes and cover letters from the applicants. On cover letters, applicants write about the reason why they want to work for us.

Some people copy and paste things for their cover letter. Some letters don’t even have the Whill name on it. We screen them, and set Skype interviews for selected people.

For example, one of our team members, Chris, told us at the beginning that he had been thinking for a long time why wheelchair design was not so appealing. His father used a wheelchair and had many difficultires. I learned from him that wheelchairs can even have an influence over the users’ families.

Yet, we don’t hire right away. We let them work with us, like helping us at exhibitions and such. We spend a few months before making the final hiring decision.

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Kobayashi: I see.

Sugie: Another member, Julia, is the fourth Whill customer. She experienced an accident and started using a wheelchair, and gives us comments from the perspective of a real user.

These members have passion and actively share their ideas. We look for the type of members who can share the same mission and help establish good culture in our small team.

Kobayashi: Who are your target users?

Sugie: Our initial target users are those who are somehow self-conscious. Stylish people. We assume, our initial users are those who have a lot of interests in society or politics and who are working with people without a handicap. Or perhaps they are relatively well-off people who are thinking of buying a nice wheelchair for their kids or parents.

We want to get these early adopters and hopefully spread their influence to other users by making the product more public. When it can be more recognized by the masses in this way, we can move on to the next step and could reduce the production cost and the price.

Kobayashi: Very interesting.

Sugie: Well, we’ll keep working on through trial and error. Honestly, we had no idea how things would work out. We’ve interviewed about 300 potential users. Eventually, we had a long talk with five people who showed big interest in buying the 1.5 million yen ($15,000) product and signed the contract.

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Kobayashi: Hearing too much feedback sometimes makes it difficult to find features to focus on.

Sugie: I went to a lot of meetups, even ones that were not quite related to our business. I go to work and to meetings with Whill. You don’t know when and where you will find opportunities, it could be even on the street. I do everything I can think of.

Kobayashi: I think it is important to try every single idea. We work with that motto too.

Sugie: That’s something a lot of people advise, but you really have to put everything on the line.

Kobayashi: I agree. “Lean startup“ sounds cool, but it really requires a lot of work.

Sugie: That’s why each member needs to be passionate about the mission. I’ve seen a lot of teams who fall apart, even within 500 Startups. Skills and background experience are very important, but first and foremost, you cannot join a startup without having strong passion.

Kobayashi: How do you find out if a person has that passion?

Sugie: I let all our members meet the applicant. And unless we all think that person has something, we don’t hire him or her. It is especially difficult to understand the person when they are not Japanese.

If there are 100 applicants, 100 of them will say “My past experiences are the best fit for Whill’s business” or “I am the best fit for Whill!“ (laugh) So I got a lot of advice regarding hiring from among people spread across various fields.

Kobayashi: I think that is a very important aspect. Thank you for your time today!

About the interviewer

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KiyoKobayashi

Kiyo launched his own business exporting food in 2004 while he was a university student, and succeeded in building new sales channels. In 2005, he founded In The Cup, a coffee e-commerce site. In 2009 he founded Nobot, and that company was subsequently acquired by KDDI in 2011. In December 2013, he founded Chanoma in the US. He is also a advisor for several VCs and startups, including The Bridge.

Pocket adds support for 6 new languages, including Japanese

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Yesterday, the popular read-it-later [1] app Pocket launched in six new languages yesterday, adding support for Japanese, German, Italian, Russian, French, and Spanish. As you can see in Pocket’s graphic below, those languages account for 22 percent of the services users, with Japanese comprising 5% of Pocket users. The company adds: Not only is the app fully-translated across our platform for French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish, we’ve also made significant improvements to Article View accuracy for these languages. On our Japanese site, we’ve already been including the Pocket button for our users for some time. For me personally, Pocket is an application that I use daily, primarily because of it’s great integration with other apps and services. Pocket was formerly called ‘Read it Later’ as you may recall.  ↩

Yesterday, the popular read-it-later [1] app Pocket launched in six new languages yesterday, adding support for Japanese, German, Italian, Russian, French, and Spanish. As you can see in Pocket’s graphic below, those languages account for 22 percent of the services users, with Japanese comprising 5% of Pocket users. The company adds:

Not only is the app fully-translated across our platform for French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish, we’ve also made significant improvements to Article View accuracy for these languages.

On our Japanese site, we’ve already been including the Pocket button for our users for some time. For me personally, Pocket is an application that I use daily, primarily because of it’s great integration with other apps and services.

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  1. Pocket was formerly called ‘Read it Later’ as you may recall.  ↩

New Japanese travel curation site achieves 600K pageviews just 10 days after launch

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Based on the original article in Japanese We’ve been seeing many flavors of curation media here in Japan recently, including Iemo, focused on interior design, and Mery, focused on women’s interests. Those entities aim to compete with other online media by providing selected information and presenting it with sophisticated design, rather than creating their own content from scratch. We’ve seen popular curation media thrive in the US, and Upworthy was a prime example of that. Back on February 22, a travel curation media site called Tabilabo was launched. It was started by Yuki Naruse and Shotaro Kushi, both of whom studied in the US and have traveled around the world, and each has experienced starting a business more than once. We spoke to them about how and why they launched Tabilabo. Naruse: There are many books and media that introduce world culture or show pictures of beautiful scenery from around the world. But on the other hand, when you visit a travel agency or on online reservation site, they have very small amount of information, perhaps just a thin brochure. There is often no connection between motivating people to travel and the place (on a site) where users actually take…

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Based on the original article in Japanese

We’ve been seeing many flavors of curation media here in Japan recently, including Iemo, focused on interior design, and Mery, focused on women’s interests. Those entities aim to compete with other online media by providing selected information and presenting it with sophisticated design, rather than creating their own content from scratch. We’ve seen popular curation media thrive in the US, and Upworthy was a prime example of that.

Back on February 22, a travel curation media site called Tabilabo was launched. It was started by Yuki Naruse and Shotaro Kushi, both of whom studied in the US and have traveled around the world, and each has experienced starting a business more than once. We spoke to them about how and why they launched Tabilabo.

Naruse: There are many books and media that introduce world culture or show pictures of beautiful scenery from around the world. But on the other hand, when you visit a travel agency or on online reservation site, they have very small amount of information, perhaps just a thin brochure. There is often no connection between motivating people to travel and the place (on a site) where users actually take action. We want to make these two points more seamlessly connected.

There are three categories on the website: “feel the world,” “know the world,” and “travel the world.”

Users can see curated content in the “feel the world” section and Talilabo’s own content in “know the world” section. They are planning to sell travel packages in the “travel the world” section, where they aim to monetize the business.

Kushi: Consider how Uber stands between users and taxi companies, and matches the supply and demand. But the important part is that Uber handles the payment part, and they can expand their business by utilizing a vast amount of payment information. We have not decided yet if we will get a license to run our own travel agency, or if we’ll tie up with other companies – but either way we believe handling users payment on our own is very important for business.

Co-founders of Tabilabo, Yuki Naruse (left) and Shotaro Kushi (right)
Co-founders of Tabilabo, Yuki Naruse (left) and Shotaro Kushi (right)

The company will target users ranging from their late teens to early thirties, or digital natives to be more specific. They want to attract not only those who have a great interest in travel, but also those who haven’t travelled much before. I expected to hear they were targetting people earning above a certain salary, but they have a different approach. They’ll try to change the way people decide to go travelling.

600K pageviews 10 days after launch

The user interface of Tabilabo is very similar to that of US-based digital news site Quartz. It implements some promising aspects from other successful cases both inside and outside Japan.

Naruse: Currently we post about two articles a day, but we always have dozens of articles in stock. We believe that the titles of articles are very important to reach as many readers as possible, so we get support from 120 people we called “ambassadors” who choose the best title out of about 50 ideas for articles.

Only 10 days after their February 22 launch, they reached 600,000 pageviews. They hope to eventually reach 100 million monthly pageviews.

The company plans to reach an exit resulting in billions of yen in about two years. They are currently looking at possibilities of fundraise from a few angel investors, so don’t be surprised if we bring you more good news from them in the near future.

Tokyo Office Tour: Japan’s Sansan wants to evolve how the world does contact management

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Our readers may recall we have featured Tokyo-based Sansan more than a few times in the past. Since the company’s launch back in 2007, it has been providing business card-based contact management solutions, in the form of its services Sansan [1] (for companies) and Eight (for individuals). Recently I received several notifications from the Eight app letting me know that a number of my contacts at the company had changed their profiles, because they had moved to a new office. The new space is located between Shibuya and Omotesando in Tokyo, a district that’s home to many prominent fashion brands. There is a cozy space available not only for their employees but also for the local community, with a great view of the city and lots of interesting potted trees and plants. One of the biggest reasons behind the company’s relocation is the rapid enlargement of their team. The number of their clients using the Sansan solution reached 1,500 companies as of this past December, up from 1,000 companies back in June. Eight, the freemium service for individuals, has acquired more than 600,000 users to date. The company may add premium features such as a mass e-mailing to your contacts…

Our readers may recall we have featured Tokyo-based Sansan more than a few times in the past. Since the company’s launch back in 2007, it has been providing business card-based contact management solutions, in the form of its services Sansan [1] (for companies) and Eight (for individuals).

Recently I received several notifications from the Eight app letting me know that a number of my contacts at the company had changed their profiles, because they had moved to a new office. The new space is located between Shibuya and Omotesando in Tokyo, a district that’s home to many prominent fashion brands. There is a cozy space available not only for their employees but also for the local community, with a great view of the city and lots of interesting potted trees and plants.

One of the biggest reasons behind the company’s relocation is the rapid enlargement of their team. The number of their clients using the Sansan solution reached 1,500 companies as of this past December, up from 1,000 companies back in June. Eight, the freemium service for individuals, has acquired more than 600,000 users to date. The company may add premium features such as a mass e-mailing to your contacts or exporting profiles for use in other apps.

In order to make it easier for Eight users to scan business cards from new contacts, Sansan has announced new services today in partnership with some business solution providers. The company has tied up with 10 co-working spaces in Tokyo, where entrepreneurs and SME owners can easily save the profiles of their contacts onto Eight using scanners at those sites. They will also provide a similar service at certain printing outlets.

Sansan has been intensifying its promotional efforts in the North American market as well, and it will be interesting to see how their solutions are accepted in regions beyond Japan.

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The Eight team
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At reception, you can call them using the digital board for an appointment.
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A nice soft sofa for employees when they get a little tired.
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This gong is rung when a significant announcement is made, if they achieve a sales milestone for example.
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A scanner for the Sansan and Eight solutions
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Hiroshi Senju, director of marketing for ‘Eight’
Flowers sent from well-known entrepreneurs and investors celebrating Sansan’s office relocation

  1. Previously known as Link Knowledge.

How Japan’s online social restaurant guide Retty doubled its monthly visitors

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Based on the original article in Japanese Online social restaurant guide Retty achieved 1 million unique visitors in the month of October 2013. That was pretty good, but since then the number has doubled. Retty announced on March 6th that visitors to the site has surpassed 2 million in the month of February. According to CEO Kazuya Takeda, the service sees about a 120% increase every month. Their total number of customers reviews has reached 800,000. The company raised over 300 million yen ($3 million) in December 2013, and they recently relocated to a new office as well. To find out a little more about how Retty is doing these days, we held a short interview with their CEO Kazuya Takeda. Takeda: It’s been about a year ago since we decided to put more resources into SEO. The renewed site was launched in May last of year, and it was about 3 months until we saw the effects when visitors coming to the site via search engines dramatically increased. When Retty initially launched, social media was a big trend. And the team developed the service expecting most traffic to come from social media sites. The challenge of beating the existing…

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Based on the original article in Japanese

Online social restaurant guide Retty achieved 1 million unique visitors in the month of October 2013. That was pretty good, but since then the number has doubled. Retty announced on March 6th that visitors to the site has surpassed 2 million in the month of February. According to CEO Kazuya Takeda, the service sees about a 120% increase every month. Their total number of customers reviews has reached 800,000.

The company raised over 300 million yen ($3 million) in December 2013, and they recently relocated to a new office as well. To find out a little more about how Retty is doing these days, we held a short interview with their CEO Kazuya Takeda.

Takeda: It’s been about a year ago since we decided to put more resources into SEO. The renewed site was launched in May last of year, and it was about 3 months until we saw the effects when visitors coming to the site via search engines dramatically increased.

When Retty initially launched, social media was a big trend. And the team developed the service expecting most traffic to come from social media sites. The challenge of beating the existing competitors like Gurunavi and Tabelog, who see big traffic from Yahoo and Google, appeared daunting. Takeda explains:

In the early stages, we could increase our restaurant data and the amount of reviews through social media like Facebook and Twitter. But it took quite a long time to reach a certain volume.

140306_Rettyユーザー数200万突破<em>pdf(1</em>3ページ)” title=”140306_Rettyユーザー数200万突破_pdf(1_3ページ)” /> </p>
<p>Even though the pace was slow, Retty gradually increased its fan base. When Retty accumulated data for 150,000 restaurants with a half million reviews, they begun to work on SEO. The site appears to have been positively evaluated by Google, and the traffic increased a lot. His strategy, which was to win fans on social media and increasing visitors using SEO, seems to be working quite well.</p>
<p>Having said all that, Takeda tells us that strengthening SEO was not his original plan.</p>
<blockquote>
<p>Actually the service didn’t scale we first planned. We once aimed at scaling the service only through app downloads. But we found visitors to the site were really growing. Expanding the service using just the app would be somewhat limiting. We realized strengthening SEO would be necessary to scale the site.</p>
</blockquote>
<p>Social media and smartphone apps have been two technology developments that drove a number of food-service apps to be developed over the past few years. But in Japan, none of them have succeeded to the level where they threaten industry leaders Tabelog and Gurunavi.</p>
<p>So how far can Retty go? I asked Takeda about his future plan.</p>
<blockquote>
<p>I’d like to pursue smartphone-centered restaurant search. I’ve thought about what is necessary to offer the greatest user experience in this field. And I think the answer lies in listening to users’ voices. It’s a bit hard to explain logically, but things naturally turn around when we put top priority on our users. </p>
</blockquote>
<p><img id=

What is the target goal you are looking at?

I believe we can reach 30 or 40 million users domestically. And we are expanding overseas at the same time. […] I didn’t name Retty with some Japanese words because I was looking beyond Japanese market. Even though it would have been better for our Japanese users if we had done so.

Platforms like smartphones and Facebook are now available everywhere in the world. This is a very rare occasion. I think the Japan has a great advantage in the overseas market, especially in areas such as food, games and content.

Japan’s Line announces the launch of three new services

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Tokyo-based Line, the company behind the messaging app of the same name, held a press event today called “LINE Showcase 2014”, where it unveiled the launch of three new services. Line Creators Market This feature allows users to sell their own stickers on Line’s marketplace. To date Line has been providing stickers made by the company’s own designers. But this allows all users and third-party developers to make money by creating their own stickers. Your stickers will be reviewed before they make it onto the marketplace. You can participate in the marketplace for free, and a set of 40 different stickers can be sold for 100 yen (approximately $1). 50% of those sales will go to sticker designers. The feature will be launched this coming April. Line Business Connect This feature allows corporate users to engage your customers more effectively using the messaging app. By providing an API, it allows you to connect to your customers using your own CRM (customer relationship management) solutions or other in-house tools. For example, users could place an order for pizza by sending a designated sticker to a pizza delivery chain, or hail a cab by sending your geographical location using the app. Line…

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Tokyo-based Line, the company behind the messaging app of the same name, held a press event today called “LINE Showcase 2014”, where it unveiled the launch of three new services.

Line Creators Market

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This feature allows users to sell their own stickers on Line’s marketplace. To date Line has been providing stickers made by the company’s own designers. But this allows all users and third-party developers to make money by creating their own stickers.

Your stickers will be reviewed before they make it onto the marketplace. You can participate in the marketplace for free, and a set of 40 different stickers can be sold for 100 yen (approximately $1). 50% of those sales will go to sticker designers. The feature will be launched this coming April.

Line Business Connect

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This feature allows corporate users to engage your customers more effectively using the messaging app. By providing an API, it allows you to connect to your customers using your own CRM (customer relationship management) solutions or other in-house tools.

For example, users could place an order for pizza by sending a designated sticker to a pizza delivery chain, or hail a cab by sending your geographical location using the app.

Line Call

(This is a literal translation from its Japanese name)

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This feature is similar to Skype in that it lets users call landline or mobile phones at affordable rates. All you need to pay is the connection charge which starts at 2 yen (or about 2 US cents) per minute. The service is planned to be launched in March, and will be available for calls to Japan, the US, Mexico, Spain, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, some news sources recently reported that the company would be possibly acquired by Japanese telco Softbank. But the company’s COO Takeshi Idesawa denied that rumor at the conference today.

[Source: CNet Japan]

Inspired by small batch whisky, Japanese connected hardware maker to release video switcher

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The last time I met up with Tokyo-based hardware company Cerevo, it was back in 2012 when they were gearing up to release their LiveShell Pro, an affordable hardware solution that enables just about anyone to broadcast live video to the web. That very niche product has been the company’s bread and butter up until now, and I was curious to find out what Cerevo’s CEO Takuma Iwasa has been busy these days. Turns out, Cerevo has been up to quite a lot actually. In addition to the company’s futuristic internet-enabled power strip that is soon going on sale, the company plans to release a completely new connected video switcher next month called LiveWedge. It’s another connected hardware device for Cerevo, with great potential to really make an impact for video producers, priced at just $1000. Their HD video switcher supports four cameras (HDMI connection), integrating with a handy (free) iPad app that lets users easily control what video is displayed. Users can even add transitions (such as dissolves, wipes, or fade to black) or even display picture-in-picture using a simple drag and drop motion. Iwasa-san gave me a brief demo, and I was really surprised by how easy it…

cerevo-livewedge

The last time I met up with Tokyo-based hardware company Cerevo, it was back in 2012 when they were gearing up to release their LiveShell Pro, an affordable hardware solution that enables just about anyone to broadcast live video to the web. That very niche product has been the company’s bread and butter up until now, and I was curious to find out what Cerevo’s CEO Takuma Iwasa has been busy these days.

Turns out, Cerevo has been up to quite a lot actually. In addition to the company’s futuristic internet-enabled power strip that is soon going on sale, the company plans to release a completely new connected video switcher next month called LiveWedge. It’s another connected hardware device for Cerevo, with great potential to really make an impact for video producers, priced at just $1000.

Their HD video switcher supports four cameras (HDMI connection), integrating with a handy (free) iPad app that lets users easily control what video is displayed. Users can even add transitions (such as dissolves, wipes, or fade to black) or even display picture-in-picture using a simple drag and drop motion. Iwasa-san gave me a brief demo, and I was really surprised by how easy it was to control.

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Iwasa showing LiveWedge’s iPad app

And as you might guess from their previous LiveShell product, it lets you livestream video to the internet as well [1].

LiveWedge also features a SD card, which you can use to record you output video (1080/30p), or even store video and pictures that can be used as input.

Iwasa explains that currently video switching solutions typically are big and heavy, often carried around in a suitcase. In contrast, their LiveWedge could easily fit in a laptop case or a purse. He points out that while they were selling their LiveShell Pro, there were a lot of customers were asking them to build a video switcher. So they already have a willing base of customers in place that will be certain to buy.

Cerevo currently has a headcount of just 13 people, and its office is a tiny third floor space packed to the ceiling with electronics components, instructional books, and I think there’s a box of oranges in there somewhere too. But they’re a global hardware manufacturer that appears to be doing well by identifying a narrow but important demand for hardware. In a somewhat unlikely metaphor, Iwasa likened their hardware strategy to that of a small batch whisky maker:

Small batch whisky and bourbon have really enthusiastic fans. Similarly, we are making a niche product, but we have a tight relationship with our fans all over the world. Our product [strategy] is very different than Panasonic or Sony, which is to find a market for a billion dollar product. But our strategy is to make a popular niche product, and that’s very possible.

He pointed out that software makers – in contrast – really have a big challenge these days, and if (for example) he wanted to make a recruiting app for India, there would be lots of competition already in that space. In contrast, their LiveShell Pro video streaming device only has one real competitor globally [2].

If you’re in Austin, they’ll have it on display at the SXSW next week, so be sure to pay them a visit. We really look forward to seeing how LiveWedge is received once it’s released.

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LiveWedge rear view

  1. Supports Ustream, YouTube Live, or your own servers.  ↩

  2. This would be Teledek in Canada, says Iwasa. Their target market is more high end serving TV stations, and their hardware is priced around $1500 or $2000 dollars. LiveShell Pro costs only about $500.  ↩

Kamcord localizes SDK to Japanese, Namco Bandai first to use its game recording technology

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Late last year in Kyoto we happened to run into Adi Rathnam, the co-founder of of Kamcord, who at the time was speaking to potential Japanese gaming partners for his company’s game recording platform. As you may recall, Kamcord offers an SDK that enables game developers to put a ‘movie’ button in game, and when it is pressed, they can then share video clips/replays of their game play. These can be shared directly to Kamcord where they can be viewed by other gamers, or they can be shared to places like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or even email. Back in December Adi informed us of plans to localize their SDK into Japanese, as well as a number of other Asian languages. That localization has now been realized, and Kamcord is also announcing that Namco Bandai’s title Gregg is the first game that takes advantage of that Japanese localization. Kamcord also tells us that they have also localized their SDK into Chinese, with Korean soon to follow. Unreal growth Adi says that they are experiencing huge growth right now, with a new video uploaded once every five seconds, and a total of two billion videos recorded in total. “We’re working hard to…

Late last year in Kyoto we happened to run into Adi Rathnam, the co-founder of of Kamcord, who at the time was speaking to potential Japanese gaming partners for his company’s game recording platform. As you may recall, Kamcord offers an SDK that enables game developers to put a ‘movie’ button in game, and when it is pressed, they can then share video clips/replays of their game play. These can be shared directly to Kamcord where they can be viewed by other gamers, or they can be shared to places like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or even email.

Back in December Adi informed us of plans to localize their SDK into Japanese, as well as a number of other Asian languages. That localization has now been realized, and Kamcord is also announcing that Namco Bandai’s title Gregg is the first game that takes advantage of that Japanese localization. Kamcord also tells us that they have also localized their SDK into Chinese, with Korean soon to follow.

Unreal growth

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Kamcord’s share tab

Adi says that they are experiencing huge growth right now, with a new video uploaded once every five seconds, and a total of two billion videos recorded in total. “We’re working hard to ensure our servers will scale,” he explains. “Our growth has been pretty exponential.”

Kamcord is also announcing today that it has joined the Unreal Engine 3 Integrated Partners Program. That program includes 25 other leading companies like Oculus VR, NaturalMotion, and Intel. The founder and CEO of Epic, the company behind the Unreal game engine, had this to say about the tie-up with Kamcord:

The Kamcord integration with Unreal Engine 3 provides awesome real-time video recording and social sharing functionality that developers can drop into their mobile games for added appeal. We’re proud that Kamcord has joined Epic’s Integrated Partners Program to bring their technology to Unreal Engine developers as seamlessly as possible.

This is an important step for Kamcord, because games using the Unreal engine typically have pretty stunning graphics (Infinity Blade is one of the best known examples), as well as a tendency to attract more hardcore gamers. It stands to reason that video recordings of such games would be extremely sharable.

Kamcord will also be making an effort to bring independent developers into the fold as well, and to that end they have already landed Limbic’s Tower Madness 2 (shown in the video above) and PennyPop’s Battle Camp as users of their technology.

Japanese e-commerce site connects consumers and creators, starts with knit goods

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See the original article in Japanese With so many products all around us every day, it can be difficult for us to know who makes what, or how a certain product is made. Makers and consumers are very much divided. But a new e-commerce site, Gemiy, was recently launched in Japan based on the idea of breaking this border that separates makers and consumers, thus creating a more humanized relationship. Gemiy was launched by Ikumi Kinoshita, a senior student at Keio University. She is originally from Fukui prefecture, located in Japan’s midwestern region. When she moved to Tokyo, she had a strong sense that there was a big distance between generations, and between rural and urban areas. City life was somewhat uncomfortable, with so many people behaving indifferently to each other. She started thinking how she could break the wall, and eventually launched Gemiy as her proposed answer. The site currently specialized in knit products, allowing buyers to customize the designs they want. Not only does the buyer get a custom-made product, but they user also feel a connection with the creator by knowing who made that particular product. All items ordered on Gemiy will be have a tag attached…

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See the original article in Japanese

With so many products all around us every day, it can be difficult for us to know who makes what, or how a certain product is made. Makers and consumers are very much divided. But a new e-commerce site, Gemiy, was recently launched in Japan based on the idea of breaking this border that separates makers and consumers, thus creating a more humanized relationship.

Gemiy was launched by Ikumi Kinoshita, a senior student at Keio University. She is originally from Fukui prefecture, located in Japan’s midwestern region. When she moved to Tokyo, she had a strong sense that there was a big distance between generations, and between rural and urban areas. City life was somewhat uncomfortable, with so many people behaving indifferently to each other. She started thinking how she could break the wall, and eventually launched Gemiy as her proposed answer.

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The site currently specialized in knit products, allowing buyers to customize the designs they want. Not only does the buyer get a custom-made product, but they user also feel a connection with the creator by knowing who made that particular product. All items ordered on Gemiy will be have a tag attached with the creator’s name and a thank-you card enclosed in the package. Customers can also send a message back to the creator if they wish. Kinoshita tells added:

I hope people of my generation or older can use the service when they want something very special for themselves or for someone very important to them.

The creators registered on Gemiy are skilled in making specific products either as a hobby or professionally. For example, a creator named Yoko from Fukui prefecture has 30 years of knitting experience. Shizuka and Saitama prefectures have many people with excellent skills in needlework. In a way, such a service is sort of like getting an item handmade by your mother.

Right now, the company doesn’t have any specific standard for screening creators. But the team will meet with then and match up products for them to make.

The initial idea for Gemiy came from a custom-made knitting service Heartmade, previously crowdfunded on Campfire. The project raised 500,000 yen ($5000), which was well beyond their target of 300,000 yen ($3000).

Gemiy plans to expand its product lineup to include things like glasses, shirts, Yukata (casual summer Kimono), sake, and chopsticks. Also, tours of production areas and workshops are being planned. Kinoshita says:

Right now, the custom-made feature would be the biggest motivation for users to try out the service. Later, we’d like to put more information about creators and production areas on the website, in order to spur an emotional response among potential customers.

How Puzzle & Dragons connects with Japan’s commuters

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People often look at GungHo Online Entertainment’s hit game Puzzle & Dragons and wonder why it’s such a strong mobile title. I’ve already written much about exactly why I like it personally, but there are some other reasons that I think have really contributed to its success here in Japan. I started thinking about this recently when I saw someone complaining about Dungeon Keeper on Twitter, and how it kicks you out of the game when you lose a connection [1]. Lots of games require persistent connections, and that’s certainly fine provided your day doesn’t take you through a maze of underground subway tunnels like many of us who live in urban centers such as Tokyo. But it really got me thinking about Puzzle & Dragons, and how and where I have been playing it over the past year or so. What’s remarkable about the game is not just that it doesn’t require a persistent connection, but that it only really requires a sporadic connection. During my own subway commute here in Tokyo, there are certain blind spots on my route where I usually can’t get a network connection. And because I’ve traveled that route so often, I can usually…

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People often look at GungHo Online Entertainment’s hit game Puzzle & Dragons and wonder why it’s such a strong mobile title. I’ve already written much about exactly why I like it personally, but there are some other reasons that I think have really contributed to its success here in Japan.

I started thinking about this recently when I saw someone complaining about Dungeon Keeper on Twitter, and how it kicks you out of the game when you lose a connection [1]. Lots of games require persistent connections, and that’s certainly fine provided your day doesn’t take you through a maze of underground subway tunnels like many of us who live in urban centers such as Tokyo.

But it really got me thinking about Puzzle & Dragons, and how and where I have been playing it over the past year or so. What’s remarkable about the game is not just that it doesn’t require a persistent connection, but that it only really requires a sporadic connection.

During my own subway commute here in Tokyo, there are certain blind spots on my route where I usually can’t get a network connection. And because I’ve traveled that route so often, I can usually anticipate when I’ll lose my connection and when I’ll get it back [2]. P&D will always handle these drops like a champ. The actual dungeons (or rounds/levels) don’t need a connection at connection at all. So if you suddenly go offline, you won’t even realize it until you finish the level and the data tries to sync. So in reality, the game only really needs a connection during times when it phones home to sync data, such as:

  • The initial start screen
  • Entering or exiting a dungeon
  • Powering up or evolving a monster

If you happen to run into network issues during those times, you’ll typically see a ‘Connecting’ message, followed by either a ‘retry’ option or an error message (see below).

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So very often I’ll find myself beginning a dungeon before going through a long underground stretch that has no signal, just so that I have something to do during that blacked out period. You’ve no doubt done something similar at some point, perhaps downloading all your podcasts or syncing an RSS reader before a flight.

The end result for P&D is a pretty frustration-free gaming experience, far removed from the likes of Dungeon Keeper mentioned above. And of course, a game that does not need a persistent connection is not unique to by any means, but I think the lesson to be learned here is that you want to make a game that’s a mainstream hit in the Japan market (or for a similar urban population with developed public transport), you need to make sure it doesn’t frustrate users when they suddenly lose a connection.

Thumbs up, but no more than necessary

I probably don’t need to point out that in addition to handling sporadic connections really well, P&D is a really easy game to play with one hand – again, a great advantage for Japan’s legions of train commuters who stand hanging one-armed from a strap during rush hours. You only really need your thumb to play, and since all the puzzle movement is in the lower half of the screen, you never find yourself reaching uncomfortably to the top half during gameplay (see lower left). No fingers necessary!

When Apple rolled out Control Center with iOS 7, it did lead to some unexpected problems for P&D players however (and probably many other games too). If you’ve played the game for any length of time, you’ll notice that sometimes when you try to bring an orb up from the very bottom row, you will sometimes inadvertently launch Command Center. It’s a huge annoyance (see lower right), and as much as I love the convenience of Command Center, I’m sure the folks at GungHo we’re not too pleased when it came out.

But overall, Puzzle & Dragons is still a pretty amazing little mobile game, one that I regularly see people playing during their commute – provided that I don’t have my head down playing it myself.

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Command Center sometimes gets in the way :(

  1. I have not confirmed whether the game actually does this or not, but given that it came from Richard Gaywood, a super smart dude from TUAW (where I once briefly blogged), I’m taking this as a certainty.  ↩

  2. Usually my network ‘blind spot’ is between Omotesando and Futakotamagawa. Coverage has improved much over the years, thankfully. I should also point out that this is also a great game if you’re annoyed by the tunnels on the bullet train!  ↩