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Japan’s language learning site Best Teacher raises $530,000 from GMO-VP and SMBC-VC

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Best Teacher, a Tokyo-based startup providing online language learning solutions, announced today it has raised 51.1 million yen (approximately $530,000) from GMO Venture Partners and SMBC Venture Capital. The startup began with seed investment from CyberAgent Ventures in January of 2012, and launched a C2C-based English-conversation learning service over Skype in May. As of last September, it has acquired 2,000 Japanese users who want to learn English, and 400 English teachers from 40 countries worldwide. The Japanese online language learning market is extremely competitive, including service providers like Rarejob and Englishtown. Best Teacher was a late-comer, and in order to overcome this disadvantage and differentiate from others, it has deployed a new feature which allows you to ask your teacher what kind of expressions you want to practice. The teacher will correct your phrases, arrange them in a more natural way, and coach your pronunciation over Skype. This method lets you concentrate on learning only the expressions you need. Best Teacher was founded by Toshimitsu Miyachi (who previously worked as a consultant and served as the CFO of a venture IT company) and ex-prep school teacher Masaki Goto. There is a pretty high demand for such English language services in…

bestteacher_logo

Best Teacher, a Tokyo-based startup providing online language learning solutions, announced today it has raised 51.1 million yen (approximately $530,000) from GMO Venture Partners and SMBC Venture Capital. The startup began with seed investment from CyberAgent Ventures in January of 2012, and launched a C2C-based English-conversation learning service over Skype in May. As of last September, it has acquired 2,000 Japanese users who want to learn English, and 400 English teachers from 40 countries worldwide.

The Japanese online language learning market is extremely competitive, including service providers like Rarejob and Englishtown. Best Teacher was a late-comer, and in order to overcome this disadvantage and differentiate from others, it has deployed a new feature which allows you to ask your teacher what kind of expressions you want to practice. The teacher will correct your phrases, arrange them in a more natural way, and coach your pronunciation over Skype. This method lets you concentrate on learning only the expressions you need.

bestteacher_screenshot

Best Teacher was founded by Toshimitsu Miyachi (who previously worked as a consultant and served as the CFO of a venture IT company) and ex-prep school teacher Masaki Goto. There is a pretty high demand for such English language services in Japan, with about 2 million people registering to take the well-known TOEIC test [1]. Startups are expected to account for about 1% of this population, and if all of them subscribed to the Best Teacher service, it could potentially generate revenue of $830,000 a month.


  1. TOEIC stands for the Test of English for International Communication.  ↩

Japan’s Open Network Lab now taking applications for its incubation program

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See also this story in Japanese. Open Network Lab (aka OnLab), a Tokyo-based tech incubator backed by Digital Garage and NetPrice.com, has today started receiving applications for the 7th batch of the seed accelerator incubation program. The amount of funds for each qualified startup is 2 million yen (over $20,000), which is double what it was in the past. A special training course called the ‘Onlab Hacker Program‘ allows participating engineers to work with the incubator’s portfolio startups, thus forming an ecosystem where ‘succeeding’ startups can help new entries at the incubator. It’s often said that in order to launch a startup, we need to have three kinds of people: hustlers (management), hipsters (designers/creatives), and hackers (engineers). The incubator now serves all three of these, with doubling the funding for hustlers to work with, UI and UX mentoring from Adaptive Path founder Janice Fraser and AQ CEO Chris Palmieri, and now, they’ve established this program for hackers as well. Incubators usually need to figure out a way to differentiate themselves from others, and OnLab has made a good effort to do that here. Similarly, KDDI Mugen Labo, the tech incubator by Japan’s second largest telco, has set up a special application category…

opennetworkspace2

See also this story in Japanese.

Open Network Lab (aka OnLab), a Tokyo-based tech incubator backed by Digital Garage and NetPrice.com, has today started receiving applications for the 7th batch of the seed accelerator incubation program. The amount of funds for each qualified startup is 2 million yen (over $20,000), which is double what it was in the past. A special training course called the ‘Onlab Hacker Program‘ allows participating engineers to work with the incubator’s portfolio startups, thus forming an ecosystem where ‘succeeding’ startups can help new entries at the incubator.

It’s often said that in order to launch a startup, we need to have three kinds of people: hustlers (management), hipsters (designers/creatives), and hackers (engineers). The incubator now serves all three of these, with doubling the funding for hustlers to work with, UI and UX mentoring from Adaptive Path founder Janice Fraser and AQ CEO Chris Palmieri, and now, they’ve established this program for hackers as well.

onlab_logoIncubators usually need to figure out a way to differentiate themselves from others, and OnLab has made a good effort to do that here. Similarly, KDDI Mugen Labo, the tech incubator by Japan’s second largest telco, has set up a special application category for HTML5-engineering startups, and OnLab and Movida Japan have begun seeking high potential startups in cities beyond Tokyo. These efforts are good to see, representing a range of new entrepreneurship opportunities for creative minds out there.

Applications for OnLab’s seventh batch open today (March 14th), and the deadline is set for May 31st. If you’d like to apply, you can do so here. Good luck!

Line apps rules Google Play rankings, owns the top 5 in Japan

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While NHN Japan’s popular Line chat app has amazingly surpassed 100 million users, it might be a more impressive feat that the company has managed to turn the app into a platform from which to distribute its other applications. The success of this model is especially evident today, as the current top five free Google Play apps in Japan are all Line apps, as you can see below. Out of the top ten, Line amazingly accounts for seven. While the Line chat app rules the roost, it’s immediately followed by three of NHN Japan’s new games, including Wind Runner which we recently profiled over on our YouTube channel (see below). Line is doing well on the top grossing charts too, with four of the top ten highest grossing apps. If you need any more convincing of the effectiveness of this app distribution model, just look to neighboring South Korea where NHN Japan’s chat app cousin Kakao is even more dominant, occupying almost every position in both the top free and top grossing Google Play charts for that country. (Via Gamebiz.jp, front page photo from MDN)

While NHN Japan’s popular Line chat app has amazingly surpassed 100 million users, it might be a more impressive feat that the company has managed to turn the app into a platform from which to distribute its other applications. The success of this model is especially evident today, as the current top five free Google Play apps in Japan are all Line apps, as you can see below. Out of the top ten, Line amazingly accounts for seven.

line-google-play-march-13-2013
via AppAnnie.com

While the Line chat app rules the roost, it’s immediately followed by three of NHN Japan’s new games, including Wind Runner which we recently profiled over on our YouTube channel (see below).

Line is doing well on the top grossing charts too, with four of the top ten highest grossing apps.

If you need any more convincing of the effectiveness of this app distribution model, just look to neighboring South Korea where NHN Japan’s chat app cousin Kakao is even more dominant, occupying almost every position in both the top free and top grossing Google Play charts for that country. (Via Gamebiz.jp, front page photo from MDN)

Google Glass, you’ve got company! Sekai Camera inventor introduces Telepathy One

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See also this story in Japanese. Takahito Iguchi, the former Tonchidot CEO best known for having invented an augmented reality smartphone app Sekai Camera, has just unveiled a wearable communications device called Telepathy One at SXSW 2013. It looks poised to be a rival product to Google Glass, and sales are expected to start in the US before the 2013 Christmas season. The device has a display and camera located just in front of your eye, which lets you see a virtual 5-inch screen just in front of you. It also can connect to other devices via Bluetooth, and lets users receive e-mails, check updates on social networks, and even share whatever scene you’re looking at with your friends. Iguchi-san quit Tonchidot in November of 2012, and everybody in the Japanese startup community has been much anticipating what he would develop next. And apparently this is it, and it certainly looks like an ambitious project. Given that he is somewhat of a pioneer in the AR space (Sekai Camera was a finalist at the 2008 TechCrunch 50 event), it will be interesting to see how this solution stacks up to Google Glass. In terms of differentiation, Iguchi explains his product will be…

iguchi_wearing_telepathy_one
Inventor Iguchi wearing his new product Telepathy One

See also this story in Japanese.

Takahito Iguchi, the former Tonchidot CEO best known for having invented an augmented reality smartphone app Sekai Camera, has just unveiled a wearable communications device called Telepathy One at SXSW 2013. It looks poised to be a rival product to Google Glass, and sales are expected to start in the US before the 2013 Christmas season.

The device has a display and camera located just in front of your eye, which lets you see a virtual 5-inch screen just in front of you. It also can connect to other devices via Bluetooth, and lets users receive e-mails, check updates on social networks, and even share whatever scene you’re looking at with your friends.

telepathy_oneIguchi-san quit Tonchidot in November of 2012, and everybody in the Japanese startup community has been much anticipating what he would develop next. And apparently this is it, and it certainly looks like an ambitious project. Given that he is somewhat of a pioneer in the AR space (Sekai Camera was a finalist at the 2008 TechCrunch 50 event), it will be interesting to see how this solution stacks up to Google Glass. In terms of differentiation, Iguchi explains his product will be more fashionable and introduced for a more affordable price.

He is currently attending at SXSW 2013 exhibiting the product and letting other SXSW-ers try it on, and gathering feedback from them.

Update: There’s also a promo video on YouTube for Telepathy One, which you can check out below.

(Photo via Telepathy One Facebook page)

Rovio holds Angry Birds lucky draws nationwide in Japan

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When we last chatted with Rovio here in Japan, the Finnish game developer entertainment company told us that they had a number of local partners on board for their Angry Birds business. One of those partners is Furyu, with whom Rovio is now running a fun sort of lucky lottery campaign. In select locations, Angry Birds fans can pay 500 yen (or about $5) to participate in a draw for some AB merch. You’re guaranteed to win at least a small plush toy, but if you’re lucky, you could walk away with very large one, or the top prize, an Angry Birds travel bag. Rovio’s country director for Japan, Antti Sonninen, showed me one of the locations today at Takashimaya department store at Shinjuku. And while this sort of giveaway at a few stores isn’t really that impressive, if you take a look at how widely Rovio and Furyu are conducting this campaign, then the scope becomes a little more impressive. Check out the map of locations below. While I was surprised to see that the in-store promotion is little more than a poster, the campaign is getting far more visibility by through the Angry Birds in-game news page (or…

angry-birds-lucky-draws

When we last chatted with Rovio here in Japan, the Finnish game developer entertainment company told us that they had a number of local partners on board for their Angry Birds business. One of those partners is Furyu, with whom Rovio is now running a fun sort of lucky lottery campaign.

In select locations, Angry Birds fans can pay 500 yen (or about $5) to participate in a draw for some AB merch. You’re guaranteed to win at least a small plush toy, but if you’re lucky, you could walk away with very large one, or the top prize, an Angry Birds travel bag. Rovio’s country director for Japan, Antti Sonninen, showed me one of the locations today at Takashimaya department store at Shinjuku. And while this sort of giveaway at a few stores isn’t really that impressive, if you take a look at how widely Rovio and Furyu are conducting this campaign, then the scope becomes a little more impressive. Check out the map of locations below.

While I was surprised to see that the in-store promotion is little more than a poster, the campaign is getting far more visibility by through the Angry Birds in-game news page (or ‘pause’ page), where’s there’s a link to the the Furyu campaign page. If you’d like to try one of these Angry Birds lucky draws for yourself, head to one of the locations nearest you to give it a go (assuming you’re in Japan).

In addition to this localized promotion, Rovio is planning even bigger things this upcoming weekend, kicking off its weekly series of videos on March 16th and 17th. In addition to being able to watch these short videos inside their app (which is currently free, ostensibly to help increase visibility this weekend), a number of broadcasters are on board to help distribute the animations as well. Here in Asia, that includes JEI TV in Korea, ANTV in Indonesia, and the Cartoon Network in India.

Most successful mobile game ever? Puzzle & Dragons passes 10 million downloads [Video]

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Japanese game developer and publisher GungHo Entertainment announced today that its insanely popular Puzzle & Dragons game has finally surpassed the 10 million downloads mark (as of March 9th). It took just over a year to reach the mark, after its initial release in February of 2012. And while the games download count is not by itself a standout accomplishment, its longevity at or near the top of the Apple and Google Play top grossing app charts is incredible. Most of the game’s downloads are from its home market of Japan, where the game has been helped by television commercials. Described as a combination of a Bejeweled-ish puzzle game and an RPG, Puzzle & Dragons has yet to really catch on outside of Japan, after launching English versions late last year. I’m not certain why this is, but speaking from my own experience with the game [1], my initial encounter didn’t get me hooked. At first I didn’t quite realize how the jewels (called ‘Orbs’ in the game) could be maneuvered. But eventually I figured out you could move an orb wherever you wished – you can even move them diagonally. There are still a lot of things that I…

Japanese game developer and publisher GungHo Entertainment announced today that its insanely popular Puzzle & Dragons game has finally surpassed the 10 million downloads mark (as of March 9th). It took just over a year to reach the mark, after its initial release in February of 2012. And while the games download count is not by itself a standout accomplishment, its longevity at or near the top of the Apple and Google Play top grossing app charts is incredible.

Most of the game’s downloads are from its home market of Japan, where the game has been helped by television commercials. Described as a combination of a Bejeweled-ish puzzle game and an RPG, Puzzle & Dragons has yet to really catch on outside of Japan, after launching English versions late last year. I’m not certain why this is, but speaking from my own experience with the game [1], my initial encounter didn’t get me hooked.

puzzle-and-dragonsAt first I didn’t quite realize how the jewels (called ‘Orbs’ in the game) could be maneuvered. But eventually I figured out you could move an orb wherever you wished – you can even move them diagonally. There are still a lot of things that I have yet to learn about the game, like which monsters in your collection are best used to evolve other monsters, or strategies relating to the various types of monsters when attacking.

But nevertheless I enjoy the game immensely, and part of the reason is because of the game’s depth. There’s still a lot that I have yet to figure out. If you’re new to the game, I recommend you check out some of the many video demos on YouTube (including my own demo, which you can see above). There’s also a subreddit dedicated to the game, which you might want to watch as well.

If you have any tips for how to excel in the game, I’d love to hear, so don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments below. [Via Gamebiz.jp]

(Download image version of chart)


  1. If you’d like to add me as a friend in-game, my ID is 333,547,212. Feel free to drop your ID here in the comments too if you like.  ↩

Japanese game developer Aiming raises $3.2M, eyes overseas expansion

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Japanese gaming company Aiming Inc has announced today that it has received almost 300 million yen (or about $3.21 million) in investment from Nissay Capital. The funds will be used to expand its portfolio of games, and make a play for the overseas smartphone and PC games market. To date, most of the company’s titles are for the Japanese market, including the recently launched Lord of War which after its release in late February managed to briefly grab the number one spot in the Japanese app store on March 1st [1]. I confess, I’ve not spent any significant time with any of their games, many of which are Japanese style RPGs, but it is promising to see yet another Japanese gaming company looking to markets abroad, and also finding some funds to drive forward. If you’d like to try out one of its titles in English, you can perhaps get your hands on Lord of Knights: The Conquerors which it seems to have quietly launched last year on the New Zealand app store. The original Japanese version of that title has over 400,000 downloads to date. You can check out a promo video for Lord of Knights below. (Aiming via…

lord-of-war-wide

Japanese gaming company Aiming Inc has announced today that it has received almost 300 million yen (or about $3.21 million) in investment from Nissay Capital. The funds will be used to expand its portfolio of games, and make a play for the overseas smartphone and PC games market.

To date, most of the company’s titles are for the Japanese market, including the recently launched Lord of War which after its release in late February managed to briefly grab the number one spot in the Japanese app store on March 1st [1].

I confess, I’ve not spent any significant time with any of their games, many of which are Japanese style RPGs, but it is promising to see yet another Japanese gaming company looking to markets abroad, and also finding some funds to drive forward.

If you’d like to try out one of its titles in English, you can perhaps get your hands on Lord of Knights: The Conquerors which it seems to have quietly launched last year on the New Zealand app store. The original Japanese version of that title has over 400,000 downloads to date. You can check out a promo video for Lord of Knights below. (Aiming via Gamebiz)


  1. Since then, however, it has dropped off significantly, now really only visible in the ‘simulation’ and ‘role playing’ categories, where it still ranks in the top 50. The Android version of the title is coming soon.  ↩

As 2-year anniversary approaches, Great East Japan Earthquake Archive goes online

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Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the National Diet Library have finally launched an online archive of photos, videos, and other infomation relating to the tragic March 2011 east Japan earthquake. It’s currently available for viewing at kn.ndl.go.jp. Media can be browsed and sorted by location (there’s a useful map interface here), media type, and language. And while it’s not the easiest site in the world to navigate, there is a lot of content brought together from external sources under one umbrella [1]. Currently the site provides interfaces in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean. It’s far from perfect, but it’s good to see an initiative like this finally get going. The two year anniversary of the disaster will fall on Monday, and since then a number of organizations have curated such collections in the interests of ensuring that we remember what happened. Other archive initiatives Another organization that’s playing a major role in recording the impact of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), which has been collecting Street View images of the affected areas, cataloguing these as memories on its Memories for the Future website (actually, the NDL’s online archive draws content from here as well)….

great-east-japan-earthquake-archive

Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the National Diet Library have finally launched an online archive of photos, videos, and other infomation relating to the tragic March 2011 east Japan earthquake. It’s currently available for viewing at kn.ndl.go.jp.

Media can be browsed and sorted by location (there’s a useful map interface here), media type, and language. And while it’s not the easiest site in the world to navigate, there is a lot of content brought together from external sources under one umbrella [1]. Currently the site provides interfaces in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean.

It’s far from perfect, but it’s good to see an initiative like this finally get going. The two year anniversary of the disaster will fall on Monday, and since then a number of organizations have curated such collections in the interests of ensuring that we remember what happened.

Other archive initiatives

Another organization that’s playing a major role in recording the impact of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), which has been collecting Street View images of the affected areas, cataloguing these as memories on its Memories for the Future website (actually, the NDL’s online archive draws content from here as well). Recently, Google have even been mapping areas in the exclusion zone near the Fukushima nuclear plant.

And then there is also Project 311, which emerged from a ‘Big Data Workshop’ organized by Google and Twitter, a collection of media reports from around the time of the earthquake. Professor Hidenori Watanave has created a Google Earth view of the data, which you can find at media.mapping.jp.

Harvard has also assembled a useful digital archive too, located at jdarchive.org.

As for archiving videos, I’ve made an effort at mapping YouTube videos of the tsunami and earthquake on my own, with about 120 videos collected. Sanna Dullaway has put together a similar collection on Google Maps, which is a pretty extensive archive as well.


  1. Some of the information listed is not online but might be viewable only offline, such as in the National Diet Library.  ↩

Tokyo-based advertising startup FreakOut raises $5.3M from Yahoo Japan

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FreakOut is a Tokyo-based startup developing a smartphone advertising platform for real-time bidding (RTB). Today it announced that it has raised 500 million yen (approximately $5.3 million) in series B funding from YJ Capital, the investment arm of Yahoo Japan (TYO:4689). FreakOut was launched in 2010 by Yuzuru Honda who previously launched a content-matching ad platform called Brainer, which was subsequently sold to Yahoo Japan in 2008.  The startup has been delivering its white-label platform to more than 3,000 advertisers through 90 agencies in Japan and the US. With this new funding, the startup expects to intensify operations at its US subsidiary, FreakOut International Inc., which was launched in New York last April. Prior to this fundraising, the startup raised 350 million yen ($3.7 million) from two Japanese VC firms last year. TechCrunch Japan reports that the current value of the company is about 10.3 billion yen ($110 million).

freakout_logoFreakOut is a Tokyo-based startup developing a smartphone advertising platform for real-time bidding (RTB). Today it announced that it has raised 500 million yen (approximately $5.3 million) in series B funding from YJ Capital, the investment arm of Yahoo Japan (TYO:4689).

FreakOut was launched in 2010 by Yuzuru Honda who previously launched a content-matching ad platform called Brainer, which was subsequently sold to Yahoo Japan in 2008.  The startup has been delivering its white-label platform to more than 3,000 advertisers through 90 agencies in Japan and the US. With this new funding, the startup expects to intensify operations at its US subsidiary, FreakOut International Inc., which was launched in New York last April.

Prior to this fundraising, the startup raised 350 million yen ($3.7 million) from two Japanese VC firms last year. TechCrunch Japan reports that the current value of the company is about 10.3 billion yen ($110 million).

Monetizing Android ads for Asia (and soon the world) Metaps raises $11M in series B

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Read the Japanese version of this report Japanese app monetization platform Metaps has announced today that it has raised 1 billion yen (or about $11 million) in series B funding from Fidelity Growth Partners. The company plans to use these funds to continue its expansion in Asia, and then beyond later this year. Metaps claims to be the largest such mobile ad network in Asia, and has the lofty goal of becoming the largest Android monetization platform in the world by the end of this year. Metaps originally launched in 2011, and since then Android apps using its platform have achieved a total of 62 million downloads by focusing on mature Asian markets like Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The company will continue to focus on Asia until this summer, after that looking to North America, followed by the European market in the fall. Interestingly, Fidelity Growth Partners has much experience in China, and a Metaps representative tells us that this is one reason why they will partner with them. Metaps is also in talks with some local Chinese firms as well. We’re told that Metaps’ success thus far is largely due to strong results for Android games, which…

metaps

Read the Japanese version of this report

Japanese app monetization platform Metaps has announced today that it has raised 1 billion yen (or about $11 million) in series B funding from Fidelity Growth Partners.

The company plans to use these funds to continue its expansion in Asia, and then beyond later this year. Metaps claims to be the largest such mobile ad network in Asia, and has the lofty goal of becoming the largest Android monetization platform in the world by the end of this year.

Metaps originally launched in 2011, and since then Android apps using its platform have achieved a total of 62 million downloads by focusing on mature Asian markets like Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The company will continue to focus on Asia until this summer, after that looking to North America, followed by the European market in the fall.

Interestingly, Fidelity Growth Partners has much experience in China, and a Metaps representative tells us that this is one reason why they will partner with them. Metaps is also in talks with some local Chinese firms as well.

We’re told that Metaps’ success thus far is largely due to strong results for Android games, which comprises about 70% of the company’s revenue. But that share is gradually decreasing as other non-gaming apps are beginning to monetize better.