THE BRIDGE

Startups

Dave McClure and Shinya Akamine talk ‘Tales from Silicon Valley’

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This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo, Japan. You can read more of our reports from this event here. On day one of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo Japan, we heard from 500 Startups founding partner Dave McClure as well as Shinya Akamine from Core Ventures Group on a panel entitled ‘Tales from Silicon Valley VCs’. The moderator was venture capitalist Gen Isayama. Dave started out talking about incremental innovations, noting that people tend to put Silicon Valley up on a pedestal, and they want to copy the sexiest hardest things, when many of those thing are destined for failure. I’m not saying there won’t be a Japanese Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg – there already are some of those (he mentions Rakuten’s Mikitani and others) but copying 99% of an existing model, and innovating the other 1% may be much easier. ¶ Dave mentions a table top ordering device that 500 Startups invested in. He cites ordering in a restaurant as a big problem, one that people experience everyday. A device that helps you get the waiter’s attention is a great problem to solve, says Dave. “This is not creating…

dave mcclure
500 Startups’ Dave McClure

This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo, Japan. You can read more of our reports from this event here.


On day one of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo Japan, we heard from 500 Startups founding partner Dave McClure as well as Shinya Akamine from Core Ventures Group on a panel entitled ‘Tales from Silicon Valley VCs’. The moderator was venture capitalist Gen Isayama.

Dave started out talking about incremental innovations, noting that people tend to put Silicon Valley up on a pedestal, and they want to copy the sexiest hardest things, when many of those thing are destined for failure.

I’m not saying there won’t be a Japanese Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg – there already are some of those (he mentions Rakuten’s Mikitani and others) but copying 99% of an existing model, and innovating the other 1% may be much easier.

Dave mentions a table top ordering device that 500 Startups invested in. He cites ordering in a restaurant as a big problem, one that people experience everyday. A device that helps you get the waiter’s attention is a great problem to solve, says Dave. “This is not creating rocketships, it’s a very simple thing – but it’s a huge market” He explains that not many startups are attacking this area, and this is particularly true in Japan. “Doing real innovation is incredibly hard, he explains, “but incorporating existing ones and improving them are much easier.”

Everybody eats. Restaurants don’t have customer lists. Retention marketing is the easiest thing, and most restaurants don’t do that. It could be made so much better.

It’s worth mentioning that 500 Startups has invested in about 30 food companies already.

He points to internet marketing as a huge innovation, noting that while there’s lots of amazing tech out there, the greatest opportunity in the time that we live in is the fact that everyone is online. And most businesses are not reaching them.

For most existing companies, their business model works. There is an opportunity to attack their weak points of poor internet marketing and high overhead. You can find some big dumb business that makes money but kind of sucks. You can copy that model, reduce overhead, and improve marketing.

Dave’s slides, which he describes as ‘intentionally bad’ so you’ll remember them, are below . (We don’t think they’re that bad!)

Founder vs Product

Shinya followed Dave’s presention with a little about Core Ventures Group. He noted that the first focus of his fund is seed stage investment, and they also look at people who are developing advanced technologies. They also look at B2B companies, ones that sell products to other companies.

He explains says that many of the founders that he gets behind, he knows them before they leave their company to launch a new startup. He points to Feed.fm as an example of a company with a great founder.

The variable that has the most impact is the quality of the founders. Because I’m a seed investor, I really try to identify great founders, work with them and try to unleash their powers. Of course many VCs try to do this, and it’s not unique to just me.

Dave followed Shinya by noting that 500 Startups doesn’t always know if a founder is amazing, and it might take them six months or so to figure it out. He explains that product is something that his company looks at a little bit more:

We screen based on product. To me the product is the mirror of the soul of that team. The three things we look at are engineering, design, and marketing. Those are the three things that get a team off the ground. We need to see that those things are there somewhere.

Shinya says he is excited that many entrepreneurs in Japan are becoming world class entrepreneurs, and they are actually teaching the VCs. He gives the examples of Gengo and Peatix as world class entrepreneurs, who would be at the top of any startup ecosystem in the world. In addition to attracting world class investors, they are bringing in Japanese investors.

Dave agrees that such local role models are great for the ecosystems. And success stories like Rakuten, GREE, and DeNA are going to inspire more entrepreneurs to take risks.



Support your favorite anime artists: Crowdfunding site Anipipo finally launches

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Tokyo- and Bangkok-based startup Goopa has launched its anime-focused crowdfunding site Anipipo today. The new site provides ways for anime project owners to find funding to support their productions. Supporters will receive a premium reward from project owners in return for their financial support. The site is not only geared towards motion picture projects, but it’s also open to application for music, games, books, event projects, and more. As of today, the following three projects are available and open to receive funding from supporters. Santa Company – A motion picture project by Itoso from Kenji Studio ABC of Akari – A motion picture project by Vincente from AnigoAnimtion Ponpon Pipopo – A picture book publication project by Moo The startup was launched by Japanese entrepreneur Hiroaki Taira. Some of our readers may recall that he helped us to organize our meet-up events up until last year. In addition to Taira, the board members include two young Thai entrepreneurs Vincent Sethiwan and Permsiri Tiyavutiroj, who are known for running the LaunchPad incubation space in Bangkok. The startup primarily conducts business development in Tokyo, and system development in Bangkok. Anipipo was originally planned to launch back in February, but had to adjust…

anipipo_screenshot

Tokyo- and Bangkok-based startup Goopa has launched its anime-focused crowdfunding site Anipipo today. The new site provides ways for anime project owners to find funding to support their productions. Supporters will receive a premium reward from project owners in return for their financial support. The site is not only geared towards motion picture projects, but it’s also open to application for music, games, books, event projects, and more.

As of today, the following three projects are available and open to receive funding from supporters.

  1. Santa Company – A motion picture project by Itoso from Kenji Studio
  2. ABC of Akari – A motion picture project by Vincente from AnigoAnimtion
  3. Ponpon Pipopo – A picture book publication project by Moo

The startup was launched by Japanese entrepreneur Hiroaki Taira. Some of our readers may recall that he helped us to organize our meet-up events up until last year. In addition to Taira, the board members include two young Thai entrepreneurs Vincent Sethiwan and Permsiri Tiyavutiroj, who are known for running the LaunchPad incubation space in Bangkok. The startup primarily conducts business development in Tokyo, and system development in Bangkok.

Anipipo was originally planned to launch back in February, but had to adjust the schedule a little bit. Everything was prepared for launch at that time, but they ran into difficulties getting approval from PayPal to become a merchant, an essential step in order to provide users with adequate payment methods. According to Taira, this is because PayPal has raised the bar for merchant accounts for crowdsourcing platforms. He actually visited PayPal headquarters in San Jose, and persuaded them on this issue. There appears to be a number of dubious crowdfunding sites around the world right now, so this is probably why Paypal is being careful. But the deployment of such strict regulations on their part indicates that the market has become too big to be ignored.

You may remember that Gyao and GREE jointly formed an anime-focused investment fund back in February, another significant development that should help the anime businesses. There is also illustration crowdsourcing service MugenUp and voice crowdsourcing service Voip.

Anipipo previously fundraised 4.5 million yen (approximately $45,000) from Tokyo startup incubator Samurai Incubate. With the service’s official launch, we should expect to see another round of funding pretty soon.

After announcing new CEO last week, Japan’s Mixi invests in two startups

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In the wake of announcing a new CEO last week, Japanese social network company Mixi (TYO:2121) continued a busy month by announced investments in two startups today. At its financial results briefing, incoming CEO Yusuke Asakura talked about future changes planned for Mixi, including aggressive investments in promising companies. The two investment disclosed today are CloudStudy and Reventive. CloudStudy will receive 72 million yen (over $700,000), which will account for 20% of its total funding to date. The figure for Reventive was not disclosed but it is somewhere in the tens of millions. The startup has other investors including Sunbridge Global Ventures and some angel investors, adding up to 70 million yen in total. StudyPlus is a social learning management platform that was released back in March of 2012. It hit the 100,000 user milestone after almost a year later in April of 2013 . Users can study languages or prepare for university entrance exams by recording their study hours and content, sharing progress with friends if they choose. The platform can be used anonymously, making it easy to connect with other users. The startup’s CEO Takashi Hirose shared some interesting figures about their growth to date. So far they…

StudyPlus-logo Close-logo

In the wake of announcing a new CEO last week, Japanese social network company Mixi (TYO:2121) continued a busy month by announced investments in two startups today. At its financial results briefing, incoming CEO Yusuke Asakura talked about future changes planned for Mixi, including aggressive investments in promising companies.

The two investment disclosed today are CloudStudy and Reventive. CloudStudy will receive 72 million yen (over $700,000), which will account for 20% of its total funding to date. The figure for Reventive was not disclosed but it is somewhere in the tens of millions. The startup has other investors including Sunbridge Global Ventures and some angel investors, adding up to 70 million yen in total.

StudyPlus is a social learning management platform that was released back in March of 2012. It hit the 100,000 user milestone after almost a year later in April of 2013 . Users can study languages or prepare for university entrance exams by recording their study hours and content, sharing progress with friends if they choose. The platform can be used anonymously, making it easy to connect with other users.

The startup’s CEO Takashi Hirose shared some interesting figures about their growth to date. So far they have 23 million monthly page views, with about 9,500 of their 12,000 active users recording learning activities every day with the app. That means 80% of all the users who log into the service enter a record, typically 3.5 times a day on average. StudyPlus is available both on the web, as well as via iOS and Android apps.

As for Reventive, its main offering is an app called Close, which is available on both iOS and Android. Close is sort of a Path equivalent, limiting the number of friends you can have to nine people. The app aspires to be the most secure place to connect and communicate with the most important people in your lives. There is a big update planned for June, so stay tuned to see what they have in store. Close is a graduate of KDDI Mugen Labo.

Written with contributions from Masaru Ikeda

Japanese mobile livestreaming app TwitCasting raises $634,000

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese mobile livestreaming app TwitCasting announced today that it has raised 64.8 million yen (approximately $634,000) from East Ventures, as well as Japanese serial entrepreneur Masao Ito who runs a web traffic analysis startup called User Local. In addition, East Ventures’ co-founding partner Taiga Matsuyama and Masao Ito will join the board of directors for TwitCasting. TwitCasting was launched back in February of 2010 by Moi Corp. When we got in touch with the company back in March, CEO Yoski Akamatsu explained that the app’s userbase has significantly grown since the latter half of 2012, acquiring more than 200,000 users every month. The number of users is currently 2.4 million, and it’s expected to surpass 4 million by the end of this fiscal year. As the userbase continues to skyrocket, the startup has been suffering from a lack of resources in terms of infrastructure management and system developments. Akamatsu explains that they decided to pursue funding to intensify engineering resources so they could improve the service’s back-end. He added: If our user base keep growing at this pace, it will definitely be about 4 million people soon. With this funding, we will hire more engineers and form a sound…

twitcasting_screenshot

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese mobile livestreaming app TwitCasting announced today that it has raised 64.8 million yen (approximately $634,000) from East Ventures, as well as Japanese serial entrepreneur Masao Ito who runs a web traffic analysis startup called User Local. In addition, East Ventures’ co-founding partner Taiga Matsuyama and Masao Ito will join the board of directors for TwitCasting.

TwitCasting was launched back in February of 2010 by Moi Corp. When we got in touch with the company back in March, CEO Yoski Akamatsu explained that the app’s userbase has significantly grown since the latter half of 2012, acquiring more than 200,000 users every month. The number of users is currently 2.4 million, and it’s expected to surpass 4 million by the end of this fiscal year.

As the userbase continues to skyrocket, the startup has been suffering from a lack of resources in terms of infrastructure management and system developments. Akamatsu explains that they decided to pursue funding to intensify engineering resources so they could improve the service’s back-end. He added:

If our user base keep growing at this pace, it will definitely be about 4 million people soon. With this funding, we will hire more engineers and form a sound development team. When we actually reach the target [of 4 million], we will look ahead to our next goal.

Taiga Matsuyama added his thoughts:

I’ve known Yoski since 2006, and his expertise are admired [by many other engineers]. The service’s user base is also rapidly growing and has also penetrated the overseas market as well. We’ll work with him to help them accelerate their business much further. I believe TwitCasting is a rare but precious startup that has big potential in the English-speaking community or even in the Asian region.

Interestingly, they actually are seeing 10% of their traffic coming from Brazil. Yoski isn’t exactly sure why this is the case, but he also related a curious story about how traffic saw a big drop at when school started in April in Japan.

I called it “the school-entry season shock”. Most likely our users must be busy making new friends, so that they didn’t set aside time to livecast [with the app].

Currently Twitcasting is getting revenue from advertising and charging paid users. In terms the breakdown of mobile platforms, they have a more traffic from Android than iPhone.

Japan’s Kitchhike gives you alternative dining choices when you travel

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See the original story in Japanese. Kitchhike is a website that lets you experience meals prepared by locals (usually) in their home while you travel abroad. In a way, it is a sort of AirBnB for home-cooked meals. The service, which launches officially today, is a matching platform connects cooks and travelers in kitchens around the world. If you are interested in having local dishes when you travel, this site gives you a chance to dine on homemade dishes with local people instead of just visiting local restaurants. Currently it has 32 menus from six countries: Japan, Korea, mainland China, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines. In online travel space, AirBnB focuses on finding accommodations, and Meetrip gives you a way to find a tour given by local people. Kitchhike’s proposed value is that it connects you with both local meals and local people, adding “delicious experiences” to your travel itinerary. This startup was founded by two entrepreneurs: Masaya Yamamoto, who previously worked at one of Japanese ad giant Hakuhodo DY Media Partners; and Syoken Fujisaki, who worked at Japanese thinktank Nomura Research Institute. Local people, local experiences In their announcement, they elaborate on what makes the service unique: Food culture is…

KitchHike_logo_betaSee the original story in Japanese.

Kitchhike is a website that lets you experience meals prepared by locals (usually) in their home while you travel abroad. In a way, it is a sort of AirBnB for home-cooked meals.

The service, which launches officially today, is a matching platform connects cooks and travelers in kitchens around the world. If you are interested in having local dishes when you travel, this site gives you a chance to dine on homemade dishes with local people instead of just visiting local restaurants. Currently it has 32 menus from six countries: Japan, Korea, mainland China, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

In online travel space, AirBnB focuses on finding accommodations, and Meetrip gives you a way to find a tour given by local people. Kitchhike’s proposed value is that it connects you with both local meals and local people, adding “delicious experiences” to your travel itinerary.

This startup was founded by two entrepreneurs: Masaya Yamamoto, who previously worked at one of Japanese ad giant Hakuhodo DY Media Partners; and Syoken Fujisaki, who worked at Japanese thinktank Nomura Research Institute.

KitchHike_toppage

Local people, local experiences

In their announcement, they elaborate on what makes the service unique:

Food culture is not really created intentionally, but rather it is an accumulation, [intertwined with the] history of neighborhoods. Every single household has different meals, and these are the places that give you a real local feeling. For visitors, a meal served by local people might be one of the most exciting parts of encountering a new culture.

In addition to the usual sightseeing destinations, we believe that a table filled with homemade meals by local people is also a destination most people have never experienced.

Homemade meals becomes profitable

KitchHike_chatpage

Your homemade meals can take on a new value when you make them available to people outside your social circle. It’s not only globe trotters, but even your neighbors might be interested in experiencing your homemade meals.

For users who want to cook for someone (they are referred to as ‘cooks’ on the platform), you simply log on to the service and register what dishes you can prepare.

For users who want to eat dishes cooked by other users, you can choose a place (a cook’s residence) and contact them via the messaging feature. Subsequently they will schedule what time you can visit. To avoid any possible risk that might go along with meeting up with strangers, the service is linked up with Facebook for identification purposes.

The service is starting out in Asian regions, with some coverage in Europe and North America. But they are hoping for global expansion in the future.

KitchHike_co-founders

5 great ideas from Hub Tokyo’s Spark Plug event

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The Hub is the world’s largest network of co-working spaces, with venues at more than 40 locations worldwide, and 100 more coming soon. At its most recently-launched branch in Tokyo, a ‘Spark Plug’ meet-up event was held yesterday. Five startups pitched their ideas to an enthusiastic audience. Hub Tokyo was officially launched on February 11th of this year. I’ve met with some of the people behind the co-working space, but I visited the venue for the first time just yesterday. Most Hub locations around the world are located in the very heart of a given city, typically in a nicely designed or renovated building. But this Tokyo branch is surprisingly a 10-minute walk from Meguro station on Tokyo’s central Yamanote line, a cozy space set up in a former print factory. The venue’s co-founder, Shingo Potier de la Morandière, explains: Unlike our other locations in Europe or the rest of the world, we need to pay much more to rent a venue here in Tokyo. Even with some sponsorships from big companies, it’s very hard to make our business sustainable and keep operations running. However, we are really keen to help Japanese entrepreneurs connect to the global community. We’ll intensify…

hubtokyo_entrance

The Hub is the world’s largest network of co-working spaces, with venues at more than 40 locations worldwide, and 100 more coming soon. At its most recently-launched branch in Tokyo, a ‘Spark Plug’ meet-up event was held yesterday. Five startups pitched their ideas to an enthusiastic audience.

Hub Tokyo was officially launched on February 11th of this year. I’ve met with some of the people behind the co-working space, but I visited the venue for the first time just yesterday. Most Hub locations around the world are located in the very heart of a given city, typically in a nicely designed or renovated building. But this Tokyo branch is surprisingly a 10-minute walk from Meguro station on Tokyo’s central Yamanote line, a cozy space set up in a former print factory.

The venue’s co-founder, Shingo Potier de la Morandière, explains:

Unlike our other locations in Europe or the rest of the world, we need to pay much more to rent a venue here in Tokyo. Even with some sponsorships from big companies, it’s very hard to make our business sustainable and keep operations running. However, we are really keen to help Japanese entrepreneurs connect to the global community. We’ll intensify interactive community-based activities with our global network, including person-to-person exchanges with foreign startups.

Hopefully we can see more great work coming out of this space in the future. But for now, let’s hear about the five startups that pitched at this Spark Plug event.

Gamba

gamba_logoWebsite: getgamba.com
Pitched by: Masahiro Morita

Some of our readers may recall that we featured this startup in our recent coverage of Samurai Venture Summit.

Gamba is a corporate communication platform that facilitates the submission of daily reports. It has deployed short status message input on its business communication platform, which helps office workers share what they are doing with colleagues and management. Interestingly, the app is not only used among SMEs or startups but also bigger companies.

Competitors in this space include Chatwork, Co-work, and Talknote.

gamba_onstage

Pint

pint_logoWebsite: N/A
Pitched by: Mayumi Kataoka and Yasuhiro Myodo

This (somewhat oddly named) startup wants to establish a portal of online resources for people who are depressed. In order to overcome many of the problems they face, they typically need to contact a variety of professionals, like a social worker, a labor/social security attorney, a medical doctor, etc. Currently there’s no one-stop solution for these patients, and they usually have to consult a variety of bulky books to find useful information.

The Pint team has developed an online portal that allows patients to easily find information, tagging many resources that contain advice from medical and consulting professionals. They aim to help create a society that helps depressed individuals get better and return to a regular and healthy life.

pint_onstage

LaunchApp by Zaoria

launchapp_logoWebsite: launchapp.jp
Pitched by: Shinya Inoue

LaunchApp is a crowdsourced usablity testing service that allows app developers to oursource usability testing. It’s available for testing Android apps, iOS apps, and web apps, and allows you to set a deadline (24 hours at the minimum) to get feedback from crowdsourced testers.

It is thought that the usability testing market in Japan will be worth 35 billion yen (approximately $340 million) in three years, and the startup believes this market has big potential.

In terms of differentiation from other competitors like Japan’s UI Scope or Malaysia’s Netizen Testing, LaunchApp focuses on providing clients with more insightful, text-based reporting and conducting focus group interviews.

launchapp_onstage

LogBar

logbar_logoWebsite: logbar.jp
Pitched by: Takuro Yoshida

Some of our readers may recall when I wrote about an interesting new bar back in March. When you step inside the bar, you receive an iPad upon which you should sign in with a username and password. Every order of beverages, alcohol, and appetizers is to be made on the iPad. You can also interact with bartenders and other customers on the app, which have been specifically designed for the bar.

Almost two months have passed since the launch, and the Yoshida explains that no visitor has not enjoyed interacting with others using the app.

They are planning to hold a casual meet-up event at Mixi headquarters in June, and they will also hold a 1000-person gathering in France in July.

logbar_onstage

Sukima Chu-ring (bicycle parking lots)

sukimachu-ring_logoWebsite: sukima-chu-ring.launchrock.com
Pitched by: Masaru Nakajima

For Japanese people living in urban areas, it’s hard finding a space to park your bicycle, especially at train stations. Local governments provide parking lots for bicycles, but they are typically not close to stations and thus are inconvenient to access.

If you park your bicycle in a prohibited area, it will likely be taken away by a patrol officer. When you get your bicycle back, you will be typically have to pay a penalty money of more than $50.

What this startup aims to do is partnering with housing or apartment companies, providing them with simple equipment to set up bicycle parking lots. They also established a website that allows you to easily find a parking lot nearby, thanks to Google Maps integration.

As of July 1st, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government will enforce a new act for bicycle usage which obliges companies or retailers to provide bicycle parking lots for their employees or customers. That’s why the startup is planning its launch on that date.


hubtokyo_signThe Spark Plug event will take place every month. If you have a chance to visit Japan’s capital, Hub Tokyo should be a must-see spot if you’d like to connect with local entrepreneurs.

Check out their website for more details and event updates.

Japanese knowledge sharing site Qiita could reach as many as half the nation’s programmers

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See the original story in Japanese. Qiita is a knowledge sharing platform for programmers, a place where they can exchange information and code snippets in order to learn from each other. It has been growing well too, as Increments Inc (the company behind Qiita) announced yesterday that the platform has reached the 20,000 user milestone, boasting about 220,000 monthly unique visitors too. Coinciding with this announcement, the startup also launched brand new service called ‘Qiita Team’, which allows users to share knowledge among a closed group. Qiita was initially launched back in September of 2011, as part of the fourth batch of Open Network Lab incubation program. Of course on a global level, Github is the social coding community with almost 3 million engineers — but there is no overwhelming favorite in Japan [1]. Qiita is quite niche but is dominating this space for now. Interestingly, according to the startup’s designer and co-founder Tomoya Konishi, recent surveys indicate that there are about 400,000 programmers working in the Japanese IT industry [2]. Given that Qiita’s total monthly unique visitors is 220,000, that roughly accounts for 50% of the entire population of Japanese programmers. In addition to Qiita Team, the company has…

register-user-graph-en

See the original story in Japanese.

Qiita is a knowledge sharing platform for programmers, a place where they can exchange information and code snippets in order to learn from each other. It has been growing well too, as Increments Inc (the company behind Qiita) announced yesterday that the platform has reached the 20,000 user milestone, boasting about 220,000 monthly unique visitors too.

Coinciding with this announcement, the startup also launched brand new service called ‘Qiita Team’, which allows users to share knowledge among a closed group.

Qiita was initially launched back in September of 2011, as part of the fourth batch of Open Network Lab incubation program. Of course on a global level, Github is the social coding community with almost 3 million engineers — but there is no overwhelming favorite in Japan [1]. Qiita is quite niche but is dominating this space for now.

Interestingly, according to the startup’s designer and co-founder Tomoya Konishi, recent surveys indicate that there are about 400,000 programmers working in the Japanese IT industry [2]. Given that Qiita’s total monthly unique visitors is 220,000, that roughly accounts for 50% of the entire population of Japanese programmers.

In addition to Qiita Team, the company has also launched a job/talent matching site called ‘Qiita Carrer’. But how does the company intend to monetize all these services? Konishi explains:

Qitta Career is a gateway for our partner recruiting companies which might be a suitable fit for our users as they advance their careers. We’re currently exploring other business models too by adding some features.

If Qiita can reach half of the country’s programmers, the startup likely has a promising future.

qiita


  1. Although Github itself is certainly a favorite here too.  ↩

  2. The figure comes from a white paper on IT human resources in Japan by Japan’s IT Promotion Agency.  ↩

Meet the startups from Open Network Lab’s latest Demo Day in Tokyo

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Tokyo startup accelerator Open Network Lab, led by MIT Media Lab’s director Joi Ito, held its demo day event today. We had a chance to check out a wide range of startups, not only from this latest batch, but also from the program’s previous five batches. Here’s a quick overview below. From the sixth batch 1. Zenclerk ¶ Website: zenclerk.com We can’t disclose much about their business because they’re in stealth mode, expected to launch next month. But you can infer what they’re working on from their website, as well as this short introductory video (in Japanese). They did not pitch at the event. 2. Papelook / Pape.mu girls ¶ Website: papelook.co.jp Pitched by: Ichiro Ozawa As some of our readers may remember that we previously featured Papelook, a photo collage/cropping app that allows users to share your fashion snapshots with others. It has now passed 5 million downloads since its initial launch back in March of 2012, growing at the impressive rate of 500,000 downloads a month. Almost 50% of all Japanese female smartphone users aged from 15 to 29 are using the app. In terms of differentiation from competing photo apps like Decopic and Snapeee, Papelook makes it…

Tokyo startup accelerator Open Network Lab, led by MIT Media Lab’s director Joi Ito, held its demo day event today. We had a chance to check out a wide range of startups, not only from this latest batch, but also from the program’s previous five batches. Here’s a quick overview below.

From the sixth batch

1. Zenclerk

zenclerk_logo

Website: zenclerk.com

We can’t disclose much about their business because they’re in stealth mode, expected to launch next month. But you can infer what they’re working on from their website, as well as this short introductory video (in Japanese). They did not pitch at the event.

2. Papelook / Pape.mu girls

papelook_logo

Website: papelook.co.jp
Pitched by: Ichiro Ozawa

As some of our readers may remember that we previously featured Papelook, a photo collage/cropping app that allows users to share your fashion snapshots with others. It has now passed 5 million downloads since its initial launch back in March of 2012, growing at the impressive rate of 500,000 downloads a month. Almost 50% of all Japanese female smartphone users aged from 15 to 29 are using the app.

In terms of differentiation from competing photo apps like Decopic and Snapeee, Papelook makes it easier to sort good pictures from bad ones, which should keep your camera roll from being filled with unnecessary pictures.

Papelook alone does not make much money, but it transfers users to Pape.mu girls, their cash cow. Pape.mu girls is a fashion app that presents a variety of pictures and updates curated from models’ blogs or fashion brands. The app has 250,000 downloads so far, with 500,000 active users generating six million page views a month. What’s most impressive is the retention time of their users, logging an astounding 50 minutes per visit on average.

In this way, the photo collage app brings users on board, which then creates opportunities for brands to promote products with the fashion app. The startup has already managed to partner with Fashionwalker.com, one of Japan’s largest fashion e-commerce sites. The company is planning business expansion to the US and Mainland China soon.

papelook_onstage

3. Lang-8

lang-8_logo

Website: lang-8.com
Pitched by: Yangyang Xi

Some of our readers may remember we featured Yangyang Xi, the founder and CEO of language learning platform Lang-8 in an exclusive interview back in February. The startup launched back in 2007 but since then has been operated by the founder on his own.

Mr. Xi was allowed to participate in the last batch of the acceleration program, hiring a CTO who previously worked at recipe sharing site Cookpad, as well as a designer.

With these fresh faces, Lang-8 has been seeing improvements in its access metrics. The growth rate of paid users is twice what it was a year ago, and revenue has almost doubled compared to a year ago. Business is finally in the black, and they can now begin developing a mobile app.

There’s no CGM-based language learning service using a mobile app, so that they expect to be on top of this space soon.

lang-8_onstage

From previous batches

1. Kiddy

kiddy_logo

Website: kiddy-photo.com
Pitched by: Hiromichi Ando, Compath.me

Back in December of 2011, Companth.me’s co-founder/CEO Hiromichi Ando explained his first app to me in an interview. They’ve been developing a number of apps since then, and the newest one is Kiddy.

Parents typically want to record the growth of their children with pictures, but most would prefer not to share all those snapshots with people on social network platforms who they might not be very close to. To address this problem, Kiddy is a photo sharing app that lets parents to share snapshots of their kids within a family group.

The app was launched last January, and more than 1,000 households have signed up for it so far. Comparing to other photo sharing apps, the Kiddy app is showing good user retention, and the ratio of weekly active users among its entire user base is between 40% to 50%, meaning that about one in every two users makes use of the app at least once a week.

With the potential to generate a great lifetime value, the startup expects to enhance the app as a platform for sharing pictures among family members. They have several monetization ideas including photo printing, or new e-commerce services that propose that you buy something that fits the specific occasion/time of your photo.

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2. Voyagin

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Website: govoyagin.com
Pitched by: Masashi Takahashi, Entertainment Kick

This service initially set out to create a travel experience marketplace for tourists visiting Japan. But subsequently they enhanced their ideas to cover five Asian countries: Japan, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. They are focusing on the Asian market because there are about 42 million travelers that hit region each year, with the market estimated to be worth over $4.2 billion.

Voyagin is planning to move its headquarters to Singapore by the end of this year.

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3. SpathSchool

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Website: spath.jp
Picthed by: Koichiro Sumi

This service is being operated a pair of developer co-founders. They are often asked by other developers to create smartphone apps, and were wondering why developers outsource development work to other developers. Finally they reached a conclusion. System developers in their 20s are familiar with programming languages like Objective-C or Ruby on Rails, but those in their 30s are better versed in conventional technologies like MySQL or Java.

With this insight the startup identified a sort of technology generation gap in the developer community. And it’s a gap that they aim to fill.

They’ve established set up a 20 to 60 hour lecture program for less experienced developers to learn about app development, and a range of related topics. They are also planning to providing some new courses for IT companies to train their employees.

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After all the presentations were made, Kaoru Hayashi, the CEO of the accelerator’s parent company Digital Garage, announced that the top prize at the Demo Day event was awarded to the aforementioned Papelook.

The Open Network Lab accelerator is now accepting applications for the next batch of its acceleration program. The deadline is May 31st at noon.

Japanese startups App Socially, Whill to join 500 Startups incubator

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The latest batch of startups to join the San Francisco-based 500 Startups incubator has been announced, with 28 companies coming into the program. We’ll refrain from repeating them all here, as other blogs will take care of that. Did any Japanese companies make the cut this time? Two, in fact. Whill, who we mentioned was a finalist at the SF Japan Night back in February has joined the program. The startup has the lofty goal of trying to help physically challenged individuals get around a little easier with its futuristic electric wheelchair add-on. The other Japanese startup to join this batch is growth platform App Socially. We spoke with its founder Yusuke Takahashi earlier today to find out a little more about his move to join the ranks of 500 Startups. He explains: This is like a new form of business school […] Mentors are really great and they come to meet us at the office and when we ask them, always happy to help us. As for App Socially, he notes that up until now they have just been working with large Japanese companies like Recruit or Excite Japan. But from here they’ll try to create a ‘self-serve’ product…

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App Socially’s founder Yusuke Takahashi with 500 Startups partner George Kellerman

The latest batch of startups to join the San Francisco-based 500 Startups incubator has been announced, with 28 companies coming into the program. We’ll refrain from repeating them all here, as other blogs will take care of that. Did any Japanese companies make the cut this time? Two, in fact.

Whill, who we mentioned was a finalist at the SF Japan Night back in February has joined the program. The startup has the lofty goal of trying to help physically challenged individuals get around a little easier with its futuristic electric wheelchair add-on.

The other Japanese startup to join this batch is growth platform App Socially. We spoke with its founder Yusuke Takahashi earlier today to find out a little more about his move to join the ranks of 500 Startups. He explains:

This is like a new form of business school […] Mentors are really great and they come to meet us at the office and when we ask them, always happy to help us.

As for App Socially, he notes that up until now they have just been working with large Japanese companies like Recruit or Excite Japan. But from here they’ll try to create a ‘self-serve’ product that helps smaller businesses, like startups or individual engineers. They will also work towards improved user interface and customer development.

Citing Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank as a big inspiration, Yusuke’s efforts so far have not gone unnoticed, as his story was featured by the BBC last year. He has landed some contracts in the bay area from people looking to use their growth platform, and that’s a promising start.

To learn a little more about the service, you can check out App Socially’s slide deck below.

How flea markets are going mobile in Japan

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There’s a lot of hype around the e-commerce space in Japan, particularly mobile commerce. According to a recent survey, one of four smartphone owners who read news on their mobile (the most popular activity among those polled) also report having bought something on their device. So it is not surprising to find many tech companies eager to get a piece of this growing market. One approach that many companies are taking is to create a sort of mobile flea market platform. To understand more about this trend, here are five apps from the sector which we think are worthy of recognition. Mainichi Frima ¶ The Mainichi Frima app (roughly translated as ‘Everyday Flea Market’) from CyberAgent features a range of stores and items, and a bulletin board upon which you can negotiate deals and prices. The app has successfully reproduced the offline flea market experience in the online space. The service is most popular among women in their 20s and 30s, and just five months after its initial release, the app already features items worth over 300 million yen (nearly $3 million) in total. The app is available both on iOS and on Android if you’d like to check it…

There’s a lot of hype around the e-commerce space in Japan, particularly mobile commerce. According to a recent survey, one of four smartphone owners who read news on their mobile (the most popular activity among those polled) also report having bought something on their device. So it is not surprising to find many tech companies eager to get a piece of this growing market. One approach that many companies are taking is to create a sort of mobile flea market platform. To understand more about this trend, here are five apps from the sector which we think are worthy of recognition.

Mainichi Frima

MainichiFrima-appThe Mainichi Frima app (roughly translated as ‘Everyday Flea Market’) from CyberAgent features a range of stores and items, and a bulletin board upon which you can negotiate deals and prices. The app has successfully reproduced the offline flea market experience in the online space. The service is most popular among women in their 20s and 30s, and just five months after its initial release, the app already features items worth over 300 million yen (nearly $3 million) in total. The app is available both on iOS and on Android if you’d like to check it out.

Prima

Prima-appFor those of you with kids, you know how fast they grow. They keep out-growing the clothes and toys you have bought for them faster than you can buy them. Web and mobile development company Xtone came up with a solution they call Prima.

Parents can simply hand down their items to other parents who have younger kids. The app is free for anyone who wishes to sign up, but it will take a 10% commision for every transaction made. Prima for Android can be downloaded here.

Fril

Fril-logoA graduate startup of the Open Network Lab incubator, Fril is a flea market app targeting young girls and women. Just a month after its launch, the app had over 8,000 items for sale. Fril very deliberately made the entire auction process mobile only — which is unconventional, but at this point it looks like a sound strategy. Of its total registered users, one in five girls puts their items on sale with the average price of a item falling somewhere between 2000 to 3000 yen (about $20 to $30). The app is available on both iOS and Android.

MicroStore.me

Behind every item in your closet, there is a story. Where you bought it and why, or maybe someone gave it to you for a reason. Miyazaki-based development company Aratana has created a commerce app for iOS called MicroStore.me. It provides a place where people can sell an item by telling the story behind that item. Users can share these stories on different social networks, allowing them to not only make money from what they don’t want anymore, but through the story process they get to connect with like-minded people. Check out how the app works in the video below.

Pashaoku

Pashaoku-appPashaoku is an auction app developed by the folks over at CyberAgent. As a comprehensive auction application, its competitors are internet giants like Yahoo Auction and Bidders (now known as DeNA Shopping). Auction categories ranges from fashion to interior decorations, or even manga and books. CyberAgent is using the same strategy that it has taken with its Ameba Blog, leveraging the power of celebrities and well-known TV talent. These celebrities are selling signed books and sneakers that they have worn, for which I’m sure fans will pay a high price. Pashaoku is available for download on both iOS and Android.


Mobile commerce is definitely a fascinating sector to watch. Online auctions and flea markets can often be simplified when conducted on smartphones, wheras they sometimes confuse users on PCs. There’s certainly lots of potential for small services like these to seep into the mainstream.