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10 crisis initiatives for startups

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

mark-bivens_portrait

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


Image credit: Pxfuel

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

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

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

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

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

Japanese crowdfunding site Makuake files for IPO

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Tokyo-based Makuake, the crowdfunding site under the umbrella of Japanese tech giant CyberAgent (TSE:4751), announced today that the IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on December 11, is expected to reach $155 million valuation. Founded back in May of 2013 as the previous name of CyberAgent Crowdfunding, Makuake has been offering a rewards-type crowdfunding service under the same name since then. In collaboration with celebrities, the company has launched many notable crowdfunding projects, thus attracting more users. They are also massive to partner with other firms from overseas doing the same business for international expansion. According to the consolidated statement of this year’s third quarter ending on September 30, they posted revenue of 916.8 million yen (about $8.4 million) with an operating profit of 56.3 million yen ($515,000), an ordinary profit of 59.3 million yen ($543,000), and a net profit of 42 million yen ($384,000). The company had experienced failures such as no deals on certain campaigns in the past, which forced them to take prevention measures and declined temporarily their sales, but has become profitable since the fiscal period ending in September 2017. They…

CEO Ryotaro Nakayama speaks at Makuake Meet-up Day, the company’s annual conference held in Tokyo in August.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Tokyo-based Makuake, the crowdfunding site under the umbrella of Japanese tech giant CyberAgent (TSE:4751), announced today that the IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on December 11, is expected to reach $155 million valuation.

Founded back in May of 2013 as the previous name of CyberAgent Crowdfunding, Makuake has been offering a rewards-type crowdfunding service under the same name since then. In collaboration with celebrities, the company has launched many notable crowdfunding projects, thus attracting more users. They are also massive to partner with other firms from overseas doing the same business for international expansion.

According to the consolidated statement of this year’s third quarter ending on September 30, they posted revenue of 916.8 million yen (about $8.4 million) with an operating profit of 56.3 million yen ($515,000), an ordinary profit of 59.3 million yen ($543,000), and a net profit of 42 million yen ($384,000).

The company had experienced failures such as no deals on certain campaigns in the past, which forced them to take prevention measures and declined temporarily their sales, but has become profitable since the fiscal period ending in September 2017. They now have almost 60 employees in their team.

Led by CyberAgent (71.36%), Makuake’s major shareholders include Japanese footballer Keisuke Honda’s KSK Angel Fund (13.71%) and the company’s CEO Ryotaro Nakayama (5.05%). CyberAgent’s ratio of shareholding will drop to less than 60% since CyberAgent and KSK are expected to sell their shares after the public offering.

“New Space” confab gathers in Tokyo to mull private sector activities

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. Until recently, space industry around the world has been propelled by government but private companies’ roles are gaining momentum in a movement called “New Space.” On May 10, SPACETIDE Association of Japan held its third event underscoring the role of private sector in space-related activities at Nihombashi Mitsui Hall, in central Tokyo. Supported by the Japanese government and in cooperation with the realtor Mitsui Fudosan and newspaper publisher Asahi Shimbun, it was sponsored (monetarily, for the first time) by ANA, JAL, SKY Perfect JSAT, Keio University System Design and Management Faculty and TBS plus Asahi Shimbun. See also: Riding the Startup Wave in Space The morning events comprised a panel overview at space business through 2030 followed by a presentation from OneWeb (SoftBank-backed startup) by Hidebumi Kitahara, then followed by a panel session with Infostellar and Axelspace representing Japanese space startups being joined by AWS and Orbital Insight plus Japanese government program outlined by a Keio professor. The latter panel had space Big Data as the theme. The afternoon saw presentations by Space Frontier Foundation chief Jeff Feige and former…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


Panel session: Shaping the Future of Space Industry towards 2030 and beyond
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

Until recently, space industry around the world has been propelled by government but private companies’ roles are gaining momentum in a movement called “New Space.” On May 10, SPACETIDE Association of Japan held its third event underscoring the role of private sector in space-related activities at Nihombashi Mitsui Hall, in central Tokyo.

Supported by the Japanese government and in cooperation with the realtor Mitsui Fudosan and newspaper publisher Asahi Shimbun, it was sponsored (monetarily, for the first time) by ANA, JAL, SKY Perfect JSAT, Keio University System Design and Management Faculty and TBS plus Asahi Shimbun.

See also:

Hidebumi Kitahara, Director of OneWeb
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

The morning events comprised a panel overview at space business through 2030 followed by a presentation from OneWeb (SoftBank-backed startup) by Hidebumi Kitahara, then followed by a panel session with Infostellar and Axelspace representing Japanese space startups being joined by AWS and Orbital Insight plus Japanese government program outlined by a Keio professor. The latter panel had space Big Data as the theme.

Panel session: Space Big Data brings new markets
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

The afternoon saw presentations by Space Frontier Foundation chief Jeff Feige and former astronaut Koichi Wakata, representing JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), as well as a panel discussion on a new era of spaceflight. Another panel on New Space Economy, with ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada of Hakuto X Prize challenge fame, took place. The day ended with a panel on space as growth driver for other industries, after a Startup Pitch.

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Dr. Koichi Wakata, Japanese engineer and JAXA astronaut
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

The Startup Pitch actually turned out not to be a competitive one, including a special pitch-like talk by an ANA employee who had won a government award for an innovative idea related to the aerospace field (though her presentation, along with those of Telexistence COO Yuichiro Hikosaka and Space BD CEO Masatoshi Nagasaki, would likely have been one of Top Three). WARPSPACE, ALE, Space Bio-Laboratories and Institute for Q-Shu Pioneers of Space also took part in the “Pitch.”

MC and pitch presenters at SPACETIDE 2018
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s Folio secures $16 million to help non-savvy investors better trade stocks

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based startup Folio is currently developing an online asset management platform under the same name leveraging theme-based stock investment models and a robo-advisor service. The company announced on Thursday that it has secured 1.8 billion yen (about $16 million) from JAFCO (TSE:8595), Monex Ventures, Mitsui Sumitomo Insuarance Venture Capital, and Rakuten Fintech Fund, in addition to its current investors DCM Ventures and Draper Nexus. The investment ratio and the payment date are undisclosed, and this funding is subsequent to its seed round raising 300 million yen (about $2.7 million) conducted last March. The money secured will be spent for marketing and securing human resources related to development of the product which is planned for launch this spring. The entire image of the brand-new online securities company has been gradually become clarified after the preparation in a stealth mode since last year. Founded in December 2015 by Shinichiro Kai who was formerly working at Goldman Sachs as a trader, the FinTech startup is aiming to make asset management more accessible without requiring advanced financial literacy to leverage the power of technology. There are two pillars to Folio’ services: theme-based stock investment models and a robo-advisor-enabled…

Folio CEO Shinichiro Kai
Image credit: Takeshi Hirano

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based startup Folio is currently developing an online asset management platform under the same name leveraging theme-based stock investment models and a robo-advisor service. The company announced on Thursday that it has secured 1.8 billion yen (about $16 million) from JAFCO (TSE:8595), Monex Ventures, Mitsui Sumitomo Insuarance Venture Capital, and Rakuten Fintech Fund, in addition to its current investors DCM Ventures and Draper Nexus. The investment ratio and the payment date are undisclosed, and this funding is subsequent to its seed round raising 300 million yen (about $2.7 million) conducted last March. The money secured will be spent for marketing and securing human resources related to development of the product which is planned for launch this spring.

The entire image of the brand-new online securities company has been gradually become clarified after the preparation in a stealth mode since last year.

Founded in December 2015 by Shinichiro Kai who was formerly working at Goldman Sachs as a trader, the FinTech startup is aiming to make asset management more accessible without requiring advanced financial literacy to leverage the power of technology. There are two pillars to Folio’ services: theme-based stock investment models and a robo-advisor-enabled asset management platform. Each service requires both a type I financial instruments and an investment management business licenses issued by Japan’s Financial Services Agency.

Kai explains that the applications of registration have been currently accepted and if the registration is successfully completed, the firm commences its business operation as an online securities company this spring. According to The Nikkei, Folio is an online securities company dealing domestic stocks to be established after a ten-year blank since the authorization of security business shifted to a system based on registration under Financial Instruments and Exchange Acts, appearing to be a matter fraught with great emotion.

Console of the Folio platform under development

I actually tried the platform under development and the impression was, in short, so simple. Users can invest only by choosing a favorite theme out from among a plurality of ones and adding it into the cart. Users with advanced skills are allowed to change the purchasing ratio of each stock.

Although the concept of a theme-based stock investment itself is not particularly new, I found that this platform selected major promising stocks using its own algorithm based on each company’s data including corporate performance and presented to me quickly, even for topics which are easily influenced by current situations such as “automatic driving” or “Tokyo Olympics.”

As Kai said “60% by algorithm and 40% by human”, the platform will be tuned by human in the end but gave me a modern impression having a system capable of creating large number of themes from transitory trends. In addition, the participating-type method to invite public participation in themes may cause a novel outlook as well.

By the way, users can invest 100,000 yen (about $880) at least into each theme.

While the theme-based stock investment allows users who enjoy investment in matching with their own interest, the robot-advisor function offers fully entrusted asset management. It provides management at a professional investor level where high-return can be expected with lower-risk than investment to individual stocks. Folio features a balance of a theme-based stock investment and a robo-advisor-based management, as well as user interface to visualize the two.

Kai talked about the view of his company:

It is important to make investment methods easier off course, but I think people cannot increase their knowledge or senses about the finance without a kind of passion. We aim a securities company allowing users to obtain financial literacy while enjoying investment rather than just a full automation.

Although the firm’s vision of offering asset management while enjoying is clear, an investment is just an investment and involves the risk of principal loss, as a matter of course. In some cases, situations like increased impulse to gamble may occur depending on the theme configuration. Kai regards this point to be quite serious an issue and emphasizes the establishment of internal compliance rules.

It looks like FinTech-related matters are so interesting this year. Can it flush the money out from under the mattress — the so-called “bedrock of Japanese economy” — with the power of technologies? For the moment, best wishes for a smooth start to their operation.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy, Masaru Ikeda

How to start a business in Tokyo using Metropolitan Government resources

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This is a guest post authored by Amanda Imasaka. She is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. Thinking of starting a business in Tokyo? Unsure of where to begin? Hiroyuki Ishige, the Chairman of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), suggests you, “Talk to JETRO first.” JETRO is a government-related organization and one of their central goals is promoting direct foreign investment in Japan. Their headquarters is stationed at the ARK Mori Building near Akasaka and Roppongi in Tokyo, and house the Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center (TOSBEC), the Tokyo Employment Consultation Center (TECC), the Business Development Center TOKYO (BDCT). All services are available in a number of languages, including English, Chinese, and Korean. See also: Tokyo Government looking to attract foreign entrepreneurs in effort to create New Tokyo First things first, you cannot start a business without the proper visa. On January 29th the BDCT (which incidentally has two support desks: one in Marunouchi which the Tokyo Metropolitan Government appears to be positioning as a new Tokyo startup hub and can be read about here in addition to the one mentioned at the JETRO headquarters) began providing individual support for entrepreneurs regarding the deregulation of the…

This is a guest post authored by Amanda Imasaka. She is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


Image credit: skyearth / 123RF

Thinking of starting a business in Tokyo? Unsure of where to begin? Hiroyuki Ishige, the Chairman of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), suggests you, “Talk to JETRO first.” JETRO is a government-related organization and one of their central goals is promoting direct foreign investment in Japan. Their headquarters is stationed at the ARK Mori Building near Akasaka and Roppongi in Tokyo, and house the Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center (TOSBEC), the Tokyo Employment Consultation Center (TECC), the Business Development Center TOKYO (BDCT). All services are available in a number of languages, including English, Chinese, and Korean.

See also:

JETRO Chairman Hiroyuki Ishige at the Invest Tokyo Seminar Winter 2017
Image credit: Amanda Imasaka

First things first, you cannot start a business without the proper visa. On January 29th the BDCT (which incidentally has two support desks: one in Marunouchi which the Tokyo Metropolitan Government appears to be positioning as a new Tokyo startup hub and can be read about here in addition to the one mentioned at the JETRO headquarters) began providing individual support for entrepreneurs regarding the deregulation of the “business manager” visa. Essentially the deregulation gives entrepreneurs a year to employ two people or invest 5 million yen in Japan provided they can convince the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) of their potential to do so at the 6 month mark.

But wait, it doesn’t stop there! The BDCT offers a multitude of services so make sure to bring your business plan along. These include pre-launch support like providing market information, introducing the experts you will need to establish your company (some examples: judicial & administrative scriveners, CPAs, patent attorneys, etc.), post-launch support such as information about how to set up offices, and even lifestyle support like introducing multilingual hospitals and schools. Perhaps the most valuable service they offer is business matching support, with employment numerous matching events held throughout the year and testimonials attesting to their success. The clincher: it is completely free and can be used as many times as you need. Something to keep in mind: AKA (producers of Musio, an AI enabled robot) CSO Brian Lee noted during his presentation at the Invest Tokyo Seminar Winter 2017, “We used TMG’s support services for a series of meetings with the company [Accenture, introduced through TMG’s services], focusing on areas we selected as essential, rather than for general business practices.” If you pinpoint a few areas to seek support for before arranging a meeting, they will be able to better help you help yourself.

AKA CSO Brian Lee at the Invest Tokyo Seminar Winter 2017
Image credit: Amanda Imasaka

TOSBEC is just around the corner from the BDCT in the ARK Mori building and as of December 22, 2016 they now accept the documents for all eight procedures necessary to establish a business (previously they accepted just three, a sure sign of the TMG’s desire to encourage entrepreneurs to set up shop). In most cases, you will first need to prepare and notarize the articles of incorporation, followed by the company registration documents. Once completed you will receive a notification of the start of your business which is necessary for national and metropolitan tax purposes. Bam, you just started a business. After that it is necessary to enroll in social insurance, and undergo the procedures associated with hiring employees (labor and insurance). All of this, from the notarization to the submission of immigration documents can be done at TOSBEC. Probably goes without saying, but despite being called one-stop, multiple stops will be required owing to the processing times for documents. I understand the sentiment though. TOSBEC is also completely free and can be used as many times as you want to for up to five years after starting your company.

Tokyo Startup Station along with Startup Hub Tokyo recently launched in the Marunouchi-Tokyo Station neighborhood.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

The TMG has made no secret of what sectors they believe to be most promising for new business. They include healthcare, ICT, and the environmental sector. Additionally, they have the very specific goal of attracting 40 companies related to IoT and AI in the period from 2017 to 2020. Inviting all foreign entrepreneurs to talk to JETRO, a government-related operation, first gives them the ability to screen said prospective business plans, encouraging those they see potential in and perhaps discouraging all others. Regardless, I am confident their services can be useful for entrepreneurs who approach them in an informed and organized fashion.

Japan’s Mobingi secures $2.2 million to put forth cloud DevOps automation platform

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Japan’s cloud automation startup Mobingi announced today that it has secured 250 million yen (about $2.2 million) in its series A round from Draper Nexus and Archetype Ventures, both its current investors. It is a follow-on investment subsequent to the tens-of-millions-of-yen (hundreds of thousands of dollars) fundraising from the above two firms last February. Coinciding with this fundraising, Akira Kurabayashi of Draper Nexus was appointed Outside Director of Mobingi. Mobingi provides an operation / maintenance or DevOps (Development-Operation) automation platform for cloud services such as Amazon Web Service. Targeting lack of funds available for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in securing human resources specialized in operation, the firm offers an ideal environment where it is easy for engineers to focus on development. With the money secured this time, the firm plans to strengthen development and operation of an application construction automation platform for cloud services named Mobingi ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) which has been already provided, and to launch an application operation-on-cloud automation platform named Mobingi Wave this summer. These Mobingi’s platform services are all compatible with Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, Fujitsu K5 and Amazon Web Services, in addition to private cloud services based on OpenStack. According to founder…

L to R: Akira Kurabayashi (Draper Nexus), Yasuhiro Horiuchi (Managing Director, Mobingi), Wayland Zhang (founder / CEO, Mobingi), Reina Mochizuki (Marketing Representative, Mobingi), Shunpei Fukui (Archetype)

Japan’s cloud automation startup Mobingi announced today that it has secured 250 million yen (about $2.2 million) in its series A round from Draper Nexus and Archetype Ventures, both its current investors. It is a follow-on investment subsequent to the tens-of-millions-of-yen (hundreds of thousands of dollars) fundraising from the above two firms last February. Coinciding with this fundraising, Akira Kurabayashi of Draper Nexus was appointed Outside Director of Mobingi.

Mobingi provides an operation / maintenance or DevOps (Development-Operation) automation platform for cloud services such as Amazon Web Service. Targeting lack of funds available for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in securing human resources specialized in operation, the firm offers an ideal environment where it is easy for engineers to focus on development. With the money secured this time, the firm plans to strengthen development and operation of an application construction automation platform for cloud services named Mobingi ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) which has been already provided, and to launch an application operation-on-cloud automation platform named Mobingi Wave this summer. These Mobingi’s platform services are all compatible with Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, Fujitsu K5 and Amazon Web Services, in addition to private cloud services based on OpenStack.

Dashboard of Mobingi Wave under development aimed for launch this summer (click to enlarge)

According to founder / CEO of Mobingi Wayland Zhang, the firm will turn to enhancement of marketing activities targeting Japanese SMEs through participating meetups / seminars, or presentation / exhibition at business conferences beginning this year. Although most of its current clients are Japanese companies, he said his ambitions are for the firm to commence service provision to Chinese companies within this year and secure a certain sales amount from them utilizing cloud computing.

Mobingi had taken part in Open Network Lab’s 9th batch and 500 Startups’ acceleration program 15th batch. The firm had fundraised 2 million yen (about $17,500) from Digital Garage in its January 2015 seed round and $125,000 from 500 Startups, as well as tens of thousands of yen (hundreds of thousands of dollars) from Archetype Ventures and Draper Nexus Ventures in November in the same year. Therefore, the total capital raised is estimated to surpass 300 million yen (about $2.6 million).

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

NPO supported by JP Morgan promoting Japanese SME activities in Indonesia

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. Technological innovations are taking place the world over, improving lives of innumerable people. Items such as solar power generation systems for clean power, water purifiers for potable water supply and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) for replacement of hazardous kerosene lamps are good examples. See also: How Japanese energy startup Wassha delivers prepaid solar power to rural Africa There are however many emerging economies still unable to make use of these basic amenities of life, mainly due to lack of the “last mile” portions in the networks. If connected the information lifelines can enhance such useful products’ benefits. The lack of training regarding said technologies also hampers utilization. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Kopernik seeks to test and avail affordable life-saving technologies to nations in need. It was founded in 2010 by two former United Nations employees who were motivated due to the fact that these innovations were not being widely adopted enough to bring about a positive impact. Kopernik has differing thrusts worldwide, each of which plays a distinct role in realizing the shared mission of reducing poverty through distribution of…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


wassha-pic-02
Image credit: Wassha

Technological innovations are taking place the world over, improving lives of innumerable people. Items such as solar power generation systems for clean power, water purifiers for potable water supply and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) for replacement of hazardous kerosene lamps are good examples.

See also:

There are however many emerging economies still unable to make use of these basic amenities of life, mainly due to lack of the “last mile” portions in the networks. If connected the information lifelines can enhance such useful products’ benefits. The lack of training regarding said technologies also hampers utilization.

kopernik-in-ubud-bali-indonesia-2
Inside Kopernik’s Tech Kiosk in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Photo by Masaru Ikeda (January, 2016)

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Kopernik seeks to test and avail affordable life-saving technologies to nations in need. It was founded in 2010 by two former United Nations employees who were motivated due to the fact that these innovations were not being widely adopted enough to bring about a positive impact.

Kopernik has differing thrusts worldwide, each of which plays a distinct role in realizing the shared mission of reducing poverty through distribution of technologies. The organization’s namesake, the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus, changed the way people see the world. Kopernik aims to become a catalyst for progress, like Copernicus.

kopernik-in-ubud-bali-indonesia-1
Inside Kopernik’s Tech Kiosk in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Photo by Masaru Ikeda (January, 2016)

There are four corporations integral to the NGO: a nonprofit (NPO) designated as a 501(c)(3) entity in the US; an incorporated NPO association in Japan; an Indonesian NPO; and, a for-profit joint-stock company in Japan. The global financial group JP Morgan now lends a hand to Tech Kiosks through the US Kopernik NPO’s “Tools for Growth” project.

As an aside, JP Morgan is also supporting an unrelated Japanese NPO which is known as Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Community (ETIC). Based in the Tokyo-Shibuya district, noted for being one of Japan’s premiere startup hubs, ETIC trains young Japanese over 17 of age trying to launch or sustain new business enterprises.

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The coverage here focuses on the first of three workshops this fall in Tokyo, looking to attract technology producers from among Japanese small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to improve current conditions in Indonesia. It is part of Kopernik Japan association’s initiative which was made possible through funding from JP Morgan.

jp-morgan-kopernik-birch
Alison Birch, Head of Human Resources – Japan, JP Morgan
Photo: “Tex” Pomeroy

As Ms. Alison Birch, Managing Director and Head of Human Resources, Japan at JP Morgan said when she launched the inaugural meeting of this program upon representing the sponsoring firm, all those involved can gain from the transfer of simple, easy-to-use technologies to those nations ready to derive benefits therefrom.

There is a propensity for tech SMEs to be startups, especially those in nations like Japan and other technological powerhouses, that could use a dependable long-term customer base. Meanwhile, there are “Bottom of the Pyramid” (BOP) markets requiring improvements in the environment as well as disaster preparedness, among other needs.

jp-morgan-kopernik-nakamura
Kopernik CEO Toshi Nakamura
Photo by Hiromi Tengeji, Kopernik

Kopernik CEO Toshi Nakamura followed up on Ms. Birch’s talk, providing exhortations to Japanese tech outfits eager to disseminate their wares around the world to get involved. It was also noted as a method of “teaching those in need to use tools to earn a living, rather than just doling out food to eat, in order to realize sustainability.”

Meanwhile in the long run gratitude from those requiring such means of attaining a better life will be acquired. Thus, the approach suggested by Kopernik helps to bring about a “Win-Win” situation for all stakeholders, while maintaining the dignity and self-respect of those currently in a state of extreme distress.

jp-morgan-kopernik-panel
Photo by Hiromi Tengeji, Kopernik

Gathered at the workshop were Japanese startups ready to provide “social business” in agriculture and seeking to apply IOT sensors for forest fire prevention. Also attending was a firm providing devices and services attempting to reduce/mitigate damages resulting from disastrous incidents in the volcano-dotted Indonesia.

In addition, companies with patented technologies applicable to logistics and such in Indonesia - without producing extra waste while enhancing recycling - took part. Follow-up workshops will be held over the next few months, in hopes of pinpointing solutions which can be transferred abroad from Japan over the coming years.

Japanese finance advisory startup ZUU raises $3.7M from Fenox VC, angel investors

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based finance advisory startup Zuu announced on Thursday that it has fundraised about 450 million yen (about $3.7 million) from Fenox Venture Capital and several angel investors. Angel investors participating in this round include Jiro Suzuki, the former CEO of Malaysia Debt Ventures Berhad; he is renowned for the right-hand man of the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. See also: Japan’s fintech startup Zuu names new CTO, boosting matchmaking platform development The Zuu move follows their previous funding worth 105 million yen (about $1 million at the exchange rate then) from several angel investors including Japan’s mobile i-mode web service inventor Takeshi Natsuno. Coinciding with this, the company appointed Fenox general partner and CEO Anis Uzzaman as external director, former Freebit CFO Tetsuya Sano as external auditor and Jiro Suzuki as advisor. Zuu currently comprises 23 full-time workers, 7 freelancers and 15 interns. Accoding to ZUU CEO Kazunari Tomita, the company will use the funds to strengthen human resources. Leveraging Fenox’s network in the US and that of Jiro Suzuki in Southeast Asia, they plan to expand their finance vertical media business from Japan to the world. Zuu launched Zuu Online, a finance…

zuuonline_featuredimage

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based finance advisory startup Zuu announced on Thursday that it has fundraised about 450 million yen (about $3.7 million) from Fenox Venture Capital and several angel investors. Angel investors participating in this round include Jiro Suzuki, the former CEO of Malaysia Debt Ventures Berhad; he is renowned for the right-hand man of the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

See also:

The Zuu move follows their previous funding worth 105 million yen (about $1 million at the exchange rate then) from several angel investors including Japan’s mobile i-mode web service inventor Takeshi Natsuno. Coinciding with this, the company appointed Fenox general partner and CEO Anis Uzzaman as external director, former Freebit CFO Tetsuya Sano as external auditor and Jiro Suzuki as advisor.

Zuu currently comprises 23 full-time workers, 7 freelancers and 15 interns. Accoding to ZUU CEO Kazunari Tomita, the company will use the funds to strengthen human resources. Leveraging Fenox’s network in the US and that of Jiro Suzuki in Southeast Asia, they plan to expand their finance vertical media business from Japan to the world.

Zuu launched Zuu Online, a finance vertical media site and the first service for the company, in September 2012. It has acquired 10 million monthly page views from 2.5 monthly unique users. In the samre year the company launched an online asset management tool called Zuu Signals, which suggests users what stock should be sold or bought as represented by three colors as used in traffic lights. They won the Intelligence Award at RisingExpo 2015, a startup showcase event hosted by Japan’s CyberAgent Ventures in August.

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Zuu’s Tomita(right) receives the Intelligence award at RisingExpo 2015.

In an interview with The Bridge Tomita told us why Zuu Online can maintain robust growth and monetization:

Online media sites and vertical media sites have completely different business models. The former attracts an audience with informative content while the latter has to help an audience solve problems. In other words, the former aims to satisfy readers with interesting stories, but the latter is more likely to encourage readers to take an action like buying something after finding relevant information, similar to e-commerce sites.

Finance vertical media typically monetize themselves through affiliate marketing by driving user traffic to financial products. We have partnered with securities and property assets companies, and our commission is relatively higher than other sectors when a user creates an account.

Vertical media sites have to deliver high quality content to readers as well as online media sites. The more high quality content they want to produce, the more production cost is needed. But Zuu avoids this problem in smart ways.

Tomita continued:

We aggregate content for Zuu Online from analysts working for think tanks or securities companies, such as NLI Research Institute, Gentosha, Société Générale, BNP Paribas and Monex Securities. They provide us with their analyst reports intended for their client institutional investors, aiming to gain brand awareness among not only businesses but also individual users.

We also provide content provided by our employee writers to companies for their owned media although we cannot disclose their specific names. Since financial companies are likely to appropriate a budget for owned media marketing, content production jobs from these companies are likely to bring us high profitability.

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Zuu Signals (fictional picture)

In terms of the characteristic of content, we were told that Zuu Online has “chemistry” with NewsPicks, one of Japanese major news curation apps, which contributes to driving user traffic to Zuu Online. Regarding Zuu Online as an entrance, Zuu wants to enable visits to a variety of other services involving financial information resources. Later this year, Zuu plans to roll out a membership-based system where all users will be requested to enter their profile so that the company can provide various resources tailored for each user.

We were told that they can’t disclose details about how the upcoming service looks like but it appears to have something to do with data mining.

He added:

Typical e-commerce sites can recommend users what to buy next based on their purchase history. However, financial products are not daily necessities so we can’t predict what users want to buy in the future based on what they have bought in the past.

For instance, when a user logs into any of Zuu services to read a specific article, it can help banks understand his/her preference and provide their preferable financial services or products. We have four people who have served as CTO at other companies. They are working on accumulating user data towards that.

Zuu Online is a media site for users to solve problems. They visit our website because of our fulfilled resources, however it may confuse our readers in choosing which articles to read. We will be more focused on customizing, recommending and matching the best choice of our resources to each of our readers.

Hiring people is a big challenge for many startups, but Zuu could acquire an interesting talent which helps them acquire further interesting human resources later on. It will be interesting to see the upcoming service, which is to launch between this yearend to next year’s beginning.

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japanese TV innovator Garapon to explore opportunities in the Philippines

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Japanese startup Garapon is based out of Akihabara, a hardware startup hub for Japan as well as a “pilgrimage destination” for nerds. Since its launch back in 2010 by Ayumu Yasuda, former Yahoo Japan business developer, the company has been developing TV set-top boxes connecting to the internet, allowing users to play recorded videos on TV as well as to stream them to their tablets or smartphones over Wi-Fi or 3G/4G connection. Unlike typical video recorders requiring timer-based recording reservations, the Garapon TV recorder simultaneously retains broadcast recordings from up to eight TV channels for the last 120 days (the maximum length depends on how high the resolution has been set on the user preference menu) so users will never miss recording TV shows and can keep watching a weekly drama series aired by a terrestrial local TV channel even when traveling or moving abroad. I thought that the company was focused solely on the Japanese market since TV broadcasting systems differ by country, such as NTSC, PAL and SECAM, which are non-interoperable with each others. However, he recently dropped me a line and told me that he has decided to go on a tour of the Philippines this week….

Garapon TV 4th Model
Garapon TV 4th Model

Japanese startup Garapon is based out of Akihabara, a hardware startup hub for Japan as well as a “pilgrimage destination” for nerds. Since its launch back in 2010 by Ayumu Yasuda, former Yahoo Japan business developer, the company has been developing TV set-top boxes connecting to the internet, allowing users to play recorded videos on TV as well as to stream them to their tablets or smartphones over Wi-Fi or 3G/4G connection.

Unlike typical video recorders requiring timer-based recording reservations, the Garapon TV recorder simultaneously retains broadcast recordings from up to eight TV channels for the last 120 days (the maximum length depends on how high the resolution has been set on the user preference menu) so users will never miss recording TV shows and can keep watching a weekly drama series aired by a terrestrial local TV channel even when traveling or moving abroad.

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Garapon TV can simultaneously record and display eight terrestrial TV channels live over the internet.
(This image is intentionally modified to protect the rights of content owners.)

I thought that the company was focused solely on the Japanese market since TV broadcasting systems differ by country, such as NTSC, PAL and SECAM, which are non-interoperable with each others. However, he recently dropped me a line and told me that he has decided to go on a tour of the Philippines this week. He explained that how many markets there are in Southeast Asia:

Unlike the days when TV programs were being broadcast in analog, many countries have adopted a common standard for digital TV broadcasting, which is ISDB-T, or the The Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting – Terrestrial. The Philippines also uses ISDB-T so our solution is available even there upon adjusting the software.

In order to adjust the software and develop an optimized edition for the Philippines, I will place our device in Manila to receive TV signals from local broadcasters so we can further develop it from Tokyo over the internet.

In addition to allowing users to play recorded TV programs on mobiles regardless of no matter where they are, the Garapon TV recorder keeps recording subtitles (for hearing impaired) and electronic program guide data in synchronization with videos; with this users can play and jump to a specific cue point within recorded programs by entering keywords.

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Garapon CEO Ayumu Yasuda introduces the Garapon TV 4th model at the press briefing (August, 2014).

In Japan, they have sold over 13,000 Garapon TV recorders to consumers to date, recently gaining a high reputation for their online community site for TV afficianados.

Yasuda continued:

Now is the right time for us to expand into the Philippines since we understand that terrestrial digital TV broadcasting started there as late as last February.

According to my research, we can target over 10 million Overseas Filipino workers as potential users. They are working away from home and remit their wages to their family back home, earning as many as 13% of GDP for the country. They must miss local TV programs from their hometowns. […] We are finding local partners in the Philippines, aiming to offer the service for a monthly subscription fee ranging from 300 to 500 pesos (about US$7 to $11).

Yasuda and his team will stay in Manila from July 9th to 17th, discussing with potential local business partners or supporters. If you are interested in working with the company, feel free to contact him at ayumu [at] garapon.tv.

Garapon TV has fundraised from Japanese companies like Broadmedia and Mitsui Global Investment as well as Kronos Fund [1], and has also turned profitable.

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy


  1. Kronos Fund is an investment fund by Japanese investor Taiga Matsuyama.

Tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon? People X helps you remember a name from Facebook contacts

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See the original story in Japanese. Dunbar’s Number was devised by British anthropologist Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar, suggesting that any person has a cognitive limit in the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, which ranges from 100 to 230 people at maximum. Shaking hands and handing out your business cards to all the people one meets for the first time may be worth doing to some extent, but this “Dunbar’s Number” comes to my mind every time I exchange my business card with someone. One would ideally want to remember and keep close relationships with everyone one meets, but it’s difficult. That’s why Facebook has implemented the EdgeRank algorithm in how only selected posts can appear on your Facebook timeline, based on carefully consideration of such psychological phenomena among humans. Taiwanese startup ZenIdea recently launched a mobile app called People X in open beta, allowing users to instantly find someone from one’s contacts on Facebook and other social network platforms. The app is available on Google Play for Android and iTunes AppStore for iOS. According to ZenIdea’s survey (examination criteria and method are less clear), 93% of Facebook users said that they couldn’t remember the name of someone from their Facebook contacts when they want to message one, while 67% of the…

people-x_featuredimage

See the original story in Japanese.

Dunbar’s Number was devised by British anthropologist Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar, suggesting that any person has a cognitive limit in the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, which ranges from 100 to 230 people at maximum.

Shaking hands and handing out your business cards to all the people one meets for the first time may be worth doing to some extent, but this “Dunbar’s Number” comes to my mind every time I exchange my business card with someone. One would ideally want to remember and keep close relationships with everyone one meets, but it’s difficult. That’s why Facebook has implemented the EdgeRank algorithm in how only selected posts can appear on your Facebook timeline, based on carefully consideration of such psychological phenomena among humans.

Taiwanese startup ZenIdea recently launched a mobile app called People X in open beta, allowing users to instantly find someone from one’s contacts on Facebook and other social network platforms. The app is available on Google Play for Android and iTunes AppStore for iOS.

According to ZenIdea’s survey (examination criteria and method are less clear), 93% of Facebook users said that they couldn’t remember the name of someone from their Facebook contacts when they want to message one, while 67% of the users have experienced not being able to find a friend from their contacts that they want to send an invitation for an event.

Let’s say, one remembers the face of someone in mind but can’t recall his or her name. If one puts more effort into remembering the name, many synapses in the brain would link with each others and many brain cells will be revitalized. However, let’s use the modern amenity for now. Using the People X app, one can identify a friend from one’s Facebook contacts via occupation, skills, organization  one belongs to, or countries and cities the one has been to. One need not input a name so even an ambiguous criteria like “I saw him at that place last time.” is good enough to help for finding someone in this app.

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Finding someone who have a connection to MIT from contacts.

Japanese-Taiwanese serial entrepreneur Daniel Zen Chang, who runs ZenIdea, launched a mobile app called Simila.Me earlier this year, aiming to connect people to someone they should meet at parties and meetups. However, based on feedback from users, Daniel and his team found that many people need to review people they have met before rather than connecting with new people, resulting in the People X app.

Chang explained:

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Daniel Zen Chang

People X aims to be a Google for finding people, but we can’t help respecting user privacy unlike Ark.com and 3sourcing. Apart from search engines for finding websites, we are not only focused on providing useful information for users but also incorporating privacy protection as our first priority.

One can have a lot of Facebook friends who can’t see posts in their timeline because of Facebook’s algorithm.

One builds a network of the people that have been met. Even if some are people met only once or twice, one shouldn’t lose the chance to reach them over social network platform as this is very wasteful.

With this service, users can contact their friends in the manner they want. We believe that People X is capable of breathing life into a less-organized and underutilized network of people.

People X is intended to let users hunt jobs, find like-minded people and potential trek mates, in addition to helping them spread their updates on social network platforms more effectively.

For assistance or discussion, it is obvious that it’s easier to ask somebody one’s met rather than attempting to contact a complete stranger. When flipping over the business card holder, one must have experienced surprise to find someone in the network who matched the requirements exactly.

In case one can’t find anyone from one’s contacts fitting the criteria, the People X app will find the one later on by adding the criteria to the wish list in the app. Finding someone from contacts one hasn’t seen for a long time and hanging out with the person to exchange recent info is a good idea.

Translated by Chieko Frost via Mother First
Edited by Masaru Ikeda and “Tex” Pomeroy