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TalentEx offers online course for Russian developers to work with Japanese IT firms

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Bangkok-based TalentEx, offering recruitment-focused online media and SaaS (software as a service) for human resource affairs, unveiled on Sunday that its Russian subsidiary has launched an online school business called CyberSamurai (КиберСамурае in Russian). The monthly subscription-based class is intended for Russian-speaking IT developers and engineers, helping them keep updated with IT industry and technology updates as well as business practices from Japan. It may also aim to allow them to enjoy commentary on Japanese anime and subculture in addition to giving them opportunities to e-meet up with CTOs from Japanese companies. TalentEx was launched back in 2013 by Yojiro Koshi who previously worked for Japanese ad network startup Nobot (Nobot was acquired by Japanese telco giant KDDI’s subsdiary Mediba in 2011). The company has several core businesses: the Wakuwaku online and offline recruiting service to find Japanese-speaking talents in Thailand, community management at the Monstar Hub Bangkok co-working space, and sales and marketing of the Michiru RPA software for Japanese companies in Thailand. See also: Meet Japanese entrepreneur trying to disrupt Thai recruitment market In July of 2018, the company founded a local subsidiary in Russia for a new project supplying Russian IT engineers to Japanese companies. After a…

Anatoli Kolbinov (left up), Dasha An (right up), and Ryosei Suginaka (left down) speak during the opening event on Sunday. All these TalentEx members can speak more than two languages including Japanese and Russian.

Bangkok-based TalentEx, offering recruitment-focused online media and SaaS (software as a service) for human resource affairs, unveiled on Sunday that its Russian subsidiary has launched an online school business called CyberSamurai (КиберСамурае in Russian). The monthly subscription-based class is intended for Russian-speaking IT developers and engineers, helping them keep updated with IT industry and technology updates as well as business practices from Japan. It may also aim to allow them to enjoy commentary on Japanese anime and subculture in addition to giving them opportunities to e-meet up with CTOs from Japanese companies.

TalentEx was launched back in 2013 by Yojiro Koshi who previously worked for Japanese ad network startup Nobot (Nobot was acquired by Japanese telco giant KDDI’s subsdiary Mediba in 2011). The company has several core businesses: the Wakuwaku online and offline recruiting service to find Japanese-speaking talents in Thailand, community management at the Monstar Hub Bangkok co-working space, and sales and marketing of the Michiru RPA software for Japanese companies in Thailand.

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In July of 2018, the company founded a local subsidiary in Russia for a new project supplying Russian IT engineers to Japanese companies. After a little more than a year after its launch, the Russian business had been outpacing other businesses in Thailand in terms of revenue, but the recent coronavirus pandemic has halted it. After several months of their efforts to keep the Russian operation alive leveraging the sales from their Thai business, their Russian team of young members decided to launch a new business called CyberSamurai at this time.

The service’s mascot looks like a fox but they told us it is modeled after Masaru, renowned Russian figure skater Alina Zagitova’s Japanese dog.
Image credit: TalentEx

Many startup businesses use a model that makes money by bridging the gap between the two sides of the transaction, such as information asymmetry and arbitrage. That’s something TalentEx is good at because of having presence in four markets – Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Russia. Coming up with moving talent from market to market, we may think the biggest challenge is language gap. According to Koshi, however, he turned to recognize that’s not true while work from home is more common in a huge country like Russia in addition to the fact that such a working style is becoming the global norm due to the pandemic.

When a Japanese company hires a Russian engineer, language gap is certainly a concern at first. Recently, however, these companies have been forced to shift to work from home, job instructions and other communication among colleagues are now often done through Slack and other online tools.

Koshi continued.

With more communication using tools than face-to-face meetings, the language barrier has been lowered for foreigners than in the past. In fact, we need to more focus on the cultural gap that cannot be fully verbalized but is often seen in business practices and work processes, which is more important when working with a Japanese company.

CyberSamurai’s Telegram group

Many of my foreign friends have learned the Japanese language as a result of watching Japanese TV drama series and anime titles in their country. Japanese anime was also a source of inspiration for Hong Kong Democracy Movement stalwart Agnes Chow to learn Japanese. Perhaps what makes her so popular in Japan may be our perception that she deeply understands Japanese culture and social customs rather than just her ability speaking the language.

That’s why the service is not just about language learning but rather giving opportunities to learn industry trends and subculture commentary which are not directly related to business operations or professional activities. The company charges membership fee but it may be hard for them to see significant revenue with the new business alone compared to their past human resources business in Russia. Perhaps the company sees the member base as kinda talent pool for the time when the demand of Japanese companies hiring Russian engineers recovers after the pandemic settle down.

Run by TalentEx’s team of a few young Japanese and Russian members in Russia, the service is wow focused on community building using Telegram which is one of the most popular messaging apps in the country. Going forward, they are expanding into other Russian-speaking markets including former CIS countries.

Livestreaming firm M17 appoints Infinity Venture Partners’ Hirofumi Ono as Global CEO

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See the original story in Japanese. 17 Media Japan, the local operating company of mobile livestreaming app 17 Live or ‘Ichinana’ also known as Livit in the English-speaking countries, announced today that Hirofumi Ono was appointed as Global CEO of its parent company M17 Entertainment Limited (M17). Focused on the Japanese market, M17 will be continually responsible for service operations in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, and other Asian countries. Former M17 CEO Joesph Phua will step down as CEO to become a non-executive chairman. Ono will also continue to serve 17 Media japan as its president. The Japanese operations of the livestreaming app was launched back in 2017 by Ono who has been backing M17 as one of investors – Co-founder & Managing Partner of Infinity Venture Partners. The app now has become an outstanding platform where singers and entertainers perform their live shows. It has acquired 45 million registrants as of November of 2019. Along with this, Ono announced that he will be stepping down from his role as managing director at Infinity Ventures in September. He was involved in launching the VC firm back in 2008 together with Akio Tanaka and Masashi Kobayashi. See also: Infinity Venture…

M17 Entertainment’s new Global CEO Hirofumi Ono
Image credit: M17 Entertainment

See the original story in Japanese.

17 Media Japan, the local operating company of mobile livestreaming app 17 Live or ‘Ichinana’ also known as Livit in the English-speaking countries, announced today that Hirofumi Ono was appointed as Global CEO of its parent company M17 Entertainment Limited (M17). Focused on the Japanese market, M17 will be continually responsible for service operations in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, and other Asian countries. Former M17 CEO Joesph Phua will step down as CEO to become a non-executive chairman. Ono will also continue to serve 17 Media japan as its president.

The Japanese operations of the livestreaming app was launched back in 2017 by Ono who has been backing M17 as one of investors – Co-founder & Managing Partner of Infinity Venture Partners. The app now has become an outstanding platform where singers and entertainers perform their live shows. It has acquired 45 million registrants as of November of 2019.

Along with this, Ono announced that he will be stepping down from his role as managing director at Infinity Ventures in September. He was involved in launching the VC firm back in 2008 together with Akio Tanaka and Masashi Kobayashi.

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In addition to investing in ventures in Japan and the Greater China region, Ono has contributed to the growth of startups with his unique style of entrepreneurial involvement as a founding member of them. The startups he was involved in managing include Rekoo Japan (the company behind Sunshine Ranch), Jmty.jp (Japanese classifieds site), Groupon Japan, Farfetch Japan, and of course 17 Media Japan. He has also made a significant impact on the startup ecosystem as an investor, hosting Infinity Ventures Summit (IVS), one of the largest venture conferences in Japan, for 12 years.

Below is his open letter on his Facebook timeline. (sic)

It is my pleasure to announce that I will be graduating from Infinity Ventures(IV), which I have led with Akio since 2008, this September.

And I will be taking on the role of Global CEO at M17 Entertainment, Ltd(M17). that is portfolio company of IV and is the parent company of
17 Media Japan where I have been acting as CEO over 3 years.

After launching 17 Media Japan from zero and leading its growth to No. 1 in Japan, there was a strong request from Joseph Phua, Co-Founder of M17 Global and Chairman, for me to take over the global CEO position, and after discussions with Akio and Joseph Huang internally in IV. I decided that the best way for me is to graduate from IV and commit to M17 as CEO so that I can contribute to those who helped me a lot during my time in IV by leading M17 to further growth stage.

In the 12 years since launching IV from scratch, I have had the great opportunity to not only invest but also run many companies on my own like Rekoo Japan (Sunshine Farm), Groupon Japan, Jimoty, Farfetch Japan, and 17 Media Japan. And fortunately most of them made great success to be leading companies in that industries and brought successful exit.

I am particularly pleased that Jimoty that I had built literally from scratch completely on my own went public this year.

I have also been able to get involved in some of the big exits for IVP’s fund, such as Soracom, freee and some of great investment like Wealth Navi and YeahKa (listed in HK and worth over 3billion USD now).

M17 is now expanding widely in Japan, Taiwan, India, HK, the US and the Middle East, and I will continue to grow the company so that we can expand our live streaming business even further around the world.

I am looking forward to a longer relationship with you as a serial entrepreneur.

As for IV, IVS President Toshiaki Shimakawa has successfully hosted more than 1,000 guests in the first online IVS, and the IV Japan team will continue to strengthen its operations with keeping investing in Japan and leading IVS.

Also, I will continue to contribute to IVS LaunchPad as an advisor to the development of our startups.

Sorry for that long message.

I would like to have opportunity to say hello to you individually if I could.

Thanks
Hiro

Translated by Masaru Ikeda

Japan startup Styler partners with Tencent to help fashion retailers adapt to pandemic changes

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Styler, the Japanese startup offering an O2O (offline to online) support service for fashion and apparel stores called Facy, announced in late July that it has partnered with Tencent Cloud, the cloud service division of Chinese tech giant Tencent. Styler had been running the Facy app as a way to drive potential customers from online to offline fashion retailers. However, the company recognized that the expanding pandemic will significantly influence consumer purchasing behavior and decided to evolve the business into supporting Online merges with Offline (OMO) effort where retailers can seemly integrate user experience at their e-commerce site and brick-and-mortar stores. Pandemic accelerates fashion retailers’ shift to digital operations While fashion e-commerce represents a large proportion of the overall e-commerce market (around 20% of the total in terms of market size), it is yet difficult to completely take over all real store sales. Similar to what tech conferences and events are challenging amid the pandemic, one of the problems here is how to give consumers serendipity on online shopping. Unlike giving users recommendations using a collaborative filtering-based engine, it may be difficult for online platforms to give users a chance meeting with the…

Image credit: Tencent Cloud / Styler

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Styler, the Japanese startup offering an O2O (offline to online) support service for fashion and apparel stores called Facy, announced in late July that it has partnered with Tencent Cloud, the cloud service division of Chinese tech giant Tencent.

Styler had been running the Facy app as a way to drive potential customers from online to offline fashion retailers. However, the company recognized that the expanding pandemic will significantly influence consumer purchasing behavior and decided to evolve the business into supporting Online merges with Offline (OMO) effort where retailers can seemly integrate user experience at their e-commerce site and brick-and-mortar stores.

Pandemic accelerates fashion retailers’ shift to digital operations

While fashion e-commerce represents a large proportion of the overall e-commerce market (around 20% of the total in terms of market size), it is yet difficult to completely take over all real store sales. Similar to what tech conferences and events are challenging amid the pandemic, one of the problems here is how to give consumers serendipity on online shopping.

Unlike giving users recommendations using a collaborative filtering-based engine, it may be difficult for online platforms to give users a chance meeting with the brands they have never met before while sales associates at real stores can do it.

Image credit: Alibaba

In China in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, we saw many sales associates at fashion stores setting up lights and tripods to to introduce and sell their products via live video streaming. For fashion brands, it would be difficult to integrate a typical live commerce app with their own customer-facing app while Tencent Cloud’s solutions apparently makes it easier.

Tencent Cloud’s solutions allow stores and customers to interact with each other while seeing each other’s faces through mobiles. The same technology has been adopted to Telelive, CyberAgent subsidiary Cyber Pal’s platform for holding fan meetings online, as well as Ignis’s dating service’s video call app.

Styler plans to introduce Tencent Cloud’s solutions to fashion brands, aiming to help them better implement the OMO into their environment. These solutions allow brands not only offer seamlessly their front-end customer experience online and offline but also to support back-end operations such as integrated inventory management of online and offline sales as well as optimized inventory operations across multiple real stores.

Image credit: Tencent Cloud

In the ever-changing fashion industry, fashion stores often come and go at shopping malls thanks to the growing prominence of direct-to-consumer(D2C) brands. Tencent Cloud’s solutions allow shopping malls to keep their store directory signage updated at all times simply by importing CAD data indicating tenant locations within the mall building. To ensure the practicality of the solution, Styler plans to conduct Proof of Concept trials with Tokyu Land Corporation (TSE:3289) which is known for operating a number of shopping malls in Tokyo.

More D2C brands focusing on online sales are expected to enter the market in the future. In view of having a lot of ups and downs, their real stores’ character don’t fit a typical long-term lease contract for shopping malls. Even in such a tough environment, keeping offering retention opportunities at real stores to brands is a big challenge for shopping malls.

Styler CEO Tsubasa Koseki explained in a recent interview with Bridge.

Leveraging Tencent Cloud’s solution, Styler is being focused on helping brands make their communication and inventory management available in a digital manner. As there is no significant player in Japan with knowledge that straddles between online and offline sales, I think Styler can take an overwhelming lead in this area.

Facy wants to be lifestyle-focused super app

Image credit: Styler
Image credit: Styler

In addition to offering the OMO solutions to fashion brands, Styler is working on upgrading their own flagship Facy app so that brands can easily catch up with the OMO trend. The completely newer version is expected to be out this fall.

We are currently benchmarking super apps like Southeast Asia’s Grab (turned from a ride-hailing app), China’s Meituan (previously known as a restaurant discovery/group buying site), and Columbia-born Rapii

Koseki continued:

Unlike these apps targeted at commodity consumers, Facy wants to be a lifesytle-focused OMO app serving those looking at mid-range priced products. We’re moving forward under the strategy symbolized by two keywords: New Retail and Luxury. Going forward, we’ll be also expanding into other categories like cosmetics and furniture.

In Japan, I think that tech giants like Line and Rakuten as well as other payments apps are probably trying to be a super app, but they have yet less variety in service offerings like what Grab, Meituan, and Rappi are doing. Hence, the Facy app has the potential to dominate this market in Japan if they can succeed in expanding their service offerings.

Japan’s Monstar Lab raises $40M to focus on developing take-away apps for US restaurants

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Tokyo-headquartered Monstar Lab, the Japanese company sourcing app developments around the world, announced today that it has raised a total of 4.2 billion yen (about $40 million US) in the latest round. Participating investors are Japan Post Capital, Dentsu Digital Fund, Saudi Arabia’s Alpha Al Imteyaz, Serverworks (TSE:4434), FFG Venture Business Partners, Shimane Central Shinkin Bank and Skylight Consulting. The secured amount includes debt financing from financial institutions. Shimane Central Shinkin Bank also participated in the previous round back in November of 2017. The company said it will use the funds to further expand its digital consulting business globally as well as enhance marketing and product development to increase the value it provides to its clients. This follows the previous round securing approximately 2.4 billion yen back in February of last year. This round’s stage is unspecified but it seems the seventh funding round as far as we know in our effort of reporting. In April of last year, Monstar Lab acquired New York-based digital product and mobile app developer Fuzz Productions which is best known for having developed ordering systems for Shake Shack and other restaurants. In August of 2017, Monstar Lab acquired Danish software company Nodes, which is…

Image credit: Monstar Lab

Tokyo-headquartered Monstar Lab, the Japanese company sourcing app developments around the world, announced today that it has raised a total of 4.2 billion yen (about $40 million US) in the latest round. Participating investors are Japan Post Capital, Dentsu Digital Fund, Saudi Arabia’s Alpha Al Imteyaz, Serverworks (TSE:4434), FFG Venture Business Partners, Shimane Central Shinkin Bank and Skylight Consulting. The secured amount includes debt financing from financial institutions. Shimane Central Shinkin Bank also participated in the previous round back in November of 2017.

The company said it will use the funds to further expand its digital consulting business globally as well as enhance marketing and product development to increase the value it provides to its clients.

This follows the previous round securing approximately 2.4 billion yen back in February of last year. This round’s stage is unspecified but it seems the seventh funding round as far as we know in our effort of reporting.

In April of last year, Monstar Lab acquired New York-based digital product and mobile app developer Fuzz Productions which is best known for having developed ordering systems for Shake Shack and other restaurants. In August of 2017, Monstar Lab acquired Danish software company Nodes, which is known for developing a number of food delivery apps like Careem Now in the Middle East region. According to Nikkei, the company has been focusing on ordering systems for restaurants in North America, but due to the growing demand for take-away apps because of COVID-19, the company plans to establish a development base in Latin America, where engineering labor costs are cheaper, to make offensive sales efforts in the North American market.

Monstar Lab currently operates in 26 cities in 15 countries around the world, including Europe, the US and Asia. The company with its subsidiaries have about 1,200 employees.

via PR Times

Japanese smart lock Akerun secures $33M to realize keyless society

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Photosynth, the Japanese startup developing and offering smart lock Akerun as well as cloud-based room-entry access control system, unveiled the Akerun Access Intelligence, an access authentication platform to realize a keyless society, as well as a new service called the Akerun visitor management system. The company also plans to conduct a Proof of Concept trial with Japanese leading real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan (TSE:8801). Meanwhile, the company announced that it has secured funding in the latest round led by The Norinchukin Bank with participation from NTT Docomo Ventures, 31Ventures, Line Ventures, Toppan Printing, BSP Group, Scrum Ventures, Joyo Sangyo Kenkyujo, Globis Capital Partners, and others. In this round, The company obtained 3.5 billion yen (about $33 million) in equity funding as well as loans from Shinsei Bank, Japan Finance Corporation, Mizuho Bank, Joyo Bank, and others. This brought the company’s funding sum up to 5 billion yen (about $47.3 million). Along with this, Tatsuya Otsubo of The Norinchukin Bank is appointed as an ouside director for Photosynth. The company will use the funds to promote research and development of the authentication platform as well as strengthening customer support and sales. The Akerun service…

The Akerun Visitor Management system installed at Mitsui Fudosan’s office entrance
Image credit: Photosynth

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Photosynth, the Japanese startup developing and offering smart lock Akerun as well as cloud-based room-entry access control system, unveiled the Akerun Access Intelligence, an access authentication platform to realize a keyless society, as well as a new service called the Akerun visitor management system.

The company also plans to conduct a Proof of Concept trial with Japanese leading real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan (TSE:8801).

Meanwhile, the company announced that it has secured funding in the latest round led by The Norinchukin Bank with participation from NTT Docomo Ventures, 31Ventures, Line Ventures, Toppan Printing, BSP Group, Scrum Ventures, Joyo Sangyo Kenkyujo, Globis Capital Partners, and others.

In this round, The company obtained 3.5 billion yen (about $33 million) in equity funding as well as loans from Shinsei Bank, Japan Finance Corporation, Mizuho Bank, Joyo Bank, and others. This brought the company’s funding sum up to 5 billion yen (about $47.3 million).

Along with this, Tatsuya Otsubo of The Norinchukin Bank is appointed as an ouside director for Photosynth. The company will use the funds to promote research and development of the authentication platform as well as strengthening customer support and sales.

The Akerun service improves convenience and security of keyless entry leveraging a cloud-based connected smart lock system. The Akerun room-entry access control system for business has been installed to 4,500 companies to date.

Akerun Access Intelligence is a new concept to put all the keys used in our daily lives into the cloud. In this scheme, users can associate their unique identity used in real life, such as NFC transit card, smartphone, employee ID and entrance pass with their digital entity such as e-mail address and phone number, and then register all them in to the cloud. This allows users to gain access to various spaces such as their office, building and home with just a single ID.

Image credit: Photosynth

In addition, the company announced the Akerun Visitor Management System, a cloud-based management platform to develop this concept in concrete terms. Large office buildings had often set up security gates and reception areas for access restrictions where visitors are usually asked to present their ID as well as fill in their name and the name of the company they are visiting in the form. However, this procedure was time-consuming for visitors, the forms collected by the receptionist needed to be re-input to manage digitally, and visual check of ID is not so much reliable.

To solve these problems, Photosynth developed the Akerun Visitor Management System, which can be installed into existing security gates so that guests can get entry approval using their NFC transit card. Combined with the Akerun room-entry access control system, the Visitor Management system allows not only visitors but also employees gain access to the locations that every user ID / key set approves. Photosynth will conduct a proof-of-concept trial using these systems with Mitsui Fudosan at the latter’s new office in Nihombashi, Tokyo. Mitsui Fudosan has been using the Akerun for some time now, which led to this collaboration.

via PR TIMES

Translated by Masaru Ikeda

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

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

See the original story in Japanese.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said in his letter to us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot of Mantra Engine ©️Kuchitaka Mitsuki
Image credit: Mantra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Umitron Pulse
Image credit: Umitron

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

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

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

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

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

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Since Taka Iguchi has developed so many products and services if you include those that already shut down, I don’t want to mention all of them in this story. But for the past four years he has focused on audio social services, starting with the Baby app in 2016 followed by its enhanced app Ball in 2017. After another pivot, his new app Dabel was launched in the US in January of last year under the previous name of Ear.ly. Iguchi has been based in San Francisco and Kyoto for some time now, but since the global pandemic of COVID-19, he has been unable to travel abroad and has been forced to stay mostly in Kyoto. I thought this may have been a headwind for him, but the app is apparently growing well. What is it about Dabel that attracts so many people? Last week I could have a chance to meet Iguchi in Kyoto to find out. Using audio social app to discover new friends It’s hard to find the best word to describe Dabel. Needless to say, the app’s name comes from the Japanese word meaning chatting but Iguchi himself describes it as “an app for well-side gossip…

Taka Iguchi stands in a temple in his neighborhood in Kyoto.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Since Taka Iguchi has developed so many products and services if you include those that already shut down, I don’t want to mention all of them in this story. But for the past four years he has focused on audio social services, starting with the Baby app in 2016 followed by its enhanced app Ball in 2017. After another pivot, his new app Dabel was launched in the US in January of last year under the previous name of Ear.ly.

Iguchi has been based in San Francisco and Kyoto for some time now, but since the global pandemic of COVID-19, he has been unable to travel abroad and has been forced to stay mostly in Kyoto. I thought this may have been a headwind for him, but the app is apparently growing well. What is it about Dabel that attracts so many people? Last week I could have a chance to meet Iguchi in Kyoto to find out.

Using audio social app to discover new friends

The Dabel app
Image credit: Doki Doki

It’s hard to find the best word to describe Dabel. Needless to say, the app’s name comes from the Japanese word meaning chatting but Iguchi himself describes it as “an app for well-side gossip meeting,” which gives me the impression that it allows you to be a radio anchor. Looking similar to other Japanese audio social apps like Voicy, Radiotalk and Stand.fm at first glance, what makes Dabel unique is that listeners can join the show and talk to each other upon the host’s approval.

It was only in May of last year that the app began to gain popularity in the US since AppleVis, a community website for the visually impaired, featured us. So, in June, we focused on the the Voiceover screen-reading function in the app (in aim to assist the visually impaired), and then more of them started actively using the app as a tool to find their new friends.

Iguchi continued.

In March this year, Mikke CEO Takumi Inoue (arranging an online meetup series called O-Cha) and apparel maker All Yours’ CEO Masashi Kimura started using the app, which triggered a boom in Japan. These users are often hyperactive and full of energy, having been looking for a place to release it. That’s why their content is interesting. You can listen to recording later on but 90% of listeners join their favorite shows live.

That’s probably the biggest advantage of audio social apps, although Dabel recommends that both the talking host and the listening listener use AirPods, so that you can deliver and listen to the show almost regardless of no matter where both of they are. There’s no need to set up your phone on a tripod or use a selfie stick like what YouTubers usually do. In fact, my friend Dabel host brought an afternoon talk show with three of her friends physically located apart each other while she broadcasted the show from the standing bar at a sushi bar on another occasion.

In my opinion, good sound quality and a sense of realism is one of Dabel’s hallmarks. When I heard the aforementioned talk show, I felt as if I, as a listener, were just standing before the sushi bar. There’s no need to shout so loudly, which doesn’t bother people around, and the minimal audio delay makes it easy to enjoy the interaction when the host allows the listener to join in.

Coronavirus pandemic reveals brutal truth

One of the things I like to talk about these days is the “what’s lost in looking for ways to coexist with the novel coronavirus may be serendipity”. With so many tech conferences going online, it’s hard to replicate online the “chance encounter” that might lead to an intimate relationship with someone you happen to meet at a party, as opposed to identifying and communicating with the person you want to talk to. Many of our current relationships are totally based on the result of these chances. Paul Graham explains that such uncertainty is essential to the fostering of the tech community.

But here a new insight: Dabel may bring a bright future to our world. Iguchi explains:

There’s a brutal truth that attracted our attention after the pandemic occurred.

Before the pandemic, we used to chat with acquaintances, family, friends and partners. But the pandemic prevented us from seeing each other. People started using Dabel to find new friends. And then, we found out that it doesn’t eventually matter whomever you chat with.

Originally, communities were often dependent on the physical environment where people found themselves. With the advent of the Internet and mobile, this physical constraint was removed to some extent, but the spread of the novel coronavirus spurred the loss of freedom of movement and caused people to start talking to the people they really wanted to talk to regardless of location.That person you are talking to might be someone you’ve never met, or it might be someone who lives on the other side of the planet. Dabel’s user experience, which relies on common interests to talk to each other but not on the physical environment or existing relationships, is also similar to that of Talkstand, another Japanese mobile app launched in beta back in May.

The world is catching up with the trends

Iguchi speaks at the 10841 launch event in Kyoto in February.
Image credit: Masahiro Noguchi

In May, Clubhouse, the US startup behind an audio social app under the same name, secured $10 million US from Andreesen Horowitz in a series A round, which raised their valuation to $100 million in just a couple of months after the launch. Clubhouse is recognized as one of the fastest growing startups in the region right now. In addition to an accomplishment for audio social networks to get some recognition from the market, it is perhaps a tailwind for Doki Doki, Iguchi’s startup behind the Dabel app, to secure the next round of funding in the not-too-distant future. Doki Doki raised 40 million from Skyland Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures, and Umeda Startup Fund in early 2016 followed by 50 million yen from Kyoto University Innovation Capital in a pre-seed round in February of 2017.

However, audio social is not all good because it’s a very new field. In the US, a recent closed discussion among venture capitalists on the Clubhouse app, in which they criticized Bay Area journalists for having too much power, has been leaked to the public and is causing a stir. There is always the risk that the whispering in the corner of the room can be exposed to the public via new technology. The future is unclear as the exchange of banter extends to issues such as gender and racial discrimination. Iguchi sees it as an object lesson to his venture.

Audio social is a highly intimate form of media. It’s easy to post emotions and passions, but it can also contain sensitive content when shared with the public. This is a double-edged sword, and the Clubhouse case was a bad pattern.

He added.

Dabel has also improved features such as the console banning users who violate the terms and conditions, but still we could experience “flaming cases” in the future. However, it’s not all bad. It’s a new medium, so there is always the risk of flamming, but Dabel is going to be on the offensive, aiming to become a safe and secure platform.

Of the 40,000 current Dabel users, about 30% are women while 67% are American and 10% are Japanese, which boasts a diversified demographic user base as a service by a Japanese startup. The total number of times people have participated in conversations on the app has reached 550,000, and the average dwell time per session on the app is around 57 minutes, which is much longer than that of Facebook.

Audio social is attracting a lot of attention because of its high level of user engagement. Pouring his energy into his enthusiasm, Iguchi wants to dominate the new field globally.

Japanese video tech startup Paronym secures funding from Thai telecom giant

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Tokyo-based Paronym, the Japanese startup behind the TIG interactive video technology, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum from Intouch Holdings (BKK:INTUCH), the parent company of Thailand’s largest telecom operator AIS (BKK:ADVANC). Paronym has been raising a series B round since last year, and has so far secured approximately 230 million yen (about $2.1 million) from Japan Post Capital and NTT Docomo Ventures. The company says it has closed the latest round with the funding from Intouch Holdings. This entire round brought the startup’s funding sum up to date to 690 million yen ($6.4 million). Founded back in 2016, Paronym has developed the TIG interactive video solution that allows viewers to obtain necessary information by tapping an item in a video clip. Use cases include e-commerce sites selling interiors and fashion outfits, recipe sites (linking to foods and ingredients in the recipe), and online travel guides (linking to travel destinations). The platform offers tracking editing tool that allows content owners to associate objects in a clip with link destinations in addition to heat map tool showing them which part of the clip their viewers are tapping. The company offers a different line-up for each of six different…

Paronym CEO Michio Kobayashi presented at Rock Thailand in Bangkok in December.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Tokyo-based Paronym, the Japanese startup behind the TIG interactive video technology, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum from Intouch Holdings (BKK:INTUCH), the parent company of Thailand’s largest telecom operator AIS (BKK:ADVANC).

Paronym has been raising a series B round since last year, and has so far secured approximately 230 million yen (about $2.1 million) from Japan Post Capital and NTT Docomo Ventures. The company says it has closed the latest round with the funding from Intouch Holdings. This entire round brought the startup’s funding sum up to date to 690 million yen ($6.4 million).

Founded back in 2016, Paronym has developed the TIG interactive video solution that allows viewers to obtain necessary information by tapping an item in a video clip. Use cases include e-commerce sites selling interiors and fashion outfits, recipe sites (linking to foods and ingredients in the recipe), and online travel guides (linking to travel destinations). The platform offers tracking editing tool that allows content owners to associate objects in a clip with link destinations in addition to heat map tool showing them which part of the clip their viewers are tapping.

Kobayashi shareed the development timeline of his company’s video technology service.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

The company offers a different line-up for each of six different verticals including movies splitting off into multiple case scenarios, magazines, digital signage, commerce, learning and live (performance). Due to its high interactivity, they claim that the platform can help e-commerce sites gain their conversion rate twice that of Instagram, three times that of YouTube.

In December, Paronym was qualified and invited to present at the second batch of Rock Thailand, a joint project by the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok and Thailand’s largest conglomerate CP Group with an aim to encourage business partnerships between the two countries, where Paronym CEO Michio Kobayashi explained his company has been seeking business alliances, series B funding, and potential sales partners in Thailand. So the latest funding means his efforts have paid off. Palonym plans to hold a joint press briefing with Intouch Holdings, and detailed plans are expected to be revealed at that time.