Two Japanese startups that have experienced an strong growth in the last several months are Coach United, the startup behind private lesson portal Cyta.jp, and Bracket, which operates instant e-commerce platform STORES.jp. On day two of B Dash Camp Osaka last week, we had a chance to hear from Coach United CEO Nobuhiro Ariyasu and Bracket CEO Yusuke Mitsumoto. Also on the panel were Rakuten executive officer Takeshi Homma, and KDDI general manager Shigeki Matsuno.
This year Ariyasu sold his startup to Japanese recipe site Cookpad, and Mitsumoto sold his startup to leading Japanese fashion commerce company Start Today. Moderator Hiroyuki Watanabe started the sessions with asking about their recent exits.
When did you start preparing for buyouts?
When we launched our company back in 2007, I had no idea about funding or M&As. We couldn’t help but enjoy developing our product at that time. Two or three years later, we finally could make our business profitable, and had a chance to receive offers from some people .
The company kept using bank loans but were exploring funding opportunities for the next stretch.
Bracket is not an old company but has been running a number of businesses for about five years. In contrast to his past businesses, Mitsumoto was aggressively exploring funding opportunities to boost their e-commerce platform. He attributes this to the many competitors in that space .
What’s the most impressed in the entire session was the following interaction between the pair.
Ariyasu asked Mitsumoto,
If Base (Bracket’s main competitor) wasn’t around, would you still sell your startup to Startup Today?
Mitsumoto answered, saying:
Without them, we probably might have not achieved the revenue we have.
Why not aim for an IPO?
Since these two startups were rapidly growing but self-funded, their founders could probably consider IPOs as possible options. But they emphasized a good match with the companies that acquired them.
I’m not really a person who drives after an IPO. It’s all up to you to determine whether an IPO and an M&A is a better choice for you. … I actually got an offer from Murakami (Livesense CEO) but I think it was not so aggressive. I’m close with him, and we have been fishing together. The reason why we partnered with Cookpad was I thought the both companies have something common in their corporate culture.
In a explanation about how Bracket’s Mitsumoto decided to sell his startup, he unveiled it was finally decided over the phone with Start Today’s CEO Yusaku Maezawa, which surprised the audience.
The decision was surprisingly smooth. I’ve been in touch with Maezawa for almost three years since he sent us an inquiry via our website. … I’ve handled four different businesses in the past, and I finally managed to find success in my fifth. The recent announcement that Yahoo Japan made of making its e-commerce platform free this year will be a big turning point in the Japanese e-commerce industry, where more players will make more bold decisions to defeat competitors.
Buyer’s perspective, seller’s perspective
KDDI’s Matsuno was involved in Mediba’s  acquisitions of startups such as Nobot and Scaleout. In a response to moderator Watanabe’s question about criteria around M&As, he says:
You probably need the perspectives of both a buyer and a seller. When your company is acquired by 100%, you will totally lose your ownership. In an extreme case, you might lose your position as the CEO. When you think of a company that you could sell your business to, you will need to build a good relationship of mutual trust (not to be asked to step down).
Rakuten’s Homma concluded the session with saying that:
Both for a seller and a buyer, the more experience you have, the better you can understand how you should proceed.