THE BRIDGE

tag fukuoka

Changing gears: How Japan’s Nulab pulled off the slow pivot

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Nulab is a startup based in Japan’s western city of Fukuoka, which has developed web-based collaborative tools for use with remote workers. You may be familiar with their diagram sharing tool Cacoo or their task tracking and management tool Backlog. In terms of business management style, Nulab does things a little differently than typical startups. Their method is incrementally progressive, similar to what typical SMEs do. They don’t show off so much, but their services are pretty great, and Cacoo in particular has a wide following around the world. We recently had a chance to hear from the startup’s CEO, Masanori Hashimoto, who told us a little more about their progress to date. Developing Backlog The startup’s primary revenue early on came from developing mobile and web apps for its clients. That’s how Backlog was invented. Hashimoto: We launched back in 2004 and started our business doing software development for clients. So we were working on web productions for our clients in Fukuoka, system developments for securities companies, or even consulting work. In such processes, we had no system for tracking bugs and managing fixes. So we developed our own. That was the beginning…

IMG_9609
From the left, Nulab’s co-founders and board members:
Shinsuke Tabata (managing director),
Toshitaka Agata (managing director), and Masanori Hashimoto (CEO)

See the original story in Japanese.

Nulab is a startup based in Japan’s western city of Fukuoka, which has developed web-based collaborative tools for use with remote workers. You may be familiar with their diagram sharing tool Cacoo or their task tracking and management tool Backlog.

In terms of business management style, Nulab does things a little differently than typical startups. Their method is incrementally progressive, similar to what typical SMEs do. They don’t show off so much, but their services are pretty great, and Cacoo in particular has a wide following around the world. We recently had a chance to hear from the startup’s CEO, Masanori Hashimoto, who told us a little more about their progress to date.

Developing Backlog

The startup’s primary revenue early on came from developing mobile and web apps for its clients. That’s how Backlog was invented.

Hashimoto: We launched back in 2004 and started our business doing software development for clients. So we were working on web productions for our clients in Fukuoka, system developments for securities companies, or even consulting work. In such processes, we had no system for tracking bugs and managing fixes. So we developed our own. That was the beginning of the Backlog app.

Using some open source code and libraries, we could finally introduce the commercial version of the tool after a couple of testing versions. That was in 2006, and at that time the tool was available for free. We didn’t care about charging to our users. (laugh) After that we picked up a lots of new users without any intentional promotion activities.

Subsequently, they released a premium version that was priced at around 8,000 yen (about $80) a month, but that didn’t quite work out. They needed to find another way to make it work.

Hashimoto: We had been developing the app from an engineer’s perspective. We hoped the tool could help software engineers design system architecture or interfaces for their work. But then we changed things and made some improvements for designers or website producers, and the premium version started showing good numbers.

As a result, the tool became widely recognized as a task management tool, not only in the Fukuoka tech community but all across the country.

The emergence of Cacoo

Following up on the Backlog app, the startup introduced Cacoo back in 2010, enabling users to collaborate on diagrams with other remote users, and even chat within the app. Cacoo would go on to become a smash hit.

130604-670x428
Cacoo is now integrated with AdFlow, a banner ad production assisting tool.

Hashimoto: We released the Cacoo app back in 2010. During development work, we previously used wikis for sharing technical information among our developers. But we wanted to edit a diagram or an image in the Wiki easily. And that’s why we started developing the diagram editing and sharing tool.

But for them, it was a very long road to releasing both Cacoo and Backlog. By taking time away from their primary work to develop the Cacoo app, they needed two years to develop the app and get it published.

Shifting focus

Each of the three board members plays a different role. Hashimoto was in charge of managing the client software development, but since these two web services started showing good numbers, he decided to shutdown that department.

Hashimoto: Our director Tabata takes care of the Backlog app, and Agata takes care of the Cacoo app. Since these services are growing now, we shutdown my department. It used to be the primary revenue stream for the company but I think it there is less potential in the future.

We have expected to execute this pivot earlier, but it was impossible to do it so rapidly. We spent three years to shifting our resources from development work to intensifying these new web services.

The startup has also introduced an SDK, which allows third-party developers to work on system integration with the Cacoo app.

I asked Hashimoto if he’s interested in trying for an IPO. He explained:

If your company is listed on a stock exchange, it’s no longer a private company, and should serve people almost like public works. If you expect to make your business into something like that, it’s worth trying to IPO. […] Our next goal is to make this a world-class company.

With the lofty aspiration of further global expansion, Nulab launched a subsidiary in Singapore back in March of 2012. It will be interesting to see if they can use that outpost to find further opportunities around Asia and beyond.

Robot dog from Japan plays dead if your socks stink

SHARE:

Crazy Labo and Next Technology, LLC., two startups from Japan’s western city of Fukuoka, have jointly invented a couple of scent detection robots.  One is the human-looking Kaori-chan, and the other – Shuntaro – is made to resemble a dog.  The lady robot is designed to measure the whether or not your breath smells ok, in the interests of promoting oral hygiene. When you breathe on her, she will respond with one of four different behaviors. If your breathe is ok, you will hear a chime that tells you are okay. If it’s not great, she rings another chime to indicate as much. But if your breath has some serious problems, she will be screaming. And if it really stinks completely, she will look like she’s out of order. As for Shuntaro the dog, he measures how much your socks smell. And similarly, there are four ways that he will react. If he finds your socks smell nice, he will come a little closer to you. If the smell is not so great, he will look at you and bark several times. If you smell really bad, he will snarl. And if you smell especially awful (ru-roh!), he will play dead….

Breath scent detection robot "Kaori-chan"(Photo: RKB Radio blog)
Breath scent detection robot “Kaori-chan”
(Photo: RKB Radio Broadcasting’s blog)

Crazy Labo and Next Technology, LLC., two startups from Japan’s western city of Fukuoka, have jointly invented a couple of scent detection robots.  One is the human-looking Kaori-chan, and the other – Shuntaro – is made to resemble a dog. 

The lady robot is designed to measure the whether or not your breath smells ok, in the interests of promoting oral hygiene. When you breathe on her, she will respond with one of four different behaviors. If your breathe is ok, you will hear a chime that tells you are okay. If it’s not great, she rings another chime to indicate as much. But if your breath has some serious problems, she will be screaming. And if it really stinks completely, she will look like she’s out of order.

shuntaro
Shuntaro (Photo: RKB Radio)

As for Shuntaro the dog, he measures how much your socks smell. And similarly, there are four ways that he will react. If he finds your socks smell nice, he will come a little closer to you.

If the smell is not so great, he will look at you and bark several times. If you smell really bad, he will snarl. And if you smell especially awful (ru-roh!), he will play dead.

The company expects to rent these robots for festivals or exhibitions, helping organizers attract and entertain their attendees.

Tokyo’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper has visited their offices to how the robots behave. Check their video here for more information.

Japan tech this week: Origami, funding, and fun in Fukuoka

SHARE:

It was a pretty busy week for us here at SD Japan. In addition to all the regular news that we typically cover, we took a shot at some live event coverage as well. Our team is small but we’re doing our best, and we hope you like some of the results. If you’d like to get this weekly summary plus other bonus content, we hope you’ll check out our shiny new newsletter here. Features Stand up: Lessons on entrepreneurship and innovation from the Japan New Economic Summit 04/24 (also available in ePub format for Kindle or iBooks) Business Japanese online content marketplace raises $3 million from Jafco and Femto Growth Capital 04/24 Business card-based CRM startup Sansan raises $5M, planning global expansion 04/24 Japan’s Mobcast partners with 13 content providers, wants to dominate sports gaming on mobile 04/24 Stealth m-commerce startup Origami raises $5M from KDDI and DAC 04/24 Design EnchantMoon handwriting tablet unveiled, first orders sold out in an hour 04/26 Tokyo City Symphony: Fun 3D projection mapping marks Roppongi Hills’ 10th anniversary 04/25 Apps Moneytree gives Japanese consumers smarter access to their finances 04/27 Japanese microblog ‘Arrow’ lets you vent stress towards a single random stranger 04/25…

e27 Echelon Japan satellite event
e27 Echelon Japan satellite event

It was a pretty busy week for us here at SD Japan. In addition to all the regular news that we typically cover, we took a shot at some live event coverage as well. Our team is small but we’re doing our best, and we hope you like some of the results.

If you’d like to get this weekly summary plus other bonus content, we hope you’ll check out our shiny new newsletter here.

Features

Business

Design

Apps

Startups

Events

B Dash Camp 2013 Fukuoka (04 22/23)

e27’s Echelon Tokyo Satellite event

Samurai Venture Summit

NTT Docomo Innovation Ventures kick-off event