Docomo Innovation Village, the incubation initiative of Japan’s NTT Docomo, hosted a demo day event on Thursday, showcasing startups graduating from the first batch of its incubation program. The event invited a number of guest speakers and judges including Docomo president Kaoru Kato, 500 Startups’ partner George Kellerman, and Skype co-founder/Atomico partner Niklas Zennström.
Presenters were the six startups that qualified for the first batch back in April. It has been interesting to see how they have evolved over the past several months.
Based on the qualification by the telco’s employees and the initiative’s mentors, grand prize and the ‘best stretch’ awards were presented to two out of the participating six startups. The award winner will receive a trip to Silicon Valley including a visit to 500 startups’ incubation office.
Grand prize winner: Pairy ¶
Pitched by Toshimasa Takahashi, Pairy is a mobile app for couples that lets them to look back on the events they shared together. According to a survey, more than 40% of all couples in Japan look history back to see what they have talked about as far as a month back on social media. But it’s not easy to retrieve your interactions from all the messages you’ve exchanged with other people. Pairy is designed specifically for interactions within couples, with the intention of eliminating this searching process.
To date the startup has acquired 120,000 users, which rose by 156% three months ago when it joined the incubation program. The service’s main userbase is people in their 20s. It has 6 million monthly pageviews and there are 50,000 ‘date spots’ registered.
Their users are growing by 120% a month without any massive promotional activities, and they expect it to reach one million and become the top apps of its kind by October of 2014. The startup is planning to monetize by adding three functions: photobook creation, premium service, and advertising. It’s now looking to raise 60 million yen ($600,000) from potential investors, with plans to launch another app for couples to use after they get married.
“Best stretch” award winner: Coromo ¶
Presented by Hokuto Inoue, Coromo allows you to change your smartphone homescreen to suit any occasion: work, leisure, or home — all using a NFC card. If you install the app, you can create your own home screen with HTML5 as well.
The startup recognizes that a home screen is something that you see more than any other apps or screen. It is planning to partner with conferences or venues and provide them with this solution that can show event updates to their attendees. According to Inoue, it has been decided that this year’s Tokyo Motor Show will provide updates to their attendees using the platform. When you leave the event venue, you will be sent to the platform’s e-commerce site, the Coromo Store, in the app. This helps user retention and B2C-based monetization. Even if smartphones are replaced by wearable devices in the future, there will be still potential in the business since the concept of homescreens will remain.
DecoAlbum and Drawchat ¶
DecoAlbum is a mobile app that allows users to decorate and share photos. Readers may recall that we interviewed them back in May. To date the app has 2 million users, almost double what it was before joining the incubation program. 70% of users are from outside Japan, although Japan and Thailand represent the biggest userbases.
The company recently unveiled a mobile app called Drawchat, which lets users to exchange hand-drawn images using Facebook’s messaging feature. They plan to keep introducing apps using Facebook APIs, and they hope to reach 10 million downloads by 2014.
FunPicty is a set of funny photo apps, available for both iOS and Android. Most funny photo decoration apps are usually short-lived. For developers, it’s tough to see how to prolong the life of such apps. So the startup put a bunch of these apps together in a single app, thus creating a platform where users can share funny apps.
To date it has seen 5 million downloads and acquired 300,000 monthly active users. The company expects this will reach 1 million users by 2014. The service was pitched by Kou Honna, of Soda.
Kumitasu is an app for people with a food allergy, helping you buy allergy-free ingredients from e-commerce sites by specifying what allergen ingredients are contained in a food product. The idea was pitched by Mayu Ishikawa of Willmore.
In Japan, 14.2% of households have children with a food allergy, and at schools many children have to be served with allergy-free meals at lunch. So now it has become an unavoidable issue for the entire community. The startup received help from 30 housewives and developed a database with ingredients for more than 40,000 food products available on the Japanese market. Users can easily find a cookie product, for example, which contains no egg.
The company expects to generate annual sales of 1.5 billion yen ($15 million) in the next three years through subscription-based business models and affiliates traffic to partner e-commerce sites like Lotte, D Shopping, Mogumogu, and Radish-boya. The startup is also planning to sell allergy-focused ingredient data to food distributors, and hopes to introduce a mobile app by the end of this year. Their upcoming features recipes for allergy-free meals, premium services that helps users find allergy-free menu at restaurants, and additional features for diabetics and others with dietary-restrictions
The startup just launched their service but is exploring a series A funding with hopes to acquire 500,000 users in a year and 3 million users in three years.
Nanovel was developed by Takashi Asami, who previously worked as a film producer. In the past, he established a project to gather story ideas for the theme “Can a 10-minute story impress people?” Building on this, his colleague subsequently made a film titled La Maison en Petits Cubes (The House of Small Cubes) and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2009.
Inspired by the concept, Asami developed a platform where people can subscribe to novels comprised of less than 2,000 Japanese characters. These short novels are written by 50 professionals, including high profile script writers and copywriters, and users can read up to 16 different novels a month for free. Their user retention rate a remarkably high as 68.5%.
We will be keeping our eyes on how these startups can evolve the local startup scene by speaking with them as often as we can. Docomo Innovation Ventures is now inviting applicants for the second batch of the incubation program here.