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News app developer Smartnews nabs $29M in series E, becomes Japan’s 3rd unicorn

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Smartnews, the developer of curated news app under the same name, announced on Monday that it has raised 3.1 billion yen (about $29.3 million) in a series E round. The round was led by Japan Post Capital with participation from Japan Co-Invest Limited Partnership, SMBC Venture Capital (SMBC-VC), and Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) according to CrunchBase. Japan Co-Invest, SMBC-VC and DBJ also joined the startup’s series D round back in July of 2016. The latest round brought the total funding to date up to 12.2 billion yen ($115.4 million US). With this funding, the market cap of Smartnews reached $1 billion US and joined the unicorn club. According to CB Insights, the company is the third Unicorn from Japan following AI startup Preferred Networks and Liquid Group which runs a crypto exchange called Liquid by Quoine. (C2C commerce startup used to be a unicorn but went public last year.) Smartnews launched its curated news app in the US back in October of 2014. After nearly five years since then, the company now sees more than 20 million active users in Japan and the US. In particular, the number of users in the…

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Image credit: The Bridge

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Smartnews, the developer of curated news app under the same name, announced on Monday that it has raised 3.1 billion yen (about $29.3 million) in a series E round. The round was led by Japan Post Capital with participation from Japan Co-Invest Limited Partnership, SMBC Venture Capital (SMBC-VC), and Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) according to CrunchBase. Japan Co-Invest, SMBC-VC and DBJ also joined the startup’s series D round back in July of 2016. The latest round brought the total funding to date up to 12.2 billion yen ($115.4 million US).

With this funding, the market cap of Smartnews reached $1 billion US and joined the unicorn club. According to CB Insights, the company is the third Unicorn from Japan following AI startup Preferred Networks and Liquid Group which runs a crypto exchange called Liquid by Quoine. (C2C commerce startup used to be a unicorn but went public last year.)

Smartnews launched its curated news app in the US back in October of 2014. After nearly five years since then, the company now sees more than 20 million active users in Japan and the US. In particular, the number of users in the US grew five times in a year, and Parse.ly put Smartnews in the 10th rank in traffic sources bringing users to English-language news outlets. Smartnews will use the funds to accelerate the growth in the US market and strengthen the team for global expansion.

As part of global expansion effort, Smartnews appointed Ken Kutaragi, former CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, as an external director back in June while Youlin Li, former Head of News Feed Infrastructure at Facebook, joined the team as Vice President of Engineering, Backend System and Foundation back in May. The company has presence in six locations in the world: Tokyo, San Francisco, New York City, Palo Alto, Fukuoka, and Shanghai. Going forward, they will strengthen hiring engineers, product managers, data scientists and other talents.

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Japan’s curated news app SmartNews secures $38 million in series D round

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Tokyo-based SmartNews, the startup offering curated news apps both in Japan and the US, announced today that it has fundraised 3.8 billion yen (about $37.8 million) in the latest round, meaning the total of their previous funds has reached over 9.1 billion yen (equaling to about 80 million to 90 million in US dollars but depends upon the exchange rate when each funding round was secured). This round was led by the Development Bank of Japan with participation from other investors including SMBC Venture Capital and Japan Co-invest Limited Partnership in addition to Kotaro Chiba, a notable angel investor and co-founder of Japanese mobile game company Colopl (TSE:3668). The company isn’t disclosing its valuation but TechCrunch reports that it is between $500 million and $600 million, in post money. The company issued a statement saying that the funds will be used to strengthen human resources, product development and marketing efforts in Japan as well as the rest of the world. They also announced that the news app has surpassed 18 million downloads globally. See also: CNet Japan Startup Award nominees: Mobile news services Gunosy and Smartnews Japan’s SmartNews invites former WSJ Online executive on board, poised for US expansion Japan’s…

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Tokyo-based SmartNews, the startup offering curated news apps both in Japan and the US, announced today that it has fundraised 3.8 billion yen (about $37.8 million) in the latest round, meaning the total of their previous funds has reached over 9.1 billion yen (equaling to about 80 million to 90 million in US dollars but depends upon the exchange rate when each funding round was secured).

This round was led by the Development Bank of Japan with participation from other investors including SMBC Venture Capital and Japan Co-invest Limited Partnership in addition to Kotaro Chiba, a notable angel investor and co-founder of Japanese mobile game company Colopl (TSE:3668).

The company isn’t disclosing its valuation but TechCrunch reports that it is between $500 million and $600 million, in post money.

The company issued a statement saying that the funds will be used to strengthen human resources, product development and marketing efforts in Japan as well as the rest of the world. They also announced that the news app has surpassed 18 million downloads globally.

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Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

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Japan’s curated news reader app SmartNews launches in US

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based SmartNews, the startup behind curated news reader app SmartNews, launched app version 2.0 in Japan and the US on Thursday, and is available on the AppStore and GooglePlay in both countries. The new version includes an interface for readers in the US that allows the changing of app settings to US mode so that users can to check trending news updates in the US. It also supports the iOS Widgets feature and allows users to see headlines in the Notification Center of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The app’s US mode interface inherits user interfaces and features that Japanese users have been endorsing, but it has also rolled out improvements based on a user test in the US. Upon the launch in the US, SmartNews has partnered with several US-based news media such as Re/Code, The Verge, and Quarz. They aim to partner with more media companies in the US. SmartNews fundraised 35 million yen in August, and subsequently appointed former Conde Nast business development director Bernie Davis as media partner relation head, former Williamson-Dickie Japan vice president Yohei Matsuoka as marketing head, and former Huffington Post Japan editor-in-chief Shigeki Matsuura as…

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See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based SmartNews, the startup behind curated news reader app SmartNews, launched app version 2.0 in Japan and the US on Thursday, and is available on the AppStore and GooglePlay in both countries.

The new version includes an interface for readers in the US that allows the changing of app settings to US mode so that users can to check trending news updates in the US. It also supports the iOS Widgets feature and allows users to see headlines in the Notification Center of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

The app’s US mode interface inherits user interfaces and features that Japanese users have been endorsing, but it has also rolled out improvements based on a user test in the US. Upon the launch in the US, SmartNews has partnered with several US-based news media such as Re/Code, The Verge, and Quarz. They aim to partner with more media companies in the US.

SmartNews fundraised 35 million yen in August, and subsequently appointed former Conde Nast business development director Bernie Davis as media partner relation head, former Williamson-Dickie Japan vice president Yohei Matsuoka as marketing head, and former Huffington Post Japan editor-in-chief Shigeki Matsuura as media communication director.

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Japan’s news curation app SmartNews raises $35M from Gree, Atomico, and others

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Tokyo-based SmartNews, the company behind the news curation app under the same name, announced today that it has raised about 3.6 billion yen (about $35.4 million) from several companies. This round was led by Gree and Atomico with participation from Mixi, Globis Capital Partners, former Ziff Davis Publishing president William Lohse, DeNA co-founder Shogo Kawada, and other investors. The company recently invited former Bloomberg tech columnist Rich Jaroslovsky on board as the vice president for content. See also: Smartnews’s media channel subscriptions off to a good start in Japan CNet Japan Startup Award nominees: Mobile news services Gunosy and Smartnews Why Japan’s mobile news startups are scared to disrupt via TechCrunch Japan

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Tokyo-based SmartNews, the company behind the news curation app under the same name, announced today that it has raised about 3.6 billion yen (about $35.4 million) from several companies. This round was led by Gree and Atomico with participation from Mixi, Globis Capital Partners, former Ziff Davis Publishing president William Lohse, DeNA co-founder Shogo Kawada, and other investors.

The company recently invited former Bloomberg tech columnist Rich Jaroslovsky on board as the vice president for content.

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via TechCrunch Japan

Japan’s SmartNews invites former WSJ Online executive on board, poised for US expansion

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Tokyo-based SmartNews, the company behind mobile news curation app under the same name, recently announced that the company has surpassed 4 million downloads in the Japanese market and plans to introduce the North American edition of the app this coming fall, to start serving mobile users in partnership with news media companies in the US and Canada. Prior to launching it, SmartNews invited former Bloomberg tech columnist Rich Jaroslovsky on board as the vice president for content. He has been serving The Wall Street Journal in many roles including the first managing editor for its online edition. SmartNews is expected to strengthen its business development efforts leveraging his vast network in the US news media industry. Particularly looking at the happenings in the Japanese blogosphere, there are rumors that SmartNews raised about $18 million from Japanese internet giant Gree. But this is not yet confirmed by any official source. Some people say that the company might use the funds to intensify promotion campaigns including their commercial that they recently started broadcasting (see video below). On a related note, another Japanese news app company Gunosy launched the international version in the US and UK markets several months ago. The company has…

Kaisei Hamamoto
The SmartNews team: CEO Kaisei Hamamoto (1st from the left),
Managing director Ken Suzuki (2nd from the left), Operating officer Atsuo Fujimura (in the middle),
Newly appointed VP for content Rich Jaroslovsky (3rd from the right). Picture from Picsy Blog

Tokyo-based SmartNews, the company behind mobile news curation app under the same name, recently announced that the company has surpassed 4 million downloads in the Japanese market and plans to introduce the North American edition of the app this coming fall, to start serving mobile users in partnership with news media companies in the US and Canada.

Prior to launching it, SmartNews invited former Bloomberg tech columnist Rich Jaroslovsky on board as the vice president for content. He has been serving The Wall Street Journal in many roles including the first managing editor for its online edition. SmartNews is expected to strengthen its business development efforts leveraging his vast network in the US news media industry.

Particularly looking at the happenings in the Japanese blogosphere, there are rumors that SmartNews raised about $18 million from Japanese internet giant Gree. But this is not yet confirmed by any official source. Some people say that the company might use the funds to intensify promotion campaigns including their commercial that they recently started broadcasting (see video below).

On a related note, another Japanese news app company Gunosy launched the international version in the US and UK markets several months ago. The company has fundraised about a total amount of $24 million since the beginning of this year.

Why Japan’s mobile news startups are scared to disrupt

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This is a complex issue, but I think it boils down to this: Most of Japan’s news app creators do not put the interests of their users above the interests of content publishers. So while users around the world can read news in apps with beautiful typography of an appropriate size (see Pocket, Instapaper, or Reeder), most Japanese readers – or those who use domestically produced apps anyway – are given the original webpage in an in-app browser, often showing typeface that’s too small to read, or a page that has not been optimized for mobile. While the app developers I’ve spoken to are reluctant to acknowledge it, most industry observers I ask point to publishers who cry foul over copyright law, complaining about stripped-out ads, and a lack of metrics from readers who come on site. These debates occurred on a global scale years ago, and while they were not resolved in a neat and tidy fashion, the internet appears to have generally settled that such use (whether it is via a republished RSS feed for via scraping) is ok [1]. But Japanese companies who have ventured to create news apps have almost universally opted to err on the…

deer
Scared?

This is a complex issue, but I think it boils down to this:

Most of Japan’s news app creators do not put the interests of their users above the interests of content publishers. So while users around the world can read news in apps with beautiful typography of an appropriate size (see Pocket, Instapaper, or Reeder), most Japanese readers – or those who use domestically produced apps anyway – are given the original webpage in an in-app browser, often showing typeface that’s too small to read, or a page that has not been optimized for mobile.

While the app developers I’ve spoken to are reluctant to acknowledge it, most industry observers I ask point to publishers who cry foul over copyright law, complaining about stripped-out ads, and a lack of metrics from readers who come on site. These debates occurred on a global scale years ago, and while they were not resolved in a neat and tidy fashion, the internet appears to have generally settled that such use (whether it is via a republished RSS feed for via scraping) is ok [1].

But Japanese companies who have ventured to create news apps have almost universally opted to err on the side of caution by showing the original webpage content in their app, as is, without any effort to ensure that it’s readable on mobile [2]. They have purposefully chosen to not disrupt or challenge current content models.

Let’s look at a few examples from some of Japan’s leading news apps. Here’s Gunosy:

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Gunosy does what most Japanese news apps do. They serve up the original web page when the title is clicked, whether its very readable or not. Other Japanese apps that do this are Presso, Romly, Vingow, Mynd, and Kamelio [3]. These news apps are primarily aggregators or curation tools. I wouldn’t go so far as to call any of them ‘news readers’, because technically, you’re just being directed to a traditional reading experience on the source site.

SmartNews’s approach is an interesting one, maybe the only one that is even a little daring. They are one of the few companies to present a readability mode, boasting offline caching as a feature for Japanese users who might be beyond internet signal on the subway. When you tap to read an article on SmartNews, you are flashed an option to read in ‘SmartMode’. This is SmartNews’s more readable view, but it’s presented as something the user must choose to view deliberately. What’s more, when you press back, the app sneakily presents the original source page (see this below). This is a clever way of giving both the publisher and the user what they want, and I’m sure it took them a while to figure out this compromise.

smartnews

Line News is also mildly daring, showing longer excerpts relating to one story, collected from various sources. Tapping on any of those sources brings you to the original source, however (see lower left), including ads and undesirable cruft (lower right).

Overall I think it is pretty clear that the relationship that exists between content publishers and news apps that tiptoe around their requirements/expectations is not good for innovation in the content space. Publishers cling to old monetization models instead of searching for new ones, and Japanese readers are denied the kind of beautified reading experience that the rest of the world enjoys [4].

And that’s a shame.

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[Photo]


  1. For more on this, see ‘Is Flipboard Legal?’ (2010), and ‘Could loading a feed into an RSS reader be grounds for legal action?’ (2010). Of course now even Apple has a ‘Reader’ function for Safari and Mobile Safari that strips away ads and gives you a simplified, readable version.  ↩

  2. Mobile-friendly news sites are far more common in Japan than in other countries, so if there’s a silver lining here, it’s that. the original page view on mobile is typically not so bad.  ↩

  3. Kamelio does some interesting things with timelines which I think are admirable, but they still opt to show the original source in this way.  ↩

  4. Unless they use something like Pocket, of course, which many do.  ↩

CNet Japan Startup Award nominees: Mobile news services Gunosy and Smartnews

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This is part three of our CNET Japan Startup Awards nominee rundown. The rest can be found here. News aggregation apps are a dime a dozen in the US. There’s Flipboard, Pulse, Circa, Prismatic, Zite, Summly, News360 and the list goes on. In Japan, there’s News Hub, @nifty, and now LINE News as well. Smart News (pictured below) resembles US-based Pulse, where content is segregated in tabs by category. The content comes pre-loaded but feeds can be added. After using Smart News, the experience of Pulse seems clumsy in comparison. The load times are also significantly faster on Smart News than on Pulse. I want to say Gunosy (pictured below) is the Flipboard of Japan but the only similarity is their popularity. Gunosy’s interface and content is structured like a newspaper, and there are tabs for the AM edition, PM edition and a location-based, real-time trend tab. Articles are separated in large, easy to read boxes with prominent call-to-action buttons. Like Prismatic, Gunosy curates content based on machine learning. It displays the kind of stories the user has liked, shared, or clipped in the past. What really sets Gunosy aside from all news aggregation services is its approach to ads….

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This is part three of our CNET Japan Startup Awards nominee rundown. The rest can be found here.

News aggregation apps are a dime a dozen in the US. There’s Flipboard, Pulse, Circa, Prismatic, Zite, Summly, News360 and the list goes on. In Japan, there’s News Hub, @nifty, and now LINE News as well.

Smart News (pictured below) resembles US-based Pulse, where content is segregated in tabs by category. The content comes pre-loaded but feeds can be added. After using Smart News, the experience of Pulse seems clumsy in comparison. The load times are also significantly faster on Smart News than on Pulse.

smartnews
Smartnews

I want to say Gunosy (pictured below) is the Flipboard of Japan but the only similarity is their popularity. Gunosy’s interface and content is structured like a newspaper, and there are tabs for the AM edition, PM edition and a location-based, real-time trend tab.

Articles are separated in large, easy to read boxes with prominent call-to-action buttons. Like Prismatic, Gunosy curates content based on machine learning. It displays the kind of stories the user has liked, shared, or clipped in the past.

What really sets Gunosy aside from all news aggregation services is its approach to ads. The service separates ad types into three categories: business, fashion, health/beauty, and then behaviorally targets based on user habits. The sign-up and onboarding process for potential advertisers is automated and simple. They are one of, if not the global leader in this category 1.

Regarding both these news services, I’m really happy to see such a high calibre of product comings out of Japan.

gunosy-2 gunosy-2


  1. Gunosy’s ad service launched in November. We recently spoke with new Gunosy team member Shinji Kimura, who elaborated more on this aspect of their business. ↩

Smartnews’s media channel subscriptions off to a good start in Japan

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See the original story in Japanese. SmartNews is one of the many popular news apps available to Japanese consumers these days. The startup (of the same name) announced yesterday that it has surpassed 2 million news subscriptions on its Channel Plus service, which it launched back in May to provide updates from partnering news media [1]. It has partnered with 54 media presences across 36 companies, including blogs, tech media (you can find The Bridge there), business magazines, newspapers, news agencies and more. Channels typically have 100,000 subscribers on average, with Gizmodo Japan boasting the most of all with 180,000 subscribers currently. The company has yet to make its business profitable, but will focus on intensifying partnerships with media companies for now, and then look to monetize later on. Many of our readers may recall that the startup raised $4.2 million from Globis Capital Partners back in August. They recently moved to a new location and rebranded from their previous name of Gocro. They explain that subscriptions are not unique subscribers, since one user could have multiple subscriptions to various media. ↩

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See the original story in Japanese.

SmartNews is one of the many popular news apps available to Japanese consumers these days. The startup (of the same name) announced yesterday that it has surpassed 2 million news subscriptions on its Channel Plus service, which it launched back in May to provide updates from partnering news media [1].

It has partnered with 54 media presences across 36 companies, including blogs, tech media (you can find The Bridge there), business magazines, newspapers, news agencies and more. Channels typically have 100,000 subscribers on average, with Gizmodo Japan boasting the most of all with 180,000 subscribers currently.

The company has yet to make its business profitable, but will focus on intensifying partnerships with media companies for now, and then look to monetize later on. Many of our readers may recall that the startup raised $4.2 million from Globis Capital Partners back in August. They recently moved to a new location and rebranded from their previous name of Gocro.


  1. They explain that subscriptions are not unique subscribers, since one user could have multiple subscriptions to various media.

Japanese news curation startup raises $4.2 million

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Gocro, the startup behind news curation app SmartNews, announced today it has raised 420 million yen (approximately $4.2 million) from Globis Capital Partners. Smartnews is a mobile app that curates trending news stories based on Twitter data, analyzed with its own original technology. To date the startup has partnered with 43 news services and 25 companies for content syndication, and is exploring more partnerships in many business sectors. With this funding, the company plans to hire engineers and data scientists, and will increase its headcount from six to 40 over the next year. In this news app space here in Japan, we’ve seen more than a few competitors including Vingow and Gunosy. It is an interesting sector to watch, especially now that Line has thrown its hat in the ring as well with its own news app.

SmartNewsSee the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Gocro, the startup behind news curation app SmartNews, announced today it has raised 420 million yen (approximately $4.2 million) from Globis Capital Partners.

Smartnews is a mobile app that curates trending news stories based on Twitter data, analyzed with its own original technology. To date the startup has partnered with 43 news services and 25 companies for content syndication, and is exploring more partnerships in many business sectors.

With this funding, the company plans to hire engineers and data scientists, and will increase its headcount from six to 40 over the next year.

In this news app space here in Japan, we’ve seen more than a few competitors including Vingow and Gunosy. It is an interesting sector to watch, especially now that Line has thrown its hat in the ring as well with its own news app.