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Former Google Glass challenger re-invents social networking app but not to meet

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See the original story in Japanese. (Photographs in this articles are provided by Doki Doki for the most part.) Sekai Camera, Tab, Telepathy… the apps and devices made by this man has always been novel. Establishing another startup called Doki Doki last year and raising funds from Skyland Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures and Umeda Startup Fund earlier this year, “this man” — Takahito Iguchi — seemed to have wanted to start something different. He implied as much upon commencing development of an app for voice-based information sharing at Samurai Island Expo ’16 (SIE ’16), but the details were not specified then. Doki Doki pre-launched voice-chat social app Baby in the US last month, and held the app’s first showcase event in Japan at MTRL Kyoto (pronounced “Material Kyoto”). The app is available for iOS or later, and currently only with English (but no restriction as to input language). You can download it only from US iTunes AppStore, so it is available for anyone who has an US iTunes AppStore account. Social app to chat, not to meet Baby is a social app which allows users to share five-second voice messages and lets them chat with a new friend. The voice messages…

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Doki Doki CEO Takahito Iguchi is seated second from the left.

See the original story in Japanese.

(Photographs in this articles are provided by Doki Doki for the most part.)

Sekai Camera, Tab, Telepathy… the apps and devices made by this man has always been novel. Establishing another startup called Doki Doki last year and raising funds from Skyland Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures and Umeda Startup Fund earlier this year, “this man” — Takahito Iguchi — seemed to have wanted to start something different. He implied as much upon commencing development of an app for voice-based information sharing at Samurai Island Expo ’16 (SIE ’16), but the details were not specified then.

Doki Doki pre-launched voice-chat social app Baby in the US last month, and held the app’s first showcase event in Japan at MTRL Kyoto (pronounced “Material Kyoto”). The app is available for iOS or later, and currently only with English (but no restriction as to input language). You can download it only from US iTunes AppStore, so it is available for anyone who has an US iTunes AppStore account.

Social app to chat, not to meet

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Baby is a social app which allows users to share five-second voice messages and lets them chat with a new friend. The voice messages (aptly-named “voice”) from other users who are located nearby him / her are run on a timeline (dubbed “parade”), and one may “ping” favorite messages by right flicking or “ban” undesirable messages by left flicking, as with Tinder. If users ping voices to each others, they become friends and are allowed to have private voice chat rather than via parade. Users can check ten messages from other users in the order of proximity from him / her at one loading.

Iguchi explains the concept of the Baby app:

By being nearby each other, several problems can be solved. First of all, language trouble. Even if it were a worldwide service, there is a high probability that users being nearby converse in a common language. Considering the places or events where the users are located, common topics could be found as well.

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Typical social apps can be roughly classified into two types: ones that let users who already met offline to meet online (such as Facebook or Line) and ones that let users who have not met yet to meet online / offline. However, although the Baby app allows user to find new friends online in order to share values or topics, it does not expect an offline meeting to take place, as in the case of a “dating” social app. The development of the app is grounded in Iguchi’s experience.

Iguchi explains how the service originated:

In San Francisco where I frequently stayed, I always felt alone. Was happy just to talk with someone. Having said that, I do not have close relationships with all friends in Facebook to allow me to talk freely. It is not easy to find new friends, or will cost in various ways if I did have a new friend. Many of the communication apps including Tinder or Happen apparently aim to just help arrange direct datinG […]

We had another problem, seen in HangOut or Whatsapp as well. In real-time voice communication, it is difficult to adjust idle time for each other. Therefore, I came up with an idea of dividing the time into five seconds and sharing them as short voice messages […]

Baby is regarded as an intermediate service between the text chat and the telephone. You cannot express your emotion by text, right? It cannot provide satisfaction or any feeling provided upon conversing, and thus cannot solve loneliness or ease pain. Phone communication is troublesome, so I looked to solve the problem. I prepared both public chats (the parade function) and private chats, so users can share their feelings albeit asynchronously.

Baby’s roots are found in San Francisco and Kyoto

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Sawako Ono, Business Development Manager/Market at Doki Doki, recording her voice into the Baby app

This spring, Sawako Ono joined the Doki Doki team as a marketer. By conducting repeated hearings on students at UC Berkeley and reflecting said results on the Baby app’s function, she played a central role in realizing a service with a high degree of user satisfaction.

Ono analyzes the needs for the app:

tudents are all busy. Although busy, they want to communicate with someone through participation in some kind of community or party. Baby just matched their purpose. Some students had used the Nearby function of Wechat, but it only attracts users with dating in mind.

As an aside, no showcase event for the app has not been held in Tokyo unlike launch events of typical apps or services. Moreover, the app is not available in JP AppStore, so that the team’s attitude toward media / users appears unfriendly even though it is an opportunity to appeal to the Japanese users. At first glance it was thought to perhaps be a new type of marketing strategy set by Iguchi, but it turned out to be happenstance.

Iguchi explains the reason for service limitations in Japan:

We started prototyping Baby last December. When brought the prototype to San Francisco this May, I got a pretty good feedback, especially from men. I also had fun. What Baby can provide and the conventional apps cannot is “new meeting” with opportunities to find real friends.

Will it be available in Japan too? Of course it is, if you download from the US AppStore. But you may not receive much voice on parade due to the limited number of users in Japan at this time. I plan to establish use cases in the US first, then bring them back to Japan when completed.

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The character of Baby, with changes in facial expression to voice tones or pitches.

Through the development of the Baby app, Iguchi is also considering linking startups communities in Kyoto and San Francisco. Not only because of his background of having spent his school days in Kyoto (he majored in philosophy at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto), he explains the reason that this city has a similar atmosphere with San Francisco which he finds dear.

He said:

Some VC firms are headquartered in Kyoto and have started business therein. Besides, most of Japanese culture which attracts inbound tourists seemingly can be found concentrated in Kyoto. In a city rich in capital, culture and academia, I feel I can start something new.

There will be lots of San Francisco workers hoping to work in Kyoto. Conversely, there will be cases which Kyoto startups looking to use San Francisco as a gateway. Kyoto has the most art schools in Japan, in addition to many universities suited for research and development, not to mention having freaks like me around.

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To itself become a platform

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An interesting point of the app is that it does not cooperate with Facebook or Twitter as typical communication apps do, but is completely dependent upon the network effect among users for improved user inflow. This specification is not just a chance happening but was greatly influenced by Iguchi’s philosophy as well.

I thought that Japanese people should establish their own communication platform by themselves. Not a few Japanese startups use API provided by major services in Silicon Valley upon starting something toward the global market. They are too careless, following blindly after someone’s service, such as Facebook or Line.

I think that it is important for us not only to use “Silicon Valley APIs”  (APIs provided by tech giants in Silicon Valley) but have a platform for ourselves too.

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In the past, some startups were forced to withdraw from native app business for iOS due to being shut out from the iTunes AppStore. That news suggested that there is always a risk of unexpected business closing against one’s will as long as one is dependent upon app stores on a third-party platform.

Come to think of it, since it has become a convenient era, it may be important especially for startups intending to compete in the global market to become platformers themselves without using an API.

By not considering online meeting while using media of voice as an ultimate context, can it grow into a global communication platform? We can look forward to the day when the Baby app become readily available in Japan.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

As Sekai Camera closes down, we look back at a legendary pitch

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It’s hard to believe that more than five years have passed since Tonchidot first presented its smartphone AR solution Sekai Camera (or “world camera”) at TechCrunch 50 back in 2008 (see video above). The company’s founder Takahito Iguchi proposed that we change our smartphone habits, and “look up, not down” to see tags and information about the world around us. But regrettably the Sekai Camera service will soon be closed down, according to an announcement on the company’s website. I had a chance to interview Iguchi-san about Sekai Camera back in 2009. It’s one of those futuristic services that is just initially awe-inspiring. As we all know now, Iguchi-san has moved on to other things at Telepathy, proposing a Google Glass-like solution that ostensibly is far better suited to AR than holding a smartphone up in the air all the time [1]. These glasses still have a long way to go (I’ve heard many people use the word ‘vaporware’ when talking about them), but I’m glad that Iguchi is moving on from Sekai Camera. At the same time, I think the presentation above is special for a few reasons, and worthy of reflection: Iguchi-san did not give a f*ck –…

It’s hard to believe that more than five years have passed since Tonchidot first presented its smartphone AR solution Sekai Camera (or “world camera”) at TechCrunch 50 back in 2008 (see video above). The company’s founder Takahito Iguchi proposed that we change our smartphone habits, and “look up, not down” to see tags and information about the world around us. But regrettably the Sekai Camera service will soon be closed down, according to an announcement on the company’s website.

I had a chance to interview Iguchi-san about Sekai Camera back in 2009. It’s one of those futuristic services that is just initially awe-inspiring. As we all know now, Iguchi-san has moved on to other things at Telepathy, proposing a Google Glass-like solution that ostensibly is far better suited to AR than holding a smartphone up in the air all the time [1]. These glasses still have a long way to go (I’ve heard many people use the word ‘vaporware’ when talking about them), but I’m glad that Iguchi is moving on from Sekai Camera.

At the same time, I think the presentation above is special for a few reasons, and worthy of reflection:

  1. Iguchi-san did not give a f*ck – Many Japanese startups I speak to have an irrational lack of confidence when speaking or pitching in English. Very often the Japanese people I know are very good at striving for ‘perfect’, but too often that strategy keeps them from being good [2]. Just know an outline of your talking points, and even if your English is poor, you can let your enthusiasm do the rest. (Not enough enthusiasm about your product? Time to quit.)
  2. It was inspiring – I can’t help but wonder how many geo-location and augmented reality ideas were inspired by that particular presentation? How many went on to make similar solutions? [3]
  3. The West loves to love Japan – Part of the appeal of the pitch was that Tochidot was from Japan, and had brought some secret glimpse of the future with it. Even now in 2013, ‘made-in-Japan’ is still a cool, futuristic brand, full of robots and bullet trains and octopus tentacles and ninjas and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. If you aren’t sure about its potential, go ask Tokyo Otaku Mode.

I’m still a little skeptical about Telepathy’s ability to bring their product to market. But regarding that initial pitch back in 2008, I think it’s a fun part of internet history worth reflecting on as Sekai Camera closes.

It clearly shows that despite the many obstacles facing a Japanese startup looking abroad, there are lots of things in your favor too.

Japan is cool, with lots of imagination. And the West wants to love you.

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Takahito Iguchi of Telepathy

  1. I imagine that your arm would get tired after a while.  ↩

  2. Also check out the video from the TechCrunch 50 Q&A session, which is as hilarious as it is awesome.  ↩

  3. I’m a huge fan of Kyoto’s Yesterscape, a similar AR solution that has an interesting timeline element.  ↩

Telepathy CEO discusses the future of wearable technology at TechCrunch Tokyo

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At the first session of TechCrunch Tokyo, Telepathy’s CEO Takahito Iguchi took to the stage along with Kevin Landis, from chief investment manager from Firsthand Capital Management. Our readers will recall that FCM (NASDAQ:SVVC) invested $5 million in Telepathy back in August. Moderator Ken Nishimura got right to the point, asking about Google Glass, the product to which Telepathy’s glasses are often compared. Iguchi explained: Google Glass is not in the Japanese market yet, so it’s hard to compare. But our device is focused on communication. For humans, communication is a vast activity. And smartphones are a big part of that. […] Similar to Google glass, power consumption is key. In order to have full time communications up, that’s a big area of our development [1]. Iguchi disclaimed that his PR team has put some limitations on how much he can say about his product, but with regards to its user interface he says that he wants to minimize it as much as possible. “It’s a big paradigm shift that we have here,” he added. It should be forgotten and not so visible, he noted. Nishimura followed up by asking if this would involved the use of gestures, and Iguchi…

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At the first session of TechCrunch Tokyo, Telepathy’s CEO Takahito Iguchi took to the stage along with Kevin Landis, from chief investment manager from Firsthand Capital Management. Our readers will recall that FCM (NASDAQ:SVVC) invested $5 million in Telepathy back in August.

Moderator Ken Nishimura got right to the point, asking about Google Glass, the product to which Telepathy’s glasses are often compared. Iguchi explained:

Google Glass is not in the Japanese market yet, so it’s hard to compare. But our device is focused on communication. For humans, communication is a vast activity. And smartphones are a big part of that. […] Similar to Google glass, power consumption is key. In order to have full time communications up, that’s a big area of our development [1].

Iguchi disclaimed that his PR team has put some limitations on how much he can say about his product, but with regards to its user interface he says that he wants to minimize it as much as possible. “It’s a big paradigm shift that we have here,” he added.

It should be forgotten and not so visible, he noted. Nishimura followed up by asking if this would involved the use of gestures, and Iguchi froze for a moment in what might be a telling ‘non-response’ response.

Kevin further emphasized this point be drawing a comparison to other wearable technologies already on the market:

We think Fitbit and Jawbone will do quite well, and will maybe will have successful IPOs. They have big markets they’re going after, but they have just one use case: people’s desire to monitor and improve their fitness. […] But that’s just one use case. With smartphones, the products sits between users when you talk to another person. But telepathy takes the product out from between people. If it is done just right, it will feel like the product disappears. and to me that’s true elegance.

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Takehito Iguchi right, Kevin Landis left

One of the most interesting moments of the talk came when Iguchi was asked whether or not he could really bring this product to market, in a way that makes it cheaper than Google Glass. He couldn’t say anything about the price or exact release date, but he did speak a little bit to the challenge of creating such a device, as well as why they are taking on that challenge:

This is not easy, but we are doing it because it’s not easy. That may sound a little strange, but if it is something that anyone can do then it is not worthwhile or challenging – it’s not innovation. We are happy to try it.

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Iguchi also talked a little bit about how his team is spread across both Silicon Valley and Tokyo. Members in Silicon Valley are strong in software, user interface and core application development. And his team in Tokyo is focused on the core hardware development.

He added that when his product does come to market, it will likely be in the US market to start with.

The team still obviously has a lot of work to, perhaps symbolically illustrated by the fact that he was wearing his glasses hung around his neck, rather than on his head.


  1. Note that Iguchi’s quotes are taken from a live translation on-site. He spoke in Japanese for this talk.  ↩

Japanese Google Glass challenger raises $5 million

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See the original story in Japanese. Telepathy is a Japanese startup focused on developing wearable technology. The company is led by serial entrepreneur Takahito Iguchi, the inventor of the pioneering augmented reality app Sekai Camera. Telepathy announced today it has raised $5 million from Silicon Valley-based VC Firsthand Technology Value Fund (NASDAQ:SVVC). The fund is known for having previously invested in prominent tech companies including Facebook and Twitter. The startup unveiled its first product, Telepathy One, last year at SXSW, positioned as a direct competitor to Google Glass. There will be an SDK for app developers this fall, and the company will begin marketing the device in 2014. With these new funds, the company will hire more engineers to work at its headquarters in Silicon Valley.  Iguchi explained: Wearable technology will enable the next wave in social networking, […] and the initial response to our Telepathy One prototype has been astounding. The $5 million funding will enable us to enrich the user experience of Telepathy One, which we expect to bring to market in 2014. If you are a hardware or software engineer interested in working with the company, you can find more details here. The startup also announced today…

telepathy prototype

See the original story in Japanese.

Telepathy is a Japanese startup focused on developing wearable technology. The company is led by serial entrepreneur Takahito Iguchi, the inventor of the pioneering augmented reality app Sekai Camera. Telepathy announced today it has raised $5 million from Silicon Valley-based VC Firsthand Technology Value Fund (NASDAQ:SVVC). The fund is known for having previously invested in prominent tech companies including Facebook and Twitter.

The startup unveiled its first product, Telepathy One, last year at SXSW, positioned as a direct competitor to Google Glass. There will be an SDK for app developers this fall, and the company will begin marketing the device in 2014. With these new funds, the company will hire more engineers to work at its headquarters in Silicon Valley. 

Telepathy's Takahito Iguchi, chief investment officer of Firsthand Kevin Landis
Telepathy’s Takahito Iguchi, chief investment officer of Firsthand Kevin Landis

Iguchi explained:

Wearable technology will enable the next wave in social networking, […] and the initial response to our Telepathy One prototype has been astounding.

The $5 million funding will enable us to enrich the user experience of Telepathy One, which we expect to bring to market in 2014.

If you are a hardware or software engineer interested in working with the company, you can find more details here.

The startup also announced today that Peter Hoddie, the former QucikTime architect at Apple, has joined its advisory board. They plan to bring his experience in digital video technology to the development of their wearable device.

For more infomation on Telepathy One, check out the short news clip below.