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Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan on Smash Notes

Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan podcast.

January 03, 2020

Startups are changing Japan, and Japan is once again starting to innovate. Disrupting Japan introduces you to some of the Japanese innovators that will be household brands in a few years and explains what it’s really like to be an innovator in a society that values conformity.



Episodes with Smash Notes

Tim Romero, the host of Disrupting Japan, explains what it takes to create a popular podcast, and why all the hard work is probably not worth it, unless you are absolutely in love with what you are trying to do. Tips and tricks on growing your podcast audience through social media, online discussions and offline events. This is your podcast primer from a host who has tried it all.

Updated on May 03

They probably mean well. They are telling you something that is easy to understand and that seems like it's true at first, but it's still a lie.

I received an overwhelming response to my recent episode on success via public humiliation, and more than a few people tried to set me straight about how Japanese keigo is supposed to be used, so today I'm going to return the favor.

Don't worry, this is not a Japanese lesson, at least not in the pedantic sense, but it might clear up a few of the lies you've been told, and perhaps even repeated about how honorifics are used in Japan and in Japanese business in particular.

Please leave a comment because I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Show Notes

Feedback on Failure
How you are being lied to
Why keigo is not about social status or individual respect
How to insult by being polite
Actually showing respect

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

While the coronavirus lockdown continues to disrupt Disrupting Japan’s production schedule, whatever stage of lockdown or reopening you might be in right now, I hope you're doing well.

Today I’m going to point out something that every Japanese language textbook I have ever seen gets completely wrong.

 
Feedback on Failure
But before that, I want to thank you for all the emails and messages you sent in response to last month’s episode on how public humiliation has been my secret to success in Japan. It was a hard one to make, but it seems like it really resonated with a lot of listeners, and the feedback was really overwhelming. So, thank you for that.

There was also, however, some comments about my difficulties speaking keigo and my description of it as a “mind-boggling complex protocol of honorific and humble forms whose use depends on a non-linear, three-dimensional matrix of formality, in-group out-group status, and the role you are playing in that particular interaction.“

OK. I admit I was a bit overdramatic there, but quite a few people emailed to tell me that keigo was actually quite logical and very straightforward as long as you keep in mind a few simple rules. It is something, they asserted, that can be mastered in a few years of serious study.

OK. Yeah, maybe. But it’s interesting to note that all the emails telling me how easy keigo is, came from non-Japanese. Among the emails I got from my Japanese fans, only two mentioned my keigo comments at all, and they both sympathized, saying that they also make mistakes sometimes. In fact, one of them even mentioned that she can’t understand why anyone thinks rakugo is funny either. So hey, maybe it’s my sense of humor, and not my language ability that’s the problem here.

But to those non-native speakers claiming keigo is simple and straightforward. Well OK, perhaps you have a gift for it. Perhaps its really clicked for you. You almost certainly have a better command of it that I do, but maybe you should consider, that just perhaps, you don’t understand it as well as you think you do.

 
How you are being lied to
In fact, I will go further than that.

Every Japanese language textbook I have ever seen completely misrepresents both what keigo is and how it is used. It’s almost always defined as a “means fo showing respect to individuals with higher social status”.

And that’s just wrong!

It is not about showing respect to individuals and it has nothing to do with social status. Sure, that definition might be useful for people with short attention spans or who know little about Japanese society. But fortunately, Disrupting Japan listeners have proven themselves as having long attention spans and they know a thing or two about Japanese society.

So let’s dig into this. If you are a non-native speaker, by the end of this short episode, I promise you’ll have a new way of looking at keigo.

OK.

Oracle first came into Japan more than 25 years ago, but the challenges they faced and overcame then are exactly the same ones firms are facing today in executing their Japan market entry.

Allen explains why Oracle needed a unique sales and marketing strategy for Japan, and how he managed to get buy-in from headquarters — even though Oracle already had a sales and marketing program that had proven fantastically successful in other markets.

We also talk about how Oracle managed to negotiate a amicable exit out from their exclusive distribution agreements not just once, but twice. That’s an amazing accomplishment considering that many foreign companies have destroyed their Japanese business the first time they attempt it.

But Allen, tells the story much better than I do. I think you’ll enjoy the interview. I know I did.

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Transcript
Welcome to disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.
Update
Japan is slowly opening up again. The official “unofficial” lockdown ended at the beginning of June. Restaurants, bars, and shops are reopening with a lot if plastic curtains and sheeting separating patrons and proprietors.  It’s a long way from normal, but it's better than being stuck in the house.

International travel is mostly shut down, but domestic travel is really picking up. It seems most of the hotels and resorts in Okinawa are already booked solid for the summer by Japanese who would normally be flying to Hawaii. And Okinawans, grateful for the business, but still nervous about the virus, have some pretty mixed feeling about that.

And of course, with international travel shut down, and all the trade shows canceled, most foreign startups have put their Japan market entry plans on hold. And that’s normally a lot of activity. If you are a B2B startup you need to be looking at Japan. It can be a hard market to crack, but it’’s a lucrative one.

So today, I want to re-share what is one of the most amazing Japan market-entry stories of all time. It has ambition, misdirection. drama, serious career-risk, and rock-concerts.  It’s an old story, but a good one. The technologies have changed since then, but the challenges and the strategies haven’t.
Intro
To kick things off today, we’ll get a chance to sit down and talk with my good friend Allen Miner about the challenges Oracle faced, and overcame, when breaking into Japan.

I’ll warn you in advance that this episode is longer than most, and believe me, I cut things to the bone. But there is just too much great information about how to overcome both the personal and professional challenges that foreign companies face here. I felt like I would be cheating you if I edited out any more. In fact, Allen explains how Oracle successfully maneuvered out of an exclusive distribution agreement, not only once, but two separate times. This is something that has sunk more than one foreign company here. But Allen tells the story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: So I’m sitting down here with Allen Miner and Allen, you’ve been involved with the market entry of a lot of companies into Japan. But today I want to focus on the one that you led personally, which was Oracle Japan. So let’s back up. What was attractive about the Japanese market? What made Oracle decide that they needed to be in this country?

Allen: Actually, that happened a few years before I joined Oracle. In, I believe it was 1982, Oracle was about a $5 million a year company worldwide, 5 years old as a company, and just released their first commercial version of the Oracle database software. There was quite a bit of press about, “How interesting is this relation to technology? It doesn’t require traditional programming to do data manipulation...

You would expect that event-focused startups would be some of the hardest hit by the global pandemic and lockdown, and for the most part, you would be right.

But Peatix is one event startup that adapted fast and is now actually thriving during the lockdown.  We've talked with Taku Harada before, and if you have not done so already, you should check it out. It's a great conversation and there is no overlap with today.

Today we talk about how startups can pivot and survive during the pandemic, why having too much money can be a curse for startups, and we dive into what's gone wrong with Japanese B2B SaaS startups.

It's a great discussion, and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes


How an evets company pivots during Covid-19
What makes a good online event
Will people play for online events
What will be the long-term behavioral changes from the lockdown
The surprising secret to scaling a social network
Tips for Japanese who want to run an international startup
The trap of startups having too much funding

What's wrong with Japan’s SaaS companies

Why Japanese enterprise has too much influence on startups

The importance of an ecosystem is not what you think 

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Peatix
Friend Taku on Facebook
Follow him on twitter at @takumeister
Petix on YouTube

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today we get a chance to sit down with (at a very safe social distance) with Taku Harada the founder of Peatix, and we’ll talk about how this particular event planning and booking company is not only surviving but thriving during this covid crisis.

And hey, this is the very first DJ episode I’ve released, where I’ve interviewed someone over video conference.  Oh, I’ve recorded a few interviews that way them before, but I’ve always found something lacking. Something impersonal and not fully connected when you talking to an image on a screen rather than a person in the same room.

But this time was different. Maybe because Taku and I are old friends, or maybe just because we all, myself included, are getting more used to living our lives online. So we’ll be doing more interviews this way, at least until things return to the way they were in the before times.

This is actually the second time we’ve had Taku on the show, but this is all new information, and I strongly encourage you to go listen to the other interview. It’s a great discussion about the things no one ever tells you when you first start your startup. I’ll have a link to that episode up on the site

But today we are going to talk about how to build, and expand, your customer base during lockdown, some things you should know about fundraising right now, and what the hell is wrong with Japanese B2B SaaS companies.

But you know Taku tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview.
Interview

Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Taku Harada of Peatix, the event ticketing and promotion service. Thanks for sitting down with me.
Taku: It’s great to be back, I guess. We talked several years ago. It’s nice to see you again.
Tim: Likewise, and we’re being very appropriately socially distanced here, you being in New York.
Taku: Very much.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah, actually, you were one of my very first guests on the show and that was, man, almost six years ago now.
Taku: Was it six years ago?
Tim: Yeah, 5 ½, six years. Times change.
Taku: When was it, 2013 or so? I’m curious to find out what I had said back then, if it matches up with the way I’m thinking right now.
Tim: Yeah. We finished off a bottle of wine at the old engine yard office in Tokyo.
Taku: Yeah, an Ebisu, right?
Tim: Yeah. Now, it was a really great interview and we’re not going to cover the same ground again today although I mean,

I've never managed to find a direct road to success.

My bio reads like a random walk down many different career paths, so I always feel unqualified to answer when people ask me for career advice. Today, however, I'd like to share one insight about doing business in Japan that I learned the hard way.

If you've been through something like this, I hope you'll be able to identify with it. If you haven't, I hope you can learn something from it, and avoid it.

Please share your experiences in the comments.

Show Notes

More life lessons from Mark the Dog
Japanese fluency is an odd target
What's worse than any horror movie plot?
Success via humiliating failure
How good does your Japanese need to be to do business in Japan?

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today I want to tell you the story about one of the most embarrassing and publicly humiliating events of my life, and something very important it taught me about doing business in Japan.

Before we get to that, however, I received a lot of great feedback from the last episode on the Japanese trap of the Glorious Failure, including a number of Japanese listeners who said they really liked Taniguchi-bucho’s explanation of corporate Japan’s negative point system.
(More) Advice from Mark the Dog
But by far the most popular request was for pictures and more life lessons from Mark the dog. Well, OK. I’m going to do that, but please understand that this is not a very deep well. There is only so much Mark the dog can teach us about how we should live our lives, because after all, Mark the dog, is … well, he’s a dog.

So I’ll put a couple of pictures of Mark the dog on the website, (Yes, he is very cute), and I’ll let you know that there is, in fact, one more thing that Mark the dog has taught me during the ongoing lockdown.

Mark being a good boy.

This was my wife's idea.

Meet my PA, Mark.

 

You know how dogs get really excited every time they hear a little noise outside or see something move past the window? Or how they become nearly hysterical whenever someone rings the doorbell or comes to the door?

Well, I get that now. I totally understand where dogs are coming from on this. The other week two pigeons landed on my window sill, and I got way more excited about that than I probably should have.
So hey to all the world’s dogs; we're cool on the doorbell thing. No judgment here.

OK, back our main story about my path to success via public humiliation.

 
Japanese fluency is an odd target
One of the things people always say when they find out I’ve been living in Japan for almost 30 years is “Wow. How good is your Japanese? You must be fluent!”

I never really know how to answer that. I’m definitely not fluent. I mean, I’m not trying to be overly humble here, my Japanese is good. I manage staff in Japanese. I do sales in Japanese. I do presentations in Japanese. So it’s good.

But fluent? No.

Often when I try to explain a complex or abstract thought, I manage to get lost before I find my way to the verb. I can’t get into a heated argument in Japanese. And I usually don’t understand most of the jokes. My wife loves rakugo, which is a popular Japanese form of comedy storytelling. They are these long shaggy-dog stories that people find hysterical, and I can understand 100% of the story, but I can’t for the life of me see how any of it is funny.

And then of course, there is keigo. The mind-boggling complex protocol of honorific and humble forms whose use depends on a complex three-dimensional matrix of formality, in-group out-group status, and the role you are playing in that particular interaction.

Frankly, once I get past basic greetings and a few set phrases, I tend to screw it up pretty badly. But, as I mentioned, keigo is hard,

Japanese businessmen famously fear failure.

But that understanding is horribly incomplete. In fact, there is one type of failure that is admired, almost sought after, in Japan. Today we take a look at the trap of the Japanese glorious failure, see how it's hurting startups, and examine our options on fixing it.

Show Notes

Life lessons from Mark the Dog
When and why failure is feared in Japan
What is a Glorious Failure, and why it is admired
How the Glorious Failure is hurting Japanese startups
What is (probably) the only way to fix this

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

I'm recording this episode for release on April 28, 2020. I usually try to make all Disrupting Japan content evergreen. Most of the insights you hear on Disrupting Japan about starting companies in Japan, or building a customer base, market testing, or doing business here will probably be just as valid in ten years as the day it was recorded.

And in some ways, this episode is no exception. The common wisdom is that Japanese. and Japanese founders in particular, are too risk-averse and have too great a fear of failure. Well today, we are going to turn that view on its head.

I’m going to explain that, in truth, Japanese founders don’t fear failure enough, and that’s hurting Japanese startups here.

You know, actually, maybe I am being too pessimistic. Maybe ten years from now, you and I will listen back on this episode and laugh at how things used to be and smile when we think of how much has improved.

Well, maybe.

But before we start talking about why Japanese founders need to fear failure more, I want to say something about the coronavirus situation, at least as it stands in late April 2020. The world might have changed a lot since then.

Tokyo is currently on official, but actually unofficial, lockdown. There are clusters of idiots in the parks, but most people seem to be taking things seriously. If you go outside, the police won’t arrest you, but they might ask you where you are going, and ask you to consider if you really need to be out. There is no real punishment or anything, but they make you feel kind of guilty, and that seems to be enough to keep most people indoors.

The operations of the Disrupting Japan Studios remain largely unaffected by the shutdown, but that mostly because, Disrupting Japan Studios broadcasts from inside of my wife’s walk-in closet. The acoustics are great in here, but it can get a bit cramped.

So for the past six weeks or so, I’ve been staying in the house with my wife Ami and my dog Mark. And you know, Mark the dog has taught me perhaps the most important lesson about how to deal with the corona crisis and the lockdown.

Mark the dog, he doesn’t really know what’s going on. All he knows is that my wife and I are home all the time, and he’s never alone. There is always someone to lean up against, or play with, or give him some attention.

Mark the dog, doesn’t worry about what might happen tomorrow, and I don’t think he really remembers what happened yesterday. But right now, at this particular moment, he knows he is with the people he loves and who care about him. And for right now, that’s pretty awesome. And believe me, Mark the dog is the happiest, most contented creature you could possibly imagine.

So day-by-day, right. At this particular moment, I hope you are OK and with people you love.

Anyway, let’s put Mark the dog out of the studio. We're going to talk about why Japanese founders need to fear failure more.
The Failure that is Feared
You’ll often hear that Japanese founders, and Japanese society in general or overly afraid of failure. And in some ways that is true.

Attitudes have shifted for the better over the past few decades, but most kinds of failure here in Japan do cary a certain stigma.

Almost all startup accelerators are going bankrupt and going away.

Hiro Maeda, the founder of two of Japan's most successful, and most different startup incubators explains both the brief past and precarious future of startup incubators and accelerators. We talk not only about the mechanics and challenges of what it takes to make an incubator successful, but Hiro has some practical advice on when founders should consider joining an accelerator and how they can avoid the 99% of them that provide no real value.

Innovation drives society forward, but everyday competence keeps it on the road.

Over the past five years, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of disruptive innovation, but today I’d like to talk about the framework that allows disruptive innovation to be a net positive to society.

The coronavirus pandemic has some people looking for innovation and others for stability. However, examining how Japan and the rest of the world are getting though it shows us something very important about innovation. Something that is almost always overlooked.

Show Notes

Life in Tokyo during the pandemic
Why you don't want to cough in Singapore
Why we probably can't innovate our way out of this pandemic
The very real dark side of disruptive innovation
Why innovation depends on everyday competence

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Things are not normal in Japan right now.

Japan is one of the countries that is being been hit the hardest by the coronavirus. And the rest of the world is watching Japan because it has a modern health-care system, an active response to the virus, and a government that can be trusted to release .. reasonably accurate information about infection and mortality rates.

How things play out for Japan over the next few months is quite likely how they will play out for the rest of the world over the next year.

So yeah, everybody is watching Japan; as they should be.

People are nervous in Japan, but things are calm and orderly. Of course, Japan tends to do calm and orderly really well. Public gatherings like graduations, business conferences, and sporting events have been canceled. As I record this, no decision has been made about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but it seems likely they’ll be postponed.

Two weeks ago Sunday, I was walking back home through nearly deserted streets around Ark Hills and saw a young couple doing their wedding photography in the atrium there. Masks nervously being taken off and put back on between shots. It’s got to be a frustrating time to have had a wedding scheduled.

On the business side, most large companies including Dentsu, Panasonic, Mitsubishi and of course Google as well, are either requiring or encouraging their employees to work from home. Which is good. Almost all business travel is canceled, and that’s for the best.

In fact, three weeks ago when I was returning to Japan from Singapore, I coughed while walking through the airport on the way to my gate. Not like a big, sick, hacking cough, but just like a, I mean I’m a human being, and sometimes we just cough, right?

A few seconds later, someone from security wearing a mask walked up to me with a heat sensor to take my temperature. He was very polite about the whole thing, and I was fine of course. It’s good to know that Singapore is taking things seriously, but FYI, don’t cough in the Singapore airport.

In terms of Disrupting Japan, well, I have not been scheduling interviews for the obvious reasons, and honestly, right now most founders are focused on coronavirus countermeasures. If the situation continues, I may try video-conference interviews again, or I may do more commentary episodes. The feedback I received on my last few was overwhelmingly positive, so maybe.

Today, however, I want to talk about the nature of innovation itself. You see, the coronavirus has the potential to teach us a valuable lesson about innovation. No, no. It’s not the one you think it is. It’s not the standard fare about innovation and ingenuity will get us through even humanity’s worst problems.

No, it’s something a bit less on-message. But it’s an insight that is for more important, and in a way, far more reassuring than the standard trope about innovating our way out of a bad situation.

Unfortunately, it’s also a lesson that I think all us innovators ...

Some of the most important startups are ones you never hear about.

Some industries are so complex and arcane that its hard for people on the outside to understand the problems that startups are solving or the long-term gain of solving them.

Freight forwarding is one of those industries.

Today we talk with Taka Sato of Shippio, a startup trying to change the way freight forwarding works in Japan.  We talk about the challenges involved in trying to disrupt a low-tech, low-margin industry and also the potential rewards if Shippio succeeds.

We also cover some of the bight spots in Japanese entrepreneurship and talk about how one large company, in particular, has had to change their hiring practices to respond to the fact that so many of their best young employees are leaving to found startups.

It's a great discussion, and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes

What is freight forwarding and why is it important?
The biggest advantage of moving from corporate life to startups
Why so many startups are coming out of Mitsui
The challenges of building a platform in a low-margin industry
How to decide between a service-based or SaaS-based business model
Why there is finally enough pain in Japan to drive change
How the logistics industry reacts to new technology
Why the global logistics industry is a myth
The paradox of Japanese logistics quality

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Shippio
Connect with Taka on LinkedIn

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, there is nothing more interesting than startups in boring industries. They are the ones that are taking on entrenched interests and business convention, and because so few outside of their industry really understand what they do and the problems that they solve, they tend to get a lot less funding and a lot less media attention than consumer-facing startups.

No, the startups in boring industrial B2B spaces are old school startups. They may not have the party atmosphere or the easy customer adoption, but the truth is that on average, they have the best chance of success.

Today, we sit down with Taka Sato, the co-founder of Shippio, a Japanese startup trying to change the nature of the freight forwarding business in Japan, and if you're not exactly sure what freight forwarding is, don't worry, Taka explains it simply and really well at the start of our conversation.

We also talk about the challenges of pivoting in a B2B space in Japan and how to balance the very real trade-offs between the scalability of offering B2B SaaS products with the stability of offering a service direct to the customer.

And if you're interested in the freight forwarding industry, and by the end of this interview, I think you will be, we also talk about how the global market is likely to play out. Freight forwarding might seem like a winner take all marketplace, but Taka explains that this is probably not going to happen.

Oh, the industry is going to be disrupted -- that's already happening, but it's not going to play out quite the way that Silicon Valley thinks it will.

But you know, Taka tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Taka Sato of Shippio. Thanks for sitting down with me.

Taka: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me today.

Tim: No, it's been great. We've been trying to make this happen for a long time now.

Taka: Yeah, I know, I know.

Tim: I'm glad you're finally here. So, Shippio is a digital freight forwarder, but for the audience, let's explain what freight forwarding is, so let's say for example, I've got some construction equipment sitting in a factory in China,

Most great startup ideas don’t grab your attention right away. It takes a while before the founder’s vision becomes obvious to the rest of us. On the other hand, the startups that immediately grab all the press attention often go out of business shortly after shipping their first product. Reality never seems to live up to the promise.

And then there are products like Orphe. This LED-emblazoned, WiFi-connected, social-network enabled dancing shoe seems made for fluffy, flashy Facebook sharing, but only when you really dig into it, do you understand what it really is and the potential it has in the marketplace.

Today we sit down with Yuya Kikukawa, founder of No New Folk Studio and the creator of the Orphe, and we talk about music, hardware financing, and why this amazing little shoe is finding early adopters in places from game designers to hospitals.

It’s a great conversation, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Show Notes

The inspiration for musical shoes
Why Yuya's first musical instrument attempt was a failure

The biggest challenge in moving from prototype to production
Orphe's technical specs
How Orphe is being used in hospitals and other healthcare applications
How small Japanese startups can achieve global distribution
Where the next big startup opportunities in Japan will be
Why most hardware startups fail

Links from the Founder

No New Folk Studio Hompage
See Orphe in action
Check out Yuya's blog
Follow Yuya on Facebook
Check out PocoPoco on YouTube

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

As expected, my new Google duties are taking a lot of my time and taking me out of Japan quite a bit. Things will be returning to normal soon, but in the meantime, I wanted to bring you a special selects show with a really interesting update.

Yuya Kikukawa first sat down together a few years ago to talk about shoes, but if you listened to the last episode of Disrupting Japan you know that when you are talking about shoes you are never really talking about shoes.

In this case, the shoes in question are the Orphe, and they are a combination musical instrument and social network, and yeah that will make a lot more sense when you listen to the interview. And we also talk about what defines a musical instrument, the unique challenges of Japanese hardware startups, and the nature of innovation.

Oh, and I also have some news. In our conversation, Yuya and I debated a strategic decision that all hardware startups face, and just last month we finally got our answer.  I’ll tell you about it in the update after the show.

Intro
You know, most good startups are obvious. I don’t mean that I could have had the idea before the founders did. By obvious, I mean that right away you can understand the problem the company is solving for their customers and how they’re doing it. Naturally, that makes it easier for the customers to buy.

Most non-obvious startups are in reality still struggling to find the product market fit and are probably not long for this world. And then there are products like Orphe, an LED-emblazoned WiFi-connected social sharing enabled dancing shoe. Yeah, it sounds like something you would find on Indiegogo and that one time not too long ago, it was. But when I sat down with Yuya Kikukawa, founder of No New Folk Studio and the creator of the Orphe, it became clear that this was not some quirky side project or some overfunded crazy hardware startup.

This was something really different.

We talked about the original inspiration for the shoe and what does and does not qualify as a musical instrument and how Orphe is being used by the artistic community in Japan. But we also dive into the technology inside it, and that, well, that’s something special.

Today I am going to correct two big mistakes; one of my own and one of society's.

I lot of listeners emailed me about the comments I made regarding how Japanese companies treat their employees and customers while they are pregnant. I got it wrong, so I would like to set the record straight.

I also explain what I see as the obvious answer to the current #KuToo controversy. I realize that this puts me at serious risk of having to publish another retraction, but I think it's an important way of looking at this problem.

Please enjoy, and let me know what you think.

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.
I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.
As expected, my crazy Google travel schedule has caused me reschedule some of my interviews, but I promise that I’ll get back to talking with some of Japan’s most amazing startup founders really soon.
Today, however, I want to talk about the feedback I received from my recent discussion with Miku Hirano about how pregnant women are treated at work in Japan, and specifically, about my comments in the outro of that episode.
Hey, when I screw up, I have no problem admitting that I screwed up, and boy did I step in it this time.   
So today, I want to set the record straight on what it’s like for women working at startups and at large enterprises here in Japan. Oh yes, and we are also going to tak about shoes.
And yeah, I totally understand how strange it is for a white guy to stand behind a microphone and talk about the situation women face in Japan. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let me explain what I got wrong, and let me set the record straight.
In our conversation, Miku told the story of how supportive her clients and prospective clients had been while she was pregnant. Doing things like adjusting their schedules and coming to her office for meetings, where Japanese business protocol would require that she visit them.
Both Miku and I were surprised and delighted that so many Japanese salarymen, who have a reputation for being rather sexist, voluntarily went out of their way to accommodate her and to make things just a little bit easier for her while she was expecting.
In the outtro, I speculated that this outpouring of support might be because she was a startup CEO, and many of the traditional rules of Japanese business etiquette don’t seem to apply to startups, and I mused that her experience might have been very different if she had worked at a more traditional Japanese company.
Well, I was wrong. I was really wrong. And in fact, I have to say that I’m pretty happy that I was wrong about this. Let me explain what happened….
After that episode aired, I received a lot of email from female listeners working at large Japanese companies who explained that both their clients and their companies made exactly the same kinds of accommodations for them when they were pregnant.
And I also heard from a few senior managers and HR professionals telling me that I got it wrong. They gave me examples of how they had made a point of traveling to visit a vendor who was pregnant or broke up long meetings into multiple short ones to make things more manageable for pregnant employees or visitors.
So I got it wrong. And that’s awesome!
But I can’t just leave it there.  I probably should, but I mean something still doesn’t fit. There is a great deal of gender discrimination in Japan. Both international organizations and Japanese NGOs consistantly rank Japan very poorly in this regard. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report ranked Japan 110th out of 149 countries.
And then there are things like Tokyo Medical University marking down girl’s scores on the entrance exams to ensure “enough” boys would get in.
So how do we reconcile this seeming contradiction?  The independent research showing that discrimination exists is consistent and respected,

There is big news for Tim and for Disrupting Japan this week.

It's a very short episode, and I have no special links or show notes this time around. Please give the show a listen for the big reveal, and please accept my sincere thanks for all your support over the years.

Disrupting Japan is just getting started. The best is yet to come.

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Transcript
-- vintage news sounds --
This is a Disrupting Japan news flash.
We are broadcasting live from Tokyo, Japan to bring you today’s breaking news.
In just a few minutes from now, we will be witness to ….
Hold on. Let me turn this thing off.
OK. That’s better.
So, this is the first episode of Disrupting Japan ever that has not been released early on a Tuesday morning Japan time, so as you might expect, something big is going on.
In fact, this evening we’re announcing it at a press conference. Tomorrow you may be reading about it in news articles or blogs, but I wanted you to hear it from me first.
Because you, the Disrupting Japan listeners, are a big part of what has led to this, and as you’ll see, I think that you are going to be a big part of what’s to come.
Some of you are new fans, and that’s great. The podcast keeps growing steadily every month.
And some of you have been with me since the very beginning and you were with me as my ContractBeast startup went under. You were part of my Crowd-Sourcing-My-Career project. You were part of my journey to becoming Japan’s first professional podcaster, and with me when I decided to take the show non-commercial in order to work with energy startups at TEPCO.
So it’s only fair that I let you know what’s coming next.
I’m joining Google as the new Head of Google for Startups Japan.
So what exactly does Google for Startups do?  Officially, it's "Google’s initiative to help startups thrive across every corner of the world. Bringing together the best of Google's products, connections, and best practices to enable startups to build something better."
And that’s, admittedly, pretty cool.
In practice, however, what Google for Startups Japan will become is largely up to us. Google for Startups has different programs in different countries, and this is an amazing chance to create something unique for Japan and to make a real impact for Japanese startups.
I have a lot of ideas, but I want to hear from you are well. If you are out there growing your startup in Japan, let me know what are some of the biggest challenges that you could use some help with. Or if you’ve already overcome those challenges, let me know what kind of resources and advice you wish you had access to back then.
I’ll need your help to really make this work.
So, what does all this mean for Disrupting Japan? Well, good things mostly. Google is being very supportive of the show, and with the audience as large and engaged as it is now, I don’t think I could stop even if I wanted to.
However, my travel schedule for the next few months is absolutely crazy — even by my standards, so interviews will be hard to arrange. But we’ll make it work.
I might be able to squeeze in interviews on the few days I’m in town and edit them on airplanes. Or maybe I’ll get a chance to interview Japanese founders in the countries I’ll be visiting. Or maybe I’ll bring my microphones with me, make a little pillow-fort studio in my hotel room and record some shorter solo shows on the road.
I don’t know, but I’ll make it work. I haven’t missed an episode in the five and a half years since I started Disrupting Japan and I’m not going to miss one now.  Format-wise,  content-wise, things will return to normal in a few months.
So I’m incredibly excited about this new opportunity. I mean its a chance for me to work full time with Japan’s startup founders to further develop Japan’s startup community. And that’s pretty much a dream job for me.
But there is something else here, and it’s something that I don’t think anyone looking at Japan’s startups fr...

There has never been a better time to raising money in Japan than right now.

Founders ask me about fundraising more than any other topic, so this guide is long overdue. There are links that cover the basics in the Show Notes, and I will be keeping this page updated as new information becomes available and members of the community create new resources.

Calling something "The Ultime Guide" to anything is a pretty big claim, and I'll do my best to make sure this page lives up to it.

Please enjoy.

Show Notes

Results of the "Why Meet a Founder?" survey
Directories of Japanese VC firms

Japan Venture Capital Membership
Crunchbase's list of Japanese VCs
The Bridge: not a directory, but a good source of Japanese funding announcements


How to pitch like a Pro

Dave McClure's original guide to pitching VCs - Very much substance over style

The same information in a more readable format
Dave's deck redesigned by people who do care about style

What you need to put in your pitch deck - an infographic
Design advice for pitch decks  - more geared towards pitch contents

Advice from Japanese VCs

James Riney talks about the VC business model and gives pitching advice
Disrupting Japan's live show on fundraising in Japan
Hiro Maeda on fundraising in Japan
Ikuo Hirasishi provides an overview of Japan's VC landscape
More from James Riney back when he was with 500 startups

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.
Today, I am going to answer the question that everyone seems to be asking. Or at least the question that everyone seems to be asking me.
I am going to explain how to raise money as a new startup founder in Japan.
You know, it’s funny how things work out. I originally planned to write this episode a few months ago as a short-take on a focused topic while I fished up my episode about the history of software engineering in Japan, but the topic kind of got away from me.
My first draft and notes for the show came in at over 24,000 words, which by the time I fleshed it all out would have ended up as a four -hour podcast, and even I can’t stand to listen to me for four hours.
So I’ve had to make some cuts, some painful ones. This episode should be under an hour, but it requires that I speak in generalities and make a few over-broad statements. There are a few really important topics that I will just mention briefly before moving on.
So, if while you are listening to this episode, particularly my VC listeners, and you find yourself thinking that I would explain a particular point in more detail and with more nuance, or wishing that I would dive deeper into specific strategies and scenarios …   Yeah. Me too. But we’ll save that for another podcast or maybe a conversation over a beer.
Now, there are a few very important questions you need to ask before you even decide to seek VC money. Things like “How do you plan on using those funds?” and “Are you sure you understand the growth-driven management style you are signing up for here?”
But, from my experience, relatively few founders really want to dive into those topics. No, what founders in Japan really want to know is how to raise money. So that’s what we are going to talk about.
I’m going to give you a clear and actionable plan so that:

You can decide which VCs you should approach
You can set up meetings with partners at reputable Japanese VC firms
You how to pitch in the most effective way possible
You will have some strategies to help you actually close the round, and get the money in the bank.

And you’ll be able to do it all in a reasonable amount of time without going absolutely crazy
Now, I’ll warn you. Each of these steps is significantly harder than the one before, but you’ll be building up your skills as you move through the process.

Technology is global, but ideas are local.

The same IoT technology is being deployed all over the world, but a small Japanese startup might be who helps us make sense of it all.

There is amazing work being done in user experience design, but most designers are operating with the contract of keeping users engaged. This is a fundamental shift from the traditional user-centered and functional design approaches.

Today we sit down with Kaz Oki, founder of Mui Labs, and we talk about user design can actually improve our lives and help us disengage.

We also talk about the challenges of getting VCs to invest in hardware startups, why Kyoto might be Japan's next innovation hub, and what it takes for a startup to successfully spin out of a Japanese company

It's a great discussion, and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes

How Japanese design philosophy informs user interface design
How UI design got so bad

Who are the early technology adopters in Japan
Why VCs hesitate to invest in hardware companies
How to pitch corporate management to let you spin out a startup
Why you should run a Kickstarter even when you have corporate backing
Why a major manufacturer decided to outsource innovative manufacturing
The secret to making corporate spinouts work in Japan
How to convince Japanese employees to join a spinout
How to get middle-management on-board with corporate spinouts
What changed in Kyoto to make it one of Japan’s best startup hubs

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Mui Labs
Check out the Mui Kickstarter
Keep up-to-date on the Mui Blog
Check them out on Facebook
Follow Kaz on Twitter @mui_labo

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

If you're a fan of Disrupting Japan, you know that I have a strong dislike for attempts to make Japan sound too exotic and this goes in both directions. On one side, we have consultants who claim that Japanese business practices are so unique, arcane, and confusing that the only way westerners can possibly understand them is by paying large sums of money to consultants such as themselves.

And on the other side, of course, we have people insisting that foreigners can't really understand Japanese anime without a thorough and nuanced knowledge of Japanese language and history.

It's all utter nonsense. I mean, there are differences, of course, and those differences should be acknowledged and respected, but whether an idea is coming from Japan or America, or Germany, one true measure of the value of that idea is its universality. The most important achievements might emerge out of cultural biases or sensitivities but they address something universally true, something deeply human.

Today, we sit down with Kaz Oki of Mui Labs and we're going to talk about Mui's radical rethinking of how we should interact with computers and the different contexts for that interaction. The Mui itself is a tactile and visual user interface that literally fades into the furniture when you're not using it.

Now, this interface is clearly informed by Japanese aesthetics. In fact, some of the deeper issues Kaz and I talked about kept bubbling up in my mind in the week following the interview, and Kaz and I are going to do a follow-up later over a couple of beers in Kyoto, but there's nothing about the Mui design that looks particularly Japanese. It's tapping into a deeper and more human design sense, and that's far more interesting.

Oh, and Mui Labs also represents a very rare kind of startup, a creature far, far more rare than unicorns. Mui Labs is an innovative and successful Japanese corporate spin-out. We talk about how Kaz made that work, his valiant battles against multiple layers of middle management, and how he managed to recruit top startup talent into that company,

Technology develops differently in Japan.

While US tech giants have been grabbing artificial intelligence headlines, a business AI sector has been quietly maturing in Japan, and it is now making inroads into America.

Today we sit down again with Miku Hirano, CEO of Cinnamon, and we talk about how exactly this happened.

Interestingly, Cinnamon did not start out as an AI company. In fact, when Miku first came on the show, the company had just launched an innovative video-sharing service. Today, we talk about what lead to the pivot to AI and why even a great idea and a great team is no guarantee of success.

We also talk about some of the changing attitudes towards startups and women in Japan, the kinds of business practices AI will never change, and Miku give some practical advice for startups going into foreign markets.

It's a great discussion, and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes

How Miku invented TikTok before TickTok and why it didn’t work
How you know when  its time to pivot a startup
Why companies will never go digital and will always use paper
Who will benefit most from AI
The four categories of AI
How AI will change the legal profession
How japan is actually ahead of US and China in some kinds of AI
What's really driving business innovation in Japan
Can AI actually reduce overtime?
How enterprise clients treat women founders

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Cinnamon
Follow Miku on Twitter @mikuhirano
Friend her on Facebook
More about Cinnamon

Miku's original Disrupting Japan interview
Eliminating Repetitive Office Work through Disruptive AI
Miku on the John Batchelor Show - Part I
Miku on the John Batchelor Show - Part II

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Transcript
 Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we're going to sit down and talk about artificial intelligence with Miku Hirano of Cinnamon. Now, Cinnamon is actually a great example of a successful Japanese startup pivot. When we first sat down with Miku four years ago, she had an innovative micro-video sharing company called Tuya and really, you should go back and listen to that episode. I've put a link on the show notes and it was really a good one.

Anyway, Miku basically started TikTok a few years before TikTok and we talk about why things didn't work out, why even with the same idea, one startup will become a multi-billion dollar brand and the other will pivot. Of course, the pivot to AI and the rebranding to Cinnamon has led this to their current success in using AI to read and to understand common business forms.

In fact, for reasons that Miku will explain during the interview, Japan is actually ahead of the US and China in the area of business AI. We'll also talk about how attitudes towards women are changing here and how Japanese men at traditional companies treat women founders, particularly women founders with children, and I think it might surprise you. I mean, it surprised me and it surprised Miku as well,

But you know, Miku tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Miku Hirano of Cinnamon and it's great to have you back on the show again.

Miku: Yeah, thank you so much for having me here again.

Tim: Well, so much has changed since -- it was three years ago, right?

Miku: Yeah, yeah, and I had a totally different business at the time.

Tim: Well, not only a totally different business but you've gotten married and you've had two kids.

Miku: Yeah, yeah, and at the time, I think I was living in Taiwan and now, my business is in Tokyo, so everything has changed.

Tim: And so, we're not even going to cove what we talked about last time even though in the in...

Ari Horie has always had a different approach to supporting women entrepreneurs.

She doesn't talk about "empowering" women and sensitivity training is not in her toolkit. Ari is showing the startup world that incorporating some of the problem-solving skills and leadership techniques favored by women improves their chance of success.

Women having a leading role in entrepreneurship is not the socially responsible thing to do. It is the most profitable thing to do. Ari's been on stage with some of the most powerful men in Japan including Prime Minister Abe and Hiroshi Mikitani of Rakuten, and her message is starting to take hold.

Entrepreneurship provides a much more level playing field than any other kind of business, and we should not be surprised that a lot of women excel here, and they often do it by doing things differently from their male competitors.

Startups that plan to survive need to use all the tools at their disposal, and Ari explains exactly how this is happening.

Japanese enterprises are their own worst enemy when it comes to innovation.

In this live panel discussion, I talk about my experience driving innovation at TEPCO, and Ion and Jenson share their experiences running innovation labs. This panel was part of the btrax Design for Innovation event in Tokyo last week.

We talk about the specific challenges that Japanese companies are facing and the strategies we've used -- with varying degrees of success --  to help overcome them.

Of course, like everyone else, I always remember the most important thing to say ten minutes too late, so I've added those thoughts to the outro at the end of the podcast.

It's a great conversation with four people who really care about innovation in Japan, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Links from the Panel

Brandon Hill (moderator)

Connect on LinkedIn
Follow on Twitter @BrandonKHill
the btrax homepage

Tim Romero (me)

You've already found me here, but we can connect on LinkedIn if you like.
Or follow me on Twitter @timoth3y, but my Twitter game is pretty bad

Jensen Barnes

Connect on LinkedIn

Ion Nedelcu  @frogdesign.com

Check out Frog

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

I’ve got another live show for you today. I’ve gotten some great feedback on the past couple I’ve put out, so while I finish up the big solo show I’m working on about how to raise money in Japan, I thought I would bring you another live show today.

But this one is a bit different.

Last week, at the BTrax Design for Innovation conference, I was part of a panel where we talked about the challenges a lot of large companies face in driving innovation internally. I talk about some of the specifics from my work at TEPCO and my fellow panelists share their experience running innovation labs for Japanese enterprises.

And, I’m sure you will not be surprised to learn that Japanese companies are pretty bad at innovating this way.  At least so far. Most have good intentions, of course, but almost all of them are making the same core mistakes in their innovation programs.

We go over a few of the big ones in our conversation, and in my comments at the end of the show, I’ll give you my closing thoughts on the problem with what I call the "innovation market."

But for now, lets get right to the discussion.
Interview
Brandon:          So let's see the topic innovation labs. So sounds really Silicon Valley, isn't it? So I like to start by getting a poll from the audience about Silicon Valley. So how many of you guys have visited Silicon Valley in the past, but few, one third maybe? I live in San Francisco and I see many Japanese companies visit Silicon Valley looking forward to some ideas or methods for innovation. And I feel like every single week there's one company visiting from Japan trying to find some ideas. However, I feel like result-wise and output wise, I haven't seen a clear results least. So I like to open up discussion here to ask your opinions about while we did some of the challenges that Japanese companies are facing when it comes to creating innovation, even though they do come to the second Valley very often. What's, what's wrong with it? What's, what, what do they need to do?

Anybody JV, go ahead.

Jensen:            Well hi, I'm Jensen Barns. I'm from California, lived in Japan for six years. Basically opened up, well co founded the innovation lab here in Japan. Been active in many institutions and I kind of brand myself as doing new things, always doing new. So I think the, the issue I see in this in California is Japanese key Japanese companies coming, but then not really setting with Tim has, both Ian and I have, we've talked about is like setting objectives, setting the right objectives and coming for the right reasons. As a,

This year at CEATEC, I was on stage with founders from two very different hardware startups.

We talk in-depth about what it takes to be a hardware startup in a world where venture capital seems fixated on SaaS companies and software platforms. 

Although their startups seem very different, Tomo Hagiwara and Keith Tan had very similar core experiences.

Tomo and Keith share some great advice about raising money as a hardware startup, how to give large companies confidence that your product will meet their quality standards, and some pretty surprising answers to questions about the best way to go global.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Links

Everything you ever wanted to know about Crown Digital
Learn about Aquabit Spirals

Follow Tomo on twitter @hagi_w
Friend him on Facebook

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The promise of AI is easily understood by anyone with an imagination, and for 40 years, venture capitalists have been enthusiastically investing in that promise.

However, it's been significantly harder for founders to turn that investment into sustainable business models. 

Today we are going to look at why that is, and go over what might be a blueprint for startups to create business models around artificial intelligence.

Tatsuo Nakamura founded Valuenex in 2006 with the goal of using artificial intelligence to supplement the work being done by patent attorneys, and their software was instrumental in the resolution of one of Japan's most famous, and most valuable, lawsuits.  the Blue LED patent case.

We also talk about how to sell to large companies as a small startup, the challenges in trying to make product strategy based on technology, why staying private longer is not always a good thing for startups, and how Valuenex technology accidentally discovered a secret collaboration between Honda and Google.

It's a great discussion with the founder of one of Japan's most successful AI companies, and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why AI can understand patents better than lawyers can
Why the market should drive technology rather than the other way around
How Valuenex helped resolve one of the biggest patent lawsuits in Japanese history
How a new law if forcing change in Japanese universities
How Valuenex discovered a secret collaboration between Honda and Google
How to create sustainable business models in AI
Why quantum computing will both break AI and save AI
Why Valuenex IPOed early instead of staying private and growing
Some unusual advice about when to do a market entry
Why Japanese VC often make market entry difficult

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Valuenex
Connect with Tatsuo on LinkedIn
Friend hin on Facebook

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we're going to be talking about something that's frankly difficult to talk about on an audio podcast. Tatsuo Nakamura founded Valuenex in 2006 to use Artificial Intelligence and modern visualization techniques to help clients make sense of their patent portfolios and to keep an eye on what the competition is doing. In fact, this technology uncovered some of the core evidence that decided the famous blue LED case. It's highly effective but highly visual, so let me try to explain it.

Valuenex creates a kind of topographical map that shows companies where in the market, their IP is strong and where it's weak. This can let them spot new market opportunities or learn what their competition is about to do. It's all pretty intuitive when you see it, but today, we'll have to use our imagination as a kind of screen simulation.

Tatsuo and I also talk about Valuenex's US market entry - well, their two US market entries, actually. We cover what he sees as the best overall strategy for AI startups for them to find their product market fit, and Tatuo explains how he was accidentally able to discover a significant collaboration between two world-famous companies six months before the project was announced.

But you know, Tatsuo tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: I'm sitting here with Tatsuo Nakamura, the CEO and founder of Valuenex. So, thanks for sitting down with me.

Tatsuo Nakamura: Thank you very much.

Tim: Now, Valuenex is a leader in visualization and big data analytics and it's so hard to talk about visualizations on an audio podcast.

Tatsuo: Yes.

Tim: But we're going to try. So, what's the best way to explain? What does Valuenex do?

Tatsuo: Valuenex is a predictive analytics compan...

Education is very hard to disrupt.

That’s both good and bad. Education is so important to both individuals and society, it should not be changed on a whim, but over time it seems that our institutions of higher education have drifted away from meeting students real needs.

Yoshito Hori, founder and CEO of Globis, is making radical changes. He turned a small training school into Japan's first independent and fully accredited business school with an MBA. Less than ten years later, Globis became Japan’s most popular MBA program.

We talk about the need for change in education and about the successful, real-world pilot program Globis is running to modernize Japanese higher education. Yoshito also shares insights on how to teach innovative thinking and explains why such a high percentage of Globis MBAs go on to found starts or join them.

It's a fascinating discussion and I think you'll really enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why most Japanese do not want to attend full-time MBA programs
How to make an advanced degree both exclusive and inexpensive
How to groom MBA students to start startups
How Sumitomo missed out on a multi-billion dollar business
Why Japanese higher education is so resistant to change
This difference between SPOCs and MOOCs, and why it's important
How drinking in front of your computer might save higher education

Links from the Founder

Check out Globis
Yoshito's blog on entrepreneurship in Japan
Follow Yoshito on Twitter@YoshiHoriGLOBIS
Connect with him on LinkedIn
Yoshito's article on 100 Actions to revive Japan
The G1 Global Conference

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Transcript
Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.
I’ve got another great select show for you today.

I really like this particular episode because it highlights that disruptive innovation does not have to be about the technology, If fact, even when disruption seems to be about technology, it’s really not. It’s about changing systems, changing the way people and businesses interact with each other. Of course, that often does involve technology, but when it does, the technology is only the conduit.

Nowhere is that more clear than in my conversation with Yoshito Hori, the CEO, and founder of Globis. In fact, I would say that at least so far,  Globis has brought far more genuine change to Japan’s education market than all Japan's edTech startups combined.

So please enjoy the episode and I’ve got some important updates to our story for you after the show.
-----

You know, education is hard to disrupt. And as long-time fans know very well, that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because education is so important and foundational not only to how well a given child will do later in life but also because in the large developed nations, the educational system forms the basis of society itself. It provides us all with a shared set of experiences.

So the fact that we don’t change the rules every few years is a good thing. On the other hand, this lack of disruption leads to educational systems that don’t really meet the needs of today’s students and today’s societies for that matter. So clearly, there must be a better way of doing things than what we’re doing now.

Well, today, I’d like to introduce you to someone who’s found a better way. Yoshito Hori founded Globis as a small business training school and grew it into Japan’s first independent and fully accredited business school offering MBAs. And then, Globis became Japan’s most popular MBA program.

Yoshito’s strategy for innovation is fascinating. Unlike similar schools in the US, Globis does not compete on cost. In fact, the Globis MBA is more expensive than similar degree programs at Todai or Hitotsubashi. No. Globis is doing something unique and something that is making a lot of people rethink how un...

Ad-fraud is one of the most profitable activities for organized crime today. The scammers are sophisticated, disciplined, and numerous, and they might be using your IoT devices to rip people off.

Over the past decade, there has been relatively little of this kind of cybercrime in Japan, but that's changing as the ad-fraud crime networks go global. Japan has to catch up and catch up fast. Unfortunately, Japan defenses have been rather poor.

Today we sit down and talk with someone who is fixing that.  Satoko Ohtsuki is the founder and CEO of Phybbit, Japan's largest ad-fraud prevention network, and she's going to explain the biggest scam you've probably never heard of.

Of course, we talk about the different kinds of ad-fraud and what is being done to combat them, but we also talk about how she was pushed into entrepreneurship, and the challenges of raising money (and raising children) as a female founder in Japan.

It's a great discussion with one of the most interesting founders in Japan,  and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes

The global scale of ad-fraud
How to bluff your way into starting a leading software company
The main kinds of ad-fraud
Google & Facebook's conflict of interest in solving ad fraud
How scammers try to get around the fraud countermeasures
Who exactly are the ad-fraud scammers and where are they located?
How your devices and home electronics are helping the scammers
The challenge of raising venture money as a woman in Japan
Satoko’s advice for women raising money in Japan
Balancing the demands of a growing startup and growing children
How Japanese VCs stop Japanese startups from going global
How the 2020 Olympics are affecting venture investment in Japan

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Phybbit

Phybbit's 2019 Whitepaper on Ad Fraud

Check out Satoko's blog
Follow Satoko on Twitter @satoko90
Friend her on Facebook

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today we are going to be talking about ad-fraud. Ad-fraud is a multi-billion-dollar problem that a lot of people don’t really want to see get solved.

You see, when you run an internet ad campaign or participate in an affiliate network, some of the clicks or installs you pay for are from real people interested in your product or service, but a lot of them are bots that are simply scamming money for the site owners.

In fact, a surprising number of ad-clicks are bots. Internet advertising is a $280 billion global business and it's estimated that somewhere between 25% and 50% of it is fraud.

Well today, we are going to sit down with someone who is doing something about that.

Satoko Ohtsuki founded Phybbit to combat ad fraud, and it has now become the largest ad fraud detection service in Japan.

Satoko and I talk about how Phybbit is using artificial intelligence to combat the seemly endless stream of online ad fraudsters, the challenges she faced raising money as a woman founder in Japan, and how you, yes you in particular, might be helping out the ad fraud scammers without even knowing it.

But you know, Satoko tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: Cheers!

Satoko: Cheers!

Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Satoko Ohtsuki of Phybbit, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Satoko: Thank you too. Thank you for your time.

Tim: Phybbit makes Spider AF.

Satoko: Yes.

Tim: And the AF stands for 'Anti-Fraud'? 'Ad Fraud'?

Satoko: Ad Fraud.

Tim: Ad Fraud.

Satoko: So, let me introduce what is Ad Fraud first. Ad Fraud is exactly as it is written, it’s advertisement fraud. For example, if I was a blogger, I will put some advertisement spot inside of my blog a...

The robotics ecosystem in Japan is amazing. And confusing.

It's a collection of crazy ideas, odd creations, and true breakthroughs. And despite the combination of fawning prise and snide skepticism that Japanese robotics evoke in the international press, only time can really separate the true breakthroughs from the dead ends.

Today, we sit down with Tez Sawanobori, the founder of Connected Robotics, and we talk about how robots are being adopted in the restaurant industry here in Japan.

Connected Robotics already has two lines of consumer-visible robots being used in restaurants in Japan, and the reaction from the owners, the employees, and the customers has been overwhelmingly positive and quite a bit different than similar experiments run in America.

We talk about the strong economic and social pressures affecting the adoption of robots in restaurants and discuss the changes he had to make before chefs and robots can really work side by side.

It's a great conversation, and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes

The real reason we need robots chefs
The unlikely founding of Connected Robotics
Why the restaurant business is so hard to disrupt
Looking at the real economics of food prep robots
What’s holding back robotics in restaurants
Can robotics really solve the labor shortage in Japan?
How Japanese employment practices make it harder to use robots but increase the need for them
How Japan can catch up to the US and China in robotics research
The best way for American and Japanese robotics engineers to work together
The future of foreign workers in Japan

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Connected Robotics
Watch a video of the OctoChef in action
Follow Tez on Twitter @tezsawa
Friend him on Facebook
Connect on LinkedIn

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to be talking about the OctoChef.

“What the hell is the OctoChef?” you might ask, and that would be a good and quite reasonable question.

The OctoChef was created by Connected Robotics and it’s a robot that makes Takoyaki, and we’re going to sit down with founder Tez Sawanobori and talk about why it’s important.

It’s important to understand that the OctoChef is not just some crazy side project of Tez and the team, although I guess it was the very first time I met them, but no, now, the OctoChef is being used in both small scale, single restaurant installations and industrial scale factory installations.

Tez and I talk in detail about how Japanese react to robotics and work with robots very differently than westerners do. We also sit down and eat some pretty good robot-cooked Takoyaki and take a hard look at the question of whether the OctoChef is just a novelty or a fad, or if on the other hand, it’s solving a real problem.

The answer turns out to be yes but the reason why is pretty surprising.

But you know, Tez tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Tez Sawanobori from Connected Robotics, the maker of the OctoChef, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Tez: Yeah, thank you for having me in this great show.

Tim: Thank you. What is the OctoChef?

Tez: OctoChef cooks Takoyaki. Takoyaki is octopus ball popular in Japanese festivals, you see a lot of Takoyaki stalls.

Tim: Yeah, the round little – and they’re awesome, it’s great food.

Tez: Yeah, yeah, it’s a popular Japanese fast food, and a robot cooks Takoyaki and it’s from pouring oil to serving to the dish, all the process the robots do.

Tim: Okay, so in the process, the humans still have to create the batter?

Tez: Yes.

Tim: And, I guess deliver the cooked Takoyaki to the cus...

Those of us who spend our lives working with startups live in a bubble. Whether you spend your days programming at a startup or investing in new ventures, you and I see things differently than “normal” people.

It happens to everyone to some extent. We all tend to interact with people who are like us, who care about similar things and who work in similar industries, so of course, we frequently hear the same ideas and opinions.  The startup bubble, however, is particularly strong and particularly opaque.

We founders have a bad habit of believing our own bullshit.

Well today, we step outside our bubble and sit down with Mone Kamishiraishi, the star of the new film Startup Girls. We talk about what she learned as an outsider interviewing startup founders to get ready for her role, what most Japanese find surprising about founders and startup culture, and what Japan can do to to make starting a company more mainstream and accepted.

It's a great conversation, and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes

What most Japanese people think about startup founders
The similarities between startups and acting
Why family support and role models are so important in Japan right now
What’s holding entrepreneurship back in Japan
What we need to do to create a broader acceptance of startups in Japan

Links from the Founder

Check out Mone's official homepage
Follow her on Instagram
The Startup Girls official site

See the trailer
Pre-order tickets
Follow Startup Girls @startupgirlsmov
Startup Girls on Instagram

 Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, I’ve got a very different kind of interview for you. It’s shorter than most but it’s going to be an interesting one. You and I talk a lot about innovation in Japan and how things are changing for the better here. But as many of my friends point out, I live in kind of a bubble. Not in an economic bubble but with all the startup unicorns we see prancing around these days, we’re probably living in an economic bubble too. But no, no, I mean more of a filter bubble.

Disrupting Japan is a podcast about innovation in Japan so naturally, we talk a lot of Japanese innovators. Most of my friends are startup founders and venture capitalists. So, while we are seeing all kinds of innovation and increased risk-taking in this group, maybe that’s not really reflective of Japanese society as a whole. Well, today, we’re going to step outside our bubble and see what’s there. We’ll still be talking about startups, of course, and we’ll be doing it with Mone Kamishiraishi.

Now, Mone was the star of the megahit anime, Your Name, and she is co-starring in the new film Startup Girls which focuses on startups in Japan. So, when Mone accepted the role of playing a startup founder, she had to figure out exactly what they were and how they were different from, well, let’s just say how they were different from normal people.

It’s a great discussion about how people outside of our bubble see us and Mone and I also talk about the similarities between startups and acting, the general attitude towards creativity in Japan and how to foster a greater acceptance of startups and innovation in Japan. But you know, Mone tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: You know, the idea of startups is kind of new in Japan, right?

Mone: Yeah.

Tim: So, before you started this project, before you started working on Startup Girls, what was your image of startup founders?

Mone: To be honest, I didn’t even know what the word “startup” stands for.

Tim: Really?

Mone: Yes, I could imagine very, very vaguely but, yeah, start something, I thought. But yeah, I didn’t know and also,

I’ve got a special bonus episode for you this week.

Last month I was part of a panel discussion hosted by Stanford University and the Japan Society of Northern California. It was part of this year’s Japan-US Innovation Awards, and it was a great conversation, so I thought I would share it with you.

The panel was moderated by Dr. Richard Dasher and was a discussion between me and Allison Baum who is an investor and a prolific writer about startups and innovation.

We talk about a surprising source of innovation in Japan, discuss why there are not more Japanese unicorns, and peer into our crystal balls to predict what Japan’s startup ecosystem will look like in three to five years.

It’s was a great discussion, so I packaged it up for you as is, with no editing or commentary.

I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Leave a comment

Startup founders claiming their company is going to “change the world” has become a cliche. But rarely do we see a product that could clearly and significantly make someone’s life better. D-Free is one of those products. However...

Japanese university and government venture funds play a much larger role in Japan than in the West.

I've always considered this difference to be, on balance, neutral, today's guest makes a convincing case that these funds are actually hurting the startup ecosystem here.

Today we sit down and talk with Hiroaki Suga, co-founder of PeptiDream.  PeptiDream is now a $7 billion biotech company, but it started out as a couple of university faculty members funding operations out of their own pockets.

PeptiDream succeeded by using a very different model than that used by either the current generation of university spin-outs or biotech startups in the West. It's an interesting blueprint that other biotech firms might want to copy, but only if they are really sure that their technology will actually work.

It's a great conversation, and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes

Japanese Univstities' problems with applied research
The challenge in moving from academia to startup operations
How to hire a CEO
What most professors don't know they don't know about business
How to land large sales contracts as a small startup
How to sell new technology to Japanese pharmaceutical companies
Why biotech investment is so hard in Japan
Why you want to step away while you are on top
Japan's next biotech unicorn
Why most Japanese government startup money is misused

Links from the Founder

Dr. Suga's Lab
Everything you ever wanted to know about PeptiDream
Hiroaki's new project MiraBiologics

 Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

We’ve talked a lot before about how there are not many life sciences startups in Japan and what can be done to change that. But there are, of course, some and some incredibly successful ones. PeptiDream is one of those startups. Founded by a small team at a university lab, PeptiDream has grown from nothing to a $6 billion company.

Today, we sit down with the founder of PeptiDream and fellow guitarist, Hiroaki Suga, and he’ll explain how they’re working with pharmaceutical companies all over the world to discover new drugs and new treatments. We also talk about the rather unusual business strategy that allow them to scale up with relatively little financing and to land deals with global drug companies a lot sooner than most biotech startups can.

And I’ve got to say, my conversation with Dr. Suga really changed my mind about the role the Japanese universities and the government should play in fostering startups and innovation here.

It’s a fascinating and unique perspective from inside the system, and I guarantee you, it’s not what you think it is.

But you know, Hiroaki tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: I’m sitting here with Hiroaki Suga, the cofounder of PeptiDream. So, thanks for sitting down with me today.

Hiroaki Suga: Sure. Very welcome.

Tim: PeptiDream is a peptide discovery platform but what is that exactly?

Hiroaki: So, the technology started from over 25 years ago. I had idea. Is that okay? I want to develop RNA catalyst. The so-called ribozymes. I did a post doc with Professor Jack Szostak in Harvard Medical School. I run the techniques for the in vitro selections but I didn’t really get major success, but I was fortunate enough that I get an academic position in State University in New York Buffalo.

So, I succeeded in developing we call “flexizimes” so that the first two patents are owned by SUNY Buffalo, but it wasn’t really quite useful yet.

Tim: So, you were working on this for 20 years plus?

Hiroaki: Pretty much, yeah.

Tim: Did you have an end target in mind saying, “This is how I’m going to commercialize it, this is why it’s useful”?

Startups and venture capital work differently in Japan.

The rounds are smaller, the priorities distinct, and while the same terms are used, people quickly discover that the definitions are often subtly different. The game is played differently in Japan.

Today we get a chance to clear up a lot of the confusion as we sit down with James Riney, founder of Coral Capital and head of 500 startups Japan. We talk about some of the most significant changes that Japanese venture capital has seen over the past five years, and we look at how things are going to develop going forward.

James and I also break down the business model behind venture capital funds themselves. It's something that all serious startup founders should understand, but few do.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

How venture funds raise funds
Why Japanese banks and corporates are changing their attitudes towards Japanese startups
The tradeoff between sector-specific and general VC funds
What the hell is a Series-A anyway?
How VCs try to appeal to the "right kind" of startups
The real problem with IPOs in Japan
How Japan's new, bigger funds will change Japanese VC in the long term
What you never want to tell a VC when you are raising money
What VCs do with their portfolio companies that don't work out
How Softbank's Vision Fund is changing the market
Advice to foreign founders who want to raise money in Japan

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Coral Capital
Check out James' blog
Follow him on Twitter @james_riney
Friend James on Facebook

 Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to do something a little bit different. We are going to talk about the state of venture capital in Japan. If you are raising money in Japan or thinking of investing in Japan, you really want to listen to this.

Now, normally don’t interview VCs on Disrupting Japan. It’s not that VCs are not interesting. I’ve got nothing against VCs. I mean, some of my best friends are VCs. No, it’s just that VCs have a tendency to talk in the abstract. T

hey talk about general trends and their portfolio companies, and I have always found that it is far more informative to go straight to the source, to talk to the founders about what they specifically are doing to capitalize or respond to those market trends, to have them tell you about the real challenges that startups are facing right now, and how that fits into the bigger more important society-wide stories.

Well, today, we’re going to do both. Today, we sit down and talk with James Riney of Coral Capital, and we examined the business of venture capital, how VCs view advertising and customer acquisition, and what causes some VCs to make money and others to lose money.

It is not exactly like it is for startups, but it is surprisingly close. We talk about the most important changes happening in Japan’s startup community, of course, but we also dig into the challenges facing venture capital funds in Japan, and Coral Capital in particular.

We talk about what VCs look for when evaluating a pitch, things you should never tell a potential investor, what the next few years of venture funding in Japan will look like, and hopefully, we will clear up some of the confusion about the difference between seed and pre-seed, and pre-series A and series A rounds.

But you know, James tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: So, we’re sitting here with James Riney, the founding partner and CEO of Coral Capital and former head of 500 Startups Japan, and we are going to be talking about venture capital.

James Riney: Yes, it’s good to be back, Tim.

Startup culture has crazy and contradictory views about failure. As founders we are told to fail fast, but also to never give up. We are told to follow our vision, but be ready to pivot. Somehow this macho-bullshit culture of “I never really fail and ‘m not afraid of failure.” has become dominant amount founders. But it’s the result of denial. Trivializing failure is a way of not thinking about it’s effects.

The truth is that failure sucks. Failure is painful. Failure ...

I’ve got a special bonus episode for you today.

Last month, I moderated a panel discussion at Coral Capital’s “Bilingual’s and Gaijin in Startups” event.'

Our panel focused on what foreigners should expect when working at Japanese startups and what Japanese startups should start doing to better support their international employees.

It was a great conversation with four amazing people from four of Japan’s most interesting startups.

Tetsuya Sawanobori of Connected Robotics
Jordan Fisher of Zehitomo
Takanori Sato of Shippio
Tatsuo Kinoshita of Mercari

This is a bonus episode, so the recording is straight off the board. There is no editing, no transcription, and no witty summary at the end alluding to the larger significance of the discussion.

But a lot of good ideas were shared on stage, so I really wanted to share it with you.

If you’ve ever thought about working for a Japanese startup, I think you’ll really enjoy this.

Leave a comment

The idea of computers capable of reading our emotions and responding to them is both fascinating and terrifying. Will this technology serve us or manipulate us?

Well, the speculation is ending because the technology not only exists, but it is being rolled out commercially.

Today I'd like you to meet Hazumu Yamazaki, co-founder of Empath. Empath is a web-based API that detects human emotion from audio data, and its initial use in call-centers has shown a significant increase in sales. But as Hazumu explains, the potential effects are much larger.

It's an enlightening conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

How emotion detection is being used in commerce
How easy is it to emotionally manipulate us into buying something?
The hardest thing to get right about corporate spinouts
Why detecting emotions at scale will make money
The true killer app for emotional recognition
How startups can use pitch competitions & accelerators strategically
How Japanese startup founders should act while overseas
What Japanese founders can really learn from their overseas counterparts

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Empath
Friend Hazumu on Facebook
Connect with him on LinkedIn
Pitch training at Slush Tokyo
Empath on Orange Blog
Announcement for ICT 2019 Keynote

 Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Siri and thanks for joining me. Today, I’d like to talk with you about –

Hey, Siri, why are you doing the podcast intro?

Hi Tim, I’ve noticed you’ve been very busy and seemed a little stressed, so I thought I would help out with this week’s podcast.

I appreciate that, but I enjoy doing the podcasts, so I think I’ve got this.

Okay, Tim. You know where to find me if you need me.

Thanks, Siri.

There is no doubt that computers, that artificial intelligence getting better at understanding our emotions, and when we think about the application for that emotional connection, we usually think of things we interact with directly, like personal assistance, like Siri. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to be its primary use, and it’s certainly not going to be the most profitable use of this technology.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Hazumu Yamazaki, the co-founder of Empath. Now, Empath is an AI system that can determine your emotional state by listening to how you speak, so Empath does not need to understand what you are saying, but by listening to how you speak, it can quite accurately determine whether you are feeling calm, anger, joy, or sorrow.

The first commercial use of this technology has been in call centers and customer contact centers where it’s improved sales by as much as 20%, and yeah, this does open up some serious ethical issues over emotional manipulation that we are going to get into a bit during our conversation and get into a lot more in the comments at the end of this episode.

But along the way, we will talk about how a modern version of build it and they will come might just be a viable marketing strategies. The key to making corporate spinouts worked in Japan, and a different way for Japanese startups to go global.

But you know, Hazumu tells the story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview                                                                                
Tim: So, we are sitting here with Hazumu Yamazaki, the cofounder of Empath, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Hazumu: Yeah, thank you for having me today.

Tim: Now, Empath is a technology that detects emotion in human voice, but you can probably explain it a lot better than I can.

Hazumu: Sure. So, we developed Empath which is an emotion AI that can identify emotion from your voice,

We've been talking about smart homes and smart cities for a long time.

However, it turns out that we are not willing to pay very much for simple convenience, so the technology is coming into our homes bundled with different agendas.

We've seen this happen with the success of Alexa and Google Home, and we are now seeing it here in Japan with Nature Remo.

Today we sit down and talk with Haruumi Shiode, the founder and CEO of Nature, and we discuss not only what the future of home automation will look like, but who will be paying for it.

It's an enlightening conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

The real motivation behind smart home purchases
How hardware entrepreneurship went mainstream
The one way in which crowdfunding is still relevant
Why Nature decided to launch English-first
How to outsource hardware production without going bankrupt
Nature's real business model for the future
The importance of demand-response in Japan
The growing significance of corporate alumni networks in Japan
Why Kyoto might be Japan's next innovation center

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Nature Remo
Friend Haruumi on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter @haruumi524
Read about Haruumi's transformational sailing journey. It's a pretty cool story.

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

Smart homes and smart speakers have not really changed our lives in the way that was predicted. I mean, it’s not that they have not sold well. Amazon has sold over 100 million Alexa-enabled devices and the technology is a really amazing, but voice assistance remain a novelty rather than a real step forward, and here in Japan, even with Japanese language support, the adoption rate has been low.

I think a big part of that is the lack of conductivity, and by conductivity, I don’t mean the ability to connect to a computer or interact with other programs. I mean, smart speakers don’t connect us to each other in new ways. In the end, they are just an input device. They don’t provide something that we don’t already have in our lives. Well, today, I’d like you to meet Haruumi Shiode, the founder and CEO of Nature’s created a new smartphone device, the Nature Remo.

Now, the Nature Remo provides some immediate utility: the ability to control your life and your air conditioner from your smart phones or based on rules that you set up, but the real reason that Nature is so interesting is what comes next. It’s a lot more than just turning your lights on and off; it’s a new way of connecting with each other and a new way for power companies to manage the power grid during times of peak load.

But you know, Haruumi tells the story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Haruumi Shiode of Nature, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Haruumi: Thanks for inviting me for this podcast.

Tim: No, I’ve been looking forward to it. So, Nature makes the Nature Remo which is a really interesting device that you can probably explain a lot better than I can, so what is the Remo and how does it work?

Haruumi: Nature Remo is basically a very small tiny device that can turn your AC or TV, or lighting through smart device. It communicates with those appliances through the infrared and they connect to Wi-Fi, so that you can control from your smart phone or smart speakers.

Tim: Okay, so infrared means it’s sort of – it’s emulating the remote control for your TV or your air conditioning?

Haruumi: Yes.

Tim: Ah, okay, cool. So, if it’s infrared, and so if I wanted to outfit my apartment with these and control or my air-conditioning units and my TV, so would I need one Remo in each room?

Haruumi: Yeah,

Selling services in Japan is very different than selling products or software.

Everyone knows that relationships are important in Japan, but not many people understand why they are so important, and how you can use that understanding to build a successful business here.

Today Sriram Venkataraman explains how he grew InfoSys Japan from a one man operation to over 1,000 employees and how understanding why Japanese enterprises must trust their vendors far more than companies in other developed countries.

And we dive into what that means for the new generation of SaaS startups.

Our conversation is basically a blueprint for how to grow a startup from nothing to thousands of people in Japan, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Leave a comment
Links & Resources

Follow Sriram on Twitter @japansriram
Connect with him on LinkedIn

Transcript
Welcome to disrupting Japan straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

I’ve got another great Disruption Japan Selects show this week.  And this show, well this was one of those conversations that have really stuck with me over the years. In fact, if you are interested in selling to large Japanese enterprises, then this might well be the most insightful conversation that’s ever happened on the topic in English.

Over the course of a decade, Sriram Venkataraman grew Infosys Japan from one employee to well over 1,000 before retiring to work with startups. In this episode, we cover why so many foreign companies have trouble selling to Japanese enterprise, and the one critical thing you need to do if you have any hope of building a long-term business.

And afterward,  I’ve got an update for you. I caught up with Sriram the other day and I mentioned that the recent popularity of SaaS products seems to contradict some of the advice he’s about to give. But it turns out it doesn’t.

The successful Japanese SaaS companies are playing by very similar rules to those we outline in our conversation. and I’ll give you that update at the end of the episode.

So please enjoy the show.
First Intro
Today we’ve got some amazingly good advice for anyone who wants to sell services in Japan. Selling products or software is challenging enough, but selling services where relationships mean everything and where the quality expectations for service is perhaps the highest in the world, that provides a host of very special challenges.

Today we sit down with Sriram Venkataraman, as he explains how me manages to scale Infosys, which provides outsourced Indian development services, from 2 people, to over 1,000 people in Japan. In a very real sense, he did it with a strategy that is pretty much the opposite of what you would expect from an Indian software services company.

This is a real insight into the mind and the buying decisions of Japanese enterprise customers and Sriram has a different, very compelling perspective, on why so many foreign companies have trouble gaining real trust in the Japanese market. We talk a lot about finding the right people here in Japan, and how to avoid the hiring traps that western firms commonly fall into. Really, this interview is basically a blueprint of how to grow from nothing to 1,000 people in Japan.

But, you know, Sriram Venkataraman explains that much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.
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Interview
Tim: I’m sitting here with Sriram Venkataraman, of Infosys, and you have been with Infosys from the very beginning in Japan, and you’ve seen it grow from a tiny team to over 10,000 employees here now, haven’t you?

Sriram: Not 10,000.

Tim: No? That was on the website.

Sriram: Our total Japan business is probably about 1,000 people today. But given the business model, not all of them are here. Roughly 65 to 70% of the teams are in India and the b...

The promise of renewable energy has always been alluring. Now that the technology has caught up to the promise, record amounts of wind and solar are coming onto the grid both in Japan and throughout the world. 

But so far startups, especially Japanese startups, have been playing a very limited role in this transformation.

But that's starting to change.

Today we sit down with Ken Isono, founder and CEO of Shizen Energy, and we talk about what it takes to succeed as an energy startup in Japan, and since Shizen Energy is rapidly expanding globally, what it takes to succeed as a startup in the global energy markets.

We talk about which renewables are working in Japan and which are not, what the real bottlenecks are, and more important, how we can fix them.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why startups struggle in the energy market
How solar plants get built in Japan
How to find wind projects worth building
The importance of going local in a global market
Why the Japanese value land rights so highly
A deep dive into solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal energy in Japan
How Japanese communities are funding local renewable energy
Why so many of Japan's startups come from Fukuoka
How Japan can transform into a free-energy economy

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Shizen Energy
Shizen Energy on Facebook
Shizen Energy retail green energy
Friend Ken on Facebook

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

It’s surprising at first, for all of the potential disruption in the energy industry, for all of the potential profits that can be made by doing things better and more efficiently in the energy industry, we don’t see that many energy startups, and as it turns out, there are good reasons for this. Generating and storing electricity at scale require skills that can’t be supplanted by new technology and innovation. Furthermore, most energy projects are long-term, low-risk medium return projects that are just not attractive to venture capital.

These projects require a different kind of financing. One notable exception, however, is Japan’s Shizen Energy who is bringing a lot of renewable energy onto the grid in Japan and around the world as well, and they’re doing it as a startup.

In just a minute, we’ll sit down with Ken Isono, Shizen Energy’s founder and CEO. He’ll explain how his little startup has worked with local governments and fought the incumbents to bring enough renewable energy onto the grid that Shizen Energy is not so little anymore.

We’ll talk about that growth, of course, and we also take a deep dive into the current state and the future prospects of the most important renewable energy technologies in Japan.

But you know, Ken tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview
 Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Ken Isono of Shizen Energy, and thanks for sitting down with me.

Ken: Thanks for the chance to speak.

Tim: Now, Shizen Energy, you guys are a vertically integrated renewable energy company. You guys do generation, your financing, and the retail side as well.

Ken: Yeah.

Tim: That’s a lot for a startup to do.

Ken: We started with solar but the three co-founders used to work in wind power generation company together for five years.

Tim: What made you guys decide to leave that company and start your own project?

Ken: So, actually, Shizen Energy, we found this company 2011, June, so three months after Fukushima accident. Before that, there was no demand from the market, from policy in renewables, but we knew that it’s going to change.

Tim: At first you were focused on large scale solar projects? Was it just the financing,

It's a great time to be a programmer in Japan. Everyone is hiring and there simply is not enough talent available.

But why is that?

The truth is that until about 10 years ago, programming was considered kind of a blue-collar, low-skill job. It was OK to start your career as a programmer, but if you had not moved into management by the time you were 30, clearly you weren't that bright.

The startup boom has changed that, and developer salaries (and respect) has improved significantly.

But the education system has not caught up, and far too few people know how to code.

Today we sit down with Masa Kato, founder of Progate, and discuss how Japan got herself into this situation, and what Progate is doing to fix it. The problems run deeper than expected.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why Japanese elementary students are learning Javascript
The problem with computer science in Japan
Why Japanese universities resist change - even when they know they need it
The flaw in most online programming courses
Can online education ever really be global?
Why B2B edTech companies have trouble in B2B markets
How English skills are holding back Japanese startups

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Progate
Friend Masa on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter @cmasad43

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, I spend a lot of time talking with startup founders in Japan. I also spend a fair amount of time talking with policymakers and academics, and even executives of large companies who want to support startups in Japan.

Two of the most concerns I hear revolve around the lack of qualified developers in Japan and how the Japanese education system doesn’t really prepare students for a world that demands that they innovate.

Well, today, we’ll be tackling both of these issues head-on. In a few minutes, I’d like you to meet Masa Kato, the CEO of Progate. Progate is an online platform that is teaching young people to code, and yeah, yeah, there are a lot of startups doing that, but these guys are onto something.

As Masa will explain, he actually started Progate when he was majoring in computer science at the University of Tokyo, and he didn’t start Progate as a side project, he started it because even though he was majoring in computer science, he wasn’t learning how to program in his computer science classes.

Now, all of this will make much more sense when Masa explains it to you, but this foundation might be why Progate has seen so much success so quickly. Progate is now being used in high schools and elementary schools all over Japan, and they have expanded into overseas markets as well, but things didn’t work out exactly as they plan and they had to change their business model to survive.

But you know, Masa tells that story much better than I can. So, let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview
Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Masa Kato who wants to teach the world to code. So, thanks for sitting down with me.

Masa: Thanks for having me.

Tim: Masa, you are the founder and CEO of Progate. I explained it a bit in the introduction, but why don’t you tell us a bit about what Progate is?

Masa: So, basically, we are a company that teaches programming and we teach it online. The content we teach is mainly web-related, so it’s about teaching people how to make websites, make web services.

Tim: So, HTML, CSS, this kind of –

Masa: JavaScript and Ruby, Ruby on Rails, and all that, yeah, and we started this company five years ago.

Tim: Okay, so is Progate, is it an app, is it a video?

Masa: So, we do have an app as well, but we started off as a web service, and instead of using videos,

Corporate accounting is not usually the first thing the comes to mind when you think of disruptive technology, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. Daisuke Sasaki of Freee, however, is changing the way sales are made in Japan from the bottom up.

A few years ago, shiny new startups were using their marketing dollars to tell the world that chatbots were going to change everything.

Those marketing dollars have now been spent and most of those startups are no more. But for the past few years, one company has been quietly making chatbots useful, and they are now starting to make some noise.

Today we sit down with Akemi Tsunagawa, founder of Bespoke and creator of the Bebot chatbot.

In several important ways, Bespoke is one of the most successful chatbot companies in the world, and you'll be hearing a lot about them in the years to come.

Today, however, Akemi explains how she and the team managed to succeed where so many better-funded companies failed, and she gives some great advice about how to get consumers to try out new technologies. We also talk about why you should absolutely never build your business around Facebook or WeChat.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why most travel websites are doomed to failure
Founding a technical startup without technical co-founders
How to get people to tell chatbot what they really think
Where chatbots excel and where they should not try
Things you should never use a chatbot for
Why you should not build a chatbot on Facebook or WeChat
Why Japanese don't want to use chatbots
Bespoke's plans to go global

How to speed up decision making inside Japanese companies

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Bespoke
Friend Akemi on Facebook
Connect with her on LinkedIn

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

I think the peak of the chat bot hype cycle came in 2017. If we cast our minds back into the midst of that distant age, perhaps we can recall that chatbots were going to change the way we work, the way we shop, the way we bank, the way we talk to our customers, and even the way we find love and raise our children. Yeah, that didn’t happen, and startup founders, start of investors, and start of media all moved on to focus on some newer, shinier object – blockchain, probably.

But, you know something, sometimes, all that media type and investor attention can actually make it really hard to build something worthwhile. A lot of times, the best ideas and the best use of technology come from trying to solve a simple problem without investors telling you you need to be a unicorn or a journalist demanding to know exactly how you plan on changing the world by the end of the year, and so it is with chat bots.

Today, we’re going to sit down with Akemi Tsunagawa, the founder and CEO of Bespoke, the creator of the Bebot chatbot. Now, Akemi will tell you exactly how Bebot works in just a second, but to really appreciate what that important story Bespoke is, you need to understand that outside of marketing and some trivial customer support apps, you’ve got to realize, there is almost no chatbot success stories. Bebot is one of the very few chatbots in the entire world that provides enough genuine utility that people not only willingly interact with it but start to rely on it.

Bespoke’s business model does not rely on novelty or cost-cutting, no. Bespoke is solving an actual problem. This is a great example of how the needs of one industry can push technology forward for other sectors, and Akemi and I also talk about why she didn’t even realize they were running a chatbot company at first.

She gives some great advice on how to get consumers to try out, not just chatbots but any new technology, and we chat about why you should never – and I mean never -- build your business around Facebook or WeChat.

But you know, Akemi tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right into the interview.

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Interview

Everything about employment in Japan is changing.

Lifetime employment is gone.  Skilled workers are discovering that they have job mobility and large Japanese companies are increasingly confused by the fact that many new graduates don't want to work for them.

Wantedly has been one of the companies that has changed the way corporate recruiting works in Japan, and today we sit down and talk with the founder and CEO Akiko Naka.

We first talked with Akiko a few years ago when Wantedly was starting to gain traction, but since then Wantedly has grown, IPOed and become of the most highly valued public companies in Japan.

We talk about her journey, of course, but we also dive into how the nature of work is changing in Japan, the best way to promote yourself and your company in Japan, and the one terrible piece of advice that women founders need to stop listening to.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why Japanese companies can’t hire creative employees
How to deal with startup copycats
The advantages and dangers of diversification
The secret to making change happen in Japan
 How to brag about yourself in Japan

The best advice for companies wanting to expand outside Japan
Unconventional advice for women entrepreneurs
Why Japanese millennials really are different

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Wantedly
Checkout Akiko's blog
Friend her on Facebook
Follow Akiko on Twitter @acanocic

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to sit down with an old friend. Well, I mean, actually, she still a very young friend, but we’ve known her for years, so she’s – anyway, she’s Akiko: Today, we will be sitting down and catching up with Akiko Naka, CEO and founder of Wantedly.

Of course, we will talk about Wantedly’s amazing growth and the IPO that has happened since the last time Akiko came on the show, but there is a much more important story here, and before we get to that, I should let you know at other than a brief overview of Wantedly’s business model, this show is all new content and conversations.

If you want to understand the crazy ideas and questionable positions that led to Akiko creating Wantedly, and believe me, that’s a story you want to hear, I urge you to listen to the original episode at disruptingJapan.com/show008. I’ll have a link up at the site as well.

But today, ah, today, we will be talking about the best way to sell genuinely new product to large Japanese companies, some practical advice for anyone trying to take their company into overseas markets, including into Japan, and why the most common advice given to aspiring female founders is actually terrible, terrible advice, but you know, Akiko tells that story much better than I, so let’s get right to the interview.
Interview
Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Akiko Naka, the fearless founder of Wantedly, so thanks for sitting down with me again.

Akiko Naka: Thank you so much for coming.

Tim: You know, it’s really great to have you back on again. So much has changed since we sat down over three years ago.

Akiko: Yeah, I can’t believe it has been three years already.

Tim: Well, listen, we have a lot to catch up on, but for my listeners who did not follow my advice during the intro and go back and listen to our old interview, why don’t you explain what Wantedly does.

Akiko: Wantedly is a platform where we match users and companies based on vision and values, not only salary and benefits. When we compare our platform with traditional media, traditional job matching platform, traditional ones values more salary and benefits, but our platform focus on why the company do what they do, so more value and culture of each company. So, that way, we believe users and company can meet people casually,

Uber and Airbnb represent a new very kind of startup, one that could not have existed twenty years ago, and the very thing that make these companies so transformative in the United States ensures they will never succeed in Japan. You see...

The developed world is facing a severe programmer shortage. Around the world, coding boot camps have stepped into this gap to teach newcomers basic programming skills quickly.

But in like so many other areas, Japan is different.

Coding boot camps have been slow to take off here, and programmers are taught by a patchwork of academic degrees, on the job training, and informal meetups and study sessions.

Kani Munidasa, the co-founder of Code Chrysalis, is changing that. He's started one of the first Western-style coding boot camps in Japan, and the ecosystem is already seeing the results. Code Chrysalis has an amazing placement rate with grads receiving above-average starting salaries, but there is something more going on here as well.

Kani and I talk about how the job market for programmers is changing in Japan and, more important perhaps, how their place in society is changing as well.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why Japanese engineers don’t participate in open source projects
The differences between Japanese and US junior developers
Diversity on a programming team does not main what you think it doe
How to learn to learn
Why Code Chrysalis turns down 80% of its applicants
Why Japanese enterprises are getting behind boot camps
Why developer pay in Japan is so low
Why so many engineers want to come to Japan anyway
How to overcome the need for degrees and certificates

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Code Chrysalis
The Code Chrysalis blog
Friend Kani on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter @munidk
A research-based approach to coding education
How to Get Into Code Chrysalis

Leave a comment
Transcript
 Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

One of the most important developments in Japan over the past 10 years and perhaps, the most important way that things are different for startups today than they were 20 years ago is the existence of a startup ecosystem. Now, let me explain that because it’s not obvious, especially to younger entrepreneurs who have never had to run a startup the absence of a startup ecosystem.

A startup ecosystem is not just a group of startups that operate in the same city. We had that during the dotcom era. There were even VC investments, occasional meet ups, and some mentoring, but we didn’t really have an ecosystem back then. We had a community for sure, but not that ecosystem.

An ecosystem comes into being when startups start buying from and selling it to each other. When startups can target other startups with their innovative products, where our pool of employees move from startup to startup, taking their ideas and best practices, and work ethic with them. When an ecosystem developed, it’s an amazing cross-pollination of innovation and growth that is just awesome to be a part of. This is happening in Japan. It’s a relatively new and it’s fantastic.

Today, I’d like you to meet Kani Munidasa, co-founder of Code Chrysalis, a startup that can only exist within a healthy startup ecosystem but also one that any healthy startup ecosystem needs in order to grow. Code Chrysalis is a coding boot camp where over 12 weeks, students learn of the skills they need to get jobs as programmers in Tokyo and as you will soon see, they are really getting jobs.

In fact, after our conversation, there is something I want to ask you and I mean you, personally because it’s something that you might understand better than I do. I would ask you right now, but the question won’t really make a lot of sense until after you sit in on the conversation with me and Kani, and we cover a lot of ground.

We talk about how to get a programming job in Tokyo, how to ramp up skills quickly, and why diversity in programming might not mean what you think it does. But you know,

For decades, Japan has been struggling with the economic need to attract more foreign residents to the country and the general social reluctance to do so.

Over the years there have been some well-publicized failures and a few quiet successes, and Japan retains her image as a generally closed nation.

But reality changes much faster than perception in Japan. Things are already changing and that change is about to accelerate.
Today I'd like you to meet Nao Sugihara founder of MTIC, who is going to explain these trends in detail. Nao runs a recruiting platform called GaijinBank that deals exclusively with blue-collar, foreign labor, and he'll show you not only that Japan's has opened up far more than most people acknowledge, but that this trend will likely accelerate over the next 20 years.
It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Which companies hire foreigners for blue-collar work n Japan
The biggest misunderstandings between Japanese companies and foreign staff
The overtime gap with foreign workers
The real reasons foreign workers object to overtime
Japan's new guest visa program
How to integrate more foreigners into Japanese society
Lessons learned from the Latin American guest-worker program
Why the foreign nurses programs never seem to work out well

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about MTIC
Friend Nao on Facebook
About GaijinBank

Home Page
Youtube Channel
 Facebook
All Jobs in Japan

Leave a comment
Transcript
I love working with startups. I love talking with startup founders and I know that you do too. That is why you listen to the podcast and I thank you for that.

When the traditional media focuses on startups, they tend to look at the crazy founders making outrageous claims or the newly minted billionaires, CEOs, and investors. That is all good fun, of course, but when we look a little deeper, startups tell us something else.

Looking at what startups get started and what startups get funded, and what startups get traction, that tells us a lot about the kinds of problems that we, as a country, thin  are worth solving. What problems are important enough to attract time and money, and customers changes a lot from country to country, and it reveals a lot about the social priorities of the cultures that these startups operated, and it’s not always a pleasant revelation.

Japan has always had a complex relationship with her foreign residents. Even today, there is a widespread intellectual acknowledgment that Japan needs to increase and encourage immigration but transforming that goal into actual policy enter real social acceptance, well, that is harder.

Today, we sit down with Nao Sugihara of MTIC and were going to dive deep into this. Nao runs a recruiting platform called GaijinBank and while there are lots of job sites catering to foreign engineers and creative’s, socket deals exclusively with the blue-collar labor.

Foreigners are working blue-collar jobs in Japan is actually an incredible aspect of the Japanese economy and one that is largely ignored, not only by the Japanese press, but even by the foreigners living in Japan, and you know, I have to admit, the things are different and, in some ways, much more encouraging than I expected.

But you know, Nao tells that story much better than I can. So, let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview

Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Nao Sugihara of MTIC which is Make Tokyo an International City.

Nao: Yes!

Tim: So, thanks for sitting down with me.

Nao: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity like this. I’m happy to talk today.

Tim: Wow, I’m glad to have you on, and I usually don’t interview founders of companies for like, recruiting companies, but what you are doing is really different.

Nao: Thank you.

Tim: You know,

The aerospace industry has been particularly resistant to disrupting in Japan. In the rest of the world, launch vehicle and spacecraft technology has made incredible gains over the past decade, but here in Japan its still mostly the same government contracts going to the same major contractors.

Naomi Kurahara of InfoStellar, has come up with an innovative way to leverage existing aerospace infrastructure and to collaborate globally by renting out unused satellite ground-sataion time, Airbnb style.

You see when an organization launches a satellite, they also build a ground station to communicate with it. The problem is, that as the satellite obits the Earthy, it’s only in communication range of the ground station for less than an hour a day. The rest of the time the ground station just sits there.

By renting out that unused time ground-station operators earn extra income, and the satellite operators are able to communicate with their satellites as often as they need.

It’s a great interview and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why the Airbnb for satellites startup model makes sense
The demand-side problem
Why this market is much larger than it seems today
The key growth drivers in the satellite market
Why the Japanese aerospace industry can't innovate
How to run a startup as an expectant mother
What challenges women scientists still face in Japan
How Japan could better support working moms

Links from the Founder

Learn about InfoStellar

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 56.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan - straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Aerospace in Japan is particularly resistant to disruption. Over the past decade, the rest of the world has seen incredible gains in both launch vehicles and spacecrafts. But Japan has been moving slowly. Sometimes it seems as if she’s determined to stay the course with the same government contracts going to much the same corporate heavyweights year after year.

Naomi Kurahara of InfoStellar once had plans of changing the Japanese aerospace industry. But along the way she went out on her own with a plan that bypassed Japan’s major players and targeted the global market. You see, when an organization launches a satellite, they usually also build an antenna and a ground station to communicate with that satellite. The problem is that as the satellite orbits the Earth, it’s only communications range with the ground station for less than an hour a day. The rest of the time the ground station just sits there.

So, Naomi decided to pool all of the unused ground station time together and rent it out to satellite operators, Airbnb style. Everybody wins by sharing resources. The ground station operators get income by renting out their facilities and the satellite operators get to communicate with their satellites far more often.

But Naomi explains it better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: Cheers! I’m sitting here with Naomi Kurahara, the CEO and fearless founder of InfoStellar, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Naomi: Thank you for inviting me.

Tim: Now, InfoStellar is basically time-sharing for satellite ground station, or Airbnb for satellites, but it’s a complex idea so why don’t you explain a little bit about what InfoStellar does.

Naomi: Okay, the reason I started this business is the aerospace space has an issue for cost. Like satellite is expensive, and rocket is expensive, and ground station is expensive because, maybe, not many people are using.

Tim: Well, aerospace is incredibly expensive but actually I think before we get into InfoStellar’s business model, I think it’s going to be best if you explain what ground stations are and how th...

There is something odd about the way we treat sleep. 

We understand that it is essential for good health, but we are almost ashamed when we admit that we get enough of it. We are rightfully proud when we keep our resolutions to go to the gym more or to eat a more healthy diet, but if we get a good night's sleep, we tend to keep it to ourselves.

In fact, when we talk about sleep at all, it's usually to brag about how little sleep we are getting. We seem to consider getting a healthy amount of sleep to be some kind of luxury, or worse, as evidence of laziness. 

Today we are going to talk with Taka Kobayashi, the founder, and CEO of NeuroSpace, and he's going to explain how things got so bad, and what he plans to do about it.   

Taka is is building a business around that idea that companies should not only encourage employees to get more sleep but that they should pay NeuroSpace a helthy sum to do so. 

Most sleep-based startups have failed in the past, but Taka explains how NeuroSpace is doing things differently and how he his building on his initial successes.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why sleep is really a skill
The reason we ignore the importance of sleep
How to fall asleep more quickly
What your iWatch isn’t telling you about sleep
The right way to track your sleep
A way to overcome jet lag
The real challenge facing all sleep startups
The good and bad sides of Japanese govement startup grants 

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about  NeuroSpace
Check out Taka's blog 
Follow him on Twitter @kobat_jp
Friend him on Facebook
The ANA jet-lag project

Leave a comment

Transcript

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. 

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Let’s talk about sleep. Are you feeling tired? 

If you’re like most workers in Japan, the US, or Europe, the answer is yes, and oddly, even if you’re not feeling particularly tired, you probably won’t admit to be well-rested to your coworkers. 

We, and by we, I mean all of the developed world, we have this funny relationship with sleep. We all know, we all acknowledge how important sleep is. Science and personal experience have proven conclusively that our own health and performance depend on it, but for some reason, we all like to brag about how little sleep we’re getting. 

Normally, I’d call this macho bullshit, but women seem to be every bit as bad about this as men are. We seem to consider getting a healthy amount of sleep to be some kind of luxury or worse, as evidence of laziness. 

Now, there are a lot of reasons for this and we are going to talk about them with Taka Kobayashi, the founder and CEO of NeuroSpace.

NeuroSpace is doing something important but something very difficult. Taka is building a business model based on convincing companies that not only should they encourage their employees to get more sleep but that they should pay NeuroSpace to help them do so. Taka is fighting some deeply ingrained culture here, but he is making progress, and today, we will talk about some of the unlikely partners and bedfellows he finds himself with, why so many other startups in the space have failed to achieve product market fit, and most important, what NeuroSpace is doing different. 

But you know, Taka tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Interview

Tim: I’m sitting here with Taka Kobayashi of NeuroSpace who is a startup specializing in sleep. So, thanks for sitting down with me.

Taka: Thank you.

Tim: What NeuroSpace is doing is really fascinating but I think you can explain it better than me,

Whenever you hear someone claim that the Japanese will never do something for unspecified "cultural reasons", you know there is a fortune to be made.

Lu Dong is the co-founder and CEO of Japan Foodie, a cashless payment system currently masquerading as a restaurant discovery application.

Lu and I talk about the boom in inbound Chinese tourism that led to the creation of Japan Foodie, and how he and his team quickly managed to identify and dominate this massive and underserved market.

We talk about how tourism is changing Japan, the best way to build a two-sided marketplace, the only way forward for most e-commerce platforms, the future of e-payments in Japan and the history of women's lingerie in China.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

The real problems with Japan being a cash-based society
What people really care about in a restaurant app
How to build a two-sided marketplace
Why e-commerce platforms are really advertising companies
What happens in Japan after the Olympics
Launching China's first major sexy lingerie brand
How too much success can kill a startup
When you should turn down VC money
Why its harder to be an entrepreneur when you get older 
The importance of corproate accelerators in Japan

Links from the Founder

Check out Japan Foodie
Connect with Lu on LinkedIn
Friend him on Facebook

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

One thing I have learned starting startups in Japan for 20 years is that every time you hear people claiming that Japanese people won’t do something because of unspecified cultural reasons, there’s a lot of money to be made.

In the 90s, people claimed that e-commerce would never catch on because Japanese preferred the high touch, expensive department stores, but today, those department stores are struggling as every year, more and more commerce moves online. 10 years later, people were saying that online auctions would never work because Japanese people would simply not by used goods for cultural reasons. They were wrong, of course, and today, Yahoo! Auctions and Mercari, and dozens of others are thriving.

When a behavior is widely described as a result of cultural reasons, it usually means that the behavior doesn’t really make sense, and we cannot explain it, and man, that is the perfect area to start looking for business opportunities. If you can discover the real reason for this behavior, and it’s usually a rational economic reason, if you can discover the real reason for this behavior and fix it, you can make a fortune.

You might have heard that Japan is a cash-based society for cultural reasons, but we are already starting to see the cracks in that falsehood forming.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Lu Dong, the founder and CEO of Japan Foodie, a restaurant discovery app and yeah, there are a lot of those, but this one is special. Well, not so much the app, but the business model, and the perfectly rational way in which Japan’s cash-based culture will migrate to electronic payments, and it’s already working.

In our conversation, Lu also provides some great advice for building multi-sited marketplaces, and he tells some pretty interesting stories about tourism, fundraising, and women’s lingerie.

But you know, Lu tells that story much better than I can, so let us get right into the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Lu Dong, the founder of Japan Foodie and several other companies, so thanks for joining us.

Lu: Thank you.

Tim: You know, actually, recently, we’ve been focusing on sort of serial entrepreneurs in Japan, but before we talk about your other companies, let us talk about Japan Foodie.

Lu: So,

Japanese thoughts on risk are changing, but they are changing slowly.

Many people still consider failure to be a permanent condition, and that makes it hard to take risks, or in some cases even to be associated with risks.

Today we talk with Hajime Hirose, one of Japan's new breed of serial entrepreneurs. Hajime has started companies in three different countries and several different industries.  We talk about the challenges and importance of going global and how a Japanese founder ended up running a Chinese company that IPOed in New York.

And of course, we also talk about how difficult it is for startups to combat rumors in Japan, even when everyone knows those rumors to be false.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

The road to China runs through Seattle
Today's management crisis in Chinese and Indian companies
Why leave Japan to start a startup
Why not all publicity is good publicity in Japan
Why the truth cannot fix lies
How to survive when your competition is giving away their product for free
What startups are best started outside Japan

Links from the Founder

Connect with Hajime on LinkedIn
Hajime's latest project, Datadeck
PTMind's PT Engine

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

You know, there aren’t many serial entrepreneurs in Japan. The reason for that is, well, the same reason why we don’t have a lot of angel investors in Japan. Until very recently, the idea of both startup success and startup failure was permanent.

If your startup succeeded, you were expected to be running it until either you or the company expired, and if you failed, well, if you failed, you were done. Until very recently, failure was considered a permanent condition. No one was inclined to give you a second chance, but things are changing, and today, I would like to introduce you to Hajime Hirose, a Japanese serial entrepreneur who has built and sold startups and also bankrupted them.

We talk about how Japanese attitudes towards startups are changing, but how in Japan, a bad rumor, even a completely unfounded rumor can kill and otherwise promising startup. We also talk about the importance and the difficulty of going global, and the unlikely tale of a Japanese man running a Chinese startup that ended up IPOing in New York, and we also talk about Hajime’s old startup story that wheezed its way through London, Shanghai, Redmond, Jakarta, and yes, of course, Tokyo.

But you know, Hajime tells that story much better than I can, so let us get right to the interview.

[Interview]

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Tim: Cheers!

Hajime: Cheers!

Tim: All right, so I am sitting here with Hajime Hirose, the what the future founder of BuzzElement, and a few other startups as well, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Hajime: Well, thank you. I’m really excited because I’m a big fan of your show and I’m really thrilled to be on this side of the show.

Tim: Well, listen, I’m excited to have you here because there are relatively few serial entrepreneurs in Japan. So, I’m looking forward to this conversation. Your first real international business was in China, but before we get to that, let us back up and talk about how you wound up there.

Hajime: So, I was born in Tokyo, grew up in Yokohama, and I went to CIO for university, and I’ve been living outside of Japan for the last 26 years.

Tim: And, you ended up working for Microsoft, right?

Hajime: That’s right.

Tim: Back when MSN was still a thing.

Hajime: That’s right, yeah. So, that was back when Microsoft just bought Hotmail back in 1998.

Tim: Oh, the good old days.

Hajime: Yeah, that was good, that was really fun. So, I was lucky to be the only two Japanese guys on the project.

The conventional wisdom is that traditional Japanese companies can't innovate.

And traditionally, that's been true.  Hosoo, however, might be carrying on a 1200-year-old tradition, but they are hardly a conventional company.

Today we talk with Masataka Hosoo, who is the 12th-generation leader of Hosoo, one of Japan's most famous kimono silk makers. And while the company used to provide kimono fabrics to emperors and shogun, times have changed.

Masataka explains how he is changing with the times and working with not only fashion brands like Dior and Chanel, but companies like Panasonic to develop user interfaces that involve textiles rather than simple lights and buttons.

We also talk about a possible innovation blueprint that Japan's other small businesses can follow.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

How ancient weaving techniques are used in modern fashion
When Japan hit peak-Kimono (it’s not when you think)
Bringing kimono fashion to Paris
How to retrain a 300-year old company to be innovative
Why textiles should be seen as jewelry
How traditional Japanese crafts can go global
How other 300-year-old companies are reinventing themselves
Why Kyoto might be Japan's next startup hub
The 80/20 Rule for innovation in Japan

Links from the Founder

HOSOO global website
This year's Hosoo Collection
Hosoo's current design projects
Videos of the fabric and the production process
Kyoto's Go On project
Panasonic's Kaden Lab

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Who says traditional Japanese companies can’t innovate? Well, okay, actually, a lot of people say that. I mean, yeah, to be honest, almost everyone says that, but the point is, those people are wrong.

Now, I have talked before about my work at Tepco and other large companies and the progress of they’re making their innovation programs, but today, we are going old school and I mean really old-school.

Masataka Hosoo is a 12th generation leader of Hosoo, the company that bears his family name. Now, Hosoo is one of Japan’s most famous kimono makers. They used to provide fabrics to emperors and Shogun, but times have changed, and today, Masataka explains how he is innovating and changing with the times.

Hosoo still makes kimono fabrics, of course, but they are also working with companies like Dior and Chanel to create new design ideas, and also with companies like Panasonic to change the way people interact with electronics.

It is a great conversation, not only about fabrics and fashion, and the unexpected way that they affect our lives, but one of a unique approach to innovation and of punk rock, but you know, Masataka tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: Cheers!

Masataka: Cheers.

Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Masataka Hosoo of Hosoo, one of the most innovative textile manufacturers in Japan. So, thanks for sitting down with me.

Masataka: Thank you.

Tim: Hosoo is a very different kind of company than the startups that usually come on the show. I mean, you were founded 330 years ago, but you are doing really new things. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who Hosoo is and what you are doing today?

Masataka: Okay, now, Hosoo is a family business and we had been making kimono more than 300 years in Kyoto. Of course, Kyoto is a 1000-year-old chapter and our textile called Nishijin textiles. Nishijin is a district’s old name in the center of Kyoto about 3 km², and this area had been making textile more than 1200 years, and before, our client is Imperial Kyoto, Shogun at the top of a samurai.

Tim: So, Nishijin-ori, I mean, you mentioned its 1200 years old.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Twice a month, you and I will sit down meet the founders of some of Japan’s most innovate startups. We'll talk a bit about their companies, of course, but most of the time we talk about how Japan is changing, what it's like to try to sell to large companies as a small startup, new emerging Japanese technology, and a lot of the social and personal issues founders here face.

Disrupting Japan is really about what it’s like to be an innovator in a culture that prizes conformity.

And yeah, since most of my guests are speaking English as a second language, there is alcohol involved in more than a few of these interviews.

So if you are interested in Japan and in innovation, let me introduce you to some of the most amazing and creative people in the world.

Come join me in Disrupting Japan.

Disrupting Japan is four years old, so we decided to invite a few hundred movers and shakers from Tokyo’s startup community over to have few drinks and to hear three of Japan’s most successful foreign startup CEOs talk about what it takes to succeed in Japanese when you are not Japanese.

Our panel included some of the most influential foreign startup founders in Japan.

Tim Romero (@timoth3y) - Moderator
Paul Chapman (@pchap10k) - CEO, Moneytree
Jay Winder (@itsjaydesu) - CEO, Make Leaps
Casey Wahl (@caseydai2asa9sa ) - CEO, Wahl & Case

We talk about strategies for growth, how to leverage your "foreignness" to your advantage, how to best manage multi-cultural teams, and what the future looks like for foreigners in Japan.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

On a personal note, thank you for reading and listening and for being a part of Disrupting Japan. When I started this project ago, I never imagined how large and influential the show would become, or how large and passionate the worldwide interest in Japanese innovation truly is.

I want to offer a sincere thank you to everyone who has pitched in to help make Disrupting Japan a success. There is no way I could have done this alone. But the best is yet to come. There is an amazing amount of innovation going on right now in Japan, and I look forward to bringing it to you.

Thanks for listening!

Leave a comment

A Special Note
For those of you who listened to the podcast know that the recording equipment cut out about half-way through the show. Fortunately, Jason Ball from Business In Japan was live streaming the show. Although the audio quality wasn't high enough for the podcast, you can watch the whole show (minus a bit of Q&A) online.  Also, the transcript below represents the full show.

 
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for coming out tonight. Now, you guys are awesome!

[applause]

You know, actually, that’s exactly what I hear in my head every time I say that line. Now, for our listeners at home or wherever you may be in the podcast land, we got a special show for you tonight. To celebrate Disrupting Japan’s 4th anniversary, we are podcasting live from Super Deluxe in Roppongi with some of the most innovative people on the face of the planet, that is Japan’s startup ecosystem.

So, let’s everyone get their drinks together for a kampai, and listeners at home, feel free to drink along with us.

Over the last four years, Disrupting Japan has become bigger and more influential than I ever imagined it could be. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done to support the show. Thank you for listening. It’s been an amazing four years, and the next four years are going to be even better. So, kampai!

Audience: Kampai!

[applause]

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Tim: For these anniversary shows every year, we have a theme and this year, it is foreign founders in Japan, and on stage tonight, we have three – well,  I guess four fearless foreign founders who have taken very different roads to developing their companies here in Japan.

So, with introductions, on my far left is Jay Winder who has established MakeLeaps which is Japan’s leading SaaS invoicing system, and before that, you had another company, but I think a lot of you know Jay for running the Hacker News meetup here in Japan.

[applause]

In the middle, we’ve got Paul Chapman, co-founder and CEO of Moneytree which is one of Japan’s fastest-rising fintech startups, and a true B2C SaaS success story in Japan.

Paul Chapman: Thanks, Tim.

Tim: And on my immediate left is Casey Wahl, CEO and founder of Wahl & Case which is a recruiting company which doesn’t sound that startup-y to begin with, but Casey’s also founded Red Brick Ventures which was an accelerator that spun out several startups.

There are a lot of aerospace startups in Japan these days. We are seeing innovation in everything from component manufacturing to satellite constellations to literal moonshots.

All of those, however, depend on the ability to place new satellites in orbit, and that is getting harder and harder due to the ever-increasing amount of orbital debris. It's simply getting too crowded up there.
Nobu Okada founded Astroscale to solve this problem. Today we sit down and talk about his solution, and we also dive into the very real political and financing challenges that have prevented this problem from being solved.

In many ways, the removal of space debris of a classic Tragedy of the Commons problem. Everyone agrees that it is an important problem that should be solved, but no one wants to spend their own money to solve it.

Well, Nobu and his team have developed a business model that they believe will be able to address this problem.  It's an innovative and important approach. And yes, we also talk about dancing satellites.
It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

What is this Kessler Syndrome and why do we need to worry about it
Why dreams of being an astronaut did not work out
Why aerospace startups need their own manufacturing facilities
How to bring down a satellite
The trigger leading world governments to finally get serious about space clean up
What are your options when your satellite fails to launch
The single biggest risk in the space debris removal business
Why there are so many aerospace startups in Japan recently

Links from the Founder

Check out Astroscale and watch the dancing satellites for yourself
Friend them on Facebook
Follow Nobu on Twitter @nobuokada

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

There are a surprising number of new aerospace startups in Japan and today, you will be meeting the founder of one of the most innovative one. Nobu Okada founded Astroscale to solve the problem with space debris.

You see, every year, we are putting more and more satellites into orbit, and it’s gotten kind of crowded up there. There are zombie satellites that we have lost control over and there are satellites that have collided, resulting in thousands of small pieces of debris zipping around in random orbits at thousands of miles per hour, just waiting to crash into other satellites and begin a chain reaction.

Well, Nobu and the team want to do something about that. They have a plan to start de-orbiting this debris, and the technology side is fascinating. I mean, you might think that you have no real desire to know how to de-orbit a satellite, but trust me, you want to know how to de-orbit a satellite. It is really that cool.

Of course, Nobu and I cover much more than the technology. A big part of the story is how Astroscale has begun to build international recognition and consensus, and how they have actually constructed a business model around debris removal, and we also talk about the forces driving the sudden growth of aerospace startups and talk a bit about dancing satellite, but you know, Nobu tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: We are sitting here with Nobu Okada, the CEO and founder of Astros scale was cleaning up space, so thanks for sitting down with us.

Nobu: It is a great pleasure to meet with you and thank you for this great opportunity to be on your podcast.

Tim: I’m delighted to have you, and I’ve got to say, Astroscale is not like your typical startup. You have a really unique mission, so can you kind of explain what your vision is and what you are trying to do?

Nobu: Our mission is to secure long-term space flight safety by removing the s...

There are relatively few biotech startups in Japan.

Few investors are willing to write the multi-million dollar checks and have the decades-long patience that is required to really succeed investing in this industry.

But startups find a way, and an innovative biotech ecosystem has started to develop in Japan despite the lack of traditional funding. In fact, we might be seeing a new, uniquely Japanese, model of innovation that we'll call "the innovation supply chain".

Today, we get a first-hand look at how this innovation supply chain functions, as we sit down with Yuki Shimahara the CEO and founder of LPixel.  LPixel uses AI image analysis to detect potential problems in patients MRI and CT scans.

The technology itself is fascinating, but Yuki and I also talk about how medical research and medical innovation might be taking a very different path in Japan than it is in the West.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll really enjoy it.

Show Notes

The real problem with using AI for medical diagnosis
AI's deep roots in medicine
How safe is medical AI, both in theory and in practice
Are we about to see an App Store for medical devices?
Why doctors have mixed feeling about AI in medicine
How to maintain a competitive advantage in a crowded AI marketplace

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about LPixel
Connect with LPixel on LinkedIn
Friend Yuki on Facebook

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, we’ve talked a lot about biotech in Japan on this show before and quite a bit, really. We have gone into the fact that the Japanese biotech venture ecosystem is really being held back by the lack of investors willing to write of the large checks required knowing that they won’t see any returns for over a decade. So, things are hard for life sciences in Japan.

However, in the words of Dr. Malcolm, "Life finds a way" or in our case today, "Life sciences find a way."

There’s a growing number of impressive life sciences startups emerging in Japan and they are adapting it and evolving so that they can innovate within the capital constraints they find themselves in. Today, we sit down with Yuki Shimahara, founder and CEO of LPixel.

Now, LPixel applies artificial intelligence to medical imaging and detects a wide variety of conditions from CT scans and MRIs. Yuki is still a PhD candidate at the University of Tokyo but he is running a company with more than 40 employees, so you can imagine, he is a pretty busy guy, but he took some time to sit down with Disrupting Japan and talk about how AI is being used in medicine, the challenges facing life sciences in Japan, and between the two of us, we sketch out a new way forward for Japanese innovation, an innovation model that is distinctly different from that in the US, but that might just be the way forward in Japan. Oh, and as you know, my goal here at Disrupting Japan is always to bring you amazing insights from Japanese entrepreneurs in their natural habitat.

This week, that habitat was a large concrete wall to conference room that makes it sound like we are talking at a vast underground cavern. It sounds a bit odd at first, but if you join us for the next 20 minutes in our underground layer, I guarantee you that you will leave thinking very differently about life sciences in Japan, but you know, Yuki tells us that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Yuki Shimahara of LPixel and things were sitting down with me today.

Yuki: Thank you.

Tim: So, LPixel is a cloud-based AI image analysis that you are using mostly for life sciences and related research,

Most of us don't actually zone out in front of the TV. In fact, we give off all kinds of clues to what we really think about the shows we are watching.

Japanese startup, T-Vision Insights has come up with a way both to measure and to monetize those reactions.

Today we sit down with founder and CEO Yasushi Gunya and we talk about T-Vision's business and the future of advertising in video.

T-Vision Insights already has 100's of customers and is monitoring thousands of households both in Japan and the US and we dive into some of the differences in how different kinds of people watch and react to TV.

I guarantee some of the results will surprise you.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

How AI can determine viewer engagement
Proof that women watched the super bowl more closely than men
How men and women watch TV differently

Which TV shows and commercials  are most engaging
The danger of advertising on the Walking Dead
How privacy concerns are addressed
Why it's hard to sell genuinely new innovations
The most engaging parts of commercials
Why starting a startup is not really risky in Japan

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about T-Vision Insights
T-Vision Insight's ranking of the most engaging commercials in Japan
Friend Yasushi on Facebook

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

This episode is a fun one. You know, I’ve always considered watching TV to be a passive activity. I mean, aside from sleeping, it seems like the most passive thing you could spend your time doing. You zone out while entertainment is poured into your brain, but it turns out, that’s not quite the case. TV watchers are a subtly active bunch and as we watch, we give off all kinds of signals to indicate our opinion of what we are being shown.

Well, Yasushi Gunya, founder and CEO of T-Vision Insights has developed an unobtrusive way to measure viewers’ reactions to TV shows and to TV commercials. It’s already deployed in thousands of homes in Japan and in the United States, and the results are remarkable. T-Vision is already showing global 100 brands how consumers react to their commercials and to the TV shows that they air in, and they provide a data-driven approach to show what content is the most engaging and what kind of response it evokes, but what I think is even more interesting is that T-Vision’s data shows that we all engage with TV differently.

Adults engage differently than children, Americans watch differently than Japanese, and men watch very differently than women do. In fact, there’s a big difference between how men and women watch sports on TV, and I guarantee you, it’s not the difference you think it is.

But Yasushi tells that story much better than I can. So, let’s get right to the interview.

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 [Interview]

Tim: Cheers!

Yasushi: Cheers!

Tim: So, we are sitting here in the We Work office in this incredibly hot Tokyo afternoon with Yasushi Gunya of T-Vision Insights, so thanks for sitting down with us.

Yasushi: Thank you, Tim, and let’s cheer since we have beer here.

Tim: That tastes good on a hot day. So, T-Vision Insights measures the viewer’s reactions to TV shows and the commercials, but why don’t you explain basically how it works and what it is?

Yasushi: Okay, our core technology is AI-backed algorithm and we just inserted to a sensor and set the sensor on the top of TV. As a result, we can understand how people in front of the TV will react to the contents of TV, and actually, we have already said this kind of stuff to 3,000 households in US and Japan.

Tim: Okay, and we say ‘how they react,’ so is this a device sort of like Microsoft Kinect,

The single most common question I get asked are variations of "How do you start a business as a foreigner in Japan?"  or "What's it like to start a startup as a foreigner in Japan?"

It's always been a hard question to answer simply because it is such a big one, that it can be hard to know where to start. Well, today we are going to start to answer that question, and over the next month or two, we are really going to dig into it.

Jordan Fisher is CEO and co-founder of Zehitomo, which is an online marketplace for off-line services.

This is not an easy space. There are many such sites in Japan, but Jordan explains why the fact that he and his co-founder are both foreigners has given them a competitive advantage not just in the marketplace, but in recruiting and marketing as well.

Unsurprisingly, there are a few things that are much harder for foreign startup founders than for Japanese founders, and we talk about those as well.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why charging commission is a losing strategy

One surprisingly popular kind of offline services
Why its hard to start a startup as a foreigner in Japan
What it's like raising money as a foreigner in Japan
Ho to use your gaijin-ness to your business advantage
Why some Japanese have a hard time in foreign startups
How to differentiate your startup in Japan
Why the fear of failure is still holding Japan back

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Zehitomo
Connect with Jordan on LinkedIn
Friend him on Facebook
Zehitomo is Hiring

Main recruiting page
Wantedly page

Leave a comment
Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

How do you start a business as a foreigner in Japan? What’s it like to grow a business as a foreigner in Japan?

These are the two questions I get asked the most, not only by our non-Japanese listeners who make up 80% of the Disrupting Japan’s audience but also by our Japanese fans as well. And you know, I’ve always found it hard to answer that question because it’s just such a big question that it’s hard to get your head around it. It’s hard to know how to even start to answer it.

Well, today, we’ll be talking a lot about exactly that. We’ll be sitting down with Jordan Fisher, the CEO and cofounder of Zehitomo.

Now, Zehitomo is an online marketplace for off-line services and we will dive deeper into their business model during the show, but really, we talk a lot about how Westerners or at least Jordan, this one particular Westerner approaches of doing business in Japan. Both as an individual and a company, there are certain things that you can get away with and some things that you just can’t. There are certain advantages you’ll have over your Japanese competition and there’s certain disadvantages that you might not be able to overcome.

But you know, Jordan tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Jordan Fisher, the founder and CEO of Zehitomo which is a marketplace for matching professionals with those who want to hire them, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Jordan: Yeah, great to be here, Tim, thank you.

Tim: So, I mean, I gave a really brief description of what Zehitomo is, so maybe you can explain it a little better than I did.

Jordan: Sure, sure. In a nutshell, it’s what you said, we’re a marketplace for local services. I think a lot of people don’t really immediately click when you say ‘local services,’ what that actually means, and I generally summarize it by saying that it’s the jobs that happens off-line, not the ones that happen online, so think about your photographer, your plumber, your personal trainer,

Japan had been a global leader in robotics for decades, but recently the traditional Japanese leaders have been losing ground to the better-funded and better-publicized firms coming out of America and China.

Mujin is changing that. While iRobot and Boston Dynamics have been grabbing headlines and YouTube views, Mujin has been quietly breaking ground with a series of real-world commercial successes in deploying the next generation of industrial robots.

Perhaps Mujin's largest achievement to date has been their project for Chinese e-commerce giant JD, in which they developed the world's first fully-automated logistics warehouse where robots unload the trucks, stock the shelves, and them pick and pack the items for shipment without human intervention.

Today we talk with Issei Takino, who founded Mujin with his co-founder Rosen Diankov, and he explains why Japan looks at robots in a fundamentally different way than Western countries do, and how that will lead to a significant competitive advantage.

It's an interesting conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

How to get the ecosystem to adopt your platform

Why robots have not yet taken over industry (or the world)
How to get your first customers in robotics
How to get feedback from reluctant Japanese customers
When being a Japanese startup is an advantage
How America and Japan view robotics and automation differently
Advice for starting companies with multi-cultural teams
The critical differences between Japanese and American universities

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Mujin
Friend Issei on Facebook
See Mujin's robots in action
Video of Mujin's automated logistics warehouse (this is very cool)

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, Straight Talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today we're going to talk about robots, specifically industrial robots.

Now Japan has been a global leader in robotics for decades, but in recent years, Japanese firms seem to be losing ground to the better funded and better publicized companies coming out of the US and China.

Well today we're going to sit down with the founder of a company that is already starting to change that. Issei Takino founded Mujin with his co-founder Rosen Diankov and they have developed a kind of android for industrial robots, that is to say, it's a generic operating system that works with almost any hardware and works far more effectively than anything else in the industry.

Issei and I go into some of the details during the interview but perhaps the clearest illustration of Mujin success was a project, they did for Chinese e-commerce giant JD. They developed the world's first fully automated logistics warehouse. It's a massive facility but almost no humans work there. Robots unload the trucks, stock the shelves, pick the items for delivery and then pack them and ship them out. It's hard to explain in an audio podcast, so check out the video. We've got a link at the site and it's really amazing to watch.

Issei and I also talked about how Japan and the West look at robots very differently and how that might be holding America back.

He also shares his experience and advice about founding and running a start-up as a multinational team and we talked about why these kinds of Japanese foreign partnerships are going to become more common and more important in the coming years.

But you know, Issei tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview.

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Tim: All right! So I'm sitting here with Issei Takino of Mujin, the maker of controllers for industrial robots. So thanks for sitting down with me.

Issei: Oh! It's my pleasure, thank you, thank you for inviting.

Twenty years ago, we all thought that starting a startup required a special and rare kind of talent. It was something you either had or you didn't. Today, founding and running a startup is considered more of a learnable skill. It has its own best practices,  industry standards, and common knowledge.

And, in both startups and enterprises, I find it refreshing to talk to people who have succeeded by going against those industry standards.

Peter Galante started what would become the wildly successful Japanese Pod 101 with no clear idea how to monetize and no clear business plan. He did, however, have a firm conviction that what he wanted to build had value and the people would flock to it.

And he was right.

Peter and I talk about how his unconventional business plan and his rejection of VC advice and standard best practices, actually resulted in a rapidly growing startup in a market protected from even his best-funded competitors.

It's an interesting conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes


Who is really studying Japanese online
Why most Japanese language learners fail
What you need to know about turning a hobby into a business
What happens when your startup start changing for free content
Why podcasting is dying [Noooo!!!!] and video is rising
How content creators can get paid when so much content is free
How to defend your business against better-funded startups

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Innovative Language Learning

JapanesePod 101
JapanesePod101 on YouTube

Connect with Peter on LinkedIn
Friend him on Facebook

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7994466"] Leave a comment
Transcript
 Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we're going to sit down and talk with startup founder and fellow podcaster Peter Galante, founder of Japanese Pod 101, and if you study Japanese, then you've probably already listened to more than a few of those episodes.

When I went over to their studio for the conversation, Peter mentioned that he was actually a little bit nervous about coming on the show. That came as quite a surprise to me. I mean, I'm a friendly guy and I genuinely love learning about business models and taking them apart, you know, breaking them down into their individual movies parts, holding them up to the light to see how they work. I think that subject is endlessly fascinating and I learn something new every time I do it but that's my approach and not everyone thinks this way.

Not everyone approaches startups as an exercise in business model design where you have a system of interacting components that need to be optimized in underserved markets that need to be served. Some people, in fact, probably more founders that are willing to admit it start out with a vision of what they want to be doing and then figure out how to backfit some kind of sustainable business model onto it.

This is exactly what Peter has done and as we'll see during the interview, this is exactly what has not only led to the success of Japanese Pod 101 but it is also what is preventing even well-funded competition from entering this space. We also - and as a podcaster, this breaks my heart - we also talked about the ongoing and transformative shift from audio to video content.

Oh, yeah, and Peter wanted to make sure I let you know that about the same time this podcast is released, Japanese Pod 101 will exceed 1 billion downloads. That's pretty impressive for something that started out as a hobby but you know, Peter tells that story a lot better than I can. So let's get right to the interview.

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[interview]

Tim: I'm sitting here with Peter Galante of Innovative Language Learning who is redefining online language education but is m...

This is a rather personal episode. We have no guests this time.

It’s just you and me.

Today, rather than diving deep into a specific aspect of startups in Japan, we are going to take a hard look at both what is and what is not working within the Japanese startup ecosystem as a whole.

And at the end, I'm going to answer the most common question I am asked by overseas audiences. "Where are the Japanese unicorns?"

You might already know about Japan's two existing unicorns, but I'm going to explain where the next four will be coming from.

I guarantee that it's from somewhere you would not have expected.

So let's get right to it.

UPDATE:  Evocative Machines are starting to take off in Japan. If you are interested in the subject, please check out The Evocative Machines Project.

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.
Once again, I’ve got a special show for you today. There will be no guests, no beer, no playful banter with someone speaking English as a second language. Today, it’s just you and me.
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these one-on-one episodes. Way too long really. I truly enjoy doing them and they tend to be my most popular episodes, but man they take a lot of time to write and put together.
This episode, in particular, I had to rewrite two or three times, to make sure you would really understand what I am trying to explain. Because by the end of this episode you and I will definitely be in new and uncertain territory, and I for one love being in new and uncertain territory.
By the time we’re done, you’ll have a solid idea of where Japan’s next dozen unicorn startups will be coming from.
First, I want to tell you what inspired me to create this episode for you. In fact, it was kind of a strange situation. I mean twice a month we sit down and talk about innovation in Japan. I’m privileged to talk with and to introduce you to some of the most interesting founders and innovators in Japan. I spend a lot of time talking, writing and thinking about how the startup ecosystem is changing.
But. You know, I think I missed something. Something important. And, I think the reason I might have missed it was because I watch things so closely that when ….
Well, lets back up a bit so all of this will make sense.
Actually, it was my friend Allen Miner who first pointed out the change. For those of you who don’t know him, Allen was one of Japan’s first modern VCs and he also brought both Salesforce and Oracle to Japan. 
And by the way, if you have not listened to the Disrupting Japan episode where Allen tells the story of Oracle’s Japan market entry, you really need to go back and listen. Someday business schools will make proper case studies from that story, but until then, it’s a Disrupting Japan exclusive.
It’s a story of fake it till you make it on a multi-billion dollar scale. The plot involves intrigue, secret dealings, and … rock-concerts. What more could you possibly want?   
Go and listen to it right now. I'll wait.

Welcome back. Did you listen to the episode? No, of course, you didn’t. Nobody ever does. It’s a silly conceit. I don’t know why we podcasters keep using it. We should stop.
Anyway, give Allen’s interview a listen when you get the chance. Now back to our story.
For the past eight years, the Japan Society of Northern California has given out annual innovation awards to startups in both Japan and the US. They are a really worthwhile organization that has been around for more than 100 years. I’m on the advisory committee for the awards, and last month in Tokyo I attended the awards ceremony for the Japanese startups.
The winners, by the way, were Mujin, Soracom, and Cloudian.  Ken, the founder of Soracom was on the show last year, and you’ll be hearing from the other two founders on the ...

If you've ever done business in Japan, someone probably walked you through the intricacies of Japanese business card culture.

Chika Terada, the founder of Sansan, created one of Japan's most successful startups around the business card protocol. And even though Sansan has been expanding quickly and is on track for an IPO, Chika thinks that Japanese business card culture will soon disappear.

Chika and I talk about the challenges of rapidly scaling a company, and how the IPO market in Japan will change in the next few years.

We also talk about what Chika learned as his company expanded into other markets and how even B2B business is really a complex mix of business and culture.

It's an interesting conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes


Why business cards are not data, but an event marker
Why Sansan wants to replace business cards
How to save the corporate culture when you are committed to things that don't scale
How stock options should be (and are) used at Japanese startups
Why marketing is so hard to disrupt in Japan
How Japan's business card culture extends overseas
How big company attitudes towards startups re changing in Japan
How to teach innovation in Japan

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Sansan

Check out Eight for business networking
Sansan in English

Friend Chika on Facebook

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, anyone who has done business in Japan has had to learn the intricacies of Japanese business card culture and the protocol involved in exchanging them.

Well, Chika Terada has built Sansan, one of Japan's most successful startups around business cards. The name Sansan started as a play on words, kind of like the band Mister Mister but the company itself has grown into a powerhouse of B2B CRM and corporate relationship management in Japan where LinkedIn has failed.

Now, Chika and I talk a lot about the challenges involved in scaling a company up so quickly and what he's learned by expanding into international markets, some with business card cultures very similar to Japan and some with very different protocols, and we talk about why we might finally be seeing a shift in the unhealthy fixation that so many Japanese investors and founders have on the IPO.

And you know, despite the fact that Sansan has built its entire business on business cards and the protocols surrounding them, Chika explains why he thinks that they may eventually go away and what will replace them.

But you know, Chika tells that story much better than I can. So let's get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So we're sitting here with Chika Terada, the CEO and founder of Sansan who is really changing how Japan looks at business cards. So thanks for sitting down with me.

Chika: Thank you, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to talk with you again.

Tim: Again, yes, it's great to have you back on the show because you were actually the very first guest I had on this show over three and half years ago.

Chika: I'm very pleased to hear. I mean, by looking at your success after the first interview, that's remarkable.

Tim: And likewise, you as well. Sansan has been just growing at a fantastic rate since that interview and jt's one of the real startup success stories in Japan. People from overseas often see Sansan as kind of like a business card scanning app and I know it's a lot more than that. It's more like a networking tool but maybe you can just start out by explaining what Sansan is and what Eight is.

Chika: Right, it is true that our company deals about business cards but this means our company is all about the bu...

Startups are changing how business is done in Japan, but medicine remains stubbornly resistant to innovation.

In some ways, that's good. We are literally experimenting with peoples lives, so caution is definitely warranted. We don't want to rush things. However, Japan's national health insurance acts as a single buyer, and sometimes the only way to innovate is to go around them.

That's exactly what Kenichi Ishii, the founder of Next Innovation has done. Their long-term strategy involves creating widespread and comprehensive telemedicine in Japan, but right now they have developed a basic approach that has reduced the cost of some medical treatments by more than 70%

And business is booming.

Ken and Next Innovation are both proudly from Osaka, and we also talk a lot about the state of the Osaka startup ecosystem.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes


Why medical startups need to innovate around Japan's national health insurance
How to cross-sell in the medical market
Why Osaka offers a competitive advantage to some kinds of startups
What is holding back telemedicine in Japan
The culture of secrecy in Japanese medicine
The most likely source for innovation in Japanese medicine

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Next Innovation
Friend Ken on Facebook
Check out the Sumashin app
The Osaka Innovation Hub is the center of Osaka's startup scene

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

The medical industry is one of the hardest to disrupt and in some ways, that's a good thing. I mean, we're literally experimenting with people's lives here so there's a good argument to be made for being conservative and taking things slowly, but you know, looking at the national health insurance system in Japan and the health systems of all developed nations, it becomes pretty obvious that not only can improvements be made but that improvements must be made.

Well, today, we talk with Kenichi Ishii, the founder of Next Innovation. Their long-term strategy involves increasing the use and acceptance of telemedicine in Japan in general but right now, they've developed a basic approach to telemedicine that enables them to sell prescription drugs over the I, and business is booming. Oh, and Next Innovation is a proudly Osaka-based startup. Ken and I talk a lot about the challenges Osaka has faced in developing a startup ecosystem and why it seems that those problems might be over, and you'll be hearing from more and more Osaka startups on the show.

During the interview, Ken and I talk about value-based medicine and price-based medicine. It's not really intuitive so it's probably best if I explain it to you now. When Ken talks about cost-based patients, he means those who see medical treatment as a means to an end and they want it done simply, cheaply, and quickly. The value-based patients are those that want to be involved either because of an interest in the treatment or for other social reasons that we’ll talk about.

Ken will explain why this difference is important, how Japan's tight control over the medical industry forced him and his team to be very resourceful in launching this product, the crisis Japanese hospitals are facing now and why we can't stay on our current path; we need to innovate our way out of this situation.

But you know, can tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview 

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[Interview]

Tim: So I'm sitting here with Kenichi of Next Innovation, a true telemedicine startup in Japan. So thanks for sitting down with me.

Kenichi: Thank you, nice to meet you.

Tim: Telemedicine covers a really broad area,

Preferred Networks is making changes in Japan.

Over the past few years, this AI startup has raised more than $130M in venture funding and grown to more than 130 people.

If you live outside of Japan, you might not have heard of this team, but they are working with Toyota to create the next generation of driverless cars. They are working with Japan's most advanced industrial robot manufacturers to improve efficiency. They are also working with many financial institutions on fraud detection.

Oh yes, and they also built Japan's most powerful commercial supercomputer.

Today we sit down and talk with Daisuke Okanohara, the technical co-founder of Preferred Networks. Daisuke and I talk about the story behind Preferred Networks, he also shares his challenges and current strategies for maintaining the company's experimental and engineering culture as it grows larger and more structured.

Daisuke also talks about his time at Google, how Japanese AI stacks up to China and the US, and why he’s convinced that their biggest competition is going to come from somewhere you would never expect.

It's a great discussion, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

What edge-heavy computing is and why it's important
How a Google Internship changed Daisuke's outlook on AI
The future of driverless cars at Toyota
Why the team decided to build Japan's most powerful supercomputer
Why you can't sell disruptive products to large companies
How to keep a curious spirit even as your company grows
Where the real competition in AI will come from

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Preferred Networks

Check out their Homepage
Follow them on Twitter @PreferredNet

Check out Chainer Preferred Networks free open source AI library

The core Chainer project
PaintsChainer
Cupy Chainer

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Preferred Networks is without question the brightest star in the constellation of Japanese AI startups. It attracted about 130 million in venture funding and have grown to more than 130 people over the past few years.

Of course, if you don't follow AI, you might not have heard about them at all but they are the technology behind Toyota’s driverless cars, some of FANUC’s industrial robots, many cutting-edge applications in other verticals, and as a side project, they also built Japan's most powerful commercial supercomputer.

It's an interesting team to say the least and today, we sit down and talk with Daisuke Okanohara, Preferred Networks’ technical cofounder.

We talk about how Preferred Networks got started and got to scale and he also shares his challenges and strategies of trying to maintain the company's experimental and engineering culture as it grows larger and monthly revenue pressures increase. Daisuke also talks about his time at Google, how Japanese AI stacks up to China and the US, and why he's convinced that their biggest competition is going to come from somewhere you would never expect it.

But you know, Daisuke tells that story much better than I can, so let’s gets right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So I'm sitting here with Daisuke Okanohara, the cofounder and Executive Vice President of Preferred Networks, Japan's leading and probably most innovative AI startup.

So thanks for sitting down with me today.

Daisuke: Thank you very much.

Tim: So Preferred Networks talks a lot about the importance of edge -heavy computing. So can you explain exactly what edge-heavy computing is and why it's important?

Daisuke: Cloud computing is one of the most important trends in the IT area and most people believe that most computations or operations sho...

Education is very hard to disrupt.

That’s both good and bad. Education is so important to both individuals and society, it should not be changed on a whim, but over time it seems that our institutions of higher education have drifted away from meeting students real needs.

Yoshito Hori, founder and CEO of Globis, is making radical changes. He turned a small training school into Japan's first independent and fully accredited business school with an MBA. Less than ten years later, Globis became Japan’s most popular MBA program.

We talk about the need for change in education and about the successful, real-world pilot program Globis is running to modernize Japanese higher education. Yoshito also shares insights on how to teach innovative thinking and explains why such a high percentage of Globis MBAs go on to found starts or join them.

It's a fascinating discussion and I think you'll really enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why most Japanese do not want to attend full-time MBA programs
How to make an advanced degree both exclusive and inexpensive
How to groom MBA students to start startups
How Sumitomo missed out on a multi-billion dollar business
Why Japanese higher education is so resistant to change
This difference between SPOCs and MOOCs, and why it's important
How drinking in front of your computer might save higher education

Links from the Founder

Check out Globis
Yoshito's blog on entrepreneurship in Japan
Follow Yoshito on Twitter@YoshiHoriGLOBIS
Connect with him on LinkedIn
Yoshito's article on 100 Actions to revive Japan
The G1 Global Conference

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Transcript
Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

You know, education is hard to disrupt. And as long-time fans know very well, that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because education is so important and foundational not only to how well a given child will do later in life but also because in the large developed nations, the educational system forms the basis of society itself. It provides us all with a shared set of experiences.

So the fact that we don’t change the rules every few years is a good thing. On the other hand, this lack of disruption leads to educational systems that don’t really meet the needs of today’s students and today’s societies for that matter. So clearly, there must be a better way of doing things than what we’re doing now.

Well, today, I’d like to introduce you to someone who’s found a better way. Yoshito Hori founded Globis as a small business training school and grew it into Japan’s first independent and fully accredited business school offering MBAs. And then, Globis became Japan’s most popular MBA program.

Yoshito’s strategy for innovation is fascinating. Unlike similar schools in the US, Globis does not compete on cost. In fact, the Globis MBA is more expensive than similar degree programs at Todai or Hitotsubashi. No. Globis is doing something unique and something that is making a lot of people rethink how university and post graduate education is done in Japan.

But you know, Yoshito tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

 Tim: So we’re sitting here today with Yoshi Hori of Globis. Thank you so much for sitting down with me.

Yoshi: Thank you very much as well.

Tim: Globis has about 7,000 students per year. It’s the most popular MBA in Japan. It always does well in the national business school rankings here. But what seems most unusual, it’s a truly international MBA program. You have students both from Japan and overseas now, right?

Yoshi: Yeah.

Tim: What sort of ratio?

Yoshi: Well, we have English MBA program and Japanese MBA program.

The insurance industry has proven very resistant to innovation. In fact, it has not really changed much in the past 200 years. The way insurance is sold and managed has changed, of course, but from the point of view of the consumer, things remain surpassingly like they were a century ago.

Today we talk with someone who is changing that. Kazuya “Kazy” Hata is CEO of JustInCase, a new breed of Japanese insurance company that offers insurance over the smartphone and then monitors how you use your phone, your lifestyle, and your social connections to determine what your premium should be.

We also talk about the next logical step for smart-phone-based insurance. Being able to ensure specific activities or possessions at will, maybe just for a few hours or while you are on a trip.

It’s a great conversation, and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes

Who actually buys long-term cell phone insurance
What behavior might make you a "risky" smartphone user
Why there are so few life sciences startups in Japan
The future of insurance on demand
Why P2P insurance presents a unique market opportunity
Why it is so hard for insurance companies to innovate
How Japan's FSA is working to encourage insurance innovation

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about JustInCase
Kazy's blog (Japanese)
Follow Kazy on Twitter @KazyHata
Friend him on Facebook
Genome Link Online Hackathon

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, the insurance industry is really resistant to innovation. The modern insurance industry was largely developed in the 17th and 18th century and it's not changed a whole lot since then. Oh, the tools have changed: insurance is sold very differently today, risks are better understood and better quantified, better measured, and the emergence of the global reinsurance market has made the system far more stable, but the way insurance works from your point of view, from the way you and I see it, things have changed very little over the past hundred years.

Most of the change in the industry is driven by regulatory changes rather than entrepreneurial innovation, and for insurance, I've got to say, I'm pretty much okay with that. Insurance firms need to remain solvent for decades and theoretically forever, and the fail fast, fail forward philosophy doesn't really work when it comes time to pay out life insurance or after a natural disaster, and yet, there needs to be a way to innovate and that's what we're going to talk about today.

Kazuya Hata or “Kazy” as his friends call him is the founder and CEO of JustInCase. JustInCase offers insurance over the smartphone and the first product they're insuring is your smartphone itself. JustInCase then uses artificial intelligence to analyze your usage profile and your social connections to determine the premium you should be paying.

We also talk about the next logical step for a smartphone-based insurance, being able to enter specific activities or possessions at will, maybe just for a few hours or while you're on a trip. The cellphone interface and the personal rich data which we continuously share about ourselves online, whether we know it or not allows companies to build up a personalized risk profile and both offer customized and flexible products and replace the number of fraudulent claims.

But you know, Kazi tells this story much better than I can so let's get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

I'm sitting here with Kazy Hata of JustInCase who offers not only insurance on your cellphone but actually sells insurance on the cellphone. Does that make sense?

Kazuya: That's actually right, yes.

Tim: Well,

Blue Innovation attracted a lot of international attention last year when they announced the  T-Frend drone system.

This dystopian drone flies around offices after hours reminding staff not to work overtime, and taking pictures of those who violate overtime policy so that management can be alerted.

We’ll talk about this particular drone, of course, but Blue Innovation's technology is much broader and is making an impact an many more important, if perhaps less visible, areas. Founder and CEO Takayuki Kumada explains the early days of the company and why they decided to pivot into drones in the first place.

We also talk about the future of drones in Japan and globally, about what’s really holding the industry back, and why the Japanese government crackdown on drones might have actually forced the industry to focus on a very specialized and very lucrative niche.

It’s a great conversation, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

What is a drone integrator, and why are they important?
How Blue Innovation pivoted from environmental consulting to drones
How drones navigate with no WiFi no GPS and no light
What kinds of jobs drones should not do
Why flying drones make more sense than swimming or crawling drones
Which industries will be most affected by drones
What's really holding drones back
How Japan can overcome China's lead in drones

Links from the Founder

Check out everything Blue Innovation is doing
Blue Innovation's Facebook page
Japan Drone 2018 on the Blue Innovation blog
Friend Takayuki on Facebook

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

One of the ideas I've talked about a lot over the past few years and one that's finally gaining some acceptance is that the bulk of meaningful innovation in Japan is going to come not from startups but from midsized companies. Of course, Japanese venture capital and the ecosystem will adapt to include these players but things are going to develop differently in Japan than in the United States. With this in mind, perhaps you won't be too surprised to learn that Japan's leading drone company is not a traditional startup but a midsized company that pivoted into drones from a completely different industry.

Today, we’ll sit down with Takayuki Kumada, founder and CEO of Blue Innovation, Japan's leading drone integrator. Now, Blue Innovation attracted international attention last year with the announcement of their T-Frend drone. Now, this drone is designed to reduce overtime by flying around the office taking pictures of staff and telling them to go home, and yeah, we talk about how effective this is likely to be but we also talk about the integrator strategy, the one that's being pursued by a lot of the most successful high-tech startups in Japan. It's a strategy that allows them to quickly collaborate across industries and brings an immediate cash flow, but it does come at a cost and it might not be stable long-term, but we’ll get into that. We also talk about the future of drones, both in Japan and globally and what's really holding the industry back, and why the Japanese government’s crackdown on drones might have actually forced the industry to focus on a very specialized and very lucrative niche,

But you know, Takayuki tells the story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview.

[Interview]

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Tim: So I'm sitting here with Takayuki Kumada, the CEO of Blue Innovation, and Blue Innovation is developing civil engineering services using drones. So thanks for sitting down with me.

Takayuki: Thank you very much.

Tim: Okay. On your website and in interviews, I've heard you describe Blue Innovation as drone integrators.

Have you ever been at a crowded and noisy party and heard a conversation across the room?

You catch pieces of it, and you know it is interesting, but you can’t quite make it out and you can quite push your way over to that side of the room to be a part of it.

Well, that was the situation a lot of our guests found themselves in a few weeks ago, so today we are going to set things right.

Last month 500 Startups and Disrupting Japan held a joint event that focused on how Japanese and foreign staff can work best together at startups. As the event, I had a great discussion with three startup founders who are leading multi-cultural teams.  They candidly shared their stories and advice and even told us about some of their biggest mistakes.

It was a great discussion, the event was a huge success, and we’ll definitely be doing it again very soon. But in a way, the event was too successful. Way more people showed up than we expected and the place was packed. Everyone had a good time, but the room was so packed and noisy that only the people close to the front got a chance to hear some amazingly good advice and life experiences.

So I thought I would release the entire conversation as a special in-between episode of Disrupting Japan. There are no show notes for this one and it's not transcribed, but it is a great conversation with three experts on how startups can recruit, retain and get the very best out of multi-lingual, multi-cultural staff.

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Hardware is hard.

In fact, sometimes the simplest and most straightforward ideas turn out to be the hardest to implement.

Today I’d like you to meet Kyohi Kang the founder and CEO of Atmoph. Atmoph is a programmable window which can display the sights and sounds of hundreds of scenic places from all over the world. It's an exciting project, and the team attracted a great deal of early interest. They even ran one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns and a smaller, but still successful, Japanese campaign on Makuake.

But this success almost bankrupted them.

Kyohi and I discuss how this happened and how other startups can avoid falling into the same trap.

We also discuss Kyoto and the fledgeling startup ecosystem that is just starting to spread its wings there.

And we'll dive into detail about why, unlike most other startups, Atmoph has decided to remain a hardware startup rather than pivoting to software and licensing when presented with that option.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

What are digital windows and who wants to use them?
What happens when the Kickstarter money runs out?
What are the important differences between crowdfunding in Japan and the US
What hardware startups really need to know about crowdfunding
How you can be bankrupted by crowdfunding too well
How to maintain sales momentum after the crowdfunding period ends
Why you have to choose to be a hardware company or a software company. The dangers of trying to do both.
Why the founders left Tokyo to start a company in Kyoto
How the Osaka and Kyoto startups communities are different

Links from the Founder

Check out Atmoph - You won't really get it until you see it.
Friend Kyuhi on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter @kyohik
Atmoph's Social Sites

AtMpoh on Twitter
AtMpoh on Facebook
AtMpoh on Instagram

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, I was moderating a discussion panel at the big Hakusuka event last month and before things kicked off, I sat down at a café with Kyohi Kang, the found of Atmoph. Now, Atmoph is one of those ideas that is so obvious once you see it that you're sure that someone has thought of it before. In fact, you're pretty sure that you've thought of it before.

We did, right? And yet, Atmoph seems to be the only company in the world that is producing this product. What is it? Well, I'm getting to that.

You'll hear a lot of the details during the interview and it's always challenging to describe something so intensely visual on an audio podcast, but Atmoph is literally a window onto the world. It's a 27-inch diameter monitor that's mounted in a picture frame and it displays the sights and sounds of, well, anywhere, really: a window onto a Polynesian beach, a Roman Piazza - anywhere.

Kyohi and I also talk about how Atmoph's very successful Kickstarter campaign almost bankrupted his company and since the team has run crowdfunding campaigns in both the US and Japan, we'll go over some of the most important differences between the platforms in both countries, and more importantly, the important differences about the customers and the customer expectations in both countries, and even though we met in Osaka, we talk a lot about Kyoto.

Kyoto has the potential to become one of the most important startup communities in Japan. It's not quite there yet but there's a lot of promising signs and a lot of promising startups, for that matter.

But you know, Kyohi tells that story much better than I can. So let's get right to the interview.

[Interview]

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Tim: So I'm sitting here with Kyohi Kang of Atmoph and it's kind of a digital window,

Right now, it looks like the most profitable business models that are emerging from the mapping of the human genome are not in the field of medicine, but in a variety of B2C business models focused on consumer marketing.

That may be a surprising claim, but if the past 40 years of life sciences have taught us anything, it's that our genetic information will be both more valuable and harder to understand than we expect it to be.

Today, I’d like you to meet Tomohiro Takano, CEO and founder of Awakens.  Awakens is opening up the genome to make it more accessible and understandable to you and me. They are designing a genetic marketplace that will serve both B2B and B2C clients, and they are working with other startups to develop applications that will leave some readers impressed and excited, and others appalled and concerned.

So it’s probably best to let Tomo tell you about it.

Show Notes

Why people will share their DNA information
How to choose your customers as a genetics startup
Why developing B2B clients is different in Japan and the US
Why people you would not suspect want access to your genome
The true accuracy of consumer DNA analysis
DNA for dating and social networking
What an accelerator must do to validate a startup
Why there are so few life sciences startups in Japan

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Awakens
Tomo's genetics blog (Japanese)
Follow Tomo on twitter @mr3tiago
Friend him on Facebook
Genome Link Online Hackathon

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we're going to be talking about mining the genome, because if the last 40 years of life-sciences has taught us anything, it's that the information we take from our DNA is always more valuable than we think it's going to be, and why wouldn't it be? I mean, innovation and efficiency, and profit, and money in general are all just proxies for some greater and deeper human need. Most innovation is a more efficient means to the same ends, but DNA, well, that's different. That is who we are. It literally defines us, so naturally, it's something we all care about deeply whether we know it or not.

Today, I'd like you to meet Tomohiro Takano, CEO and founder of Awakens, and Awakens is trying to open up the genome and to make it more accessible and understandable to you and me. How exactly they plan on making money doing that, well, Tomo will explain in just a moment. It's a combination of a B2B and B2C DNA marketplace that some listeners will find exciting and some will find it infuriating.

But you know, Tomo tells that story much better than I can. So let's get right to the interview.

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 [Interview]

Tim: Cheers!

Tomohiro: Cheers! Thanks.

Tim: We are sitting here with Tomo Takano of Awakens, a genomic startup here in Tokyo, so thanks for sitting down with us.

Tomohiro: Yeah, it's my pleasure to be here today.

Tim: Okay, let's do a quick overview of what Awakens is. So you developed the Genome Link software and you say you have a vision of everyone being able to access their own DNA data. Why would we want to do that?

Tomohiro: We create a service called Genome Link which is the kind of API solution for companies to develop their own DNA personalized products. So we see that in the near future, in five or 10 years, every single people will have access to their own DNA data then make use of that data for like, they are choosing in fitness, nutrition, food, medicine.

Tim: Does Awakens do the DNA testing as well or do you just link to work that's been done by like, Ancestors or 23AndMe?

Tomohiro: Right, so at this point, we are simply focusing on existing genetic testing users,

We startup founders and investors like to talk about “moonshots”. It points out startups that have huge dreams, those that are solving hard problems, and those that will actually change the world if they succeed.

Usually, the term moonshot is used metaphorically, but today I’d like to introduce you to a literal moonshot. Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of ispace, plans on landing commercial payloads on the moon in the next two years.

Ispace is in the process of developing lunar landers and lunar rovers, and they plan on using the increasingly inexpensive commercial launch companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin to send them to the moon.

Ispace has secured a partnership with Japan’s space agency, and they have attracted more than $90 million in investment.

It’s a great conversation and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why Japan's space program is being privatized
How a lunar lander can be commercially viable by 2020
An overview of ispace's first ten lunar missions
How much it costs to put one kilogram on the moon
What's worth mining on the moon
What a lunar economy could look like
Why lunar advertising is a possibility

Links from the Founder

Check out ispace
Connect with Takeshi on LinkedIn

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.
“Boys, be ambitious. Be ambitious not for money or selfish aggrandizement, not for that evanescent thing which men call fame. Be ambitious for the attainment of all that a man ought to be.”
That was a parting advice given in 1867 by William S. Clark to the students of what would become Hokkaido University. While Clark is not widely known in his home country of the United States, both he and the phrase “Boys, be ambitious” are legendary here in Japan.

And yet so few Japanese boys or girls, for that matter, really are ambitious, at least in the way that Clark intended it. Of course, many of Japan’s most ambitious boys are girls are the very ones out there starting startups, and today, I’d like to introduce you to the most ambitious Japanese startup in existence.

They are a literal moonshot company and they’ve just raised over $90 million to pursue that dream. Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of ispace plans on landing commercial payloads on the moon in the next two years.

Now, ispace is not making rockets like SpaceX or Blue Origin, they're creating lunar landers and lunar rovers, and they are making plans for a commercially viable lunar economy. I'll let Takeshi tell you all about it.

Oh, but before I do, you should know about the Google Lunar X Prize. This was a global $25 million competition sponsored by Google and open to any companies that could land a rover on the moon and send data back to Earth. Now, no one ended up winning the main prize but Takeshi’s Hakuto project was one of the five companies from around the world that won an intermediate milestone prize.

But you know, Takeshi tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

 

Tim: So we're sitting here with Takeshi Hakamada of ispace who is going to commercialize the moon with exploration mining and eventually tourism, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Takeshi: Thank you for having interview with me today.

Tim: I really appreciate this and I love big dreams, and I think that no company in Japan has bigger dreams than ispace.

Takeshi: Really?

Tim: Yeah. Well, I mean, you've recently raised $90 million for a literal moonshot. Can you explain what you're planning on doing?

Takeshi: We are trying to provide a commercial transportation service to the moon in the next few years. Starting from that service,

Using artificial intelligence to change the way the education system works seems like a fool’s errand.

When you combine the fluid and opaque nature of AI technology with the slow, bureaucratic decision making of education, you usually wind up with the perfect storm of stagnation, frustration, and rapidly burning through investor capital.

Out guest today, however, thinks he’s found a way to make it work. Daisuke Inada, founder and CEO of Atama+, left a promising career at Mitsui to start an EdTech company he believes will change the way children learn.

Interestingly, Daisuke’s vision is not the standard EdTech dream of online classes and automated learning. It’s one where human instructors are still very much involved and critical to the success of both the students and the programs. Of course, their role will change and the overall structure will look quite different from what we know today.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Show Notes

How to find a customer willing to fund changes in education
The challenge in exporting the Japanese education model
How to find co-founders when you are a mid-career executive
What most people over 35 misunderstands about starting a startup
Why education is hard to disrupt
Why online education will not work in Japan or any other country
How Japnese AI companies can compete against their better funded foreign rivals
How to convince more Japanese to start companies

Links from the Founder

Check out Atama+
Follow them on Facebook

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we're going to talk about artificial intelligence and natural intelligence. In fact, we're actually going to talk about using artificial intelligence to improve natural intelligence, so yeah, and tech. Education is one of our institutions that is both most in need of disruption and most resistant to disruption, and there's probably no small amount of cause and effect in that statement. I mean, the reason education is in such need of disruption is because it has been so hard to change for so long although almost every other aspect of our lives has been transformed. Education has changed over the past 100 years, not just in Japan, mind you, but all over the world.

Well, today, we're going to talk about exactly why that is and what the hell we can do about it. So I’d like to introduce you to Daisuke Inada, founder and CEO of Atama-Plus. Now, Daisuke left a long and lucrative career at Mistui because he believes he has a better way to help people learn. Now, in the interview, Daisuke and I talk about jyuku and for those of you outside japan, I should probably explain what jyuku are and why they're important to innovation and education.

Jyuku is usually translated as cram school. They don’t really have a parallel in the west, but they're very common in Japan and in other parts of Asia. Jyuku are school run by private companies and Japanese high school students attend jyuku after they finish their regular classes and on weekends, and on holidays. The purpose of these schools is to help the students score higher on their college entrance exams or in the case of junior high school jyuku, to increase student scores on their high school entrance exams. Unlike the high schools and junior high schools themselves, however, jyuku are private companies and some are even publicly traded. Jyuku compete fiercely for students and they're evaluated based on how well their students do on the tests. It's no surprise that they're willing to try new technology and why most education innovation in Japan focuses on jyuku.

Now that you have that background, our conversation with Daisuke will make a lot more sense. Of course, we also talk about the challenges he faced when deciding ...

The global energy markets are transforming themselves right before our eyes. Very little fundamental change has occurred over the past 70 years, but 10 years from today the Japanese and global markets are going to look completely different. 

Today we sit down with Yohei Kiguchi CEO in Enechange, Japan’s largest retail energy switching platforms, and we dive into detail about how these markets are changing.

We talk about Enechange’s business model, of course, but we also discuss the most effective strategies for startups who need to compete against large incumbents, and that advice holds true for startups in Japan or anywhere else in the world.

Yohei also has some interesting observations on why Japan is a better place to start a company than the UK or Europe.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

How to identify a promising startup opportunity in Japan
What’s driving change in Japan’s energy markets
How to appeal to Japanese investors from overseas
The importance of TV advertising in Japan
How to make money in a slow-growth industry
When Japan's nuclear plants will be turned back on
How Japan's IPO markets gibe Japan a strategic advantage
Why enterprise upper management is leaving to join startups in Japan

Links from the Founder

Check out Enechange
SMAP Energy's website

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

I surprised a lot of my friends and fans last year when I joined TEPCO, Japan's largest electric utility. I admit, at first glance, it seems a pretty radical departure from my history in startups and in most ways, it is. However, there's a transformation going on right now in energy all over the world, and while there's been very little disruption in the energy markets over the past 70 years, 10 years from now, the markets will look nothing like they do today.

Well, today, we sit down with Yohei Kiguchi, CEO of Enechange, one of the more innovative startups building a business in the new energy markets. Now, before you understand what Enechange does, I need to give you a little bit of background on how energy deregulation is working around the world and the story of the coming disruption is quite similar in all developed nations.

Since the days of, well, Thomas Edison, really, the power company was responsible for creating the electricity, building and maintaining the power grids to transmit that electricity across the country, and then billing the customers for the electricity they used. Because of the cost involved and the importance of universal and reliable electricity, it made sense for this to be done by a single, tightly-regulated monopoly and that's how things stayed for about 100 years, but over the past decade, around the world, the cost of generating electricity have dropped and we've seen smaller, more affordable plants, and a proliferation of sore.

On the retail side, smart meters and the internet has made it easier to collect data and to be bill customers, and so markets around the world are being deregulated with power generation, power transmission, and retail billing all being handled by separate companies. While power regulation gets most of the press, most of the market disruption has focused on the retail side with hundreds of companies entering the market and many offering steep discounts. Around the world, electricity consumers have never had this much choice, and that's where Enechange comes in.

Enechange is by far Japan's largest energy-switching website. It provides tools that allow consumers and businesses to shop for the best or the cheapest energy supplier, but as Yohei explains, the cheapest is not usually the best and Yohei also has some interesting observations on why Japan is a better place to start a startup than ...

Having a free product tier is a time-proven way for startups to get a foot in the door by giving potential customers a low-risk way of evaluating your product.

However, there are times when it's easier and much more profitable to simply make the sale.

Yu Taniguchi s CEO of Vesper and creator of TableSolution.TableSolution is a SaaS product similar to OpenTable. It helps restaurant owners manage their reservations and better understand their customers.

You might not have heard of them yet, but you will. Today they have thousands of paying customers including some of the world's largest hotel chains, they are profitable, and they are expanding globally.

Yu and I talk aboutTableSolution's business model, of course, but you Yu also has some great advice and some counterintuitive insights about selling to mid-sized companies, expanding into new verticals and recruiting great staff.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Two ways to differentiate your startup in a crowded industry
How Freemium can hurt your B2B sales
How restaurants are using bid data to learn more about you
How Tokyo restaurants secretly raise prices together
The advantages of having a multi-lingual product from day one
How to keep customer churn low in a competitive marketplace
Is it more profitable to go deep or to go wide?
How is selling to enterprise different from selling to startups and smaller firms

Links from the Founder

Check out TableSolution
Follow TableSolution on Facebook
Friend Yu on Facebook
Vesper's TableCheck site

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Startup investing follows trends and following these trends is an easy way to raise money. Two years ago in Tokyo, everyone was starting food delivery businesses. A year ago, it was AI-related companies, and now, of course, at coffee shops around the world, founders are trying to figure out how to graft a cryptocurrency onto an existing business model and launch an ICO.

Of course, after you raise the money, you got to grow the business, and that's always hard, but it's even harder when you are competing against 100 other funded startups with the same business model, no. Long-term, the companies that went out are either those who are doing something no one has thought of before or those doing something so boring that everyone has thought of it but they are doing it in a way that puts them out in front.

Today, I'd like to introduce you to one of those companies.

Yu Taniguchi is CEO of Vesper, the creator of Table Solution. It's a SaaS service similar to OpenTable in that it helps restaurant owners manage their reservations better and better understand their customers.

You might not have heard of them yet but you will. They have thousands of paying customers, including some global chains, they are profitable, and they are beginning to expand globally. The business model itself is interesting and you also have some great advice and some counter-intuitive insights about selling to mid-sized companies and the dubious value of the freemium model in general.

But you know, Yu tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So I'm sitting here with Yu Taniguchi, the founder and CEO of Vesper, makers of Table Solution in the online restaurant management platform. So thanks for sitting down with me.

Yu: Thank you.

Tim: Table Solution is in a super competitive space so let's talk a bit about what it is.

Yu: Super competitive, a lot of people think that Table Solution's competitors are companies such as GuroNavi, Tebelog, OpenTable. That's totally different, actually.

Japanese labor law is very different from what is standard in the US or Europe, and more than a few foreigners have made simple mistakes that have cost them their jobs or their entire companies.

Terrie Lloyd has started more than a dozen companies in Japan over the past 30 years and has hired hundreds of people here. Today Terrie shares a number of personal stories and also offers a lot of practical advice for westerners in Japan who need to hire, manage and retain Japanese staff, either for their own startup or as part of a larger organization.

Of course, we talk about Japan Travel, Terrie’s latest venture, but we also cover the state of Japanese startups in general, how to best raise money from Japanese VCs, and we go over a few real-world examples of how you can protect yourself when things go horribly, horribly wrong.

It’s an interesting discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

One mistake all founders need to avoid when building a platform business
Why Japanese VCs have a blind spot to the travel industry
How you know when to bootstrap and when to raise funds
Why loyalty points are stronger than blockchain
Why Japanese companies are afraid of open data
The best way to recruit and manage Japanese staff
How to find a startup niche as a foreigner in Japan
How to get rid of problem employees without getting sued
What you need to watch out for when getting legal advice in Japan

Links from the Founder

Check out Japan Travel
Terrie's Take is a weekly newsletter that is definately worth reading
Japanese Labor Law for startup founders

A general overview of Japanese Labor Law
JETRO's Guide to Japanese Labor Law
Some good advice to startup founders from a Japanese Lawyer

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Okay, I want to explain in advance, this one is going to be a little long, but believe me, you are going to be glad you spent the time, and you know, you might even find yourself listening to this particular episode a couple of times. There's so much good stuff coming.

Terrie Lloyd has started more than a dozen companies in Japan and he has hired hundreds of people over the past 30 years. Now, Terrie and I have known each other for a long time. In fact, when I was first starting out in Japan, I did some programming for one of his companies back in the 90s. I wrote for one of his magazines in the early 2000s, and you know, I'm not sure what took me so long to invite him to sit down and talk, but I'm glad I finally did. Of course, we talked about Japan Travel, Terrie's latest startup, but our conversation also turns into a brutally practical guide for any foreigner who wants to run a business in Japan. I will warn you in advance, our conversation lacks most of the startup hype and pep talking most founders exude, but you're about to hear some fantastic real-world advice about how foreigners can hire, manage, and occasionally even fire Japanese staff.

Japanese labor law is well, different than it is in the US or Europe, and more than a few foreigners have made simple mistakes in this area that ended up killing their companies. Terrie has some great advice both on how to attract and to keep Japanese talent, and a few real-world examples of how you can protect yourself when things go horribly, horribly wrong. But you know, Terrie tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So I'm sitting here with Terrie Lloyd, the founder and CEO of Japan Travel and LINC Media, and BiOS and quite a few other companies, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Terrie: It's my pleasure.

Tim: Yes, I'm amazed how long it's taken us to get around to ...

Japanese fashion is unique, and so is the entire Japanese fashion industry. Today I would like to introduce you to a Japanese fashion startup with a genuinely unique business model.

Tsubasa Koseki and his team at Facy, have created a fashion marketplace based on instant messaging and relationship building between shops and consumers. Interestingly, this market is not dominated by major labels or global companies, but by more local, mid-market brands.

Tsubasa and I talk about his plans for Asian expansion, Facy’s chances for global domination in this niche, and the major differences between fashion retailing in Asia and in the West.

It’s a fascinating discussion and a great inside look at fashion retailing.

Show Notes

What is the last untapped fashion market
The reason behind the recent boom in startup founders from Todai
How SNS use differs between Asia and the West
Why you may not be able to trust Japanese e-commerce reviews
The biggest mistake fashion startups keep making
Why the global fashion brands will be at a disadvantage over the next 10 years

Links from the Founder

Check out Facy
Follow them on Facebook
More about Facy on The Bridge

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Every once in a while, I come across a startup with a business model that only exists in Japan. Now usually, this is because the startup is responding to a market need or a consumer behavior that also only exists in Japan. Occasionally however, only occasionally, I come across a unique startup with a genuinely good idea that has potential to make a global impact, and today, I'd like to introduce you to one of those companies.

Tsubasa Koseki is the CEO and founder of Facy, and Facy has developed a fashion marketplace based on, believe it or not, text messaging. Consumers with questions about fashion can ask for advice, and fashion brands and stores respond to those questions. Yes, yes, I know, messaging is already widely used in the fashion e-commerce industry, but Facy has a wonderful and minimal approach to it that really deserves attention.

Now, I grant you that the fashion industry as a whole is a bit outside of my core competence and in truth, I have a fashion sense that is perfect for podcasting, but Facy's results really speak for themselves, and Tsubasa and his company have big plans for expansion as well, but you know, Tsubasa tells that story much better than I can, so let's hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: Okay, so we're sitting here with Tsubasa Koseki, the CEO and founder of Facy. So thanks for sitting down with us today.

Tsubasa: Yes, thank you, Tim, too. I'm very happy to present our project. I'm a big fan of your podcast.

Tim: Well, thanks. Let's get right into what Facy does, so you talk about o-to-o means in offline-to-online support services for fashion and apparel stores, so how does this work exactly?

Tsubasa: On our service, user can ask their fashion needs like Quora.

Tim: Quora? Like the Q&A site?

Tsubasa: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. User can ask their own fashion needs. For example, I'm looking for sneakers for the office, shop staff can reply to the post by uploading their item in their stores. User can ask additional questions. If it's okay, they can buy or reserve item.

Tim: I really think you got an interesting approach to e-commerce in general, but fashion in particular where it is this kind of calling response where you got customers texting like just random questions, and how detailed are these questions? Are they simple things like, "I'm looking for a new pair of sneakers for basketball"? Or do you get people saying,

There are a lot of passionate opinions about Japanese design. From the beauty and subtlety of the best Japanese anime to the design horrors of most corporate Powerpoint presentations, Japanese design covers a huge range.

Things are changing though, and today we sit down and talk with Naofumi Tsuchiya, the founder and CEO of Goodpatch, one of Japan’s leading, and most richly valued, UI/UX design startups. We talk about how Japanese design is evolving and why we might be seeing (for better or worse) a more global design standard and sensibility.

Goodpatch is one of the new breed of Japanese design firms, and they’ve been able to raise substantial venture funding. Nao and I also talk about how that venture money has forced his startup to move in very specific strategic directions.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

UPDATE: The conversation below on the future of Goodpatch's two products is a bit confusing. Goodpatch has stopped development of Balto, but is continuing development on Prott. They are now in the process of a major rewrite and will soon launch a revamped Prott 2.

Show Notes

How you can choose your customers in Japan, and why most startups think you cannot
How a life-threatening illness actually turned Nao's life around
What makes a product meaningful
How to discover passionate teams hiding inside large enterprises
Why it's hard for a startup to move from services to products
Why design in Japan is so different today
How to improve user acquisition by over 50% (at least in Japan)
How we should be raising the next generation of designers

Links from the Founder

Learn more about Goodpatch on their homepage
Check out Nao's blog
Follow him on Twitter @tsuchinao83
Check out the Goodpatch blog

In English
In Japanese

Listen to the Goodpatch podcast (sorry, Japanese only)

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to be talking about design in Japan and it’s going to be good. Because Japanese design is a topic that people have a lot of strong opinions about. From the subtlety and nuance you see in the very best of Japanese anime to the visual horrors of Japanese corporate PowerPoint presentations. The topic covers both the wonderful and the terrible.

And so, to dance us through this minefield is Nao Tsuchiya of Goodpatch.

Now, Goodpatch is one of Japan’s fastest growing and most highly valued design startups. We’ll talk about Japanese design not only as it exist today but why we might see a global convergence of design, style, and UI sensibilities in the coming decades. Even if it’s inevitable, it’ll be sad to see the current global diversity disappear.

And though we don’t talk about it during the interview, I first ran across now a while back when I recommended Goodpatch to one of my larger consulting clients. Before providing an estimate or drilling down into the requirements, Goodpatch sent back a detailed questionnaire, asking this enterprise about their dreams for the project and who their ideal users were, and how they normally communicated with them.

Now, these are great, in fact, even common sense questions for designing a user experience. They show that the designers really do care about what they’re building over at Goodpatch. But the enterprise employees running this project simply did not know how to deal with it. And rather than trying to answer the questions and challenge their own assumptions about the project, they went with a more traditional and more obedient vendor. The final product was definitely the last because of that decision.

I’ve been a fan of Goodpatch from the day I saw that corporate client questionnaire. But you know, Nao tells the story much better than I can.

Video is taking over the internet, but in many ways, it has not changed significantly in the past 40 years. The way we discover and pay for video content has changed significantly, of course, but we still consume video in a continuous, linear sequence, and that’s about to change.

Sandeep Casi and his team at Videogram are using deep learning to change the way you and I discover and watch video. They’ve already had success in the enterprise realm, and they are now bringing the technology to consumers.

Interestingly, Videogram was not founded the way most startups are, and Sandeep’s approach to leveraging the intellectual property locked up inside Japan’s large corporations might represent a unique and important avenue for innovation here in Japan.

One that might become every bit as important as traditional seed-funded startups.

We also dive into the paradox of enterprise innovation, and Sandeep explains a few things that all startups need to understand about corporate accelerators before joining.

It’s an interesting discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why the key-frame model of video presentation is broken
How General Motors pioneered VR in the early 90s
Why there are fewer breakthrough technologies than you think
What a startup can do when you are too early to market
Why technology companies need to be content companies
Why we might see more spinouts from Japanese enterprise
How to raise funds as a foreigner in Japan
How the Olympics will force Japan's video market and culture to change
How to overcome the aversion some Japanese VCs have to foreign founders

Links from the Founder

Learn more about Videogram
Check out Sandeep's home page
Follow Sandeep on Twitter @sandeepcasi
Friend him on Facebook
The Increasing Interplay of Video and Social Media
How Machine Learning Unlocks the Value of Video

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to be talking about the future of both how we create and how we consume video. Now I grant you, this may sound like something that’s pretty hard to do in an audio format but I think is some ways it’s actually easier. After listening back to this interview after I recorded it, it became clear that imaging the possibility in your mind’s eye us much more powerful than laying it all out for you in two dimensions. But we’ll get to all of that in just a little bit.

You see, today we sit down and talk with Sandeep Casi, founder and CEO of Videogram. We talk not only about the future of video but also about a new model for unlocking some of the intellectual property that’s currently locked up in large Japanese companies. Sandeep and his team followed a very different startup model than what we see in Silicon Valley. It’s something we might be seeing a lot more of in Japan because the model is so well-suited to conditions here in Japan.

Sandeep also has some really practical advice for participating in corporate accelerators and for new things startups absolutely must keep in mind when trying to sell innovative products to large enterprises. There are definitely tradeoffs. In fact, you could say there’s almost a built-in conflict of interest. We also share some real-world suggestions on how foreign founders can successfully raise multiple funding rounds in Japan.

But you know, Sandeep tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Sandeep Casi of Videogram, which is an amazing video product. Thanks for sitting down with me.

Sandeep: Thank you, Tim, and thanks for the opportunity to talk to your audience.

Today I have a special in-between episode for you. At this year's big Tech In Asia Tokyo event I moderated a panel on artificial intelligence with some of the leaders in the field in Asia.

We talked about how to separate the AI hype from reality, where companies can and are finding competitive advantage in AI, and whether in the decades to come artificial intelligence will be serving us in the future or whether we will be answering to our robot overlords.

Joining me on the main Tech in Asia stage were:

Alexis Zheng - Product Lead, Uber
Toshitada Nagumo - CEO, Fenox Japan
Takahiro Shoji - Venture Partner, Zeroth.ai

It was an interesting conversation, and I thought I would package it up and bring it to you exactly as it happened.

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Apologies, but there is no transcript of this show.

 

There is far more to startups in Japan than SaaS software and IoT hardware companies.

Biotech startups are beginning to make a mark here.

Today we sit down and talk with biotech pioneer Mitsuru Izumo and talk about his ground-breaking work at Euglena. In many ways, the team at Euglena succeeded where even NASA failed. They have developed a process to cultivate this microorganism, also called Euglena, affordably and at industrial scale.

And Mitsuru and his team use using Euglena to create everything from inexpensive nutritional supplements to biological jet-fuel.

Mitsuru tells an amazing story of how he took his startup from inspiration to proof of concept, to IPO, and how the real innovation is just getting started.

I think you’ll really enjoy this one

Show Notes

Why the same organism can produce both food and fuel
Why Euglena has been impossible to cultivate at industrial scale
The world does not have a hunger problem; it has a nutrition problem
How to move forward when no one believes in your vision
How small companies can get to scale in Japan
Why Japanese startups must IPO sooner than those in the West
Why NASA gave up on Euglena, and why they were wrong

Links from the Founder

Learn about Euglena, the company
Learn about the  Euglena, the organism
Follow  Euglena on Facebook

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to talk about slime. Well, actually no, not slime exactly we’ll be talking about algae. Well, actually, the biology nerds out there and I think it’s awesome if you are one, will point out that technically, we aren’t actually talking about algae but a unique organism called euglena, that has both animal and plant characteristics.

And we’ll also be talking about a unique company, also called Euglena, that is cultivating this organism at scale and turning it into everything from nutritional supplements to jet fuel.

In fact, in this episode, we drink our opening toast not with our usual Anchor Steam beer but with a glass of euglena. Now, I know what some of you are thinking and yes, university research labs and crowdfunding sites are packed with companies claiming that their pet organism is the key to solving a wide variety of mankind’s problems. But Euglena is not operating in a lab but commercially and at massive scale.

And today, we sit down with the founder and CEO, Mitsuru Izumo, who explains how he overcame initial market skepticism to get financial backing. How he was able to achieve what NASA could not. And how and why he decided to take his company public.

But you know, Mitsuru tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]
Tim: Cheers.

Mitsuru: Yes. For starting. Cheers.

Tim: That’s pretty good. So, I’m sitting here with Mitsuru Izumo, the founder of Euglena. Thanks for sitting down with us today.

Mitsuru: Thank you for coming today.

Tim: I think most of our listeners are not familiar with Euglena, either the company or the organism. First, what is the organism?

Mitsuru: Euglena is a kind of tiny microorganism. You can’t see it directly. You have to see through microscope because the length is only 0.1 mm.

Tim: So that’s about the diameter of human hair?

Mitsuru: Yes. Exactly. Very similar to the human hair. Little bit smaller than the hair. Euglena is green colored microorganisms and euglena have a lot of chlorophyll. Euglena can do photosynthesis by capturing carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and carbohydrate.

Tim: Euglena, it’s a single cell organism. Is it a type of algae or is it its own unique type of organism?

Mitsuru: It’s difficult to answer.

There’s a very good reason most Japanese hardware startups fail.

Today we sit down with Takuro Yoshida CEO and founder of Logbar, and we dive into the reasons and also go over Logbar’s strategy for avoiding the mistakes that have killed off so many other Japanese IoT startups.

Takuro is the creator of one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns and two of the most successful IoT projects in Japan, the Ring Zero, which is VR controller in wearable ring form and the ili automatic translator, which is just starting to gain real traction.

Of course, we dive into how he managed to create and bring these products to market, and we also talk in detail about Takuro’s unusual journey from professional bartender to successful startup CEO.

It’s a great conversation, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Show Notes

How to go from bartender IoT startup founder
Why a successful Kickstarter campaign can be a danger to your company
Why the Ring failed as a hardware controller
Why hardware translators will succeed where software-based translators have failed
How hardware devices will survive in the world of a standardized mobile phone platform
Why even in Japan all publicity is good publicity
Why Japan has fallen behind in hardware and how it can catch up
Why Japanese VCs don't want to invest in hardware startups

Links from the Founder

Find out about Logbar
Info on the Ili translator 
The video that got Logbar so much attention

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

You know. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in Japanese startups over the last 20 years, in the increasing number that are coming out of Japan’s top universities. I’ve got to say there’s both a positive side and a negative side to the large number of new startups being founded at these universities, particularly at the University of Tokyo.

On the positive side, it’s great that so many of Japan’s top students, students who have the option of a fast track career in government or a Japanese industry are choosing to take a risk and start a company. It’s a concrete sign that things really are changing in Japan.

However, the fact there there’s been such a large number of founders from the University of Tokyo in particular, shows that in some ways, not that much has changed. The fact is that when Todai ramped up their entrepreneurship program, they brought resources to bear that only they could. Todai students have access to government connections, funding, and industry programs, and alliances that no one else in Japan had.

Some founders in Todai rely heavily on these connection, some almost exclusively, and others barely use them at all. And in the end, of course, outside of a small handful of startups that rely primarily on government investment, all startups will succeed or fail in the same public marketplace. Still, however, sometimes the most inspiring founders are those who come from somewhere you don’t expect, someone who takes an unusual and u likely path to entrepreneurship.

And Takuro Yoshida of Logbar is a founder in that mold. When I first met him four, five years ago, he was tending bar and trying to innovate bartending. Over the past few years, he and his team have run one of Japan’s largest Kickstarter campaigns and developed, released, and secured national and international distribution for two completely hardware products. And I think you can learn a lot from him.

But you know, Takuro tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

[Interview]

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Takuro Yoshida of Logbar, one of Japan’s most creative internet of things startups.

Disrupting Japan is three years old, so we decided to invite a few hundred movers and shakers from Tokyo's startup community over to have few drinks and to hear three of Japan's most successful startup CEOs talk about what it takes for Japanese startups to succeed globally.

Our panel included the CEOs of some of the most innovative startups in Japan.

Ken Tamagawa (@kentamagawa) - CEO, Soracom
Takuma Iwasa (@cerevoglobal) - CEO, Cerevo
Shin Sakane (@laundroid_0 ) - CEO, Seven Dreamers

We talk about strategies for global growth, how to best manage multi-cultural teams, and the likely future of hardware and IoT startups in Japan.

In fact, we talk a lot about the challenges hardware startups are facing in Japan today. Japanese hardware startups are at a crossroads. The old model of hardware innovation is failing, but there is a new model, unique to Japan, that might just take its place. But, as our guests explain, things are far from certain.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

On a personal note, thank you for reading and listening and for being a part of Disrupting Japan. When I started this project three years ago, I never imagined how big it would become, or how large, passionate, and global the interest in Japanese truly is.

I want to offer a sincere thank you to everyone who has pitched in to help make Disrupting Japan a success. There is no way I could have built this by myself. I have access to a bottomless well of innovative and genuinely interesting Japanese startup founders, and I look forward to continuing to introduce them to you and to bring you their stories.

Thanks for listening!

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me. You guys are joining mw. You guys are awesome.

Audience: [Cheering]

Tim: I’ve got to admit, that is the exact response I hear in my head every time I say that phrase.

Audience: [Laughing]

Tim: Before we get to the kampai and to the panel discussion proper, there’s a few people I really want to thank, who without them I couldn’t have put this show together. The first of which is Creww. What Creww does is they run about 80% of the corporate accelerators in Japan. So if your startup wants to hook up with a large corporation or you’ve got a big company who want to hook up a startup, you need to talk to Creww and Segawa-san is hanging around somewhere. Where is Segawa-san? Waive. I can’t see you from up here, so. There he is in the back. Talk to Segawa-san and also, Creww is opening a new co-working collaboration space to help startups connect with enterprises. It’s just up the street.

Second, I want to give a big shout out to the Carter Group. Dominic Carter is here somewhere, himself. There is Dominic over there. And so, for those of you who have done business in Japan, which is pretty much everyone here, the things never quite work out as you expect them to. The Carter Group provides market intelligence and market research that help companies grow their business here or come here in the first place. Their processes and the prices are extremely startup-friendly. So if you want to grow your business here, talk to Dominic.

And last but certainly not least, I want to give a big shout out to Digital Hub. Now, you’ll see these guys running around with cameras and microphones, documenting this for all of posterity. Don’t talk to the guys with the cameras. But they also do some great corporate video work. So if you’re looking for video — and who isn’t these days — talk to Steve, who is over there.

Audience: [Applause]

Tim: So, I’d like everyone to raise their glasses and thank you guys so much for being with me for three years and over 100 episodes. And I hope you come along with me for the next 100 episodes in the next three years. Thank you so much. Kampai!

Corporate Japan is about to go through a major transition in its approach to computer security. In the past, Japan-only payment systems and the Japanese language itself provided a barrier that kept international fraud and attacks at a very low level.

All that is changing now. With payment systems becoming increasingly global, and free, instant translation available to anyone with a browser, fraud is on the rise in Japan.

Today we sit down with Atsuyoshi Shimazu of Caulis, and he’s going to both explain the new threats and explain exactly what he plans to do about them. He’ll also explain why Japan’s current approach to the internet of things means that things might get worse before they get better.

It’s a great conversation, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why 50 million accounts are at risk in Japan
Why some Japanese companies avoid taking security measures
Toyota's vision of connected cars in the gig economy
What security looks like in an IoT world
Why online fraud is about to skyrocket in Japan
Japan's susceptibility to ransomware attacks
Why hacking insurance might be the future of security
Why Japanese CSOs and CIOs are so bad at their jobs

Links from the Founder

Connect with Atsuyoshi on LinkedIn
Friend him on Facebook
Find out about Caulis

Follow them on twitter @CaulisJP

Visit them on Facebook

Find out if your account has been hacked at Have I Been Pawned

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to talk about fraud. Online fraud, hackers, scams, identity theft in Japan, and what exactly we can do about it. Now, I’ve been involved professionally in IT in Japan for more than 20 years, and that includes both enterprise scale big IT and startup scale little IT.

Corporate Japan has always had a strange relationship with computer security. On one hand, companies are very sensitive to security concerns and they’ll pay top dollar for security hardware and software systems and evaluations. But on the other hand, day-to-day security practices are often neglected. Operating systems remain unpatched, firewalls are set up and then never touched again, and backup systems are rarely tested.

Right now, however, Japan is going through a bit of a security transition in both their understanding of fraud and how susceptible their systems are to fraud and hacking, and walk you through some of these important changes. Today, we sit down with Atsuyoshi Shimazu, founder and CEO of Caulis.

Now, Caulis offers a distributed online fraud prevention service called Fraud Alert, and it’s solid technology that has a special appeal in the Japanese market. Now, Atsuyoshi also explains how the internet of things is going to force all of us to radically change the way we think about online security and security in general. He also explains why the instances and losses due to online fraud is set to skyrocket in Japan over the next two years.

But you know, Atsuyoshi tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Atsuyoshi Shimazu of Caulis, the makers of Fraud Alert, which is an online security and fraud prevention tool. I’m sure you can explain it much better than I can. Thanks for sitting down with me. Can you tell me a bit about what Fraud Alert does and what Caulis is?

Atsuyoshi: Fraud Alert protect the corporate website from the fraud attack such as brute force attacks. At first, we protect the log-in page and also conversion page such as money transfer pages.

Tim: You’re preventing unauthorized access to web pages and monitoring the behavior on those pages as well?...

Welcome to our 100th show.

If you are new, welcome to Disrupting Japan. If you are a long-time follower, thank you for being part of the community and helping to make Disrupting Japan what it is today.

This is a special, and rather short, episode.

Today I'm going to tell you a very personal story of startup failure, and let you in on what's coming next. Both for me, and for the show.

Thank you for listening, and I think you'll enjoy this one.

 

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Transcript
Disrupting Japan episode 100.
Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan's most sucessful entreprenuers. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. 
Wow. One hundred episodes! That’s right
Orson Wells only made 64 movies.  The Rolling Stones have only recorded 53 albums. Lord Byron only published 83 poems.
But Disrupting Japan has now released 100 episodes. And I’m pretty happy about that. When I started this show, almost exactly three years ago, I never imagined it would grow into the big international community it has become, and I want to thank you for being part of it. Wether you were one of our 14 original listeners or one of the thousands who have signed up more recently, thanks for joining the conversation about some of the truly amazing things going on in Japanese startups and innovation today.
I knew I had to do something special for our 100th show, and gave a lot of thought to exactly what that should be.
I thought about doing a clip show with many of Japan’s startup founders saying a word about startup in Japan and wishing us a happy 100, but that seems kind of, I don’t know vain and self-congratulatory.
I thought about getting a big name on the show. There are a couple of world-famous Japanese founders who I could have probably brought on for the big anniversary, but that didn’t feel quite right either. I mean, we’ll definitely get those guys on later,  but what you’ve been telling me  — pretty consistently — over the past three years, is that it’s the human stories of success .. and failure  and challenge that really meet to matter.
And that makes sense.
It’s not the dot.com billionaires that are diving innovation in Japan.  It’s the thousands of individual innovators and the millions of Japanese people newly willing to take chance and try out these new ideas that are really driving the change.  In a way, the billionaires are just as much a result of these historic changes as they are a cause of them.
The real change, the real engine for innovation in Japan is the creative people who are willing to take some very real social and economic risks to follow their dreams and try to create something new. I mean, they are not selfless. Very few of them are doing it for the betterment of Japan.  No they have their own reasons some financial, some personal, but they are willing to put themselves out there, both economically by starting a company, and socially by, among other things, coming onto this show and talking very frankly about what they feel, and what they fear … and what they really want.
This kind of public openness about true hopes and fears. This kind of sharing. It’s never really been a part of Japanese culture, but that’s changing. At least among startup founders. And that’s a great thing.
So, in that spirt of openness about failure and success and hopes and dreams, for this special 100th episode, I’ve decided to share a personal story of my own. I’m going to tell you about one of my startup failures, and then I’ll tell you about my new job. I can talk about it now, and if you haven’t heard yet, you are in for a surprise.  Ah, but before I tell you about dreams of future success, I owe you a story of past failure.
This is adapted from an article I wrote a little more than a year ago about why I decided to shut down my latest startup a few weeks before launch. The article was originally titled “Why I Turned Down $500k,

Fewer than 1% of Japanese consumers have ever purchased a product or service from a sharing economy platform.

It's actually quite puzzling. Social and economic factors all seem to indicate that Japanese cities would be ideal for sharing economy businesses, but for a number of reasons sharing economy startups have not really taken off here.

Today we unravel a bit of this mystery as we sit down with Chika Tsunada, founder of Anytimes and the Director of the Sharing Economy Association Japan.

Anytimes is a P2P sharing economy startup with a unique and participatory business model. Chika explains why she chose that model and the challenges it presents. Even under ideal circumstances, building a P2P marketplace is hard. It's one of the most challenging business models to execute, and to succeed today requires doing something truly unique.

Chika has chosen an unusual path both for herself and for her business. It's a great discussion, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Show Notes

The best strategy for building a two-sided marketplace
Why even Japanese entrepreneurs discourage their children from joining startups
How to start a web-startup when you are not a programmer or designer
Is it better to go deep or go wide in creating a marketplace?
One technique for fighting online review fraud
Why the Japanese labor market is unique in regards to the sharing economy
Why freelancing has not yet taken off in rural areas
The spark that will ignite the sharing economy in Japan
How licensing and administrative guidence stifles innovation in Japan

Links from the Founder

Friend Chika on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @chikageena
Check out the Anytimes homepage

Anytimes for Andriod
Anytimes for IOS

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, when I run startup workshops and classes on entrepreneurship, by far, the most popular business model used by the students for their startup ideas are two-sided marketplaces. Everybody wants to be a marketplace. Why not? There’s a lot to love about being a marketplace if you can pull it off.

Aspiring founders imagine themselves running a platform that matches up buyers and sellers and takes a small piece of each transaction. They imagine dozens of other ways to monetize both the relationships they have with the participants and the data and the insights they gather about the market itself, and they all scale up easily and can be run with a relatively small staff.

Really, online marketplaces seem like the ideal business model, and on paper they are. The reality, however, is that marketplace businesses are hard. I mean, really hard. Sure, once you have millions of users, marketplaces can be insanely profitable. The problem is getting that first 1,000 or maybe 10,000 active users. That’s hard.

To do that, you need to be doing something unique. Well, today, we sit down with Chika Tsunoda, the CEO of Anytimes and the director of the Sharing Economy Association of Japan, and she explains how she’s been building a P2P services marketplace with a unique Japanese twist. It’ been a bit of a crazy journey for Chika so far but she thinks that Anytimes is positioned to take advantage of a unique aspect of the Japanese labor market. But you know, Chika tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

 

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[Interview]

Tim: I am sitting here with Chika Tsunoda, the director of the Sharing Economy Association in Japan and the fearless founder of Anytimes. Thanks for sitting down with me.

Chika: Thank you for coming and thank you for interviews.

Tim: Anytimes is a skill-sharing and a skill-matching platform bu...

The financial services industry in Japan is pretty unsophisticated. There are relatively few options for brokerages and mutual funds, and what options there are tend to be expensive. Furthermore, since pensions and taxes are generally handled by the employer there is not much reason for the average Japanese to think much about investments.

Jin Nakamura of  Money Design is trying to change that with a very interesting strategy.

In a market that is dominated by price competition, Money Design has set out to create a premium lifestyle brand that has nothing to do with finance.

And it’s working.

Money Design has become the largest robo-advisor service in Japan and is partnering with some of the largest banks here.

It’s a fascinating story, and I think you'll really enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why young Japanese are not investing

Why it takes so long to launch a financial product in Japan

The danger of using AI in investing
How to reach $1 billion assets under management
How to avoid competing on price in a price-sensitive market
What it will take to get the Japanese public to believe in startups

Links from the Founder

The Money Design homepage
Check out Jin's blog
Friend Jin on Facebook
Check out THEO. It's pretty cool.

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Transcript
Disrupting Japan episode 98.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to talk about money, about investment. It’s not about exciting things like venture funding and ICOs but about simple somewhat stuffy stocks and bonds.

Jin Nakamura cofounded Money Design as a way to introduce millennials and other young Japanese to investing. Money Design has created THEO, one of Japan’s first robo-advisors. Now, robo-advisors are a lot simpler than their name implies. Basically, all that’s happening is that you contribute a small amount of money each month and the robo-advisor will invest a certain percentage of that in stocks and another percentage in bonds and will make some adjustments if the allocations get too far out of alignment. I

t’s a simple concept, really, but as Jin explains, young Japanese have shown very little interest in this kind of investing. So to reach them, Money Design created a lifestyle brand, one that had absolutely nothing to do with finance or money, and it worked. Young investors have been flocking to the THEO system and have made it the largest robo-advisor in Japan. In fact, Jin shares some of the insight that will be very important to anyone running a fintech startup or trying to sell financial services in Japan.

But you know, Jin tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

 

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[Interview]

Time Romero: So I’m sitting here with Jin Nakamura, the CEO of Money Design and creator of THEO, a robo-advisory for retail investors. Thanks for sitting down with me.

Jin Nakamura: Thank you very much. Thank you for coming in our office.

Tim: Delighted to be here. I described Money Design in a very simple way but I think you can explain what you guys are doing much better.

Jin: Our product is very simple. We are providing a robo-advisory service in Japan. And then our global competitor is Betterment and Wealthfront. We are one of the first venture company to provide robo-advisory services in Japan.

Tim: For those of our listeners who don’t know, robo-advisory just means that individual investors can give you a relatively small amount of money and you invest it automatically for them.

Jin: Yes. We are providing the very simple financial product by smartphone. Once you access our website and then you answer just five questions. We showed the portfolio for each customer.

Japanese enterprises are particularly susceptible to disruption, and Japanese startups have a harder time than most pivoting. Both of these problems stem from the same root, and today we are going to dig up that root and have a look at it.

Today we sit down with Shogo Kawada co-founder DeNA, and we talk about both the challenges of the company’s early startup pivots and the post-IPO difficulties they faced with new disruptive challengers.

Shogo is now one of the most active and successful angel investors in Japan, and he explains how both the role and profile of Japanese angels is shifting. He also outlines the reasons why their presence is leading to several positive changes in Japan’s venture capital ecosystem.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Show Notes

How both eBay and DeNA screwed up auctions in Japan
Why most business alliances fail
Why startups will always have the advantage with new technology
How to get started in angel investing
The only thing the can force Japanese corporate VCs to change their structure
Why the current startup bubble is different from the dot.com bubble
What will happen when the current bubble bursts
Why Japanese VCs never take technology risks

Links from the Founder

Follow Shogo on Twitter @shg
A brief history of DeNA

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Transcript
Disrupting Japan episode 97.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Japanese startups have trouble pivoting. Business and social conventions make it really hard. Once the team, the company or the country has committed to a certain path, with Japan’s consensus-driven approach to decision-making and the importance placed on maintaining social harmony, it makes it very hard for an individual to stand up and say, “Hey everyone, I think we’re on the wrong path here.” Business convention in Japan requires you to simply pitch in and pull your weight.

This is one of the reasons that Japanese companies, particularly the large enterprises are so susceptible to disruption. But some Japanese startups have been able to pivot their way through multiple business models and into a successful IPO and those are the ones that we need to study to find out how they did it.

And today, Shogo Kawada, co-founder of DeNA takes us through the exciting story of one such case study. We talk about why DeNA was able to pivot relatively easily from auctions to commerce to mobile gaming but why it was unable to make the jump from web auctions to mobile auctions or from early mobile gaming to smartphone-based mobile gaming. We discussed the core reason for the problem and examine possible solutions. And we also talk about the rise of angel investors in Japan and how they’ve changed the way investing works here.

But you know, Shogo tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

 

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ]

 

[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Shogo Kawada, the co-founder of DeNA. Thanks for sitting down with me.

Shogo: Thank you very much.

Tim: I’m sure most of our listeners know DeNA. It was one of the most important gaming startups of the .com generation. You founded it with Tomoko Nanba in 1999 and you’ve become one of the most active angel investors in Japan now. So before we dig into current investment trends in Japan, I want to back up a bit and talk a little about you and DeNA.

Shogo: Basically, we started DeNA as an e-commerce company. It first started, it’s PC-based auction service in 1999.

Tim: Okay. So originally, the idea was to compete with Yahoo Auctions and eBay?

Shogo: Yes, exactly. When we started, at that time, there’s no Yahoo Auction. Yes,

FinTech in Japan is far more advanced than most outside observers imagine it to be, and based on new deregulation and government incentives, finTech in Japan is about to accelerate even more.

Today we sit down and talk with Toshio Taki, co-founder of Money Forward, advisor to Japan’s Financial Services Agency, and the head of the FinTech Institute of Japan. He not only tells the story of the founding and growth of MoneyForward -- one of Japan's finTech success stories, but he outlines how the Japanese government’s plans to promote financial innovation while still maintaining the integrity and stability of the industry as a whole.

The Japanese banking regulators are, at least in this sense, far less conservative than you think, and they are setting up a finical ecosystem in Japan that will lead to far more innovative finTech startups than we are seeing coming out of Europe of America.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

How banking and credit card use is different in Japan
Why most Japanese need multiple bank accounts
Why finTech is evolving differently in Japan
Who really controls household finance in Japan
How Money Forward was reluctantly pulled into the B2B market
How Japan's FSA is promoting finTech and financial innovation in Japan
How the FSA is forcing Japan's banks to open up to innovation

Links from the Founder

The Money Forward homepage
Japan's Financial Services Agency
Connect with Toshio on LinkedIn

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Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Okay. For all of you fastidious followers and fanatical fans of all things FinTech, I have a fantastic show for you today. We’re going to sit down and talk with Toshio Taki, co-founder of Money Forward, about how the Japanese government is forcing the banking sector to allow startups to innovate.

Well, perhaps forcing is too strong a word, let’s just say that Japanese banks are being strongly encouraged to work with startups. Now, Toshio studied under Peter Thiel at Stanford before co-founding Money Forward which has become the leading personal finance app in Japan. He’s also an advisor to Japan’s financial services agency and the head of the FinTech Institute of Japan.

After listening to Toshio, you’ll understand why the Japanese banking regulators are far less conservative than you might imagine them to be and why the Japanese financial sector is about to become a whole lot more competitive than what exists in Europe or North America.

Of course, this being Japan, risks must be understood and managed. And Toshio walks us through the Japanese government’s blueprint for fostering financial innovation while still maintaining the integrity and stability of the industry as a whole. This episode is required listening for anyone who wants to understand the future of FinTech in Japan.

And you know, Toshio explains that much better than I can so let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Toshio Taki, the co-founder of Money Forward and head of the FinTech Association of Japan.

Toshio: Cancelled meeting today and I’m very excited for this podcast.

Tim: I’m glad to have you here because I think FinTech in Japan right now and Money Forward, it’s pretty amazing space to be in. Before we get started on the overall market, let’s explain what Money Forward is. I know it’s online financial management software that you sell to individuals and small business but tell us more about what it actually does.

Toshio: Sure. In brief, Money Forward operates two types of businesses. One for the B2C where probably the most familiar name would be mint.com.

(Photo Credit: WurFi)

This is a short and very personal episode. Things will be changing for me and for Disrupting Japan, and sometimes when you are facing a lot of big changes, it really helps to be able to share your thoughts with people you care about.

That's you.

There is no guest this time. It's a story about me and magic and chivalry and startups.  I hope you find something in it.

Transcript
Disrupting Japan Episode… well, that’s kind of complicated.
Hi. Tim here. I’ve got some big news that I can only tease you with right now, but I wanted to share it with you in this special, short in-between episode.  There are no ads this episode, because … well, because this one is not brought to you by our sponsors, it’s too personal. It’s brought to you by me.
Now, no one has ever been surprised to learn that I was a huge nerd in high-school. And this was back in the 1980’s, a very long time before nerds were even remotely cool, and female nerds simply didn’t exist.
Actually, no I take that back. I’m sure there were female nerds back then, but social norms being what they were, they had to stay in the closet and hide their nerdy nature from the rest of the world while pretending to be interested in cheerleading and quarterbacks and what have you.  So I guess that the 1980s were a tough time to be a female nerd. Nerd liberation came later for girls than it did for boys, but the 80s were not a great time to be a male nerd either.
Anyway,  I was on the debate team and spent my free time programming my Commodore 64, playing Dungeons & Dragons, and arguing the finer points of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings with my equally nerdy friends. Now over the years, I’ve given up on the idea of debate for debate's sake, upgraded my computer, and I haven’t played D&D since high-school graduation.
However, I still enjoy Tolkien and find myself re-reading his books every decade or two.  The Lord of the Rings is a classic tale that is beautifully told, and generations of nerds have found in it not simply an enjoyable distraction, but as profound human insight and as inspiration on leading a life well lived.
But recently, and as a result of this serial entrepreneur life I’ve chosen, the characters in The Lord of the Rings have been seeming a bit thin, and those of another novel have started to seem richer and richer.
Back in high-school, I considered Cervantes’ Don Quixote an interesting enough story, but over the years as I’ve embarked on several radically different careers and started startup after startup, something about the novel started to resonate with me.  As the Lord of the Rings began to feel more and more like a well-told fairy tale, Don Quixote began to seem, well a little bit like me.
For those of you who have not read the book in while or who have only seen one of the movies, all of which miss the core point of the book, let me explain
Cervantes wrote Don Quixote more than 400 years ago, and he tells a story of a man who lived in a time of overdue bills, nosy neighbors and bickering politicians. It was a time when the world was filled with petty people with tiny dreams wasting their lives in mundane and meaningless pursuits. 
Well, Quixote dreamed of a better world. A world where life had honor and meaning. He desperately wanted to live in an age of chivalry. A time of damsels in distress and knights errant, a time when there were still giants left to slay.
He believed in his vision so passionately he began to see the world not as it was, but as it could be; as it should be.  Farmers became noble squires, peasant girls became princesses, and most famously, windmills became ferocious giants.
Now Don Quixote is not a heroic figure. He never managed to change the world.  In fact, no one ever believed in his vision except for him.  The world viewed Don Quixote as a somewhat amusing, but a pathetic and pointless person. 
When you read the novel, you get the impression that even Cervantes,

Two of the most persistent and damaging myths about Japan are that it is hard to start a company here and that it is hard to do business as a foreigner.  Well, those are not complete myths. Both of those things are indeed difficult, but no harder than they are in any other country.

Today Marty Roberts explains not only how he started and rapidly grew a successful startup here in Japan, but how he got the Japanese government to pay for it.

To contain health care costs, the Japanese government is pushing doctors to prescribe more generic drugs, and that is forcing the pharmaceutical industry to change they way they do business or to go out of business. Marty saw an opportunity in this shift, and his company has quickly grown to be the leader in its space.

Marty also offers some very practical advice for anyone thinking of leaving a senior management role to start a startup.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

How pharma sales is broken in Japan
Why work is about to get a lot harder for Japan’s Doctors
How Japan plans on cutting medical costs in the future
Why enTouch needed services to sell software
How to negotiate non-compete agreements with your current employer
Getting funding from the Japanese government
Why you don't want to invest in technology early
How enTouch will survive the next phase of market distortion
What needs to change about childcare in Japan

Links from the Founder

Find out more about enTouch

Follow them on Facebook or LinkedIn

Friend Marty on Facebook
Connect with him on LinkedIn

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Transcript
Disrupting Japan Episode 95.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Work is about to get a whole lot harder for doctors in Japan. Japan’s rapidly aging population combined with a pressure to decrease costs in the National Health Insurance program means that doctors and well, all parts of Japan’s health care industry are going to have to do a lot more with a lot less.

Of course disruptive innovation in health care is rare and frankly, that’s a good thing. Most advances in health care are steady if unpredictable incremental innovation, and we’re going to be looking at one of those today. Japan’s pharmaceutical companies are under pressure not just from the drugs going off patent but the Japanese government’s plans to drastically increase the percentage of generic drugs being prescribed by Japanese doctors. This means a lot less money flowing to pharma and Japanese pharma companies are scrambling to cut cost and remain competitive.

Marty Roberts saw a startup opportunity here and he founded enTouch which provides what the industry calls remote detailing services. Now, this basically means explaining drugs to doctors online rather than face-to-face meetings but as you might expect, there’s a lot more to it than that and Marty soon discovered that it required a very specific Japanese twist to make this technology work here in Japan. Marty also provides some very sober advice for you if you are thinking of leaving a large company position to start your own startup. But you know, Marty tells this story much better than I can.

So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Marty Roberts of enTouch. A company that lets pharma reps more efficiently connect with doctors. I know that’s a really broad description, so can you explain a bit better what enTouch does?

Marty: You did a pretty good job there, Tim. EnTouch is focused on helping pharmaceutical companies communicate better with doctors so that doctors know about newest medicines, newest trends in health care so that they can treat their patients bett...

Japan has a long history of small shopping streets and tiny markets. In fact, despite the population density, American-style mall culture never took off here. The back streets of even the most crowded downtown office districts are filled with little specialty stores and vegetable stands.

Akiko Nishiura, the CEO and founder of Nokisaki, wants to see that culture spread even further in Japan, and her company is helping small merchants find physical spaces for pop-up shops, vegetable stands and food trucks. Nokisaki is connecting these small merchants, who need just a little bit of space, with commercial landlords who have a little bit of free space and are looking for some additional foot-traffic.

It’s an interesting business model, and Akiko and I discuss how it will work outside of Japan or even outside of Japan's big cities.

She also explains how Nokisaki survived a crisis that would have bankrupted almost any other startup — at least any other startup outside Japan.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

Why parking is different (and difficult) in Japan
How a new alliance is developing between big-brand stores and tiny retailers
Why it's so difficult for Japanese moms to return to work after having kids
How the Japanese market reacts to new challenges
How a security risk shut down her company
How Japanese retail culture differs from the West
How Nokisaki will out-maneuver her much better-funded competitors

Links from the Founder

The Nokisaki Homepage

Nokisaki Parking
Nokisaki Business
Nokisaki Parking on Facebook
Nokisaki Business on Facebook

Friend Akiko on Facebook

 

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Transcript
Disrupting Japan, episode 94.
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Napoleon supposedly once called England a nation of shop keepers. And while the comment was undoubtedly meant as an insult in the context it was offered, there’s something to be said in favor of being a nation of shop keepers particularly in this age of e-commerce, Rakuten, Amazon stores, and drop shipping.

In fact, Japan, more so than the U.S. has a culture of tiny little neighborhood shops that have never been pushed out completely by big box stores, shopping malls, and chain stores even in the big cities. Well, today we’re going to sit down and talk with someone who’s accelerating that trend by making it easier for small shop keepers to pop up all over Tokyo.

Akiko Nishiura, CEO of Nokisaki, connects commercial landlords with just a little extra space to small merchants who are looking for, well, just a little space. And in their spare time, the company is also trying to solve Japan’s horrible parking problems. The discussion of the company in the market alone would make this episode worth listening to.

Akiko also shares a story of something that would have forced almost any Western startup into bankruptcy but due to the unique and frankly somewhat extreme notion of Japanese customer loyalty, it resulted in only a minor interruption of Nokisaki’s rapid growth. But you know, Akiko tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]
Tim: I’m sitting here with Akiko Nishiura, the founder and CEO of Nokisaki.

Akiko: Yes.

Tim: Thanks for sitting down with us.

Akiko: Thank you, Tim.

Tim: Now, Nokisaki is a parking space sharing and space sharing startup but I think you can explain it much better than I can. So tell me a bit about what Nokisaki is.

Akiko: Okay. Tim, have you ever heard the word “nokisaki” and do you know the exact meaning of nokisaki?

Tim: I have to admit I didn’t know it until I looked it up.

Akiko: Right.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) has been a difficult startup business model in the US, but Wayland Zheng, founder and CEO of Mobingi, has found a way to make it work in Japan. His approach involves a combination of leveraging both a unique feature set and some unique aspects of Japanese technical buyers.

Wayland also shares his story of what is probably a record for the fastest time to startup launch for any foreigner in Japan. Within two months of landing in Tokyo, and unable to speak the language, he had settled on a startup idea, found a Japanese co-founder, and been accepted into one of the most competitive startup accelerators in Japan.

Three years later, Mobingi has an impressive and growing list of clients and investors.

We talk about how he made all this happen, the importance of accelerators, and how you need to tailor your startup not just to a rational business model, but to the business culture of the market.

It’s a great discussion and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes

How Mobingi saves it's customers 80% on AWS services
Why DevOps disciple has been slow to develop at Japanese companies
The important difference between security and compliance
Why cloud sales in Japan requires face-to-face meetings
How to start a company after only two months in Japan
The important differences between Japnese and American startup accelerators
Why China is a better expansion market than the US
What is the future of PaaS and middleware
Why simple honesty is sometimes surprising among founders

Links from the Founder

The Mobingi Homepage

Mobingi Facebook page
The Mobingi Blog
Mobingi on Instagram

Friend Wayland on Facebook
Check out his blog
Join a Mobingi Meetup

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Transcript
Disrupting Japan, episode 93.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, I get asked a lot about the difficulty of starting a company in Japan as a foreigner. I always have trouble answering that question because although I’ve started a number of companies in Japan as a foreigner, I have nothing to compare it to. I mean, I’ve never started a company in Japan as a Japanese person so I only have my own experiences to base a judgment on. Well, I’ve got good news. All foreigners who are griping about how hard it is to start a company in Japan can now officially stop complaining. I’ve got a pretty amazing guest and a pretty amazing story to tell today.

I’ve got a pretty amazing guest and a pretty amazing story to tell today.

Wayland Zheng started Mobingi only two months after arriving in Japan and he’s made a success of it. He attracted a co-founder, joined an accelerator, on-boarded customers, and raised funds all without speaking Japanese. Of course it wasn’t exactly easy. As you’ll see during the interview, it’s not even fair to say that he made it look easy. It was hard. But Wayland explains how he managed to overcome the language barrier and well, several other barriers as well.

We’ll also dive pretty deep into startup accelerators, how they differ between Japan and the U.S. and what founders should reasonably expect out of them, because Wayland’s been to a few and sometimes, they did not work out as planned. But you know, Wayland tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

 
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[Interview]

Tim: I’m sitting here with Wayland Zheng of Mobingi. Mobingi is a platform as a service company but I know it’s so much more than that. Why don’t you tell us a bit more about what Mobingi is?

Wayland: Okay. First, thanks for visiting my company. Mobingi is a software as a service. It’s a solution for helping companies to manage their application on the ...

It’s rare for a Japanese startup to challenge NTT and come out ahead. But that’s exactly what Takehiro Ogita and his team at TownWiFi have accomplished.

TownWiFi is a mobile app that automatically detects and logins into available WiFi hotspots. Since TownWiFi was very modestly funded, Takehiro and his team relied on a better user experience and word of mouth to get the word out.

Today we sit down with Takehiro and dive into that story, but we also look at the company's existing overseas userbase and his plans for global expansion on a shoestring.

There is so much changing among Japanese startups right now, and Takehiro explains some of the social forces working for and working against new Japanese startups.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes

The universal problem with free WiFi
What allowed TownWiFi to gather a userbase so quickly
Why Rakuten produces so many startup founders
Why Takehiro had to hide his startup from his family
How TownWiFi managed to beat NTT in direct competition
A common sense plan for global expansion
How pivoting from a C2C to a B2B model saved this startup

Links from the Founder

The TownWiFi Homepage
Takehiro's Blog 
Friend Takehiro on Facebook
And, of course, download the TownWiFi app

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Transcript
 

Disrupting Japan, episode 92.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Takehiro Ogita started TownWiFi as a simple way to allow Wi-Fi hotspots to be accessed and shared to mobile phones or mobile device users in general. There are a number of free Wi-Fi finding apps out there today but there are a few particularly interesting things about TownWiFi.

First, unlike almost all their competitors, TownWiFi has found a way to monetize this app. And while they’re not yet profitable, they are earning revenue. Second, and I love this for so many reasons, the dominant player in this space, when TownWiFi launched their product was NTT and little TownWiFi has absolutely crushed NTT in the marketplace.

Don’t get me wrong. I like NTT. I have friends at NTT. NTT is actually doing a lot of positive things in the area of corporate development and open innovation. The reason TownWiFi’s story is so inspiring is that it would have been absolutely impossible 10 years ago.

Back then, NTT DoCoMo was not only the dominant mobile carrier but strictly controlled which apps would be allowed to be featured on their platform and sold to their subscribers. This may sound vaguely like the way Apple runs the App Store but it’s not. At that time, Japanese carriers would select one or two apps in each category, usually from closely associated companies and then lock everyone else out. Apps did not really compete with each other and there is no way that a serious challenger to the carrier’s own app let alone one made by an independent upstart would have been allowed inside their walled garden.

Things are changing for startups in Japan, and when tiny little startups begin to beat NTT at their own game, it means great things are on the way. But you know, Takehiro tells that story much better than I can.

So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Takehiro Ogita of TownWiFi. Thanks for sitting down with us today.

Takehiro: Thanks for having me.

Tim: TownWiFi is an app that helps you find free Wi-Fi hotspots but I know it’s more than that, and you can explain it better than I can. So why don’t you tell us what TownWiFi is?

Takehiro: We are providing app which can auto-connect and authenticate to the public Wi-Fi. Our biggest point is that we are auto-authenticate, and auto-login,

This is a rather personal episode. We have no guests this time.

It’s just you and me.

We talk a lot about Japanese startups on this show and the role they will play in shaping Japan's economic future.

Well, today we are going to look at this from a different angle; one that puts the hype aside and looks at some cold hard numbers. The result is sobering, surprising and,  believe it or not, kind of inspiring

So let's get right to it.

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Transcript
Disrupting Japan Episode 91
Welcome to Disrupting Japan straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.
I’m Tim Romero and thanks for listening 
Once again, I’ve got a special show for you today. There will be no guests, no beer, no playful banter with someone speaking English as a second language. Today it’s just you and me. For the next 20 minutes, I’ll be whispering in your ear about something I consider very important, but that not enough people are talking about.
It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these solo shows. They tend to among my most popular episodes, I get a lot of requests for them and I love doing them. I would like to do more, but you might be surprised at the amount of research and revisions that go into these solo shows. Not to mention the times when I get two-thirds of the way putting one together only to realize the primary thrust of my argument is flawed and the whole thing needs to be reworked.
Unfortunately, I’m not really smart enough to just turn on the microphone and talk for 20 minutes.  It’s so much easier sitting down and talking to amazingly creative Japanese startup founders and innovators who are doing and saying crazy things. 
Well, today, I’d like to share something with you that first occurred to me about a year ago. And the more I research it, and the more people I speak with, the more I become convinced it’s right.  I’ve haven’t talked about it a lot before, because well, frankly, it’s something that a lot of people in the startup community here will disagree with — and some will disagree in very strong terms. But it’s important, so let’s strap in and get right to it.
    [pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ]
Over the next twenty years, startups are not going to revive the Japanese economy, nor are they are they going to be the primary driver of innovation in this country. Don’t misunderstand, startups have a role to play, a very important role to play, but they will not be the primary drivers of change.
No. Japan’s mid-sized companies will be the primary drivers of both large-scale innovation and economic growth over the next ten years.
For this to make sense, we are going to look at the role that mid-sized companies play in the Japanese economy today, we’ll then step back in time both to see how things get this way and to understand why Japan is at such a pivotal juncture today, and then look at how thing are likely to shake out over the next 15 years or so.
Now, to the average podcast listener, this would sound like a dry topic, but you as a DJ listener are a special breed, and you’ll be rewarded for coming with me deep, deep into the weeds. If you come along, I promise that in twenty minutes you will have a new way of looking at mid-sized companies in Japan, and perhaps a new way of looking at Japanese startups as well.
You see medium-sized enterprises are the middle child in Japan’s corporate family. The large companies, the brands you know Toyota, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Mitsui. For the most part are the remnants of the once incredibly powerful keiretsu groups.  These companies are the oldest child. Everyone knows who they are. They are in the news. They have influence. They work closely with the Japanese government, both the legislators and the bureaucracy, to ensure that the needs of Japan’s large corporations are reflected in national policy and international trade agreemen...

Most great startup ideas don’t grab your attention right away. It takes a while before the founder’s vision becomes obvious to the rest of us. On the other hand, the startups that immediately grab all the press attention often go out of business shortly after shipping their first product. Reality never seems to live up the to promise.

And then there are products like Orphe. This LED-emblazoned, WiFi-connected, social-network enabled dancing shoe seems made for fluffy, flashy Facebook sharing, but only when you really dig into it, do you understand what it really is and the potential it has in the marketplace.

Today we sit down with Yuya Kikukawa, founder of No New Folk Studio and the creator of the Orphe, and we talk about music, hardware financing, and why this amazing little shoe is finding early adopters in places from game designers to hospitals.

It’s a great conversation, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Show Notes

The inspiration for musical shoes
Why Yuya's first musical instrument attempt was a failure

The biggest challenge in moving from prototype to production
Orphe's technical specs
How Orphe is being used in hospitals and other healthcare applications
How small Japanese startups can achieve global distribution
Where the next big startup opportunities in Japan will be
Why most hardware startups fail

Links from the Founder

No New Folk Studio Hompage
See Orphe in action
Check out Yuya's blog
Follow Yuya on Facebook
Check out PocoPoco on YouTube

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Transcript
Disrupting Japan, episode 90.
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

You know, most good startups are obvious. I don’t mean that I could have had the idea before the founders did. By obvious, I mean that right away you can understand the problem the company is solving for their customers and how they’re doing it. Naturally, that makes it easier for the customers to buy.

Most non-obvious startups are in reality still struggling to find the product market fit and are probably not long for this world. And then there are products like Orphe, an LED-emblazoned WiFi-connected social sharing enabled dancing shoe. Yeah, it sounds like something you would find on Indiegogo and that one time not too long ago, it was. But when I sat down with Yuya Kikukawa, founder of No New Folk Studio and the creator of the Orphe, it became clear that this was not some quirky side project or some overfunded crazy hardware startup.

This was something really different.

We talked about the original inspiration for the shoe and what does and does not qualify as a musical instrument and how Orphe is being used by the artistic community in Japan. But we also dive into the technology inside it, and that, well, that’s something special. That’s why this quirky little blinking shoe is starting to get used by game and UI designers, as well as hospitals and sports trainers in Japan. It’s a fascinating discussion but you know, Yuya tells the story much better than I can.

So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]
Tim: I’m sitting here with Yuya Kikukawa of No New Folk Studio. Thank you for sitting down with me.

Yuya: Thank you for inviting.

Tim: Now, you guys make Orphe which is an LED dance shoe but it’s so much more than that. Can you describe what Orphe is exactly?

Yuya: Yeah. Orphe is kind of world’s first smart LED shoes. Smart means it has a computer inside of the sole, at the same time there are about 100 full color LEDs. The computer can control each pixel. So the user can change the color through the smartphone application.

Tim: Okay. It’s always so hard to describe dance and visual effects on an audio podcast.

After the March 2011 earthquake and the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, TEPCO and the Japanese government tried to assure us that everything was just fine. The repeatedly insisted that there was no serious danger posed by the radiation.

Not very many people believed them.

Reliable data from fallout areas was sparse at best, and many Japan residents doubted that the government was telling the truth in the first place.

It was in that environment that Pieter Franken and his team created Safecast. Safecast began as a small group in Japan with home-made Geiger counters making their reading available to everyone. They have now grown into an international movement involving private citizens, universities, non-profit organizations and government agencies.

Pieter also explains why environmental science will look very different ten years from now.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why Japan's disaster preparation failed
Why you need high-resolution and high-density radiation monitoring
Why citizens do not,  and perhaps should not, trust their governments
The advantages of creating a DYI kit rather than a product
How to maintain data integrity for crowdsourced efforts
Why both pro-nuke and anti-nuke activists opposed Safecast
How governments have reacted to alternative data sources
Safecast's plan to win over the scientific community
The future of citizen science

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Safecast

Safecast's radiation maps
Safecast's radiation report

Connect with Pieter on LinkedIn
Follow him on Twitter @noktonlux

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Transcript from Japan
 

Disrupting Japan, episode 89.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing in Japan largely gained in its popularity in projects related to the massive March 2011 earthquake, and ensuing tsunami, and the release of radiation at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. In fact, longtime listeners have heard the founders of some of Japan’s largest crowdfunding and crowdsourcing companies explain that breaking away from this image of crowdfunding as a social good was something that they had to overcome before their startups became truly successful.

Well, today we’re going to sit down with Pieter Franken of Safecast, one of the earliest examples of widespread crowdsourcing in Japan. And we talk about how they’ve grown from a Japanese patchwork solution to the leader of a global movement. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, people throughout Japan were worried about radiation. TEPCO, who operated the facilities and the Japanese government assured everyone that things were under control and that everyone was perfectly safe. As you might imagine, however, most people were highly skeptical of these claims. The radiation data just wasn’t there or it wasn’t being shared with the public or it wasn’t believed when it was shared with the public.

Pieter and his team started Safecast to make sure that lack of information and lack of transparency would never happen again and they began building low-cost Geiger counters that people around the country and then around the world could use to measure their local area and then have all that data uploaded into the cloud and made available for anyone. It’s an amazing story and it’s one that Pieter tells much better than I do. So let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ]

[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Pieter Franken of Safecast. You guys make an open environmental data collection system for everyone but I think you can explain much better than I can what it is.

Selling innovative software to conservative Japanese businesses is never easy, but it’s particularly challenging in the cutthroat and low-margin restaurant industry.

Today, we sit down with Masao “TJ” Tejima and talk about how he brought OpenTable into Japan, and why it took him much longer than he had originally hoped.

It’s a wide-ranging and deep-diving discussion on how to identify which companies are most suitable for Japan market entry and TJ’s rather extreme approach to maintaining a consistent corporate culture between Japan and corporate headquarters.

We also take a look at some of the biggest mistakes Western companies make when hiring a Japan Country Manager and a few simple ways those mistakes can be avoided.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll really enjoy it

Show Notes

Why leave a  company after a successful market entry?

How to build a product around a human network

Why you need to run market entry like a startup
OpenTable's real business model and how is was adapted for Japan
How to sell new technology to traditional low-margin businesses
The danger of over-localization
Why the Japanese fast followers ran into problems
How to build a global culture at a Japanese subsidiary
The one type of Japanese General Manager foreign companies need to beware of

Links

Masao's official bio
Sports for Life is Masao's latest project is running the Asia Pacific Corporate Games

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Transcript
 

Disrupting Japan, episode 88.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from the CEOs breaking into Japan.

I am Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to be sitting down with Masao Tejima or "TJ" as his friends call him and I have to admit, that this interview did not exactly goes as planned. A few days beforehand, TJ and I agreed to sit down and talk about how he brought Open Table to Japan. And he used that experience as a jumping off point to give advice about how to bring in innovative software company to Japan and then sell to very conservative Japanese companies - and we did that.

And then in the next forty minutes, you’re going to be hearing all about it.

However, Open Table was not TJ’s first Japan market entry. He also brought in Macomedia and before that all this. And our simple talk, meandered him into ninety minutes history of desktop publishing in Japan and how he had to forge strategic alliances and corporate standards that allowed the technology to take route. I walked away with the makings of two amazing stories on tape.

So, here’s what we’re going to do. Today, we’re going to tell you the much more recent story of how Open Table entered the Japanese market. And a bit later, we’ll have TJ on again to give us the blueprint of the right technology can let you disrupt an entire industry in only a few years, even in Japan.

Today, we’re going to learn about how to identify what companies are most suitable for Japan market entry and talk about TJ’s rather extreme approach to maintaining a consistent corporate culture between Japan and corporate headquarters. We’ll talk about effective techniques for selling innovative software to conservative Japanese businesses and we’ll look at some of the biggest mistakes companies make in hiring their Japan Country Managers. But you know, TJ tells that story much better than I can.

So, let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1411"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey"  ]

[Interview]

Tim: So I am sitting here with TJ Tejima of well formerly, Japan CEO of Open Table. So, thanks for sitting down with me.

TJ: Thank you very much.

Tim: So before we get started with the history of this market entry and what went right and what went wrong, can you give us a brief explanation of what Open Table’s business model is?

Education is one of the hardest sectors to disrupt -- or even improve upon -- and most EdTech startups struggle.

Today we sit down with Go Arai and we talk about how his company, Arcterus, is taking a bottom-up approach to improving education. Arcterus has developed a service called Clear, which profits by helping students help each other study.

Clear is basically a study-notebook sharing platform, and now Go and his team are building it out into something much more than that.

We talk about Arcterus’ recent Asian expansion and why some seemingly small cultural differences made their product unviable in certain countries. We also explore why it's sometimes hard for Japanese startups to pivot and the effects of the company and the team when a radical change in direction is needed.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why notebook sharing works in Japan but not in America

How lessons from a corporate  turnaround were applied to a startup

How a terrible skiing accident ended up launching a startup
Why it took the team five pivots to find product-market fit
What makes pivoting hard in Japan
How to use Twitter to drive business
Why other Asian countries are ahead of Japan in EdTech
What today's textbooks will evolve into

Links from the Founder

Arcterus Homepage
Everything you ever wanted to know about Clear
Friend Go on Facebook

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Transcript from Japan
 

Disrupting Japan, episode 87.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, for a few very good reasons and many very bad reasons, education is particularly hard to disrupt. I think a big part of this is that the goal of public education is far more than imparting a set of skills onto the students. Although my libertarian friends might disagree, public schooling provides not only the hard skills that students need to function in the society, but universal education provides us with a shared experience and shared frame of reference that helps us define society. It’s something that binds us together.

Now, different countries have different approaches to creating this shared experience. In Japan, the Ministry of Education defines precisely what every child in the countries learning, in any given week. In America, there are no national requirements at all, and tremendous latitude is given to the states and to the individual school boards. One approach is not necessarily better than the other but startups that try to disrupt the way we impart skills to our children at the expense of that shared experience, are likely to fail. Or worse, succeed and do long term harm to our society.

Well today, we’re going to sit down and talk with Go Arai, CEO of Arcterus, a EdTech startup that is trying to help students learn more effectively but also contribute, just a little bit, to that shared experience.

Arcterus is a platform that allows students that share their study notebooks with other students and then profit from that sharing. We also talk about Arcterus’ recent Asian expansion. You know, we in the west often make the mistake of thinking about "Asian" culture. But there really is no such thing as Asian culture. Asian countries have an incredible diversity of cultures and Arcterus ran straight into that as they discovered that very specific cultural traits determine whether they will succeed or fail in a specific country.

But you know Go tells that story better much I can. So, let’s hear from our sponsor and then get right into the interview.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ]

(Interview)

Tim: So we’re sitting here with Go Arai of Arcterus it’s a social learning app based on notebook sharing, but you can probably explain it much better th...

The translation and localization industry has seen some impressive innovations over the past decade, but in many ways, it has remained stubbornly resistant to change.

Today we sit down and talk with Jeff Sandford co-founder of Wovn.io. The Wovn team has developed a way to take the pain out of web localization and translation. They promise to do it all with a single line of code.

We talk a bit about the mechanics of web-site localization and state of the industry as a whole, and we also discuss some important but surprising differences between with makes compelling UI/UX design for Japanese and for Western users, and what kinds of tasks machine translation can really be trusted with.

Jeff also explains why he decided to start a company with someone he had never meet.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why website translation is important but often overlooked

Why Jeff chose to start a company with someone he had never met

 How to combat Japan's "Design by Committee" problem
Why you should not trust machine translation for e-commerce
When you need to change from a bottom-up to top-down sales strategy
The challenges of working with Japanese enterprise customers as a startup
Advice for foreign engineers and founders who want to come to Japan
Why Japan needs to get uncomfortable

Links from the Founder

Wovn.io homepage
Wovn.io on Twitter
Wovn.io on Facebook

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 86.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today we’re going to talk about something that you and I, and probably everyone else listening right now has struggled with. Translation and localization. It’s been an industry that has both seen some impressive innovations over the past decade, but is also somehow quite resistant to change. Localization is a part of business that almost every firm has to deal with, but almost no one looks forward to. It’s a lot like dealing with lawyers in that way, I suppose.

Well, today we sit down with Jeff Sandford, cofounder of Wovn.io who say they’ve developed a one line of code method for taking the pain out of localization and translation. We talk a bit about the mechanics of website localization and the state of the industry as a whole, of course. We also talk about the important and surprising differences between what makes great UI/UX with Japanese and western users. And what kind of tasks machine translation can really be trusted with. And Jeff shares a story of what made him decide to start a company with a cofounder who he’d never even met before.

But you know, Jeff tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor, and get right to the interview.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1411"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey"  ]

[Interview]

Tim: Cheers.

Jeff: Cheers.

Tim: So I’m sitting with Jeff, cofounder of Minimal Technologies and the creator of Wovn.io. And thanks for sitting down with me today.

Jeff: Thank you very much. Good to be here.

Tim: Wovn.io at a high level is simply localization for a website. But it’s more than that. It’s more interesting than that so why don’t you tell us a bit about what it is.

Jeff: So often people when you tell them you do website localization, they think translation, which it actually isn’t. Translation is a very integral part of it, but what we focus on is the system of localizing a website. So let’s say you have an English website, and you’ll like to create a Chinese version or Spanish version of that website, we handle all of the details of actually creating those versions, and also managing them and serving them to users.

Tim: Now there’s a lot of companies that are doing that,

Seeking help for even minor mental health problems still carries a stigma in Japan. This is particularly unfortunate because clinical research shows that a significant portion of Japanese adults suffer from depression or other mental illnesses.

Ayako Shimizu, the founder of Hikari Labs, has an innovative approach that represents a huge step forward in addressing this problem. Hikari Labs develops and distributes video games based on cognitive behavior therapy, and these games enable players to literally train their brains out of depression.

Her approach bypasses both the stigma and costs involved in seeking treatment. Even in conservative Japan, she is seeing increasing and enthusiastic adoption by corporate wellness programs. But this whole project was almost shut down by the very people who should have been helping her.

Ayako has a fascinating story, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

How gaming can treat depression and reduce suicide rates
Why marketing mental health games is so challenging
The changing profiles of Japanese who suffer depression
Why women have higher rates of depression, but lower rates of suicide
How Ayako's University tried to put a stop to this project
How to build a business model around mental health
Why conservative corporations are on the forefront of improving mental health in Japan

Links from the Founder

Hikari Labs homepage

Online counseling
YouTube video
Todai Shinbun article

Follow Ayako on Twitter @Hikari_Lab_Inc
Friend her on Facebook
Try out SPARX

SPARX for iPhone/iPad
SPARX for Android
Clinical Journal on SPARX

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Transcript from Japan
 

Disrupting Japan, episode 85. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Now long-term listeners know that this show is not really about start-ups. Well, of course it’s about start-ups, but it’s about so much more than that. Japanese start-ups give us a unique perspective on Japanese society. Looking at the problems that need to be solved, the path people are taking to try to solve them, and seeing what challenges society throw up against them can tell us more about a country or a society than mountains of surveys and piles of longitudinal studies.

Start-ups tell us the kind of future that people envision, and how the present plans on resisting the future. Nowhere is this more true than with today’s guest. Ayako Shimizu, founder of Hikari Labs. Ayako is developing and marketing video games to treat mental illness, and she has the clinical data that shows the approach has real therapeutic value. And yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, Japanese academia and the medical industry as a whole have been—Well, let’s just say less supportive of her efforts. But still she’s seen steady increases in both the number of users and growing interest from a surprising segment of corporate Japan. But you know, Ayako tells that story much better than I can. So let’s here from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ]

 [Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Ayako Shimizu of Hikari Labs, and thanks for sitting down with me.

Ayako: Thank you, Tim, for inviting me here.

Tim: Now Hikari Labs is focused on improving mental health through software, I guess. But why don’t you tell us a bit about what Hikari Labs does and what it’s mission is.

Ayako: Okay, well Hikari Labs currently have two services. One is online counseling called Kokoro Works, and another one is this game application called Sparx, which was developed at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Today we sit down with Dave McClure under the cherry blossoms and talk about startups, funding, failure

Dave has long been involved in Japan and in the startup community here, and in this episode, we talk about the progress Japan has made in the past decade and the changes that still need to be made. We go over what Dave sees as the gaps in the Japan’s venture capital ecosystem and also dispel some of the pervasive myths that have spread throughout Silicon Vally and the entire startup world.

We spend a bit of time diving into what Dave and 500 Startups consider to be a risky business model, and it may not be what you expect, but it’s great advice for anyone thinking of starting a company.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Who is doing most of the investing in Japan right now
Why Japan needs more angel investors
What startups should be looking for in investors
How to find a startup idea

What Japan should learn from Silicon Valley and what it should ignore
Which business models are truly unproven
The one thing Japan should change to encourage startups
How to really learn from failure

Links from the Founder

500 Startups
500 Startups Japan
Follow Dave on Twitter @davemcclure
Friend him on Facebook
Connect with him on LinkedIn

 

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 84.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from CEOs breaking into Japan. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Japan, well most of the world really has an unhealthy obsession with Silicon Valley. I’ve been to Japanese language start-up events here in Tokyo where the phrases Silicon Valley, or San Francisco, were mentioned more than twice as often as Tokyo or Japan. And yes, I actually did keep count. And I’m sure none of my friends are the least bit surprised by that. My point is that while Japan can learn a lot from Silicon Valley, the reverse is also true. There are a lot of things going right in Japan, and many things that are developing differently here than they are in Silicon Valley.

Well, today we sit down with Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups, and we talk under the cherry blossoms about start-ups funding failure, and about some of the most pervasive myths surrounding start-ups and start-up founders. For our listeners who are not familiar with the Japanese tradition of Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, I’ll explain it to you in both theory and practice because those two can be a bit different. In theory, Hinami is a time to reflect on the transitory nature of beauty, of our possessions, and of life itself. The cherry blossoms bloom only for a few days a year before their pedals fall. And almost everyone in Japan no matter how busy or sick will make at least a little time to go out and walk among the blossoms. The trees really are beautiful, and that beauty is made all the more precious by the fact that they can only be appreciated for such a brief period of time.

In practice, people from all over Japan get together with their friends under the cherry blossom trees, get rip-roaringly drunk, sing karaoke, and have a great and boisterous time.  So when Dave and I are talking and in the background, you hear school girls laughing, drunken cheering, and people suddenly breaking into song, you’ll know what’s going on. It was a great party and a great discussion.

So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1411"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey"  ]

[Interview]

Tim: Cheers.

Dave: Cheers.

Tim: So I’m sitting hear with the indomitable and encourageable Dave McClure.

Dave: Encourageable sounds right.

Tim: So thanks for sitting down. I really do appreciate your time.

Dave: Yeah.

Tim: You’ve had ties to Japan for a long time.

Dave: Yes,

Growing our meat in a lab or factory has been a science fiction staple for decades, but much like jetpacks, it has never quite worked out in practice -- at least not at scale. Yuki Hanyu and his team at Shojinmeat, however, are changing that.

Actually, scientists have been growing muscle tissue in labs for more than 100 years, but Shojinmeat has developed techniques that bring the cost down to less than one 1,000th of traditional approaches. Now, that still leaves it too expensive for most commercial applications, but Yuki explains how his team (and others) will bring the costs down into the commercial range very soon.

We also talk about both why Japanese life-sciences startups have such a hard time raising money in Japan and how Shojinmeat found a way to make the system work for them.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups


How do you grow meat in the Lab?
Why cellular agriculture doesn’t get funding

Is lab-grown meat kosher?
Combining open research and patent protection
How to bring down the cost of cultured meat
Solving the taste problem
How cultured meat will become available

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Shojinmeat
How Integriculture is commercializing lab-grown meat
Check out Yuki's blog
Follow him on twitter @yukihanyu1
New Havest talks about Yuki's project

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 83.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today we’re going to talk about the future of meat. Many would say the future of humanity, but really today we’re just going to talk about the meat. Yuki Hanyu and his team at ShojinMeat are growing meat in the lab, and they’re doing it at a tiny fraction of the cost of traditional methods. Actually, it turns out that lab-grown meat or cellular agriculture—as the discipline is actually called—is not particularly new. It’s been in active development all over the world for well over 100 years. What’s different about ShojinMeat, however is that they’ve been able to bring the cost down by an astounding three orders of magnitude. And that brings a technology within striking distance of a lot of practical uses. We dive into the actual science behind cellular agriculture. And if you can follow all of it, it means that you’re a huge biology nerd, and I love you for it. Otherwise, it would be good just to let the science wash over you. It’s a pretty amazing topic.

Another thing we talk about is why Japanese life sciences start-ups have such a hard time both raising money and growing here in Japan. And how ShojinMeat meat has found a way to make the system work for them. But you know, Yuki tells that story much better than I can so let’s hear from our sponsor, and get right to the interview.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ]

[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Yuki Hanyu of ShojinMeat, and thanks for sitting down with me.

Yuki: Thank you very much for inviting me to the podcast.

Tim: Today we’re going to talk about meat.

Yuki: Yeah, meat.

Tim: And most specifically, cellular agriculture. So to get started. Why don’t you explain what what ShojinMeat is?

Yuki: We are a collection of volunteer students, artists, and people of various disciplines to develop cultured meat technology.

Tim: So it’s a bio-hacker community here in Tokyo, right?

Yuki: Yes.

Tim: So how long have you been doing this.

Yuki: If you’re talking about active wet novelty work, that will be about a year and a half.

Tim: Okay.

Yuki: And if you’re talking about people building a team, that would be about two and a half years.

Tim: Alright. Okay, well actually before we go forward in this,

Many VR startups are a solution is search of a problem, but Holoeyes is already in use at hospitals around Japan. Although the medical industry is one the most highly regulated, conservative and hard to disrupt, Holoeyes has made inroads by solving a very specific problem for surgeons.

Today we sit down with Naoji Taniguchi, CEO of Holoeyes, and talk about the steps his startup had to take to sell into the medical market in Japan and to win over traditionally conservative doctors. Holoeyes builds up virtual reality models of organs from CT scans, and lets doctors analyze and discuss these matters much more directly and clearly than they could before.

It’s a great interview and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

How VR can actually save hospitals money and improve outcomes
Why the world needs a GitHub of surgery

What Japanese startups get out of accelerator programs

Why the real value in surgical VR is not what you think
How Holoeyes achieves medical quality in low-spec devices
How Holoeyes convinced conservative doctors and hospitals to try a new technology
Advice for startups trying to sell to doctors
Why more and more medical professionals will be getting involved in startups in Japan

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Holoeyes
Follow Naoji on Medium
Follow him on twitter @tani_yang
Friend Naoji on Facebook
See Holoeyes in action

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrYlsSldXSM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu9RU03PPho
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANN64JeUjog&t=2s

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 82.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

The medical industry is one of the world’s most highly regulated and hard to disrupt. And for the most part, that’s a good thing. But there are a number of innovative start-ups that have ways of improving things. Not disruptive change, mind you, but simple, more cautious, incremental change that will make life better for everyone. Holoeyes is one of those questions. And today we sit down with Naoji Taniguchi and we talk about how their VR solution is winning over doctors all over Japan, and changing the way surgery is done.

Holoeyes builds up a virtual reality model of organs from CT scans, and let’s doctors analyze and discuss these matters much more directly and efficiently than they could before. We’ll get into the details during the interview. But one of the things that impressed me the most about Holoeyes, is that is is already in use today. So much VR tech and so many VR companies have an amazing wow factor, but only the promise of future applications.

But you know, Naoji tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1411"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey"  ]

[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Naoji Taniguchi of Holoeyes.

Naoji: Yeah.

Tim: This is an application that uses AR and VR for medical training, and thanks for sitting down with me.

Naoji: Okay.

Tim: Can you tell me a bit more about the application and how it’s used?

Naoji: Holoeyes make customized model for each patient. For VR, our mixed reality, our product helps communication between doctor, surgery team members, or training senior doctors and new doctors.

Tim: So let’s just walk through from start to finish how it’s used. So how do you build up this VR model?

Naoji: Partially use Diacom Viewer. Diacom Viewer is viewer of CT scan image. Now we are trying to use deep learning to automate, create, make part of a model from CT scan image.

Tim: Okay, so it’s laterally taking a CT scan and building up the VR image kind of slice by slice?

Naoji: Yes, yes.

Tim: Alright,

It’s often surprising to discover which problems are hard for AI. We hear stories about artificial intelligence being better than the most skilled humans at go, chess, Jeopardy, and better than many at driving a car, and we assume that computers will be as smart as we are very soon.

Then we discover how hard it is for AI to fold the laundry.

Shin Sakane and his team at Seven Dreamers have been working on this particular problem for 12 years, and they are now rolling out the first commercially available laundry-folding robot. They will be first to the global market and have secured a production partnership with Panasonic.

Shin and I talk a lot about AI and innovation in Japan, and also cover his rather unusual corse to innovation here. Seven Dreamers is not your typical venture-backed startup, and they might just provide a blueprint for innovation that many existing Japanese firms can follow.

It’s a great interview, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why AI can drive a car but not fold socks
Why starting a company in Japan is different today
Shin’s formula  for developing innovative products
How to work with large Japanese companies
Why the future of laundry is more disrupting than you imagine
Why big data wants to hack your washing machine
The need to go global quickly
Can Japan once again lead the world in AI

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Laundroid
Friend Shin  on Facebook
Seven Dreamers Homepage
Find out more about Laundroid on Facebook or Twitter
Nastent website
Find out more about Nastent on Facebook or Twitter
The carbon-fiber golf shafts on the Web and on Facebook

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Transcript from Japan
 

Disrupting Japan, episode 81.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, the term artificial intelligence is thrown around far too loosely these days. Every start-up using decision trees, Bayesian algorithms, or the simplest machine learning techniques, label themselves as world leaders in AI. Now there’s no question that projects like Google’s driverless cars and IBM’s Watson have pushed the limits of what’s possible, and have introduced astounding innovations in AI over the past few years. But sometimes it’s surprising to take a look at the kinds of problems that are extremely difficult for AI. It turns out that folding laundry is one of those problems.

Today we sit down with Shin Sakane, CEO of Seven Dreamers and inventor of the Laundroid. The first commercially available fully automatic laundry folding robot. We talk a lot about AI in general. And the importance and the risk of attacking the really hard problems. And what he and his firm had to go through to make Laundroid a reality. It’s also worth noting that Seven Dreamers is not your typical venture back start-up. And Shin and I talk a lot about the role that mid-size companies have to play in kick-starting the Japanese economy and returning Japan to the global leader in innovation she was in the 60s and 70s. But you know, Shin tells that story better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ]

[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Shin Sakane of Seven Dreamers, and we’ve been bumping into each other for a long time now.

Shin: Right.

Tim: So thanks for finally making time and sitting down with me.

Shin: Thank you very much for coming.

Tim: We’re here to talk a lot about the Laundroid. Now it’s a robot that folds clothes, which I guess is the simple way of explaining it, but why don’t you tell us more about what it is.

Shin: Okay. We’ve been working on this project for the last 12 years almost.

Tim: Wow.

Shin: Yeah.

It’s hard to make money with music apps. The competition is intense, and most people simply are not willing to pay much for music apps; either because music is something they only do casually or because if it’s something they do professionally, they probably don’t have money.

Akinori Fumihara of Nana, however, is succeeding despite the odds. Nana is a collaborative music creation app, where different users upload and submit different tracks to a song, which can be edited and remixed by others to create an unlimited number of arrangements.

Today Nana has a highly engaged global user-base that numbers in the millions, but it almost did not work out that way. Three months after the initial release, Nana was running out of money and was watching new installs trend towards zero.

How Aki and his team managed to turn things around is an amazing story, and one I think you’ll really enjoy.

Show Notes for Startups

Why "casual music" is important

How to develop an overseas user-base by word of mouth
Why teenage girls form the heart of Nana
How a YouTube video inspired an iPhone app
Why it's hard to monetize a music app
Why startups in Japan (outside of Tokyo) struggle
The difference between Tokyo and Kansai startup founders

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Nana
Friend Aki on Facebook
Check out Nana on Facebook

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Transcript from Japan
 

Disrupting Japan, episode 80.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for music apps. The competition in this space is intense, and almost every niche seems to be filled. So trying to differentiate a music gap calls for a lot of creativity. But it’s usually their quixotic quest for business models that is the most interesting. The problem is that people just don’t want to spend money on making music. The amateurs and the dabblers don’t spend enough time on the hobby to invest much. And the professionals, well speaking as a former professional musician myself, I can tell you that professional musicians never have money in the first place.

Well today, we sit down with Akinori Fumihara of Nana, and they might have just cracked the code. Nana is a collaborative music creation app where different users upload and submit different tracks to a song. Which can be edited and remixed by others to create an unlimited number of arrangements. Now Nana has become a huge hit with its millions of users. And just like Google, the name Nana itself has become a fully conjugatable verb in Japanese. “Nananu Nanateru, Nanata.” “I use Nana. I’m using Nana. I used Nana.”

Now I’ll warn that Aki’s English is not as good as some of our other guests. But the man is really excited about reaching out to foreign listeners and so he decided to make it work and come on the show. Nana is a very cool app, and Aki’s a pretty cool guy. He’s got an amazing life story, and he started a fascinating company. But you know, Aki tells that story much better than I can, so let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

 Tim: Cheers.

Akinori: Cheers.

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Akinori Fumihara, the CEO and founder of Nana. Thanks for sitting down with me today.

Akinori: Nice to meet you.

Tim: That’s great. Now Nana is a social music platform, but can you explain what is social music? How does Nana work?

Akinori: Nana is music collaboration. I’ve found and enjoyed that biggest feature is collaboration and over dubbing. For example, like the base line, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Next, with the base add drums, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. So with the beat it adds piano.

Soracom is one of those rare Japanese startups that has the potential to become a major global player and to change the way Internet of Things devices work.

The real deployment bottleneck in the Internet of Things is not the hardware or the software, but the connectivity. There are still relatively few inexpensive, flexible and scalable ways that IoT devices can transmit and receive data. Cellular connectivity is expensive, and WiFi is largely limited to stationary devices in homes and offices.

Today we sit down with Ken Tamagawa, CEO of Soracom, who explains his solution to this problem, and it's a good one. Soracom operates a mobile virtual network and provides widespread connectivity for IoT devices for pennies a day, and since their infrastructure runs completely on AWS their costs are significantly lower than the competition's.

Soarcom is extremely well-funded, and they are quickly expanding globally. You are going to be hearing a lot about them in the future, so let’s get to know them today.

I think you’ll really enjoy the interview.

Show Notes for Startups

What are  MVNOs and why are they important  for the Internet of Things
Why replacing hardware with software drives innovation
How Japan Taxi is taking advantage of the Internet of Things
The most surprising thing about going global from Japan
The future of the IoT in Japan
Why play and serendipity remain important even as a company scales

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Soracom
Follow Ken on twitter @KenTamagawa
Friend him on Facebook
Check out the Soracom blog
Get started with the Soracom Developer Site
Safecast P2P Radiation Monitoring

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Transcript from Japan
 

Welcome to Disrupting Japan- straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

One of the most important problems of the internet of things is not the internet or even the things. The problem lies in connecting those things to the internet. In fact, much of the promise of the internet of things is based on the idea of thousands of connected devices working together. It turns out that building the hardware and writing the software has proven to be much simpler than developing an affordable, scalable, and secured network that enables these devices to communicate with home base and with each other.

Some applications use WiFi and that's a great solution for stationary devices that operating homes or offices, or anywhere else where you can be certain to have a connection. But, many devices are mobile or need to operate whether there may not be a WiFi connection. Some applications paired with cellphones and that works well for personal devices and wearable’s and things will carry around with us. But for things like sensors and inexpensive autonomous devices, well, having a cellphone plan for each of them is simply cost prohibitive. So, right now, connectivity is the real problem for a lot of internet of things applications.

Well, Soracom has a solution and a damn good one in my opinion.

Today, we sit down with Ken Tamagawa, CEO of Soracom to talk about their solution which involves slicing up mobile bandwidth and using Amazon web services as their backbone and this enables a pay as you go remote communication package for pennies a day.

We also discuss Soracom's global ambitions. Soracom is one of the few Japanese start-ups to raise a round of more than 20 million dollars and a lot of that is targeted on their global expansion. Soracom has something that is truly unique and you'll be hearing more about Soracom in the years to come.

But Ken tells us story much better than I can. So, let's hear from our sponsor and get straight to the interview.

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[Interview]

Miwa Tanaka, CEO of Waris, is working to make things better for working women in Japan.

Although things are slowly changing, most Japanese women still must leave the workforce when they have children. The Waris platform helps them get back on track, either as a freelancer or by restarting their career.

We talk about her startup, of course, but we also talk about the difficulties women still face, the kinds of roles they are traditionally placed into, and the traditional employment structures and roles are changing. It’s a optimistic interview and Miwa explains why she believes that corporate Japan truly wants to change things for the better.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups


Why Japanese women leave the workforce when they have children
The problem Japanese women face during negotiations
How the Tohuku Earthquake changed Miwa's life path
Why the Japanese government changed its opinion on freelancers
What "diversity training" actually means in Japan and why it's important
The importance of startups selling to each other and bootstrapping  the ecosyste
Why Japanese women are attracted to entrepreneurship and  freelancing

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Waris
Friend Waris on Facebook
Follow Waris on Twitter @info_Waris
The Waris community blog Cue for working women in Japan.
Friend Miwa on Facebook

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Transcript from Japan
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, -- straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I am Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Miwa Tanaka, the CEO of Waris is working hard to make things better for women in Japan. The changing roles of Japanese Women in both start-ups and large enterprises is something we talked about quite a bit on disrupting Japan and Miwa has a unique perspective on this subject.

Waris is a platform that is helping Japanese women who've quit their jobs to have children, rejoined the work force. Now, of course, we talk about the social and business conventions that results in Japanese women having to quit their jobs to have children in the first place. But often the best solutions to these kind of social problems are small steady improvements, and that's what Miwa is trying to do. In fact, hearing Miwa explained what Waris is shows us some microcosm of women in Japanese business, --- the difficulties women face, the kind of roles they've traditionally been placed into and also how those roles and the traditional employment structure are changing but more important, perhaps, how Japanese women themselves are choosing to adapt, to work around, occasionally, walk away from those restrictions.

And as Miwa explains, another sign that things are getting better here in Japan is that Waris has a steady stream of corporate customers who are asking for diversity training. I think that this is a sign, much like it was with previous guest who discussed the demand for open innovation and LGBT sensitivity training that corporate Japan wants to change.

I think much of corporate Japan and the government as well, are sincere on their efforts to make things better. But as Miwa explains, sometimes those changes can painfully slowly, but Miwa tells that story much better than I can. So, let's hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim:                     So, I'm sitting here with Miwa Tanaka, the co-founder and the CEO of Waris. So, thanks for sitting down with us.

Miwa:                  Thank you so much for inviting me.

Tim:                     Now, Waris is an online job matching service to help women continue their career after they've had children. I'm sure you can explain it much better than I  can. So,

From the transistor radio to the Walkman to the Gameboy and the Playstation, Japan has always been both a leading force in hardware technology and a Mecca for gadget geeks.

Over the past ten years, however, Japanese dominance in consumer hardware has been slipping away. The falling price of not just computing, but of manufacturing and prototyping has resulted in some amazing connected devices appearing all over the world. But while Japan’s large corporations have been falling behind, Japan’s startups have been rushing ahead.

Today we sit down with Ichiro Amimori of Xenoma to talk about why he left a successful 20-year career in materials science at FujiFilm to found a company that makes a low-cost, washable motion capture shirt they call e-skin. It’s a order of magnitude cheaper than existing technology and opens up the possibility of applications in gaming, sports technology and heath and medicine.

We also talk about the challenges Japanese enterprises and universities have turning fundamental research into salable products, and a few trends that might just turn that situation around.

It’s a great interview and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

What is e-skin and why is it important?
Why leave a 20-year career to start a risky startup
How FujiFilm managed to innovate and survive
How to attract developers to a new hardware platform
Why most early adopters are outside Japan
How Japan lost it's lead in the gaming industry
How motion capture can help the elderly
Why Japanese companies have trouble in new markets
The future of open innovation in Japan

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Xenoma
A deeper dive on e-skin
Ichiro's personal blog (in Japanese)
Follow Ichiro on twitter @ichiroamimori
Friend him on Facebook

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Transcript from Japan
Welcome to Disrupting Japan- straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

You know, Japan has always been the land of cool hardware, from the Zoom recorder I’m talking into to the Gameboy, to the Play Station, to the Walkman, to the transistor radio. Japan has always been a mecca to gadget geeks. Of course, things have changed in recent years, the falling price of not just computing, but of manufacturing and prototyping has resulted in some amazing connected devices appearing all over the world.

And Japan, if we’re being honest with ourselves here, is falling a bit behind.

Ichiro Amimori is a small part of the solution to this. He left a 20-year career in material science to found a company that produces what they call e-skin. It’s a tight fitting shirt that can sense the movements of its wearer and act as an inexpensive, accurate, motion capture device. It’s price and durability is something you might find a little bit surprising.

Of course, with a cool hardware available now, attracting developers to your new platform, no matter how cool, is something of a challenge these days. Even Google is having problems in this area. Ichiro and I dive into some detail about how Xenoma is solving this. We also talk about the challenges that Japanese enterprises and universities have turning fundamental research into real products. And the steps that they’re taking to solve them.

But you know, Ichiro tells that story much better than I can, so let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.
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[Interview]
Tim: I’m sitting here with Ichiro Amimori of Xenoma. You guys make e-skin. It’s like clothing, it’s motion capture, it’s just a shirt, really, but thanks for sitting down with us.

Ichiro: Nice meeting you.

Tim: Tell us more about what Xenoma is, and what this shirt really does.

Ichiro: So we are a startup company from the University of Tokyo,

There are no shortage of startup accelerators, innovation spaces and startup community hubs, and sometimes it can be difficult to put your finger on what makes one a success and another a failure.

Today, Tim Rowe the CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center walks us through what he believes will make or break a startup community.

The CIC started as a small co-working space for a handful of startups, and now is the biggest facility of its kind on the world. They’ve expanded to several locations and are now int he process of setting up their Tokyo facility.

Tim lived in Japan for a few years in the 1990’s and he understands that Japan is different, and that’s a good thing.

It’s an interesting interview and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups


What makes one startup space succeed and others fail
When you need to turn down the money to support the  mission
How NGOs and governments can sponsor innovation
A blueprint for a successful innovation space
What approaches to innovation might be particularly effective in Japan
What three things all innovation communities need to succeed
What Japanese universities can do to foster innovation

Links from the Founder

The Cambridge Innovation Center
Follow Tim on twitter @rowe
WCVB-TV's video on Kendall Square and CIC

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Transcript from Japan
Welcome to Disrupting Japan- straight talk from the CEO’s breaking into Japan.

You know, I’ve always been a bit skeptical about co-working spaces, innovation centers, and startup community hubs. Some of them are well intended, but too often, the organizations that put these facilities together have a bit of a field of dreams mindset, where, if they just build the office space, the innovative entrepreneurs will come, and then the organizers will find themselves at the center of a thriving ecosystem.

Sometimes that actually happens, but usually not. But when it works, when all the pieces really do come together, amazing things happen. And a community develops that is far greater than the sum of its parts. So what’s the real difference between the innovation spaces that flourish compared to those that stagnate?

Well, today we get a chance to sit down and talk to Tim Rowe, CEO of Cambridge Innovation Center, or CIC, the largest innovation center in the world. And we have a conversation about what’s really involved in building an entrepreneurial community, and the CIC's progress on building a very large-scale innovation center right here in Tokyo.

It’s a truly insightful conversation, so let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to our interview.
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[Interview]
Romero: So I’m sitting here with Tim Rowe, CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center. This is a pretty incredible space that you have been running for 15 years now. So rather than having me explain it, can you tell us a bit about what CIC is and how it came to be?

Rowe: Sure. CIC is the world’s largest space for startups, that is our Cambridge Space, specifically. We’re also in Boston, Miami, St. Louis, Rotterdam Netherlands, at the moment and we’ve got some more in the works. We call ourselves a community of startups. So we’re not an accelerator where we’re telling people how to build their business or investing in them. We have brought 15 venture capital funds into our location in Cambridge and some of our other locations, so there is access to money, but it’s more of an open platform.

Romero: So the VCs actually have offices there?

Rowe: Their entire firm is there.

Romero: In terms of business, though, it’s a real estate business. You’re renting office space. You don’t make money by making investments or…

Rowe: Yea. So we don’t think about it that way. You could argue that a university is mostly made up of real estate, but that’s not its purpose.

Hiking, back-country skiing and mountain climbing are not usually the first things associated with Japan. Japan, however, has some stunning natural beauty and Yoshihio Haruyama of Yamap is trying to get more and more people to appreciate that.

Yamap is a mobile app that allows hikers, back-country skiers and other outdoorsmen to know exactly where they are even when they are well outside of areas cell-phone reception, and the platform is also providing Japan’s outdoor enthusiasts with a way of connecting to each other.

Yoshi also explains how relatively young Yamap managed to negotiate OEM deals with both Casio and Kyosera, and give practical advice for other startups hoping to partner up with large Japanese firms.

It’s a great discussion and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why add gamification to a hiking app
Why Yamap had to pursue multiple monitazation strategies
What a startup needs to know to work with a large Japanese brand

Why going global might require a business model pivot

There are important differences between hikers in the US and Japan

The importance of inbound tourism for outdoor activities in Japan
How the Fukuoka startup scene is different from Tokyo

Links from the Founder

Everything you wanted to know about Yamap
See a demo video of Yamap in English
Check out Yoshi on Tumbler
Follow him on twitter @haruyamayoshi
Friend him on Facebook

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Transcript from Japan
 

Disrupting Japan episode 75.

 

Welcome to Disrupting Japan- straight talk from japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

Ah, the great outdoors, it is something that nerds like me do not get enough of, especially living here in Tokyo. Yoshi Haruyama of Yamap is starting to change that. Yamap is a mobile app that allows hikers, back country skiers, mountain climbers and other outdoors men to know exactly where they are. Even where they are far, far away from anywhere with cell phone reception, and to share this experience with others and to learn from them. If you are one of our overseas listeners, you might be surprised at how much natural beauty Japan has to offer, and if you are of our listeners in Japan you might be surprised at the average age of Japanese outdoors men.

Yamap has also done some OEM deals with Japans largest brands. Yoshi gave us some practical advice on how startups can sell to and work with large Japanese companies on joint projects. Oh and during the interview we talk about a wireless transmission technology called Lora. Just so you know, it is a low power wide coverage network that is useful for transmitting large numbers of very small messages. So, now you will know it when you hear it. Let us hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.
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[Interview]
Tim: I am sitting here with Yoshi Haruyama of Yamap, it is an application for hikers and mountaineers and other outdoors men in Japan but Yoshi I’m sure you can explain it a lot better than I can, so, tell us abet about a Yamap, what is it?

Yoshi: Yamap is a social GPRS tracking application. You install the Yamap application. You can find where you are without mobile reception, such as mountain or foreign countries.

Tim: Who are the main users, is it hikers, is it back country skiers, mountain climbers? Who uses it?

Yoshi: The most of our uses are hikers and back country skiers.

Tim: Okay let us see, you started the company in 2011 and you launched like two years later, right? You were working on this project for a long time and you digitized a lot of these maps by hand and were like marking the trails yourself earlier on. Was there problem that there just is not digitized information on hiking trails in Japan? Why did you spend so much time having to do it by yourse...

More than a few people dream of coming to Japan, starting an online business that gives you financial freedom and leaves you with enough free time to study the language travel and just enjoy Japan.

I know that sounds like the opening to some terrible multi-level marketing pitch, but today we site down and talk with someone who has done exactly that — twice.

Patrick McKenzie came to Japan more than 15 years ago and after enduring the soul-crushing boredom that is the life of a Japanese programer, he took maters into his own hands, left his job and began developing software products that he sold and supported all over the world the world from his home in the Japanese countryside.

It turns our that life was not as idillic or as simple as it seems, but there are some important lessons learned and a great story to be told.

I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Show Notes for Startups

What it's like working as a developer at a Japanese company
The 30-year career plan Japanese companies have for their employees
Why Japanese developers don’t start side businesses

Why it's smart to focus on the foreign market when selling software from Japan

 What's the wrong way to generate a startup idea

 Why running a micro-startup can be more rewarding than getting investment

What made Patrick give it all up and get a day job
Why you need to develop the ability to do arbitrary hard things
How to make failure a part of life in Japan, and why that would be a good thing

Links from the Founder

Patrick runs the Kalzumeus blog
Check out some of Patrick's (aka patio11) prolific writing at Hacker News
Stripe's Atlas Program
Check out the Kalzumeus podcast, and tell Patrick to make more of them

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 74.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me.

One of the things I enjoyed most about making Disrupting Japan, is not only do I get a chance to sit down and talk with some of the most innovative people in Japan, but I hear from people all over the world who are thinking about bringing their company to Japan, or who are deeply involved in the startup scene in their own country, or who just have a love of Japan and enjoy hearing about startups and how things are changing here.

I also get a pretty steady stream of inquiries from listeners with a very specific Japan-focused dream. There are a lot of developers all over the world who want to move to Japan, maybe move to a Japanese company, study the language, and then start some kind of internet business that would give them the financial independence and the freedom to just live your life in Japan. Well, if that sounds appealing, I’ve got a treat for you today.

Today, we’re going to sit down and talk with my friend, Patrick McKenzie, and we’re basically going to give you a blueprint for doing exactly that. I’ll warn you in advance, it might not be as easy as you think it is, or as rewarding as you imagine it might be, and in fact, in the end, Patrick left that life behind. Before he did that, however, he created not just one, but two successful online businesses, that he ran from the comfort of the Japanese countryside. Now, you’ve probably never heard of either of Patrick’s companies, but he’s a more important part of the Tokyo startup ecosystem than he likes to let on. He’s an advisor, a connector, and someone whose name just keeps popping up in Tokyo’s startup scene, and he has a really amazing story to tell.

So let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.
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[Interview]
Tim: I’m sitting here with Patrick McKenzie of Stripe and of Kalzumeus software, and the illustrious Kalzumeus podcast, as a matter of fact.

Gaming is very different in Japan than it is in America, but PowerCore is introducing technology that could lead to major changes in both of them.

Toys to Life technology blurs the distinction between the analog and digital worlds by having digital gameplay react to the presence of physical toys. For example, after buying a figuring, that character would appear in the game.

The first generation of this technology is already being used by powerhouses such as Disney and Nintendo, but the real change is yet to come.

Today Jia Shen explains what the future holds for Toys to Life, and why he decided to start his company in Japan.

It seems that the boundary between analog and digital is about to become a lot less clear.

It’s a great conversation, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why large companies have trouble crossing the toy-game barrier
Why it made sense to build a distributed team from Tokyo
The special appeal of physical goods in our digital life
How Disney just made a big mistake
Why children don't play with some toys
Why Japan gaming might be the future model for the rest of the world

Links from the Founder

Learn more about Powercore
Check out their Online Store
Some cool toy pics on Instagram
Follow Jia on twitter @mekatek
Friend him on Facebook
Jia on Instragram
You really need to see the toys in action to appreciate them check out

This video
or this one
this is cool too
or this video

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Transcript from Japan
 Disrupting Japan, episode 73.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, gaming has always pushed the limits of both computer hardware and the interfaces we use to interact with computers. Jia Shen, of PowerCore, is blurring the distinction between the online and offline interaction. Powercore enables video games to react to the presence of physical object. For example, if you owned a figurine of a superhero, that hero could appear in the game.

It’s a simple interaction that radically changes the way we view the digital-analog divide. Of course, as with all technologies, adoption is never smooth, and Jia explains some of the mistakes that burned Disney, and some of the major market players. It seems that, as is so often the case, the secret to introducing innovative technology, is to do only as much as you absolutely have to, and then watch how your users react. It’s a simple idea in principle but there are surprising reasons why some of the most influential companies in the industry have trouble following it.

But Jia tells that story much better than I can, so let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.
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[Interview]
Tim: I’m sitting here with Jia Shen of PowerCore. Now, PowerCore does toys to life or sometimes it’s called offline-online business, but why don’t you explain basically what it is and who uses it.

Jia: Sure. The toys to life is a model, that from our perspective, Japan has done a lot of pioneering, but the United States, in maybe the last 5 or 6 years, have made a very large business out of it. So we point to, in the US, Skylanders from Activision, Disney had a big one called Infinity, featuring a lot of the great Disney characters. Nintendo, LEGO, they all have some forays into this. And specifically it’s toys that are collectible, that have a strong interaction with video games. So the guys that do it on a large scale, they usually have console games, and you have different characters, which you can stick into the game, they have different power-ups, they have different game mechanics.

Tim: For example, there would be a figurine, or a trophy, or a sticker of some kind that would activate a character in the ...

Selling services in Japan is very different than selling products or software.

Everyone knows that relationships are important in Japan, but not many people understand why they are so important, and how you can use that understanding to build a successful business here.

Today Sriram Venkataraman explains how he grew InfoSys Japan from a one man operation to over 1,000 employees and how understanding why Japanese enterprises must trust their vendors far more than companies in other developed countries.

We talk about hiring strategies and techniques he used to get his initial customers and some of the most common mistakes that western companies make with their senior leadership in Japan.

It’s basically a blueprint for how to grow a services company from nothing to thousands of people in Japan, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

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Links & Resources

Follow Sriram on Twitter @japansriram
Connect with him on LinkedIn

Transcript
Disrupting Japan, episode 72.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from the CEOs breaking into Japan.

Today we’ve got some amazingly good advice for anyone who wants to sell services in Japan. Selling products or software is challenging enough, but selling services where relationships mean everything and where the quality expectations for service is perhaps the highest in the world, that provides a host of very special challenges.

Today we sit down with Sriram Venkataraman, as he explains how me manages to scale Infosys, which provides outsourced Indian development services, from 2 people, to over 1,000 people in Japan. In a very real sense, he did it with a strategy that is pretty much the opposite of what you would expect from an Indian software services company.

This is a real insight into the mind and the buying decisions of Japanese enterprise customers and Sriram has a different, very compelling perspective, on why so many foreign companies have trouble gaining real trust in the Japanese market. We talk a lot about finding the right people here in Japan, and how to avoid the hiring traps that western firms commonly fall into. Really, this interview is basically a blueprint of how to grow from nothing to 1,000 people in Japan.

But, you know, Sriram Venkataraman explains that much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.
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[Interview]
Tim: I’m sitting here with Sriram Venkataraman, of Infosys, and you have been with Infosys from the very beginning in Japan, and you’ve seen it grow from a tiny team to over 10,000 employees here now, haven’t you?

Sriram: Not 10,000.

Tim: No? That was on the website.

Sriram: Our total Japan business is probably about 1,000 people today. But given the business model, not all of them are here. Roughly 65 to 70% of the teams are in India and the balance are here.

Tim: Okay, let’s actually back up a bit to 20 years ago. The Japanese market is obviously a very big one but system integration is always a very local game, so what attracted both you and Infosys to the Japanese market in the first place?

Sriram: So Infosys was founded by 7 people. The senior founder, I think he’s a true visionary . So one of the important dimensions for Infosys was, “How do we move away from a large dependence on the market of the United States?” Because our business is quite dependent heavily on the mobility of people’s ideas. If you are dependent only on one market, if there is a regulatory change, or if there is something else that happens, then you are not going to be able to sustain the productions that you make.

Tim: And back then, what percentage of the revenues were coming from the US?

Sriram: The year I joined, this company had a global revenue of $26 million. I was I think sales employee number 10.

Today we are going low-tech. Sledgehammers and paint brushes low tech.

Keigo Fukugaki has started his own hotel brand, BnA, which stands for Bed & Art. It’s not a platform. It’s not an online marketplace. There isn’t (yet) even a meaningful e-commerce component. BnA is a new kind of hotel that places travelers not only in hotel rooms with interesting decor, but plugs them into the local artistic community.

It’s an incredibly ambitious project, but Keigo and his team have three small prototype hotels up and running, and they are in the process of building a full scale facility in Japan and already in talks about international expansion.

With SaaS companies and digital marketplaces  dominating the news, sometimes it's nice to know that some startups are running businesses based on concrete and lumber.

It’s a fascinating interview, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why old office buildings make ideal art spaces
The dangers of standardization in Japan and global the hotel industry
Why Bed&Art is the anti-Airbnb
Why crowdfunding should never be about the money any more
Why Keigo left San Francisco to start his startup in Japan
The very real danger of stretching yourself too thin
Why the differences between Japanese and American programmers are real and important

Links from the Founder

Learn more about Bed and Art
Follow Keigo on twitter @makeshiftjp
Friend him on Facebook
Checkout Keigo's design firm Makeshift
Honey Wedding
The BnA prototype as Airbnb in Ikebukuro
Their successful crowdfunding campaign

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 71.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, more than anything else, Disrupting Japan is about introducing you to the people who are changing business in Japan. I mean, really introducing you to them. Not the banal book tour interviews you hear everywhere else, but to let you get to know the real people starting things up in Japan. People you would love to sit down and have a beer with and with whom I’m lucky enough to do just that. It’s letting you know the people behind the startups. And although Disrupting Japan is a business podcast, business is personal.

Hiding behind every great startup with impressive numbers, there is an interesting story about how it got started. And hiding behind that interesting story is the story of what really happened and the real goals, and the real successes, and real disappointments. And what I love about podcasting is that it makes it so easy for you to hear when someone is telling a PR approved origin story and when someone is really speaking from the heart, when they are telling you about something that really matters to them.

Well, I’ve got a great story for you today and listeners have commented that I’ve been a bit tech heavy recently, so today, we’re going to meet someone who is decidedly low tech, as in paint brushes and hammers low tech. Keigo Fukugaki has started his own hotel brand, Bed & Art, in which he tries to merge travel with supporting the local artistic community. It’s an ambitious project to be sure and as the interview progressed, I went from thinking, “This won’t work,” to, “Nah, this is way too much of a long shot to really work,” to “You know, this is just crazy and quirky enough that is just might work.”

In this age of SAS, Airbnb, and middleware, sometimes it’s refreshing to find a startup that deals in concrete. But, you know, Keigo tell that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.
    [pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ]

[Interview]

Tim: So cheers. We’re sitting here with Keigo Fukugaki of Bed & Art,

Sales is different in Japan.

When Fastly entered the Japanese market, they quickly discovered that they had change their technology-driven bottom up sales approach to fit Japan’s top-down enterprise market.

Today we sit down with Doug Chuchro, the Japan head of Fastly who explains how he had to chance both the sales strategy and the corporate culture from that of the US, which a highly knowledgeable user base who understood the workings of their technology as well as the sales team to Japan, where they frequently found themselves educating potential customers about what a content deliver network is and how they are used.

We also explore the importance of partners in the Japanese market, and how those relationships can be very much a two-edged sword.

It’s a fascinating conversation, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

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Links & Resources

Learn more about Fastly here
Connect with Doug on LinkedIn
Follow Doug and Fastly Japan on Twitter @FastlyJapan (Japanese) or @fastly (English)
Contact  doug@fastly.com or the Tokyo team  japan@fastly.com (English or Japanese)
Read about Fastly’s partnership with Nifty Cloud (Japanese)
Read about Fastly’s partnership with SoftBank (Japanese)
Learn about Fastly’s Cloud Accelerator with Google Cloud Platform (English)
Sign up for a free Fastly trial account
Find out how to do stuff on Fastly from posts on Qiita (Japanese)

Transcript
 

Disrupting Japan, episode 70.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from the CEOs breaking into Japan. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Today we’re going to talk about content delivery networks or CDMs, those services that cache your website locally around the world so that users can access it extremely quickly. Or more accurately, we’re going to talk about how Fastly has managed to sell them in Japan. We sit down today with Doug Chuchro, the Japan head of Fastly to talk, not so much about the company, but how you sell innovative technology to large Japanese enterprises.

We’ll explore why partners are all but essential in entering the Japanese market, but how those relationships can be very much a two-edged sword, you need to know what to expect going in and to try to manage the expectations of everyone involved. When you’re trying to convert a proven, bottom-up, technical sales process into one that is Japanese style top-down, and governed by long-term relationships and unseen alliances.

Even when done perfectly, your Japanese partner won’t always do what you want, but sometimes they’ll do what you need. But, you know, Doug tells this story much better than I can, so let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: I’m sitting here with Doug Chuchro, the representative director of Fastly KK and thanks for sitting down with me.

Doug: It’s my pleasure.

Tim: Before we get into all the details of how you brought the company into Japan and how you grew it here, I want to take a step back. Can you explain what Fastly does?

Doug: Sure. We are a content delivery network. There are a number of content delivery networks out there. Many of them have been around for years and years. In fact, the space is close to 2 decades old. We are, essentially a content delivery network brings content closer to end users and increases the performance for those end users, and decreases the amount of workload that the customer’s origin has to do. So it essentially is a global caching network that the two major benefits are increasing the end user performance and decreasing the origin offload.

Tim: So just every individual around the world would, instead of accessing the original source homepage, they would be accessing the cache that is closest to them and having the fastest experience possible.

Doug: Exactly. For example,

More and more Japanese founders are moving their startups to San Francisco. It’s easy to see why. There is more venture capital, more startup know-how, and more startup energy in that city than anywhere else in the world.

In fact, there is a small, close knit Japanese startup community in San Francisco, with Japanese startups, mentors and investors all supporting each other and trying to grow their business there.

On my last trip to San Francisco, I had a chance to sit down with one of these startup founders, Keisuke Kajitani, co-founder of Ramen Hero. He moved to Silicon Valley from Japan to start his company because he thought the US market was a better fit.

Ramen Hero sells home delivered ramen meal kits. Interestingly, the popularity and ubiquity or ramen in Japan works against them, while the novelty and price of ramen in the US has enabled them to get attention from both VCs and customers there.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why ramen gives them a competitive advantage in the US
Previous failures in the ramen business and why it's different this time
Why Ramen Hero had to pivot from B2B to home delivery
What's great about the Japanese startup scene in San Francisco
How many companies can the market sustain?
When Japanese companies should move to Japan

 

Links from the Founder

Learn more about Ramen Hero at their home page
Follow Ramen Hero on Instagram

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 69.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from the Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

More and more, Japanese startup founders are looking at, or even moving to Silicon Valley. It’s easy to see the appeal. San Francisco is home to the largest and most competitive startup ecosystem in the world. In fact, there’s a small Japanese startup community in San Francisco, with Japanese startups, mentors, and investors all supporting each other and trying to make it work.

Of course, the founders that come from Japan—well, it’s a mixed group. Some successful companies view San Francisco as their logical first step towards global expansion; some are new founders that have an idea they feel is more suited to the American market than the Japanese market; and some, well, some are kind of startup tourists, visiting the offices of famous startups and going through the motions, as if they were in some sort of startup role playing game.

On my last trip to San Francisco, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Keisuke Kajitani, co-founder of Ramen Hero. He and his co-founder moved to San Francisco from Japan because they thought the US would be a better market for their product, oddly, because ramen is already too popular in Japan. Now, Ramen Hero sells home delivery ramen meal kits and it’s a business that makes much more sense to launch in the US than it does in Japan. But, you know, Keisuke explains all that much better than I can.

So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: I’m sitting here with Keisuke Kajitani of Ramen Hero and we’re sitting here in beautiful San Francisco. So thanks for sitting down with us.

Keisuke: Thanks for having me.

Tim: I’ve got to say, San Francisco is not so beautiful today.

Keisuke: Yeah, it’s raining hard.

Tim: I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much rain in San Francisco.

Keisuke: Yeah, it’s unfortunate.

Tim: But we’re inside and dry, so that’s good. Listen, to get things started, why don’t you tell me a bit about Ramen Hero?

Keisuke: Sure. So Ramen Hero is a meal kit service specifically focused on delivering authentic ramen to your house. So what we deliver inside of the meal kit is fresh noodles, and soup, and toppings,

Ride sharing works differently in Japan. Hailo lost the global market-share war to Uber and Lyft, but Hailo won the battle in Japan. Today, Ryo Umezawa details Hailo’s Japan market entry strategy and explains how they were able to succeed  where Uber has failed.

While Uber vowed to disrupt transportation by taking on both government and industry, Hailo worked within the system. They designed and launched a platform that was completely legal and made life better for all major stakeholders, including the taxi companies.

This was a battle between Uber’s disruptive innovation and Hailo’s sustaining innovation. On the global battlefield, Uber won. Uber is the world’s most valuable startup and is still growing fast, while Hailo had a cash crunch in 2016 and was acquired by Daimler.

In Japan, however, Hailo won. Hailo’s sustaining innovation soundly trounced Uber’s disruptive innovation, and Hailo remains significantly larger than Uber in Japan.

Of course, as you probably suspect, both companies had very different strategies in Japan than they did in the rest of the world, any Ryo explains it all in the interview.

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Links & Resources

Check out Ryo's blog
Follow him on twitter @umemac

Transcript
Disrupting Japan, episode 68. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from the CEOs breaking into Japan.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Today we once again turn our attention to ride sharing, but surprisingly, we won’t be talking about Uber—at least not very much. No, today we get a chance to sit down and talk with my old friend Ryo Umezawa, who is responsible for Hailo’s market entry. Now, listeners not familiar with Hailo, let me explain. Hailo is, in a way, Uber’s quiet and somewhat neglected little brother. Hailo did not make the same impact as Uber worldwide, because they followed a very different strategy. While Uber vowed to disrupt transportation by taking on all-comers, both government and industry, Hailo had a different approach. Hailo wanted to work within the system. They wanted to design a platform that was completely legal and that would make life better for all stakeholders, including the governments and taxi cab companies.

In fact, their model involved working with taxi companies directly. This was very much a batter between Uber’s disruptive innovation versus Hailo’s sustaining incremental innovation. And on the global battlefield, Uber won. Uber is the world’s most valuable startup and is still growing fast, while Hailo ran into a cash crunch in 2016 and was acquired—for quite a healthy sum, mind you—and it’s still an ongoing concern.

In Japan, however, Hailo won. Hailo’s sustaining innovation soundly trounced Uber’s disruptive innovation and Hailo remains significantly larger than Uber in Japan. Of course, as you probably suspect, both companies had very different strategies in Japan than they did the rest of the world. But Ryo Umezawa tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: I’m sitting here with Ryo, the former country manager of Hailo. You’ve since moved on from Hailo, but we’re going to back up a couple of years because I think your experience with Hailo is something that a lot of people who are coming into Japan now can learn a lot from. Thanks for sitting down with us.

Ryo: Thanks for inviting me to speak.

Tim: Hailo is very popular in Europe and it made a good run in Japan, but I think a lot of people in the U.S. aren’t familiar with it. So can you just give a brief overview of what it does?

Ryo: Okay, sure. Hailo is a British company started up in 2012. It’s a smartphone hailing app. So we basically connect drivers and users who want to ride a taxi through the app and we also help drivers basically raise revenue by utilizing ...

Cerevo wants to be a “global niche” player.

That makes sense for this Internet of Things company. The IoT has become so pervasive and so successful that the terms ha become almost meaningless. Today we simply except and accept that almost everything should naturally be connected to the internet.

Of course, it wasn’t always that way, and today Takuma Iwasa, founder and CEO of Cerevo tells us of how he started his career at one of Japan’s big consumer electronics companies trying to force the internet into devices where it really didn’t belong. And how that experience forced him to find a better way and to found his own company.

Takuma also explains Cerevo’s innovative business model. In fact, the company is structured less like a hardware manufacturer and more like a hardware startup accelerator. He and Cerevo are aiming for a series of niche-market successes which will be acquired by large mass-market firms. And his strategy seems to be working.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you will really enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why Japan's first "smart devices" failed
The foundations of the "global-niche" IoT strategy
Why startups should build rather than license
How to get media attention for cool, new IoT devices
How IoT startups really should be using crowdfunding
Will Japan ever regain the lead in robotics?
Why Japanese companies were afraid of the Roomba

Links from the Founder

Learn more about Cerevo at their home page

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 67.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

The internet of things is unstoppable. It’s so broadly defined these days, connectivity is cheap, and they can be added to just about anything. Of course, whether it should be added or not is another matter entirely. That question is near and dear the heart of Takuma, founder and CEO of Cerevo, one of the most innovative and connected device makers in Japan. Takuma started his career at Panasonic and he had high hopes of creating all manner of consumer devices that could take advantage of internet connectivity.

What he found, however, was that his job consisted mostly of finding ways of trying to force internet connectivity into existing products. Genuinely new products and innovations were being dismissed out of hand. Well, Takuma did what everyone should do, but very few people actually do in that situation, he quit his job, took some of the best engineers with him, and he started his own company.

Now, there are a lot of gadgets and IOT devices being built in Japan, but Cerevo has a genuinely interesting and methodological approach to it. During the interview, you’ll hear Takuma try to downplay that strategy as just gut instinct, but as you listen, you’ll understand the very rational method of what, from the outside, might look like madness. We’ll talk about plenty of cool devices, but I think you’ll find the strategy that underlines Cerevo’s success to be at least as interesting. But, you know, Takuma tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview.

[Interview]

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Tim: So I’m hitting here with Takuma Iwasa of Cerevo. Now, Cerevo, I’m tempted to call it a gadget company, but that’s not really fair because you guys do a lot more than just make little gadgets. So can you tell us a little bit about what Cerevo does?

Takuma: Okay, so my company’s name is Cerevo and we say Cerevo is a consumer electronics start up company, not gadget, right. We are really focusing to the connected consumer electronics devices—connected robot, or connected camera, or connected, of course, gadgets. Sometimes we try connected toys, connected sports equipment.

Stripe’s Japan market entry did not go according to plan.

Things worked out worked out well in the end, but they did not go according to plan. Stripe is one of the world’s largest payment processing companies, but they remained flexible and agile enough to take advantage of some of the surprises they faced in Japan.

Today we sit down with Daniel Heffernan, the Japan head of Stripe, and he walks us through what happens when a technically sophisticated and streamlined FinTech company comes face-to-face with the very low-tech and slow-moving processes that make up FinTech in Japan, and how they made it all work.

They faced complex, lengthy technical specifications delivered in three-ring binders and un-copyable, printed documents, and they dealt with the Japanese aversion to integrating directly with banks and financial institutions. They even planned to support some of Japan’s more unique payment methods until surprises during development made them change course.

Stripe’s entry into the Japanese market is both an essential case study for any FinTech company considering coming into Japan and an entertaining story for those of us with an interest in business in Japan.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

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Links & Resources

Check out Daniel's blog
Follow him on twitter @danielshi
Find out more about Stripe

Transcript
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from the CEOs breaking into Japan’s. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Stripe is one of the largest credit card payment processing companies in the world and their Japan market entry did not go according to plan. It went well, mind you, but it just did not go according to plan. Stripe was agile enough to take the changes and surprises in stride.

Today, we sit down with Daniel Heffernan, the Japan head of Stripe, and he walks us through the process where one of the most technically sophisticated and streamlined fintech companies in the world came face-to-face with a very low tech and manual nature of fintech in Japan, and he explains how they made it all work. From detailed, extensive technical specifications that were delivered as uncopiable, printed documents in three-ring binders, to the Japanese aversion to interacting directly with banks and financial institutions, to trying to support some of Japan’s more unique payments, and some of the surprised they discovered once they began work. Stripe’s entry into the Japanese market is both an essential case study, for any fintech company looking at Japan, and an entertaining story for those of us with an interest in business in Japan.

But you know, Daniel tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from out sponsor and get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: I’m sitting here with Daniel Heffernan of Stripe and we’re going to talk about Stripe’s market entry into Japan. And you guys have just officially launched officially but let’s back it up and talk about when you first came in. What was Stripe’s main motivation of coming into Japan in the first place?

Daniel: Well, when we started looking at Japan, we looked at it kind of like we do every other market that we considered. There are a few things we look at when we’re trying to decide whether to go into a market. One of them is the size of the e-commerce economy. Japan is pretty big. Last year it was about $130 billion, which is significant. That’s actually number 4 in the world. So you have China and U.S., are giants at the top, then it’s kind of a big jump down, and you have the U.K., and Japan is actually just behind the U.K. If you think about it from a population point of view, it’s really weird because the population of U.K. is like half of Japan.

Tim: Yeah, I find that surprising from both a population and an economy point of vi...

Startup M&A is changing in Japan. In August, Naoki Yamada sold his startup Conyac to Rozetta for $14 million.

It was an unusual journey of alternating cycles of rapid growth and near bankruptcy, and today Naoki explains how he managed to make the deal happen and also how M&A is changing in Japan, and it seems that change might come much sooner than anyone had been expecting.

Naoki talks very openly about some of the mistakes he made and give solid advice on how you can avoid making the same ones. And of course, he explains how he handled the negotiations for the acquisition, and why he decided the exit now rather than continue to grow the company.

It’s a great story, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

How two quick pivots saved Naoki's company
The risks for startups hiring (and firing) too quickly
The temptation and danger of focusing on investors at the expense of the team
Why M&A made more sense than another round of fundraising
What Japanese acquiring companies are most worried and most excited about
The struggles of post-M&A integration
Advice for large companies who want to acquire startups

Links from the Founder

Learn more about Conyac at their home page
Rozetta's Home page
Read Naoki’s thoughts on Nakoki’s personal blog 
Follow him on Twitter @naokey
Friend him on Facebook

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Transcript from Japan
 

Disrupting Japan, episode 65.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Today, Naoki Yamada, founder of Conyac, joins us for a second time. Long-term listeners may remember that he first came on the show a little over 2 years ago and he’s been very busy since then. In August, 2016, Naoki sold his company to Rozeta for about 12 million dollars. But that deal almost didn’t happen and today Naoki joins us again to tell us the story of massive growth, followed by near bankruptcy, followed by massive growth, followed by near bankruptcy, followed by recovery, followed by M&A. So you already know the ending but it’s the story that’s important. Naoki talks very openly about some of the mistakes he made and gives solid advice on how you can avoid making the same ones.

And of course, he explains how he handled the negotiations of the acquisition and why he decided to exit now, rather than continue to grow the company. But, you know, Naoki tells that story much better than I do, so let’s hear form our sponsor and then get right to the interview.
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Tim: Cheers. It’s great to see you again. I’m sitting here with Naoki Yamada and we’re going to talk about Conyac. And it’s an exciting story of starting up and growing, and almost going bankrupt, and growing, and almost going bankrupt again, and having a happy ending. So thanks for sitting down with us.

Naoki: Thank you.

Tim: So let’s back up a bit—let’s back up a lot. Tell us about what Conyac is.

Naoki: When was the last time we talked?

Tim: A little over two years ago.

Naoki: Okay. It’s been a while and we’ve changed a lot. We started Conyac as a social translation and we slightly changed our service from customer service to business service in 2013.

Tim: So let’s start from the beginning. In 2009, you started it. What is consumer translation? Was it like peer-to-peer translation?

Naoki: It was more like a community-based translation service. At that time, there were only two options for the translations. One is traditional translation entities and the other one is Google. We wanted to make our service in between those two options, so we asked people who could do the translations outside of the community. We added many translators in our platform and we did translation through those people.

Tim: So was it just very small batch translations of 1...

Expedia had a hard road to travel when they decided to come into Japan. The Japanese market turned out to be nothing like they had ever experienced before. Not only were consumer attitudes and behaviors towards travel booking completely different than it was in their home market, but they were up against some very powerful and well entrenched companies, including both online giants Rakuten and Yahoo and traditional powerhouses like JTB.

Today Hidemaru Sato, or “Maru" as his friends call him, will explain to us how Expedia managed to overcome the odds on a ridiculously tight deadline and how a few tweaks to the core product turned out to be key to their success.

Maru also shares some great advice for both western companies looking to hire a Japan country manager and for people who are Japan country managers and want to do their jobs more effectively.

It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

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Friend Maru on Facebook
Connect with him on LinkedIn
Maru's advice on successful market entry
Maru's advice on how to hire a country manager

Partial Transcript
Disrupting Japan, episode 64.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from the CEOs breaking into Japan. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Travel giant Expedia has their work cut out for them coming into the Japanese market. Not only was the online travel game played very differently in Japan, but they were up against some very strong, very entrenched competition in Japan, both from the major online players like Rakuten Travel and Yahoo Travel, and from traditional players like JTB as well.

Today we sit with down with Hidemaru Sato, or Maru, as his friends call him, and he explains how he had to change both Expedia’s marketing message and he product itself to make it attractive to Japanese consumers. In both cases, you’ll see why less is actually sometimes more. Maru also provides framework for both western companies looking to higher a Japanese country manager and for people who are Japanese country managers and want to do their jobs more effectively. Once you get to know Maru, you won’t be surprised to see that he has a very personality-driven approach on both counts. But you know, Maru can explain that much better than I can, so let’s hear from our sponsor and then get right to our interview.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id="1411" info_text="Sponsored by" font_color="grey" ]

[Interview]

Tim: So, we’re sitting down with Maru Sato, and you’ve brought a number of companies into Japan, but today we’re going to talk about Expedia. It was a while ago but let’s go back to when Expedia was first thinking of coming into Japan. What did they see that was important about the Japanese market? Why did they want to be here?

Maru: Okay, I think back to maybe the early 2000s, and basically it’s kind of the boom. It’s a lot of successful U.S. companies who enter the Japan market because Japan was still strong.

Tim: Well, it still is. The Japan market is still pretty big.

Maru: Then also, the Japanese market is something like new IT technology or internet-related business just starting. The first company I just helped come into Japan market is America Online, AOL. This is 1999, so this is when AOL was the world’s biggest internet service at that time. So they expand to Europe first, U.K., Germany, France, and also the Asia Pacific.

Tim: In both AOL’s case and Expedia’s case, it was just part of the natural global expansion.

Maru: And then U.S. companies, or global companies, they expect the Japanese market is big. So now it’s the same thing. Basically the Japanese market is big but usually they do not understand the cultural difference, and also business difference, and also user difference. So a lot of our conflict—

Tim: I want to talk about that a lot. Before we get to that, though, how did Expedia pick you?

This is a rather personal episode. We have no guests this time.

It’s just you and me.

From the outside, it looks like Airbnb is crushing it in Japan. Listings and rentals are both increasing at an unbelievable rate, and Japan is loosening her room-sharing (or minpaku) laws. The future looks bright for Airbnb here, but behind the scenes a resistance is secretly growing.
You see, Airbnb has a real problem in Japan. At first glance many of the issues look familiar. They seem to be the same kinds of challenges Airbnb is facing all over the world, but things are different in Japan, and today we're going to take a look at how important these differences can be. 
It's worth noting that so far, Airbnb has not taken steps to address their Japan problem, or even publicly acknowledged that it exists. But it's a situation they will be forced to deal with over the next 18 months, and it's something that we can learn a lot from.

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan Episode 63
Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for listening.
Once again, I’ve got a special show for you today. There will be no guests, no beer, no playful banter with someone speaking English as a second language. Today it’s just you and me. For the next 20 minutes I’ll be whispering in your ear about something I consider very important, but that not enough people are talking about.
Airbnb has a serious problem in Japan. They may or may not have recognized it yet, but there has been something massing behind the scenes, getting stronger and stronger. And it’s something that will become very visible over the next 18 months.
Now, to the casual observer, and lets face it, most journalists and bloggers are casual observers. To the causal observer, it seems ridiculous to even claim that Airbnb has a problem in Japan. In fact, if you rely on what’s written in the English-language press, any rational person would conclude that Airbnb is crushing it in Japan.
Let's look at the facts. Japan is Airbnb’s second largest and their fastest growing market. In fact, listings are up over 500% from last year. Furthermore, Airbnb are way out in front of their local competition. They have far more listings, and using publicly available data, it looks like Airbnb’s Japan site is getting more than 15x more traffic as the most popular local competitor. 
In fact, I’ve had several different investors speculate that the Japanese companies providing cleaning services to Airbnb hosts are probably making more money than the Japanese companies competing with Airbnb.
And yet, Airbnb is dancing through a minefield in Japan. Whether they are doing it blindfolded or with their eyes wide open, well that’s anyone’s guess. But if you read Japanese and you care about such things you can see that there are powerful forces lining up against Airbnb in Japan, and next year we are going to see the start of a real public backlash.
Now, I know what you are saying. This is nothing unique to Japan. Airbnb is fighting this backlash all over the world. I mean New York and Berlin just passed strong anti-Airbnb legislation, and Airbnb’s lawyers are suing and pushing back hard. San Francisco recently added new restrictions to Airbnb rentals and Airbnb is suing the city, of course.
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Airbnb is used to handing that kind of backlash and legal challenges. They are good at it. It’s in their DNA. No, what is happening in Japan is different. It’s quieter. More secret, and in some ways far more dangerous than the challenges they’ve faced in other markets.
But i’m getting a bit ahead of my story. We will get to all of that. First let me set the stage and explain what is actually playing out on the ground here in Japan.
So lets walk though what is happening around Airbnb in Japan and ...

GitHub entered the Japanese market under enviable conditions. They already had a strong corporate user base, solid brand awareness and product evangelists throughout Japan. They did not so much push their way into the Japanese market, so much as they were pulled into it.

Even under the best conditions, however, Japan market entry is not easy and Derek Sorkin explains some of the challenges they faced with their distribution plans and the original go-to-market strategies. Managing to salvage a great ongoing relationship from what could have been a very ugly incident.

Derek also explains why even in this age of Skype and go-to-meeting it’s absolutely essential to spend the time and money on airfare in managing international offices and to maintain trust and credibility.

It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it.

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Links & Resources

The GitHub homepage
Connect with Derek on GitHub @dsorkin
Follow him on twitter @thesorkin
Connect with him on LinkedIn

Partial Transcript
 

Disrupting Japan, episode 62.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan - straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

GitHub entered the Japanese market under enviable conditions. They already had a strong corporate user base, solid brand awareness, and product evangelists throughout Japan. They did not so much push their way into the Japanese market so much as they were pulled into it. Even under the best conditions, however, Japan market entry is not easy, and Derek Sorkin explains some of the challenges they faced with their distribution plans and their original go-to-market strategies. And how they managed to salvage a great ongoing relationship from what could have been a very ugly incident.

Derek also explains, even in this age of Skype and GoToMeeting, it’s absolutely essential to spend the time and money in airfare in managing international offices and to maintain trust and credibility. But Derek explains all of that much better than I can, so let’s hear from our sponsor and then get right to the interview.

 

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[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Derek Sorkin, the Asia Pacific for GitHub, who spearheaded GitHub’s entry into Japan and that’s what we’re going to talk about today, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Derek: No problem, Tim. Good to talk to you again.

Tim: Excellent. So listen, you guys have been here a while and you’re doing really well. Let’s step it back a couple of years. What did GitHub see in Japan? What was the motivation for coming here?

Derek: We had quite an interesting background with Japan. Our co-founders had been coming here for some time for different conferences; working with companies like Digital Garage back in the day, talking to them; and open source has always had a strong foothold in Japan, things like many of the contributors to the Ruby Project, which GitHub is obviously built on to a certain extent. In Japan and Japanese.

Tim: Ruby is from Japan.

Derek: Right. So we always had a good core base of those Ruby developers that were interested in open source, that were using GitHub since very early days of GitHub, back in 2009 and 2010. So when we started in the B2B space and working with enterprises—and I think we’ll get into this a little more later, around how decisions are made in Japan—but that really helped us here. There were lots of the forward thinking internet companies. I say “internet companies” broadly, but internet gaming companies like that, that immediately took a hold with organizations on GitHub.com

Tim: Okay, so even before you guys were here, you had brand awareness and you had users here in Japan. That’s a huge leg up in the market.

Derek: Yeah. It makes it very interesting, especially at that time,

You don’t usually think of Japan’s geisha as being an industry, but it is. In fact, strictly speaking, it’s a cartel. A cartel that is now being disrupted by internet-based booking agencies and low-cost substitutes. It seems that even geisha are not immune to internet-based disintermediation.

In this special interview Sayuki, Japan’s only geisha that holds an MBA, explains the business model behind geisha. We talk about the way things used to be, the current threats that have many geisha concerned that the traditional art form and the lifestyle will not survive, and how some geisha houses are trying to adapt.

This is a rare, behind the scenes look at the business of being a geisha and a chance to see how Japan’s geisha might survive and even thrive in the coming digital age.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

How Sayuki broke 100 years of tradition to become a geisha
How geisha are being challenged by both the entertainment and tourism industries
Changing geisha from a private art to a public one
Why geisha might not survive the modern era of tourism
The geisha cartel is being challenged, any why that's not good for anyone
The challenge modern geisha face on social media
The changes in training for the next generation of Japan's geisha

Links from the Founder

Sayuki's home page 
Follow her on twitter @sayukiofasakusa
Become her patron on Patreon
Follow her on Facebook
Book a geisha experience

Geisha Banquet in Tokyo
Private Custom Shopping Tour with a Geisha
Private Lunch with Sayuki
Kimono Shopping
Tokyo Tour

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 61.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.

I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Today I’ve got something really special for you. We are going to talk about the kind of business that you’ve probably never heard any details about. Today we’re going to sit down and interview Sayuki, a Geisha. And since this is Disrupting Japan, we’ll be talking about the business side of being a Geisha. We’ll look at the Geisha business model and examine how it’s being disrupted by modern technology. And believe me, it really is.

Now, listeners outside Japan might not understand how special this opportunity is. Traditionally, Geisha are not really supposed to talk about their business. Geisha create the illusion of comfort, beauty, and elegance, that is unsoiled by such base things as money. But make no mistake about it; it’s an illusion. Geisha is a very serious business and Sayuki, who also has an MBA from Oxford, has agreed to sit down and walk us through it.

In fact, from a business point of view, Geisha are an established cartel that are being disrupted by new technology, the internet, and tourism websites in particular, and by low-cost substitutes. And there’s a very good chance that Geisha will not survive in their traditional form. In fact, many Geisha houses are proactively trying to adapt to this new market environment. But Sayuki tells this story much better than I do, so let’s hear from our sponsor and then get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So today we’re sitting down with Sayuki, who is a bonafide Geisha here in Japan and we’re going to talk about the business of being a Geisha, so thanks so much for sitting down with me today.

Sayuki: Thank you.

Tim: First and foremost, a lot of our audience is either in Japan or knows a lot about Japan, but a lot of people don’t, so before I get started for the business can you clear up exactly what a Geisha is, what they do now, what they used to do?

Sayuki: A Geisha means arts person, literally. So Geisha are traditional dancers or musicians,

FinTech is one of the hottest startup sectors right now, but if you've been in the industry for a while, you know that FinTech is always one of the hottest startup sectors. And yet FinTech companies seem strangely local. Very few succeed outside their home markets. A complex web of regulations and local sensibilities almost always results in these firms struggling in overseas markets.

PayPal wanted to make sure that did not happen to them in Japan.

In this podcast, Jonathan Epstein explains how he brought PayPal into Japan. He talks in detail about how he got the Japanese regulators to sign-off on PayPal's innovative products, and also how he and his team had to throw out the US playbook and cooperate with other overseas divisions to build new retail and online markets from scratch here in Japan.

Jonathan and I also talk about the exacting demands of Japanese consumers, and how those sensibilities convinced him to decide to start a project that drastically increased short-term costs, but might have saved the business in the long run.

It's a fascinating discussion, and I think you'll enjoy it.

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Partial Transcript
If you read the news, you know that Fintech is one of the hottest start-up sectors right now and if you’ve got a long memory, you’ll also know that Fintech is always one of the hottest start-up sectors. Yet, Fintech companies seem to be strangely local. Very few succeed outside of their home markets. A complex web of regulations and local market sensibilities almost always ensures their failure.

PayPal wanted to make sure that did not happen to them in Japan and today, Jonathan Epstein explains how he brought PayPal into Japan. He explains not only how he got the Japanese regulators to sign off on PayPal, but how he and his team had to throw out the U.S. playbook and build a new retail and online market from scratch in Japan. Jonathan also explains how the exacting demands of Japanese consumers forced him and PayPal to make a decision that dramatically increased costs in the short run, but saved the business in the long run. But Jonathan tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

If you’re a start-up thinking about Japan, you’ll never really understand the opportunities here until you start to take a serious look at what’s happening outside of Tokyo. Osaka in particular deserves your attention and this is especially true if you and your team are involved in smart cities’ technologies. Now Hankyu’s GVH#5 project is Osaka’s start-up central and it’s a great place for you to get started. They offer co-working space, bilingual business support, venture investment, and they’re at the center of a great international start-up and community. Now Hankyu’s GHV#5 in Osaka really deserves your attention, so pay them a visit at www.GVH-5.com/EN. You’ll be glad you did.

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[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Jonathan Epstein, who led PayPal’s market entry into Japan. And you’ve done a lot since then but today we’re going to talk about PayPal and how all that came together. So thanks for sitting down with us.

Jonathan: Thanks for having me.

Tim: Delighted. Well, let’s get right into it. When PayPal was looking at the Japanese market, what was headquarters’ main motivation for coming into Japan? What did they see here?

Jonathan: PayPal has actually been in Japan for several years and what they wanted to do was to expand their presence dramatically. Basically, the entire focus of their mission in Japan has just been on their existing internet based business. And that’s been driven by a lot of natural—people signing up for PayPal because they want to buy something at a shop that offers PayPal, they learn about it. Originally it’s been driven a lot by foreigners who came to Japan,

Spacee has staked out an interesting position in the sharing economy. Spacee enables companies and individuals to rent out unused meeting room space to people who need to hold a meeting. It's an interesting take on applying a sharing economy model to business.

I’m generally very skeptical of startups who define themselves as “Uber for X” or “Airbnb for Y”, particularly in the B2B space, but Spaceee has already been in business for several years in Japan, and they are seeing strong traction and increasing revenues. They might really be onto something.

Taku has some fascinating insights on why Japan, and Tokyo in particular, might be far more fertile ground for sharing economy startups than almost any other place in the world.

It’s a great discussion and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why the basic business case makes sense
How large the meeting space market can grow
The challenge of expanding outside of Tokyo
Why Spacee turned down venture financing to bootstrap for three years
Whats wrong with the current fundraising environment in Japan
Which other companies are coming into the meeting room rental space
Why Japan is uniquely suited for the sharing economy

Links from the Founder

Learn about Spacee
Follow them on twitter @spaceejp
Friend them on Facebook
An interview with Spacee CEO on fundraising

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 59.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan - straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

You know, the world is full of start-ups that define themselves as “the Uber of X” or the “Airbnb for Y.” Frankly, most of those business models don’t really make sense when you dig into them. Spacee, however, might just be onto something. Spacee rents out unused space around Tokyo to salesman, co-workers, or people who just need a quiet place to conduct a little business. As Takuya Umeda explains in the interview, it’s not just meeting rooms that are being rented out.

The sharing economy is relatively new in Japan and Takuya and I talk not only about some of the problems its facing here, but why, in the long-run, Japan might be better suited for sharing economy companies than anywhere else in the world. He also explains why Spacee decided to delay taking outside investment for almost three years while they built their business and how that turned into an advantage later on.

But you know, he tells the story much better than I can, so let’s hear from our sponsor and then get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Takuya Umeda, co-founder of Spacee. Thanks for sitting down with me.

Taku: Thank you, Tim.

Tim: Spacee is kind of like Airbnb for meeting spaces, but that’s a really overly broad description, so why don’t you tell us a bit of how it works.

Taku: Spacee is really like the Airbnb of business. In Japan, wherever you have a meeting, if you have an outside meeting, the only place you go is like Starbucks or a café.

Tim: Right. Everyone meets in coffee shops.

Taku: If there is a professional conference room, it costs really expensive. It’s probably like 5,000 yen per room, per hour. And at that price you can’t really do much, like brainstorming and start up some business plan. Stuff like that you can’t really do. And a café is not really good at it too. So we found that there is a gap between an expensive conference room and a Starbucks, so we fit into the gap.

Tim: So something a little more formal and private than a coffee shop, but not quite as formal as a hotel meeting room or a service office. So tell me about your customers. Who is it that’s renting out these spaces and why are they doing it?

Taku: You know, there is a lot of salespeople around and they stay l...

Today is the first episode off our new expanded format. From today, we’ll be covering both disruptive Japanese startups and detailed market entry case studies of global companies that are disrupting Japan from the outside.

Oracle first came into Japan more than 25 years ago, but the challenges they faced and overcame then are exactly the same ones firms are facing today in executing their Japan market entry.

Allen explains why Oracle needed a unique sales and marketing strategy for Japan, and how he managed to get buy-in from headquarters — even though Oracle already had a sales and marketing program that had proven fantastically successful in other markets.

We also talk about how Oracle managed to negotiate a amicable exit out from their exclusive distribution agreements not just once, but twice. That’s an amazing accomplishment considering that many foreign companies have destroyed their Japanese business the first time they attempt it.

But Allen, tells the story much better than I do. I think you’ll enjoy the interview. I know I did.

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Partial Transcript
Disrupting Japan, episode 58.

I’ve got some big news for you today. Disrupting Japan is going to be twice as big, twice as informative, and twice as frequent. From today on, we’ll be sending out new episodes every single week. To do this, we’re going to be expanding the format. Half of our interviews will be with start-up founders, just like before, and half of our interviews will be with people who are disrupting Japan by bringing foreign companies, technologies, and innovation into Japan.

This really makes a lot of sense because as fans of Japanese history know, foreign pressure has always been a powerful agent of change in Japan. I think you’ll find these additional episodes very interesting. And to kick things off today, we’ll get a chance to sit down and talk with my good friend Allen Miner about the challenges Oracle faced, and overcame, when breaking into Japan.

I’ll warn you in advance that this episode is longer than most, and believe me, I cut things to the bone. But there is just too much great information about how to overcome both the personal and professional challenges that foreign companies face here. I felt like I would be cheating you if I edited out any more. In fact, Allen explains how Oracle successfully maneuvered out of an exclusive distribution agreement, not only once, but two separate times. This is something that has sunk more than one foreign company here. But Allen tells the story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

 

Tim: So I’m sitting down here with Allen Miner and Allen, you’ve been involved with the market entry of a lot of companies into Japan. But today I want to focus on the one that you led personally, which was Oracle Japan. So let’s back up. What was attractive about the Japanese market? What made Oracle decide that they needed to be in this country?

Allen: Actually, that happened a few years before I joined Oracle. In, I believe it was 1982, Oracle was about a $5 million a year company worldwide, 5 years old as a company, and just released their first commercial version of the Oracle database software. There was quite a bit of press about, “How interesting is this relation to technology? It doesn’t require traditional programming to do data manipulation.” And the U.S. press got read by some technical geeks in Europe. And one in particular in Japan said, “This sounds really interesting. We ought to figure out if we can bring this cool new technology to Japan.”

Tim: So it was a partner company pulling you in?

Allen: Yeah, it was a company called Digital Computers Limited, that at the time was building DEC VAX clones. Because Oracle originally was released on the DEC VAX computer platform,

Material Wrld has found a way to innovate in online fashion commerce, and that’s no easy task. It’s a crowded market, with tight margins. Rie Yano and her team, however, have found success by going against common wisdom. While their competitors were focused on building platforms and reducing the amount of work required by their staff, Material Wrld went the other way. They began to take on inventory risk and doing some of the most labor intensive parts of the process in house.

This is the kind of move that looks foolish on the spreadsheets, but it turned out to be instrumental in enabling Material Wrld to maintain quality, develop lasting relationships with their customers and ultimately control their own brand.

It’s an amazing, and somewhat surprising story, and it’s best if you hear it directly from Rie herself.

Show Notes for Startups

Why people feel guilty throwing out clothes
How a credit card provides a physical anchor for an online brand
Why traditional recycle shops need to change
The need for cross-brand data in fashion commerce
How Material Wrld handles inventory risk, and why?
What kinds of pieces are easiest to sell online.
Why doing things that don't scale pays off when building a brand

 

Links from the Founder

Learn about Material Wrld
Check our Rie's articles on Medium
Follow her on twitter @rieglobe
Friend her on Facebook

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 58.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan - straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

It’s hard to innovate in online commerce today. It seems like everything has been tried before and now we’re just looking at variations on a theme. At first glance, Material Wrld seems like just another online fashion marketplace but that first glance is deceiving. There is something very interesting going on here, but before I tell you what that is, I want you to meet someone.

Online marketplaces are usually designed to be low-risk, low-capital organizations that focus on marketing building a technology platform with the buyers and sellers doing as much of the work as possible. Rie Yano, the founder of Material Wrld, however, ended up taking a very different approach. By taking on inventory risk and shifting non-scalable labor requirements onto her own team, they were able to build and scale a unique fashion commerce brand, where so many before have failed. Her reasoning may surprise you a bit, but you know, she tells the story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Rie Yano of Material Wrld and thanks for sitting down with me.

Rie: Thank you, Tim, for inviting me.

Tim: Great to have you here. So, Material Wrld is a fashion trade-in service and, well, rather than have me explain it, why don’t you explain a bit about what material world is and how it works.

Rie: Sure thing. Material Wrld is based in New York. We are a service that helps women easily refresh their closets. Often times, we find ourselves waking up, looking into a closet and feeling a sense of guilt or frustration in that what’s in your closet may not be what you want to wear or how you feel that day. We created Material Wrld so that you can constantly evolve your wardrobe. One day you might be feeling like you want to be a powerful woman. Another day, you might feel like you want to dress with some beautiful, emotional colors. Making sure that our service can enable that idea or feeling that you have by making the refresh very simple.

Tim: So, usually that’s done by just buying more clothes but Material Wrld has a little bit of a different approach. What are the mechanics? How does it work?

Rie: Sure. Everyone thinks about shopping for new clothing when ...

The aerospace industry has been particularly resistant to disrupting in Japan. In the rest of the world, launch vehicle and spacecraft technology has made incredible gains over the past decade, but here in Japan its still mostly the same government contracts going to the same major contractors.

Naomi Kurahara of InfoStellar, has come up with an innovative way to leverage existing aerospace infrastructure and to collaborate globally by renting out unused satellite ground-sataion time, Airbnb style.

You see when an organization launches a satellite, they also build a ground station to communicate with it. The problem is, that as the satellite obits the Earthy, it’s only in communication range of the ground station for less than an hour a day. The rest of the time the ground station just sits there.

By renting out that unused time ground-station operators earn extra income, and the satellite operators are able to communicate with their satellites as often as they need.

It’s a great interview and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

Why the Airbnb for satellites startup model makes sense
The demand-side problem
Why this market is much larger than it seems today
The key growth drivers in the satellite market
Why the Japanese aerospace industry can't innovate
How to run a startup as an expectant mother
What challenges women scientists still face in Japan
How Japan could better support working moms

Links from the Founder

Learn about InfoStellar

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Transcript from Japan
Disrupting Japan, episode 56.

Welcome to Disrupting Japan - straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Aerospace in Japan is particularly resistant to disruption. Over the past decade, the rest of the world has seen incredible gains in both launch vehicles and spacecrafts. But Japan has been moving slowly. Sometimes it seems as if she’s determined to stay the course with the same government contracts going to much the same corporate heavyweights year after year.

Naomi Kurahara of InfoStellar once had plans of changing the Japanese aerospace industry. But along the way she went out on her own with a plan that bypassed Japan’s major players and targeted the global market. You see, when an organization launches a satellite, they usually also build an antenna and a ground station to communicate with that satellite. The problem is that as the satellite orbits the Earth, it’s only communications range with the ground station for less than an hour a day. The rest of the time the ground station just sits there.

So, Naomi decided to pool all of the unused ground station time together and rent it out to satellite operators, Airbnb style. Everybody wins by sharing resources. The ground station operators get income by renting out their facilities and the satellite operators get to communicate with their satellites far more often.

But Naomi explains it better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

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[Interview]

Tim: Cheers! I’m sitting here with Naomi Kurahara, the CEO and fearless founder of InfoStellar, so thanks for sitting down with me.

Naomi: Thank you for inviting me.

Tim: Now, InfoStellar is basically time-sharing for satellite ground station, or Airbnb for satellites, but it’s a complex idea so why don’t you explain a little bit about what InfoStellar does.

Naomi: Okay, the reason I started this business is the aerospace space has an issue for cost. Like satellite is expensive, and rocket is expensive, and ground station is expensive because, maybe, not many people are using.

Tim: Well, aerospace is incredibly expensive but actually I think before we get into InfoStellar’s business model, I think it’s going to be best if you explain what ground stations are and how th...

Disrupting Japan is two years old and ready to party.  To celebrate, we gathered the leaders of Tokyo's venture capital community together in front of a live audience of made up of the thought leaders of Japan's startup community. We all had a few drinks and talked about fundraising in Japan, the future of venture capital here, and how startups can best get in touch with and impress VCs.

Our panel included some of the top VC investors in Japan, which naturally led to an amazing discussion.

Shinji Asada (@asada23) - Japan Head, Salesforce Ventures
Hiro Maeda (@djtokyo) - Partner at BEENEXT
James Riney (@james_riney ) - Head of 500 Startups Japan

We discuss the challenges or fundraising in Japan, growing a Japanese company as a foreigner, what Japanese VCs can learn from their foreign counterparts, and what kind of of pitch mistakes will ruin your funding chances.

On a personal note, it's hard to believe that two years have gone by already. Disrupting Japan has grown larger, faster, and with a more engaged and passionate community than I ever imagined it could.

Today, thousands of people from all over the world listen to each episode, and we are featured regularly in English-language and Japanese-language news and podcasts from all over the world.

And to keep things fresh, I have some big surprises coming up in the next few months, so stay tuned.

I want to offer a sincere thank you to everyone who has pitched in to help make Disrupting Japan a success. There is no way I could have built this by myself.  I'm lucky. I have great subject matter to work with. Japanese startups and Japanese startup founders are far more innovative and far more interesting than most in the West give them credit for. I look forward to continuing to bring you their stories.

Thanks for listening!

 

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Transcript from Japan
Welcome to Disrupting Japan - straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for coming out tonight. You guys are awesome.

All right, to our listeners at home, or wherever you might be in podcast land, we’ve got a special show for you tonight. We are broadcasting live from Super Deluxe in Roppongi with the most creative and dynamic group of people in the world, which is Tokyo’s start-up community. All right, and we’ve got an astounding panel discussion for you, and before we get to that and our kampai, I’ve got to call out three members of the start-up community who really helped put this together. There is absolutely no way I could have done it without them. They are start-ups themselves and you should know a little bit about them.

So, first is Justa.io and I think Elena is here from Justa. Where are you Elena? Everyone wave at Elena. So, Justa is Japan’s, really, best start-up job board. If you’re an engineer or a programmer looking to work at a start-up, or if you’re a start-up looking to hire engineers or programmers, you want to talk to Elena. Second, I want to introduce Creww, with two W’s. And what Creww, with two W’s, does, is they run open innovation programs for Toyota, and Panasonic, and JTV. And these big companies really want to work with start-ups, but they’re bad at it. So that’s where Creww comes in to help out. They also have a start-up kit, which is a bundle of goodies from IBM and Microsoft and a bunch of big companies, that they give away for free. And Kozue is here from Creww. Kozue, where isKozue? Way in the back over there. Now,Kozue will pretend she doesn’t speak English but her English is really good so don’t be shy. And last, and certainly not least, is Digital Hub. You will see these guys running around with cameras and microphones, documenting this event for all posterity. And you want to talk to Steve, who is over there. So, these guys also do great commercial work. You can see it on the website or you can see it right now. They’re going to be producing this,

Ten years ago, everyone know that e-commence would drive most retail stores, especially specially stores out of business, and with the Amazon juggernaut plowing ahead, there were very few dissenters.

But something very interesting is going on right now. Many e-commerce companies are opening physical stores. Even Amazon, going against all economies of scale, is opening up brick and mortar bookstores in expensive locations with full-time staff. And there a good reason for this trend.

There is something very reassuring about holding a product in your own hands. And it’s something that can’t really be replaced with high- resolution photos and customer reviews.

Tomohiro Hagiwara of Aquabit Spirals has committed both his company and a large part of his adult life to bridging this gap between the physical and the digital world and is helping online retailers jump into the physical world.

Of course, Aquabit Spirals’ technology does much more than this, and Tomo tells an interesting story of how it took his company more than six years of work before they closed their first deal and became an overnight success.

It’s an fascinating discussion and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Show Notes for Startups

What is SmartPlate, and why is it important?
Why e-commerce offline needs to come offline
How to close global deals as a small startup
The difference between going global and being global
Why Tomo abandoned his first business to follow his dream
The value of accelerators in Japan
Why founders can't work at big companies

Links from the Founder

Learn about SmartPlate
Follow Tomo on twitter @hagi_w
Friend him on Facebook
SmartPlate pitch-deck
SmartPlate explainer video
Coverage on VentureBeat

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Transcript from Japan
 

Disrupting Japan - Episode 54

Welcome to Disrupting Japan - straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening.

Ten years ago, it was a common knowledge that e-commerce would drive most retail shops especially small specialty shops out of business. With the Amazon juggling up, moving it full speed, there's no reason to really doubt that opinion. But something very interesting is going on right now, many e-commerce companies are opening physical stores at expensive locations with actual products and full-time staff. Even Amazon is opening up Brick and Morter bookstores across the United States

The truth is, there's something reassuring about holding a product in your own hands. It's something that can't really be replaced by high-res photos and online reviews. Tomo Hiro Hagiwara of Aquabit Spirals has committed his company, in fact, committed a large part of his adult life to bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds. But before I'll introduce you to Tomo, let me introduce you to someone else.

Now, Tomo once had a thriving, profitable app development business that employed over 30 people, but he was committed enough to his vision of connecting the physical and digital that he turned down work and laid off most of his staff so he could focus on it. After working on it in obscurity for 6 years, he's now becoming an overnight success. But, Tomo tells the story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview.

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Tomo:          Okay, cheers!

Tim:            Thank you.

Tomo:         Thank you. I'm very glad to see that you're here

Tim:                     I'm sitting here with Tomo Hagiwara, CEO of Aquabit Spirals, and thanks for sitting down with me.

Tomo:                  Yes, thank you. Nice to meet you here, and I'm very glad to meet you today.

Tim:                     Great! Now, Aquabit Spirals makes the smart play which is a physical device that allows bookmarking physical objects with your phone,

Fashion is a tough business, and fashion subscription boxes are even tougher. From the top down, this seems like a great business model. Subscribers are sent a new, hand-picked box of clothes or accessories each and every month. As you’ll see ...

Long before the maker movement existed, Akihabara was world famous as a destination for hardware geeks, robotics nerds, and audiophiles and tinkerers of all kinds. Hundreds of tiny specialty shops lined the areas back streets and did a surprising brisk business in items you could not find anywhere else. The internet changed all that. ...

Uber and Airbnb represent a new very kind of startup, one that could not have existed twenty years ago, and the very thing that make these companies so transformative in the United States ensures they will never succeed in Japan. You see...

Startup founders claiming their company is going to “change the world” has become a cliche. But rarely do we see a product that could clearly and significantly make someone’s life better. D-Free is one of those products. However...

A key component to making a startup a success is knowing who your true customers are. Today, Antti Sonninen, the Japan CEO for Slush, one of the largest startup events in the world lays out the business model for us, and the facts will probably surprise you.

Crowdfunding is at a crossroads. The inherent conflict of interest in the business model is forcing US firms to either limit their growth or become the online equivalent of late-night infomercials.

In Japan, however, crowdfunding has grown more ...

Last week I published a article on Medium about why I was shutting down my current startup. If you haven't read it yet, you can find out Why I turned down $500K, Pissed off my investors, and Shut down my startup.

The post went viral and I've received several thousand emails in the last few days. ...

Pocket Supernova has pivoted through three countries and three completely different products before they hit their stride with their current video editing platform for mobile, and they now seem ready to move a generation of video content creators out from behind their desktops and onto their mobile phones.

We are about to start seeing more cars but fewer drivers on the road. Self-driving vehicles are already moving out of the labs and onto the roads world-wide, and Yuki Saji thinks Japan has a unique competitive advantage in the space.

Yuki is CEO of SB Drive, Softbank’s...

Japan could be, and perhaps should be, a BioTech startup powerhouse. The size of the market, the aging population and the depth and quality of the fundamental research being done here should make Japan a global player.

But something is holding her back.

Everyone talks about the importance of international markets and how startups need to think globally from day one. Few companies, however, build that goal into their DNA as completely as Miku Hirano’s Cinnamon.

Cinnamon’s core product, Tuya is a micro-video sharing platform...

Japanese banking is one of the most conservative industries in one of the most conservative countries in the world. That’s what makes it both so difficult and so profitable to disrupt.

Today, Paul Chapman talks to us about the founding and growth of Moneytree, a personal finance app that is quickly growing into something much bigger and more important.

Over the last 25 years, both Zest and Yuki Ito have been through several different incarnations. Interestingly, these incarnations perfectly mirror the changes we have seen in Japan’s startup scene in that time.

Today Zest makes cloud-based, field-service software, which ...

Overall trends are going pretty well for startups in Japan, but things could be a lot better.

One strange thing seems to be that almost everyone asking how to improve things for startup in Japan are either government officials, academics or venture capitalists. It's fantastic that they are interested, and their interest in sincere, but there is only so much they can do. What needs to happen ...

Koki Hayashi of Letibee is walking a difficult path by combining a startup business with social activism, but he just might pull it off. Japan is very rapidly becoming more accepting of those who are openly gay, and 2015 was a year of extremely rapid progress for gay rights.

Letibee has plans to capitalize on this movement...

Japan has a long cultural fascination with human-like robots. Literature, cinema and anime are filled with them, and perhaps not surprisingly, a large number of Japanese startups are focused on making anthropomorphic robots. I have to admit that this fascination never really made sense to me until Shunsuke explained it during this interview.

There are not many industries more resistant to disruption than satellite and aerospace. The dominant firms thrive largely because of the massive capital requirements and strong government connections. Yuya Nakamura of Axelspace is confident he can change that.

More than ten years before Quora and ZenDesk became famous, there was OKWave. Kaneto Kanemoto founded OKWave to address a massive problem that was unique to the Japanese internet in the mid-1990’s. Most of the country felt the situation was inevitable, even natural, but Kaneto knew it had to change.

Yuka considers Famarry to be the happiest company in the world, and looking at who her customers are, I think she just might be right.

But behind this happy company is an aggressive plan to disrupt a cartel of photo studios that have dominated the market for decades.

It’s hard to imagine an organization more resistant to change and disruption than the government of Japan. But today’s guest, William Saito has made it his mission to bring innovation to the way the Japanese bureaucracy operates. And more astoundingly, he’s actually having an effect.

Startup culture has crazy and contradictory views about failure. As founders we are told to fail fast, but also to never give up. We are told to follow our vision, but be ready to pivot. Somehow this macho-bullshit culture of “I never really fail and ‘m not afraid of failure.” has become dominant amount founders. But it’s the result of denial. Trivializing failure is a way of not thinking about it’s effects.

The truth is that failure sucks. Failure is painful. Failure ...

Japan was once home to some of the most innovative companies on the planet, but those companies lost their innovate edge a long time ago. Today, many are betting on startups to change the course of the Japanese economy and to some extent, that’s already starting to happen. Ijichi Sorato of Creww, however, is betting on a different approach to win out, that of Open Innovation.

500 Startups has been one of the driving forces behind the utter disruption of how seed funding is done. That shift is one of the reasons we have seen such large and diverse startup ecosystems emerging around the world. Japan, however, often changes more slowly than other nations.

Too many things that are labeled as "cultural differences" have much simpler explanations. There are perfectly rational (and even mathematical) reasons why we have not seen a lot of entrepreneurship in Japan over the last 50 years, why we are starting to see a lot more of if now, and why we are likely to see an explosion of Japanese startups in the coming decade.

In this episode, we look what happens in Japan when the gatekeepers who stand between the creative people and the broader public are removed.

Corporate accounting is not usually the first thing the comes to mind when you think of disruptive technology, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. Daisuke Sasaki of Freee, however, is changing the way accounting is done in Japan from the bottom up.

Bringing change to a conservative industry, however, is not easy. The fact is ...

The Internet of Things is becoming so commonplace that it is almost almost invisible. About a year ago, Moff launched an extremely clever IoT toy called the Moff-band that allows kids to add sound effects to their every-day play. They toy had been successful, but for Moff to take the next step they need to create a platform around the toy.

Disrupting Japan is one year old, and ready to party. To celebrate , we gathered some of the leaders of Tokyo's startup community together in front of a live audience, had a few drinks, and talked about the future of startups in Japan.

Our panel included perspectives from software, IOT, and venture capital, which led to some interesting discussions.

Marketing automation is new in Japan, and it’s taking a lot of Japanese companies off guard. For decades, sales in Japan have been done by armies of salarymen in navy-blue suits visiting clients and marketing, well until recently, most Japanese companies didn’t make much of a distinction between marketing and advertising.

This week, we get a chance to ...

Everything we thing we know about design is changing. This transformation is further advanced in America, but the seeds have already been planted in Japan and the changes are now starting to take root.

Brandon Hill explains how design, rather than more traditional analytical methods, is the ideal prism from which to view potential solutions to business problems. Not just the best approach to improving products, mind you, but also the best way to improve business processes and even to better engage employees.

Almost all startup accelerators are going bankrupt and going away.

Hiro Maeda, the founder of two of Japan's most successful, and most different startup incubators explains both the brief past and precarious future of startup incubators and accelerators. We talk not only about the mechanics and challenges of what it takes to make an incubator successful, but Hiro has some practical advice on when founders should consider joining an accelerator and how they can avoid the 99% of them that provide no real value.

Every 15 years, like clockwork, the Japanese gaming industry is disrupted by a new technology. The console giants were crippled by the first generation of mobile games published by companies like DeNA and Gree. Now those companies are now losing business to smaller publishers selling through the Apple Store and Google Play.

Rintaro Oyaizu used to run

I love low-tech solutions. They are more likely to be solving real problems, and if we are being honest with ourselves, a true a minimum viable product (or business) usually does not involve cool new technology.

Hiroki Kudo of MerryBiz has rolled out a minimal solution to address their client’s bookkeeping needs, and he is now in the process of trying to gently walk his customers from this small, sustaining innovation to something more disruptive. Something that will change things in the long term. It’s an interesting path to be walking...

Ari Horie has no interest "empowering" women and sensitivity training is not in her toolkit. Ari is showing the startup world that incorporating some of the problem-solving skills and leadership techniques favored by women improves their chance of success.

So many things that are labeled as "cultural differences" have much simpler explanations. There are perfectly rational (and even mathematical) reasons why we have not seen a lot of entrepreneurship in Japan over the last 50 years, why we are starting to see a lot more of if now, and why we are likely to see an explosion of Japanese startups in the coming decade.

Gengo understands the need for small-batch translation. Global communication takes place exponentially faster than the project management cycle, and understanding is way too important to be left to machines. And with even the smallest and most early stage startups understand the importance of going global, Gengo seems to have found their niche.

Makuake is one of Japan's largest crowdfunding platforms. It was spun out of CyberAgent in 2013 with Ryotaro Nakayama (or Naka as his foreign friends call him) as CEO.

Crowdfunding has taken off more slowly in Japan than it has in the US, and it has followed a different growth path. It started out primarily as a way to raise money for charitable causes and at the moment crowdfunding seems to be having a more significant impact on corporate Japan than on smaller Japanese ventures.

Yuta Inoue and Quantum have developed a model to help large Japanese companies both work with innovative startups and to remember how to innovate internally. Many find it hard to believe today, but Japanese companies used to be some of the most innovative firms on the planet, and Yuta explains how a few of them are now starting to return to their creative roots.

Koichiro Yoshida took CrowdWorks from idea to IPO in less than three years, and today both CrowdWorks and crowd-sourcing in general are seen as essential to Japan’s future economy. Just 10 years ago, Japanese politicians pointed to freelancers and part-times as part of the cause of Japan's economic woes. Fortunately, Japan's leadership is now beginning to realizing that having a flexible and skilled workforce is actually a tremendous economic advantage.

Startup founders know that going from zero to one means not only making mistakes, but also asking for help. Unfortunately, in Japan asking for help has traditionally been seen as a sign of weakness. In both professional and personal life you are expected to be either a confident leader or an obedient follower.

Such attitudes...

Investors were skeptical that combining traditional face-to-face learning with a P2P web platform would work. Over the past three years, startup founder Takashi Fujimoto of StreetAcademy has been proving them wrong. Takashi is showing Japan that the new does not have to replace the old. Sometimes the new just makes the old things even better.

One Japanese startup founder is on a mission to change not only the way we think about the news, but the way we think about each other. The "filter bubble" is a term that describes the natural, but tragic, result of search engines and news services giving us more and more of what we want. We end up seeing only information that reenforces what we already believe. Ideas that contradict our beliefs, ideas that might make us uncomfortable, and ideas we have never been exposed to get filtered out in the process of ...

Casey has been on the founding team of several Japanese startups in markets ranging from from retailing, to recruiting, to information sharing, to private social networks for pachinko parlors. Add to that the fact that he's just published a book on Japanese startup founders and their stories, and you won't be surprised to find that this turns out to be a pretty interesting discussion.

Starting and growing companies is nothing new to Hiro. He's been doing it his whole adult life. In his younger days, he always felt caught somewhere between Japanese and American culture, never really belonging to either. Hiro found inspiration in an unlikely place; Nintendo games. They were uniquely Japanese, but universally loved and intuitively understood.

His journey so far has ...

The phrases "disruptive innovation" and "disruptive business" are thrown around far too often and far too loosely these days. Of course, at first glance, it would seem that the same charge could be leveled against this podcast. This is a special one-on-one episode where we talk about what disruptive innovation really means.

Yusuke epitomizes the new generation of Japanese startup founders. That means he is exactly the opposite of what most Westerners picture as a startup founder in Japan. He left a fast-track, high-status job in academia to start one startup after another, in both Tokyo and in San Francisco, and while Yusuke has not achieved a massive Silicon Valley style exit just yet, there is no doubt he is on his way.

Masanori Hashimoto is the hardest woking slacker in Fukuoka. He's bootstrapped a collaborative diagramming company that is growing internationally and founded Myojyowaraku, the largest technology, music and arts festival this side of South By Southwest. But that ...

Akiko Naka is an amazing woman. When you first meet, her reserved and unassuming manner makes you wonder if she really knows how potentially transformative her ideas and her company are. As you get to know Akiko, however, it becomes clear she knows exactly what she's doing. She's just doing things her way.

Taku walked away from the kind of a career that most people dream of. He had proven himself at Sony Music, Apple and in his late twenties he was quickly rising thought he ranks at Amazon Japan. He and his friends knew they had an amazing career ahead of them, and that terrified them. At that point they knew they had to go out on their own and build something amazing.

Tadashi Tanimoto is a man with a big successes behind him and a big dream ahead of him. The IPO of Realcom was just a milestone in a longer journey to change the way people work together and share information. Now, I realize, that sounds like a typical committee-written and board-approved mission statement from any number of enterprise software companies. But as you get to know Tadashi, you begin to understand that he not only means it, but lives it.

Jason came to Japan from Australia to study martial arts, and his company MakeLeaps is now kicking ass in online invoicing. Jason bootstrapped MakeLeaps himself and he and his partner, Paul Oswald grew the company organically, acquired two of their domestic competitors, and recently became the first Japanese company to receive funding from an AngelList syndicate.

The startup ecosystems in America and Europe are built around people like Ikuo, but men like him are still quite rare in Japan. After founding a series of successful (and a few less than successful) startups, Ikuo moved to the other side of the table and begin investing and mentoring.

It was a unique combination of Naoki's adventure driving through the US, his ongoing frustration in working for a large Japanese firm, and his love of an anime character from his childhood that inspired him to start his own venture and to try to change the way we communicate with each other via translation. Conyac is a collaborative translation platform with an innovative approach to ensuring product quality and customer satisfaction.

Business cards are far more important in Asia than they are in the West. Business cards command the same level of respect and deference as the person they belong to. Here in Japan, there are many times when a business conversation cannot get underway until all cards have been exchanged and everyone knows exactly ...

Far too many people, including many of the Japanese themselves, consider Japanese society as inflexible and unable to change. This is simply wrong.

In this kickoff episode we look at what was behind the two disruptive, transformative really, changes that Japanese society has been through in the past, and examine the groundwork that is being laid for the coming startup boom. We nail down ...