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Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan
41 minutes | a month ago
Why people are afraid to trust AI. And how to fix it
Artificial Intelligence makes a lot of people nervous. That's understandable. Today we sit down with Ken Fujiwara of Hacarus to discuss why that is, and what this startup is doing to fix it. As in so many other fields, when comparing AI in Japan and the West, we find that the technology is fundamentally the same, but the social attitudes and business strategies are very different. Ken is a serial entrepreneur, but running an AI startup was never part of his original plan. He had bigger goals in mind, and we talk about how he plans to pivot back to them someday. We also discuss Kyoto's booming startup ecosystem and why one CEO has publically stated he wants to destroy it. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes The problem with Deep Learning and how Hacarus is unique The importance of founder's hidden failures Why Ken left Sony to start a startup How to know when you need to pivot Why pivoting is hard in Japan The integrator business model and why it works in Japan Pivoting a startup to back to your dreams The importance of explainable AI Why you need to know about Kyoto startups Why one company wants to destroy Kyoto's startup ecosystem The reason you see so many interesting IoT startups coming out of Japan now Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Hacarus Follow them on Facebook Connect on LinkedIn Get in touch by email: email@example.com Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. As you can imagine, I get asked a lot about how the Japanese startup ecosystem is different from others and I love that question. The problem is that people usually aren't really happy with my answers. It seems that everyone wants to hear stories about anime or strange gadgets, or cool trends in gaming, and yeah, there's plenty of that in Japan too, but the things that are really unique and interesting like evocative machines and the integrator model, and the role enterprise has to play in supporting startups, those things take a lot of time to explain to anyone who doesn't already understand Japan, at least a little bit, but they're important. Today, we sit down with Ken Fujiwara of Hacarus and we're going to look at how Hacarus is using the integrator model to jointly develop AI products with large enterprises. Ken also explains how he had to pivot Hacarus away from his original vision and how he might be able to pivot back to it in the future. We talk about the challenges of pivoting and staying true to your mission, cover a few very good reasons why people don't trust AI, and we talk about one CEO who has made it his mission to destroy a startup ecosystem. Oh, and near the end of the show, we have a really interesting discussion about the startup ecosystem in Kyoto. There really are some amazing things going on in Kansai, but you know, Ken tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Ken Fujiwara of Hacarus, and thanks for sitting down with me today. Ken: Thanks for having me. Tim: Hacarus is a collection of AI platforms that's targeted both at medical and industrial use but you can probably explain this a lot better than I can, so what exactly does Hacarus do? Ken: Alright, so Hacarus is basically AI startups and provide AI desk applications for medical, such as AI-enabled diagnosis solutions and for manufacturing industry, we provide digital inspection services, and one of the core differences of our company is that we don't use a mainstream AI technology called deep learning. We use something else. Tim: I've noticed that, so you've talked a lot about your ability to create AI models based on very small data sets. How does that work? I mean, what exactly are you guys doing, if you don't mind me asking what the "secret sauc...
20 minutes | 2 months ago
What you can learn from Japan’s seven-minute miracle
Today we are going to look at a different kind of innovation. It's not technology. It's not patentable, and I'm not sure it's scalable. But it is important. It turns out that the story behind a Japanese viral video can teach us a lot about the future of work. It's an example of Japanese innovation at it's best I think you'll enjoy it. Links The Seven-Minute Miracle video 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 have a special story for you today. No guests. No playful banter. Today it’s just you and me and a story about Japanese innovation at its very best. And it’s also the real story behind a famous video about Japan that you’ve probably seen a dozen times on the internet and on western news shows. But like so many stories about Japan, the media gets this one wrong; or at least get it incomplete. They leave out the part of the story that actually teaches us something important about Japan. But there is something pretty amazing going on once you dig into it, and so that’s what we are going to do. The story I’m talking about is the so-called “seven-minute miracle” of the Shinkansen cleaning crew. If you live in Japan, you’ve probably witnessed this personally, and I’ll put a link to the video in the show notes for any listeners who have not already watched it. The Seven Minute Miracle The Shinkansen is both an engineering and an operational marvel. There are times when JR East is running trains three minutes behind each other at 320 kilometers per hour. To make this work requires an insane commitment to schedule. A departure is only considered to be on-time if happens within fifteen seconds of its scheduled time; no earlier, no later than 15 seconds. And most trains arrive within six seconds of their scheduled time. Part of making this work means that at Tokyo station, each train has only a 12-minute turnaround-time. It takes about five minutes to get the current passengers off and the new passengers on, which leaves seven minutes for cleaning. In those seven minutes, a crew of 22 people clean 1,000 seats, wipes down all the tray tables, exchanges seat and headrest covers, turns the seats 180-degrees to face the new direction, cleans the floors and bathrooms, empties all the wastebaskets, collects any forgotten articles from under the seats or in the overhead racks to turn into the lost and found, adjusts the window blinds, and generally makes sure everything on the train is neat and tidy. In seven minutes. And the cleaners do it all with an efficiency and grace that seems more like the mastery of a craft than the execution of a duty. When they are done, usually with time to spare, they assemble on the platform at the front of the train and bow in unison to the passengers who are about to board. Sometimes the passengers even clap. And a few minutes later, a new train arrives, and this is repeated for each of the 120 to 170 Shinkansen trains that depart Tokyo every single day. It’s amazing to watch, and a few years ago CNN picked up the story, and the whole world was, quite rightly. impressed. However, the CNN story focused on how Japanese employees are so efficient and take pride in their work. And that’s not quite true. I mean, these employees clearly are, and Japanese workers certainly can be dedicated and efficient, but anyone who tells you that Japanese employees are just naturally dutiful and efficient has clearly never had to manage Japanese staff. In fact, even in this celebrated case, it was not always so. This is a relatively recent development, and looking at the innovations that began in 2005 can also tell us a bit about where the gig-economy is headed and the kind of innovation that Japan can bring to the world. The Making of a Miracle The company responsible for the seven-minute miracle is Tessei,
37 minutes | 3 months ago
This startup built the first open-source driverless car
The automotive industry is closed and proprietary. But Shinpei Kato, founder and CTO of Tier IV, thinks they are going to be forced to change. Teir IV has brought together a global community of programmers and corporate partners to create the Autoware project. Tier IV's goal to develop a completely open-source software platform to drive autonomous vehicles is ambitious, and they have already completed some of the most advanced road-tests of driverless cars in Japan. Today we explore the business bottlenecks in rolling out autonomous vehicles, why open-source makes the automotive industry nervous, and why the first successful driverless car won't be what you think it will. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes Introducing Autoware and Tier IV What keeps the auto industry from adopting open source The only way a college professor can actually run a startup The challenges in building an industrial open source community How to road test driverless cars in Japan Japan’s first fully-autonomous taxi service When we will see driverless taxies as part of our everyday life The bottleneck that keeps robot-taxis from going mainstream Which autonomous vehicles we are going to see first. Tier IV's business model How open-source might be Japan's secret weapon in global AI Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Tier IV YouTube Twitter LinkedIn Check out Shinpei's personal home page Friend him on Facebook Follow him on Twitter @ShinpeiKato Connect with him on LinkedIn Learn about the Autoware Foundation The Tier IV safety report Some other media coverage of Tier IV Forbes The Japan Times Valuer 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. Open-source software has completely changed how we think about operating systems, networking, and databases. The whole Internet basically runs on open-source software, but can a 100% open-source software power an autonomous car? Well, one Japanese founder not only thinks it can, but he's betting his company on it, and that startup has already conducted some of the most advanced road tests in Japan. Today, we sit down with Shinpei Kato, founder of autonomous driving startup Tier IV, and Shinpei is also the chairman of the Autoware Foundation, Autoware, being the open-source project to develop software for fully autonomous vehicles. With so much driverless car news coming out of the US, you might not know about what's happening in Japan, but it's pretty amazing. We talk about what's involved in road testing driverless cars in Japan some frightening things people are doing to their cars, the challenges of building an open-source platform in an industry that has historically been fiercely secretive and proprietary and why Japan's first driverless cars are not going to look anything like what you think they will. But you know, Shinpei tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview So I'm sitting here with Shinpei Kato of Tier IV who is developing an autonomous driving software, so thanks so much for sitting down with us. Shinpei: Thank you very much for inviting me to this fantastic show. Tim: Oh, it's our pleasure. Listen, before we get into the details, can you explain the relationship between Tier IV and Autoware, because the two different entities are really closely connected and like, together, they form Tier IV's business strategy. Shinpei: So I used to be at Nagoya University and I had led a project of autonomous driving where we started developing software for autonomous vehicles, so I had a lot of attention from industries that made me decide I should do startup rather than the university research. Tier IV was founded to facilitate RND of this open-source...
44 minutes | 4 months ago
Why startups should be better than charities at solving social problems
Startups exist to develop new solutions to problems. But many of society's biggest problems fall outside traditional startup business models. Today we explore why that is, and how it might be changed as we sit down with Robin Lewis, co-founder of Mymizu, a startup focused on reducing plastic waste by encouraging reuse. We take a deep dive into possible monetization strategies, why startups should be better at solving social problems than non-profits, and we discuss a possible roadmap for a middle path between startups and non-profits. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes The Japanese middle-ground between NGOs and for-profit startups The hidden strategy behind beach cleanup programs Mymizu’s current business model The challenge of mixing environmental and social sustainability When Tim became “The Destroyer of Dreams” The unexpected (positive ) impacts of COVID-19 Why startups should be able to do more social good than NGOs How bottled water breaks economic theory What happened to Japanese water fountains One common recycling scam in Japan A roadmap for the middle path between NGO and startup Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Mymizu Follow Mymizu on Instagram Check out Robin's personal home page Follow his blog on social sustainability Follow him on Twitter @robintlewis Connect with him on LinkedIn More about sustainability in Japan 7 Surprising Facts About Plastic in Japan Sanpo Yoshi: the Japanese business principle of success through responsibility 25 Opportunities For Volunteering and Social Good in Japan Milton Friedman's landmark NYT article on corporate responsibility 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. Water, it’s one of the most common molecules in the universe and you personally are made up of about 60% water. There are a number of significant problems today that revolve around water but water is rarely the focus for startups, and today, we’re going to explore why that is and why that might be changing. Today, we sit down in a properly socially distanced matter and talk with Robin Lewis, co-founder of Mymizu. The Mymizu app enables you to find places to refill your water bottles all over Japan, and the company itself exists in a very interesting space between nonprofit and a regular for profit company. Robin and his team are already making an impact in Japan, and we have a deep dive into how startups can be a force to achieve meaningful social change. The challenges of balancing the need for revenues with staying true to your social mission, and we brainstorm about possible monetization strategies that could enable that, and also, you’ll learn something that will probably really piss you off about how recycling is done in Japan. But you know, Robin tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So I’m sitting here with Robin Lewis, the co-founder of Mymizu, a water refilling app. Thanks for sitting down with me. Robin Lewis: Thanks so much for having me, Tim, I’m excited to be here. Tim: Actually, you can explain Mymizu much better than I can, so what is Mymizu exactly? Robin: Mymizu, what we’re doing is we’re on a mission to help people live more sustainably, starting with plastic bottles. We accomplish that in, I’d say, four main ways. First, we have the app which you mentioned and it’s essentially a tool where you can find 200,000 locations around the world where you can take your reusable bottle and refill that for free, and so this includes public water fountains like in train station, in parks, and so on, but also, we have this network of what we call ‘refill partners,’ this is cafes, shops, hotels, and other businesses where you can walk in, you can get your water,
32 minutes | 5 months ago
The Dream of Flying Cars meets the Truth of Aviation Startups
Personal aviation is awesome! Aviation has been a source of inspiration and a symbol of innovation since the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, to Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, to today's dreams of colonizing Mars. Unfortunately, it's been very hard for startups to make money in aviation. Even the Wright brothers did not do particularly well in business. But things might be changing. Today we sit down and talk with Tasuku Nakai, co-founder of Tetra Aviation, and we discuss how public research incentives, support from the aerospace giants, and the changing infrastructure needs might have just tipped the balance to startups. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes How Tetra's eVTOL aircraft came to be and what it might become The steps needed to bring a new aircraft to market Why it's so difficult to innovate in aviation The main hurdle in expanding the personal aviation market Fundraising strategies and exist options for aviation startups When investing is considered "evil" in Japan Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Tetra Aviation Friend Tasuku on Facebook Connect with him on LinkedIn Follow Tetra on Twitter @Tetra_Aviation Check out a video of their prototype VTOL aircraft 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 talk about flying cars. That’s right, flying cars. We sit down with Tasuku Nakai, co-founder of Tetra Aviation and we talk about what it takes to bring a new aircraft, especially a new personal aircraft to market, and it’s not easy. The Tetra Aircraft is an electric vertical take-off and landing, or VTOL aircraft, which they believe will form the backbone of a new aerial intercity transport system. You know, I have a real soft spot for these kinds of startups. I have a private pilot’s license and I love the idea that the age of affordable personal aircraft might almost be here. But as I mentioned, it’s hard, and as Tasuku explains, these kinds of companies don’t fit the traditional VC model for a number of reasons. We also talk about the possible business models open to aircraft startups, the release of Tetra’s new prototype, and the crazy world of experimental aircraft pilots who fly newly designed aircraft as a hobby. But you know, Tasuku tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Tasuku Nakai of Tetra Aviation who makes personal electric aircraft, so thanks for sitting down with me. Tasuku: Thanks for inviting me, Tim, and this is a really great moment to introduce myself and introduce my business. Tim: No, the pleasure’s all mine. I think what you guys are doing is really interesting and I’ve had a passion for, like, aerospace startups for a long time, so actually, I mean, you can probably explain what Tetra Aviation is and what the product is better than I can. So basically, what are you building? Tasuku: We are building personal electrical VTOL aircraft, so vertical take-off and landing, so wherever you want to come, just simply ride on it and fly to the air and arrive on your destination exactly. Tim: And we’ll talk about the history later. This is kind of like the flying cars that startups have been teasing us about since the 1950s, but what you’ve built, is it considered an airplane or a helicopter, or a drone, or how is it classified? Tasuku: Well, a really difficult question about that. There’s no category anymore. There’s a lot of class, almost 50 or 60 classifications, but basically, you think it’s similar for helicopter and the drone, to combine the helicopter and drone, so I mean, the people can ride on it and also, it has a distributed propulsion system as a drone has. Tim: Actually, just today,
20 minutes | 5 months ago
What’s really changed after six years of Disrupting Japan
Disrupting Japan is six years old and ready to party! Unfortunately, we can't. Like so much else in 2020, this year's big, live show has been canceled, but I hope you'll make it next year. It's not all bad news, of course. There are a lot of great things happening for both Disrupting Japan and for Japanese startups. So looking back on these six years, I'd like to share some of the most important changes that are happening in Japan. Please enjoy. 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 is our sixth-anniversary episode. Over the past six years, it’s been a Disrupting Japan tradition to have our big Disrupting Japan Live and Unleashed show on our anniversary. We get three of Japan’s startup thought-leaders on stage and invite a few hundred of our closest friends over for an evening of drinks, conversation, and just hanging out with a lot of cool people. Unfortunately, this year the coronavirus makes this impossible. So we’ll pick up that tradition again next year. What I had planned for this year’s anniversary episode was to tell you a special story about innovation at it’s best in Japan. The real story behind a video you’ve seen a dozen times on the internet and Western news media. But before that, I wanted to talk briefly about three critical things that have changed for startups in Japan and as those introductory notes became longer and more interesting, I realized I was going to have to split the show, so I’ll tell you all about that video in a future episode. Today, there is something else you should know. But before we get to that, I want to thank you. When I started Disrupting Japan six years ago, I really could not have imagined what it would become. At first, Disrupting Japan was just me sitting down and talking with my founder friends, and I guess in all the important ways, it still is just me sitting down with my friends. But Disrupting Japan has grown with Japan’s startup community. We now have around 10,000 listeners all over the world, and we’ve ranked as Japan’s #1 entrepreneurship podcast and occasionally break into the top five Japanese business podcasts as well. So after six years, I want to thank all the amazing founders who have come on the show to tell us their stories so honestly, the fans who have spread the word about the podcast in a way that online marketing never could, and to thank you, for listening. I appreciate you choosing to spend your time with me, and I work incredibly hard to make sure this show is worth your time. Looking back on six years, I want to share with you the three most important ways that Disrupting Japan has changed, and what that tells us about how things are changing for Japanese startups. Now, these aren’t the big data-driven headline numbers that you already know about. These trends are more personal, more human, and maybe in a way, more important. 1) Origin Stories During the first two years of Disrupting Japan, I would almost always ask founders about how they started their startup. Many had pretty dramatic stories. Many telling of how their wife or parents were opposed and tried to talk them out of it or force them out of it, or how they had to give up their apartment to save money meet payroll. Many founders had a family role model. A non-conformist relative who was maybe an entrepreneur themselves, or perhaps an artist or musician. Someone who believed in them when everyone else doubted. One of our founders even sold his wife’s jewelry to make payroll. Although his parting advice to me on that matter was “Tim, your startup is very important, but there are some things you should just never do.” But as long-time listeners have probably noticed, we don’t hear those kinds of origin stories anymore. When I bother to ask the question these days, the most common reply is something like “Well, I really wanted to do it,
33 minutes | 6 months ago
How this silkworm startup is taking on the pandemic
Bio-tech is messy because life is complicated. A lot of attention is given to computers sequencing genomes, but some of the most advanced and important work is done by studying and using other living things to make our own lives better. Kenta Yamato co-founded Kaico to commercialize a technique that uses silkworms to manufacture small-batch custom proteins. And Kico is involved with everything from veterinary medicine to Japan's search for a coronavirus vaccine. We also talk about the challenges or creating startups based on university technology and the one e-commerce model in Japan that just won't go away. I think you'll enjoy the conversation. Show Notes How to get proteins from a silkworm (It's not fun for the silkworm) Why silkworms, in particular, must be used The importance and uses of small-batch, custom proteins The start of a silkworm startup The most common (and least successful) Japanese e-commerce model Why it's so hard for Japanese universities to spin-out startups How Kaico silkworms are part of the fight against covid-19 How to scale a silkworm startup Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Kaico Friend Kenta on Facebook Connect with him on LinkedIn A Kaico video explainer 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 worms. No, no, wait, don't go, I promise this is going to be really interesting. Today, we're going to sit down and talk with Kenta Yamato of Kaico, a Kyushu-based startup that is using silkworms to rapidly produce custom small-batch innovative proteins that are used for bio-research, medicine, and they play a part in Japan's search for coronavirus vaccine. It's a fascinating process but admittedly one that's not particularly fun for the silkworms themselves. We also talk about the most popular and most unsuccessful e-commerce business model in Japan, the challenges Japanese universities in spinning out startups, and we even cover some practical solutions to that problem. But you know, Kenta tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So I'm sitting here with Kenta Yamato of Kaico, a company that uses silkworm to produce specific protein used in medical tests and vaccine, and thank you for sitting down with me. Kenta: Yes, thank you for me and I have a very pleasure to explain our company's story. Yeah, thank you very much. Tim: It's great to have you on the show. I tried to explain very briefly what Kaico does, but I think you can explain it a lot better than I can, so at like a high level, what does Kaico do? Kenta: We started Kaico two years ago in 2018. Kaiko means silkworm in English. Maybe you know silkworm can make silk for clothes, but we will use this kaiko silkworm for making proteins. We are a startup company from Kyushu University and our products are many proteins, the protein the other companies cannot make because it is difficult to make it. We make this protein by silkworm. Tim: So if I understand the basic process, you inject the silkworm with a virus containing the target gene, and then it makes the proteins as part of its silk, and then you extract the proteins from the silk? Kenta: No, no. First, we'll incorporate the gene of target protein into baculovirus, so this baculovirus is safe for us humans and animals, but baculovirus damage to only silkworms and we will insert this recombinant baculovirus into silkworm and their body can make the specific protein in their cell, and finally, we'll collect and purify the body liquid from the silkworm. Tim: Okay, so it's not from the silk, it's from the silkworms themselves that you extract the proteins. Kenta: Yes, we don't use silk. Tim: Okay. So why silkworm? Is there something about silkworms that makes it easy to generate protein...
41 minutes | 6 months ago
Reinventing online maps to focus on community
We have always loved maps. Maps combine artistry and utility in a way that very few disciplines allow. But of course, it's always been a trade-off. The beautiful, ornate maps from centuries past told you where the major landmasses were, but provided little detail. And today's GPS-based maps provide an unprecedented level of accuracy but uninspiring in their presentation. Machi Takahashi, founder and CEO of Stroly, has a best-of-both world's solution. We also talk in-depth about the unique challenges facing women founders in Japan, and what can be done to make things better for everyone. It's a great discussion, and I think you will really enjoy it. Show Notes Strolling with stories: How Stroly works How to make Google Maps community-oriented How Stroly pivoted to prosperity during Covid-19 How industry will be using VR after Covid-19 ends Why corporate spinouts are so hard in Japan Why Japan has problems commercializing fundamental research The challenges female founders face in Japan How Japanese women are taught they should not really be CEOs Why Japanese startups need to think globally Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Stroly Connect with Machi on LinkedIn Women's Startup Labs Ari Hori on Disrupting Japan 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 common themes on Disrupting Japan is the intersection of tradition and high technology. Stories about what things that we’ve known and loved for generations can teach us about how we should use technology today. Now, I’m not sure how much of this is due to the fact that I personally find such startups fascinating and important, and how much of it is due to the fact that there’s something about Japanese startups and Japanese culture that encourages and appreciates these kinds of innovations. Well, today, we sit down with Machi Takahashi of Stroly and we discussed that while mobile GPS mapping is awesome, there’s something important that we’ve lost in our rapid adoption of that technology and it’s something that Stroly is bringing back. We also look into how COVID is not only changing things but changing some things for the better and how this is really a time for innovative startups to shine. And we also talk in some detail about the challenges women founders face in Japan and some simple ways to improve the situation. But you know, Machi tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview. Interview Tim: I’m sitting here with Machi Takahashi, the CEO of Stroly, so thanks for sitting down with me. Machi: Thank you, Tim, for having me. Tim: Stroly makes custom maps that are overlaid onto Google Maps, but I think you can explain it a lot better than I can, so why don’t you explain briefly what Stroly is, how it works? Machi: Okay, sure. So, Stroly is our company name and also the name of our service and it means to stroll with story, so we came up with this idea to combine illustrated maps with GPS positioning while we were developing a new guide system for a theme park, and instead of choosing Google Maps, we chose to use this beautiful hand-drawn illustrated map of this theme park and we came up with this technology to combine these latitudes and longitudes on top of these illustrated maps. Tim: Okay, so when people are visiting the theme park, instead of looking at Google Maps or Apple Maps as they are wandering around the park, they would look at those kind of cute hand-drawn illustrated maps and they’d navigate on top of that? Machi: Right, exactly. So, we have this technology where we can adapt these GPS positioning on top of any kind of a map in any form so people can actually exaggerate some of the spots in the map, and then actually draw some of the spots in the map.
46 minutes | 7 months ago
Selects: Why Japan’s Geisha are disappearing in the social media age
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 who also 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, and 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 [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. I’ve got a great Selects show for you today. We sit down and talk with Sayuki a geisha. An actual geisha. and she also holds an actual MBA from Oxford. It’s a great conversation that breaks down the business model of running a geisha house, and it's a lot more complex than you might imagine. A lot of people talk about disrupting traditional business models, but this is a truly traditional business model. And we also talk about how the Internet and social media is threatening to complexly destroy it. There are a lot of people wondering if geisha will survive this. In fact, there are a lot of geisha wondering if geisha will survive this. It’s a story involving centuries-old cartels in new turf wars, counterfeit goods knowingly being sold over the internet, and the challenge of getting maiko off their social media accounts long enough to train them. Although that last one is both a problem and a potential revenue stream. Anyway, please enjoy the conversation, and I’ve got an update for you at the end of the show. Intro 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,
15 minutes | 8 months ago
Your Japanese textbooks are lying to you
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.
78 minutes | 8 months ago
DJ Selects: Why startups lose control of their sales channels, and how to fix it – Allen Miner – Oracle
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. [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. 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. [pro_ad_display_adzone id="1411" info_text="Sponsored by" font_color="grey" ] 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...
39 minutes | 9 months ago
What makes people pay for new online events
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,
12 minutes | 9 months ago
Why public humiliation is the secret to success
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? 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 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,
17 minutes | 10 months ago
The Japanese Trap of the Glorious Failure
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 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'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.
37 minutes | a year ago
DJ Selects: Why Your Startup Accelerator is Going to Disappear
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. Hiro also explains why so many Japanese VCs today find investing in South East Asia more attractive than Japan, the forces behind Japan's startup boom, and what the next ten years holds for Japanese startups. Show Notes for Startups The motivation behind the founding of Open Network Labs Incubator How to measure the success of an incubator How Japanese VCs will be deploying capital in the next few years The success of Beenos's Inception Program and why they had to shut it down Why public companies have trouble with startups How to tell a good incubator from a bad one Why most incubators provide no value The coming shakeout in the incubator industry What’s driving Japan’s startup boom The future of Japanese entrepreneurship Links from the Founder Beenos Hiro's Blog Follow Hiro on Twitter @djtokyo Friend him on Facebook The SGE Facebook Page [shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7994466"] Leave a comment Transcript from Japan Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero. Thanks for listening. I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and staying healthy during this coronavirus crisis. I honestly can’t see too much more than that, because one of the things I learned in releasing our previous episode is that the situation can change dramatically from the time I record to the time I release and then again from the time of release and the time you get a chance to listen. So about the only thing I can say right now that I know will make sense when you listen to this is that I hope you are doing OK and staying healthy; or failing that getting better. Today, I’ve got a great Selects show for, so we can sit down over a beer with Hiro Maeda, one of the most insightful Japanese VCs. This interview was recorded back in 2015. A lot has changed since then, but a surprising amount of things have not. When we first caught up with Hiro he was just about to launch his new fund, and I’ll give you an update on what happened after the show. What might be even more interesting, however, is that the predictions Hiro makes in this interview have not come true as quickly as expected, but many of them are playing themselves out in slow motion right in front of us. Intro Today, we sit down with Hiro Maeda and talk about Start-Up Accelerators. Now, Hiro is the creator of both Digital Garages, Open Network Lab and the Beenos Inception Program. These are two of Japan's best known Start-Up Acceleration Programs. Their approaches are very, very different. Naturally, we talk about both the past and the future of Start-Up Acceleration in Japan, and the critical differences between the good ones and the bad ones. What impressed me most about our conversation was Hiro's commitment to running his Accelerators just like Start-Ups. Now, we dive into the fundamental reasons behind the attraction that Japanese VCs now have for Southeast Asian Markets. As well as the reasons behind what we both see as the coming hard times for Start-Up Accelerators, and the coming good time for Japanese Start-Ups. I will let Hiro explain all of that in his own words. Let's get right to the interview. [pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404" info_text="Sponsored by" font_color="grey" ] Interview Tim: I am sitting here with Hiro Maeda of Beenos formally. The man who found the Open Network Lab with Digital Garage. Today,
18 minutes | a year ago
One important lesson startups will forget after the panic
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 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. 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 ...
37 minutes | a year ago
Why boring startups are actually the most interesting
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. [pro_ad_display_adzone id="1411" info_text="Sponsored by" font_color="grey" ] 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,
39 minutes | a year ago
DJ Selects: How this Musical Shoe is Helping Hospitals
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 [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. 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.
21 minutes | a year ago
Why Japan’s #KuToo is Not Really About Shoes
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. 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. 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,
7 minutes | a year ago
Big News for Disrupting Japan! – Japan Startup News
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. Leave a comment 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. And I wanted you to hear it from me. 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 from the outside is quite ready for. You see over the past 10 years, and the past five years in particular,
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