Tag Archive | "tokyo"

Square Signs Santa Clara Lease, Opening Its Second Office In The Bay Area

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Square announced that it has signed a lease to open an office for about 50 employees in Santa Clara.

This is Square’s second office in the San Francisco Bay Area, the first being its San Francisco headquarters. The company moved to a new, larger HQ last fall, and also has offices in New York, Atlanta, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Tokyo, with 800 employees globally. Read More

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Mt.Gox Files For Bankruptcy Protection

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Mt.Gox has filed for bankruptcy protection and has outstanding debt of about $63.6 million, a lawyer for the bitcoin exchange said today during a press conference at the Tokyo District Court. Read More

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Rakuten Opens Its First European R&D Center In Paris

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Paris

Rakuten, the Japan-based Internet services company, opened its first European research and development center in Paris today. Called the Rakuten Institute of Technology, this is Rakuten’s third R&D center in the world.

The other two are in Tokyo, with 40 employees, and New York, with 10. Rakuten’s Paris R&D center will combine with its big data group there, adding a total of 20 new employees to its Paris office this year.

The center’s opening comes a week after Rakuten announced that it had acquired messaging app maker Viber for $900 million, as part of a bid to “become the world’s No. 1 Internet services company.”

In a statement, Rakuten said that its Paris R&D center will focus on projects to “support the development of the global e-commerce industry,” including data analytics, fraud detection, recommendation systems, image processing, user interfaces, and “‘the online to offline’ transition in e-commerce.”

Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani said in a press release that:

“Our aim globally is to empower retailers and merchants to sell online, and to do this we must keep up with consumers’ browsing and buying habits – online, on mobile, via social and any other channels that they may want to use in their purchase journey. That’s why we’ve increased the size of our global research team, so they can work on bringing the next big thing in e-commerce to market, with our support.”

Image by Flickr user lakbaydiwa PASANKRUS under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Tuniu.com The Latest IPO To Rise In The East

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The initial public offering for Chinese online tour booking web site Tuniu may not carry the heft of the impending Alibaba IPO juggernaut (rumored at $130 billion and counting), but it is a sign of investors’ continuing demand for public offerings from Chinese tech companies.

The Beijing-based tour site has selected Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley to run the offering process for its expected $100 million IPO, according to several sources with knowledge of the company’s plans.

In  the clearest public sign of the company’s intentions, one of its investors, Gobi Partners, announced that Conor Yang, the architect behind the public offering of both AirMedia Group and Dangdang.com, had been hired as Tuniu’s chief financial officer earlier this year.

Tuniu has raised over $60 million in venture funding from investors including DCM, Gobi Partners, Sequoia Capital, Highland Capital Partners, and the Tokyo-based Internet services company, Rakuten Inc. 

Group tours are a huge business in China, where the government passed recent legislation regulating how guided tour companies operate, according to an October story on CNN.

As the CNN story notes, 100 million Chinese will travel abroad by 2015 and as of 2012 the Chinese had already overtaken Americans and Germans as the biggest spenders on the international travel scene. A record $102 billion was spent by 83 million Chinese tourists on international tourism, CNN reported.

Online travel in China has already netted venture investors big wins. Qunar.com, which went public in November 2013, was backed by Mayfield Fund, GSR Ventures Management, Tenaya Capital, GGV Capital, Hillhouse Capital, and the Chinese search technology behemoth Baidu, which shelled out $306 million for a massive stake in the company in 2011.

That public offering netted the company $167 million, well above the $125 million target Qunar.com had set in its initial offering documents. Although Qunar.com ended Tuesday’s trading below its offering price, the company still has a market capitalization of over $3.05 billion.

Investors in Chinese technology companies have also been buoyed by the performance of Chinese public offerings throughout the back half of 2013.

1318864331_ccf771fbeeSince 2012 and through to November of 2013 nine U.S. IPOs from China had produced an average return of 203%, including the 1,127% return for Vipshop. That online retail company, which is now trading at over $107 per-share – up from an initial offering price of $5.50 in March 2012 – has been a huge win for early investors like DCM and Sequoia Capital.

Investment banks are also winning with these Chinese public offerings. Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. acted as the joint bookrunners for the highly successful Vipshop offering, while Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and Citi were bookrunners on the IPO of 58.com, “the Craigslist of China”. Shares of that online classified ad marketplace are up 73% from their opening price of $24.12. On Tuesday shares of the company closed at $41.89.

Photos via Flickr users pmorgan and 2 dogs. 

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Seoul-Based Accelerator SparkLabs’ Latest Class Includes Wearable Tech And Mobile Game Makers

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Seoul Skyline by Koshy Koshy on Flickr

SparkLabs has unveiled the latest group of startups participating in its Seoul-based accelerator program. The current batch includes locally-based companies, as well as teams from Tokyo, San Francisco and Chicago. SparkLabs alumni previously profiled by TechCrunch include edutech startup KnowRe, personal journaling app Step Journal and fantasy stock trading community TrakInvest.

SparkLabs recently launched a $30 million seed stage fund called SparkLabs Global to focus on emerging economies throughout the world, but its accelerator’s mission continues to be raising the profile of Seoul’s fledgling startup ecosystem. South Korea’s tech industry is best known for hardware giants like Samsung and LG, but more Internet startups are hatching in the country. Spearheaded by a group of Korean-American entrepreneurs, SparkLabs seeks to provide founders with a network of mentors on par with the ones their peers in Silicon Valley have access to, in addition to angel funding and non-financial resources.

SparkLabs’ latest roster of startups represent sectors including wearable tech, telecom, online gaming and medical devices. They are:

  • Tokyo-based FeelU, which creates wearable devices including RingU, an interactive ring that lets you give people you miss a “hug” no matter how far away from each other you are. RingU is connected to a private social network that also allows people to share messages, photos and videos.
  • Flow State Media is a social and mobile game studio with a staff that includes former employees from Zynga, as well as MIT alumni. The startup’s casual games for mobile and PC devices include Letter UP, which was released at the end of June and has already logged more than 1.5 million minutes of gameplay. Flow State Media is currently preparing a “fresh take” on social casino games for release later this year.
  • Based in Chicago, Freenters wants to make life easier for college students by providing free printing services. After launching in the Chicago area, they will expand to major campuses across the U.S.
  • South Korean startup Penta Press, which wants to become the “Getty Images of Asia,” is a platform that collects photos from a network of professional photographers in 25 countries and distributes them to domestic and foreign media organizations. It has already signed partnerships with companies including Yonhap, South Korea’s largest news agency, Daum, the country’s second-largest Internet portal and JiJi Press in Japan.
  • Seoul-based Domo Bio is the maker of SNR.X, a medical device that helps treat sleep apnea and snoring.
  • Mobile music recommendation service 1Day 1Song introduces one new song each day to users based on their preferences. The app is already available in the Korean App Store and will be released in other Asia countries as well.
  • Online talent marketplace PeopleWare was launched by Yong Hyoung, a co-founder of social network CyWorld. The startup is creating a marketplace to match MVP (minimum viable product) projects and engineers from Asia and other regions through each user’s networks.
  • Based in Palo Alto and founded by a senior data scientist from Twitter, Right Zip is an online home rental platform that uses machine learning algorithms to match potential tenants with property owners. You can sign up for the site’s beta version here.
  • RingCL is based in Seoul and is a BaaS (backend as service) company that provides communication services for businesses. RingCL allows its clients to set up a mobile sevrvice only with API calls without having to set up servers.

Image from Koshy Koshy on Flickr

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Message App Line Hits 300M Registered Users, Up From 200M 4-Months Ago – Gunning For 500M In 2014

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Line

Line has announced it’s added another 100 million people to its registered user count in just four months, pushing it past the 300 million user mark globally. It revealed the new numbers at a press conference today in Tokyo, attended by TechCrunch Japan.

The messaging app platform maker, which started off in Japan back in 2011 – devising a series of cute sticker characters to attract an initially young user-base – also says its growth rate is “accelerating exponentially”, noting that it took 19 months for it to achieve its first 100 million registered users, six months to rack up the second, and just four months to add a third 100 million.

CEO Akira Morikawa said it’s targeting a 500 million registered user milestone next year.

Despite these impressive-sounding stats it’s worth underlining that these are registered users, not monthly active users – the latter, which Line has only ever reported for its home market of Japan, being a far more useful metric for measuring engagement with this type of app.

Line also counts the same registered user multiple times if they are using its service on difference smartphones which likely inflates its registered user count. Beyond that, people downloading the app and signing up to try it out a few times before stopping using it are also continuing to beef up its user stat, so despite what looks on the surface to be barrelling growth it’s likely not as impressive as it seems.

Line rivals WhatsApp and WeChat do both report monthly active user counts – with more than 350 million MAUs, and circa 272 million respectively, so it’s easy to see why Line wants to shout about the largest number it can. Line has previously said its MAUs in Japan are 80% of its registered users there. But that is presumably the high water mark for its registered to active user ratio.

Line said today that outside the “strong foothold” it has in East Asia, the number of registered users it has are “growing steadily” in Spanish speaking regions including Spain, Mexico and Latin America.

It also said it is focusing on gathering new users in India, Turkey, and West European countries including France, Germany and Italy by “conducting localized promotional activities and strengthening partnerships with local mobile network operators and device manufacturers”.

Line’s localised promotional activities have included a TV advertising campaign in Spain using  local actors Michelle Jenner and Hugo Silva, and a marketing partnership in India with Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif.

In the latter market Line previously announced it was able to acquire 10 million registered users in three months – although Line’s cost per user acquisition is likely high, based on its high profile marketing activity.

As well as its cutesy stickers, Line offers games for download via its platform. It said today that global downloads across all its game have now passed 220 million. Game-related payments are its primary revenue stream, making up 60 percent of its revenue (Line is now bringing in nearly $100 million in revenue a quarter).

At today’s press conference, Line was also asked about ongoing IPO rumours – but one again declined to put any meat on those bones, saying only that it’s one possibility it’s looking at.

On the U.S.  market, which Line entered at the start of this year but isn’t, apparently, prioritising for growth right now, it said: ”It is necessary that users understand the value of our service first.”

Line said its app is in use in 230 countries globally, and is ranked first in the free app category in 60 countries.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

TechCrunch Tokyo 2012 Winner Whill’s Sleek Wheelchair Alternative Is Ready For Pre-Orders

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Founded by former Sony, Olympus and Toyota engineers, TechCrunch Tokyo 2012 grand prize winning hardware startup Whill not only wants to redesign the wheelchair, but also combat stigma by creating sleek and modern mobility devices. The company’s first retail model, the Whill Type-A, is now available for pre-orders and will be ready for delivery within the U.S. early next year.

Whill is currently part of 500 Startup‘s accelerator program and has raised a total of $1.7 million so far. Other investors include Itochu Technology Ventures, Facebook Japan engineer Eric Kwan, SunBridge Global Ventures and Wingle Co., and is currently closing its seed round.

The company entered TechCrunch Tokyo last year with a prototype of an electric add-on that allowed wheelchair users to go longer distances. After exhibiting at the Tokyo Motor Show and conducting market research in the U.S., Japan and the UK, however, Whill decided to develop a complete device with a four-wheel drive.

First the team interviewed 150 wheelchair users from the U.S., where they’d received the most demand for an alternative based on their research. Whill found that people wanted devices that were both nimble and stable. Most importantly of all, however, people sought something that would help remove the negative connotations attached to wheelchairs.

“Imagine a car, bicycle, scooter or skateboard, all devices that basically make you feel happy,” says Atsushi Mizushima, Whill’s director of business development. “Only the wheelchair, as a mobility device, makes people feel uncomfortable. People’s perception of those devices are that they are limiting.”

Whill’s devices are designed to look modern (CEO Satoshi Sugie was formerly a product designer at Nissan). One of the biggest differences between the functionality of the Type-A and traditional wheelchairs are front-arm controllers that let users navigate by leaning forward, echoing the posture of bicycle and motorcycle riders.

“In addition to the aesthetics, what we try to achieve is the feeling of driving a car, motorcycle or skateboard,” says Mizushima. “They can chose to take the lean-in position, which makes them look more active and lets them feel like they are riding a motorcycle or other cool mobility device instead of forcing them to take a passive sitting posture.”

Whill’s controller can be operated with a single hand, like a joystick. Two other modes lets users sit close to tables or lean back and relax when they are stationary.

The other major improvement Whill makes to traditional wheelchairs is a better balance between turning radius and terrain coverage. In order to make small turns, wheelchairs need to have small front wheels–but those tend to get stuck on cracks or when rolling over rough surfaces like gravel.

Whill’s team developed a unique all-around wheel with rollers that can move freely back and forth, as well as transversely. This enables the Type-A to have a turning radius of 28 inches and gives it the stability to navigate rough terrain and clear bumps as high as three-inches.

The Type-A’s is yet to be determined, but Mizushima says the first batch will include premium features as an incentive for early adopters. Whill plans to have the Type-A approved as a medical device by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration so it will be eligible for insurance coverage, as well as make it available for delivery to other countries. To scale up manufacturing, the company is currently talking with original equipment manufacturers in Taiwan and Mexico. Future models will include software integration, such as apps, data analysis and alerts that warn users about dwindling battery supplies and obstacles in their path.

Mizushima says the company wants to “create the iPhone of mobility devices” since the Type-A goes everywhere its user does, like a smartphone. He adds that Whill hopes its mobility devices will eventually be seen as not just as an alternative to traditional wheelchairs, but as an energy-efficient car replacement that, like the Segway, can go where other vehicles can’t.

Whill’s main objective, however, will continue to be improving the lives of disabled people. The company’s team members have known each other for more than 10 years (except for Mizushima, who joined at the beginning of this year) and collaborated on mechanical projects for fun. They began developing a wheelchair alternative after hearing about a friend’s experience with stigma.

“He said he didn’t go outside for groceries even though the market was only two blocks away unless it was absolutely necessary because he didn’t wanted to be seen negatively as a wheelchair user. There were a lot of obstacles for him to get around,” says Mizushima.

“Two blocks is not a big deal for us, but it was a big deal for him. Hearing that was a shocking moment for us and the beginning of a journey. It’s why we started to create devices to solve problems for wheelchair users.”

To test drive Whill, visit the company’s site. The Type-A will be exhibited at Abilities Expo San Jose later this month, as well as CES and Abilities Expo LA early next year.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Zendesk And Japanese SaaS Provider Cybozu Announce Product Integration And Marketing Deal

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Clouds by Toshihiro Oimatsu

Cloud computing providers Zendesk and Tokyo-based Cybozu have announced a strategic partnership to integrate and market each other’s products in the U.S. and Japan. The deal underscores the rapidly growing adoption of cloud computing in Japan, and is also a potential harbinger of further product integrations between software-as-a-service companies based in different countries.

The agreement means that Cybozu will market Zendesk’s customer service software to businesses in Japan, while Zendesk will promote Cybozu’s cloud platform for business collaboration to its U.S. customers. The two companies will also develop integrations with each other’s platforms. Zendesk and Cybozu will officially launch their joint marketing efforts at the cybozu.com conference on cloud computing in Tokyo this Friday and their joint product integration is expected to begin later this year.

Founded in 2007 and headquartered in San Francisco, Zendesk has received funding from Charles River Ventures, Benchmark Capital, Goldman Sachs, GGV Capital, Index Ventures, Matrix Partners and Redpoint Ventures. Cybozu was founded in 2011 and is listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The partnership will help the two companies accelerate their global expansion. Cybozu, the top collaboration software in Japan in terms of market share, recently entered the U.S. Meanwhile, Zendesk opened its first office in Tokyo earlier this year.

PCH International’s Highway 1 Is Looking For A Few Good Hardware Startups

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Highway 1, an incubator/accelerator run by Brady Forrest and underwritten by electronics powerhouse PCH International, is beginning its Spring Applications process and will close applications after TC’s Hardware Battlefield in Las Vegas.

“Our goal remains the same: to teach startups how to be hardware companies,” said Forrest.

The incubator helps build businesses by supplying funds, introductions, and an education in design, prototyping, and mentorship. The group is looking for international teams.

“Our Fall class is comprised of 11 teams with members from China, Portugal, Ireland, South Africa, US, & Canada. We want this expansion to come internationally. To that end we’ll be doing a tour US, European and Asian cities this year. I am personally going to be visiting visiting maker spaces in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijng, Shanghai, Paris, London, Los Angeles and Seattle.”

This session they are looking for 15 companies. Each company receives seed Funding of $20,000 in return for 3-6% equity. “I am looking for more companies that are going to use hardware as a platform. We’re also doubling down on wearables and health tech. We’re looking for non-profits this time as well.” You can apply here.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Messaging App Line To Go Public In 2014 On The Tokyo Exchange, Report Says

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According to Nikkei, Line, a popular messaging and call service, intends to go public in 2014 on the Tokyo stock exchange. The company is expected to go public at a valuation between $800 million USD and $1 billion.

According to Serkan Toto, Line has 270 million registered users. It isn’t clear what percentage of that user base is active on a monthly basis. Twitter, a company that is also set to go public shortly, has around 230 million monthly active users. The comparison matters are both mobile-focused communications applications.

And Twitter could go public at an IPO valuation of as high as $20 billion, if scuttlebutt is to be believed. We can’t be too perfectly sure, but it would seem that Twitter is being valued much higher on a per-user basis.

Line as a company has been at the forefront of the rising profile of so-called ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) messaging services that have quickly grown in recent years. Others include Viber and KakaoTalk. Essentially, they replace the native SMS and call capabilities that come in smartphones.

It has become a massive market. Line’s 270 million users are only a fraction of the larger OTT communications market. When Line goes public, it could clear the way for other OTT applications to follow suit.

Top Image Credit: Joi Ito

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

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