Every year, our Japanese-language sister site throws a big Disrupt-like event in Tokyo where there is, of course, a Battlefield between about 10 different startups. With north of 100 million Internet users, Japan has a considerable domestic market. While Western companies have had more success in Japan than in mainland China, the national startup scene still has tons of thriving businesses that do well by adapting to local needs.
Here are all the startups:
SmartHR: This company is a domestic version of Zenefits in that it handles enrollment in local insurance and employment assistance benefit programs. The startup says that the current process is too cumbersome; for example, if a woman wants to go on maternity leave, there are countless forms. SmartHR is an online enrollment and benefits management service that automatically creates applications for benefits to government offices.
Popcorn is a product from a company called Coubic that helps consumers block off and schedule times with local spas and service providers. Coubic is the parent company of the product that handles scheduling for local businesses with service tiers that range from free to $49 per month and beyond. Popcorn is its consumer-facing side that offers deals and specials on health and beauty treatments.
One Tap Buy: This is mobile stock trading and buying app. You can buy stocks in three clicks with at little as 10,000 Japanese yen ($81). This company won the runner-up spot in the Battlefield.
CasterBiz: This startup is an online assistant company that brings clients online secretarial, accounting or HR help. They can help with research and analysis, job correspondence and interview help, customer support and schedule management. The trial period is free but the cheapest plan starts at 70,000 Japanese yen per month, or slightly more than $500. While Zirtual may have failed, the company says that the regulatory environment is totally different in Japan where assistants are licensed.
SHELFY: Shelfy connects local businesses like restaurants and consumers with construction and interior decoration companies. They say the normal process of identifying and working with contractors out of hundreds of thousands of options has a huge number of hassles. The company brings all of these contractors online and facilitates an easy bidding and design process for customers.
Tanren: This is a knowledge-sharing app where experts can post videos of themselves teaching their skills. Videos teach how to handle telephone or customer support or even work hospitality apps. There are also opportunities to give feedback or even compete with other users on the skills being taught.
Watcha: This company gives personalized recommendations for films based on ratings and reviews that they say produce a better recommendation engine than Netflix. ,
WealthNavi: This is a wealth advisory platform that helps consumers make smart investments. The company says that retail investors in Japan are often given riskier recommendations without a lot of information. The company has customers fill out a form explaining their age, investment purposes, annual income and assets. Right now, they’re giving advice, but say that with permits and regulatory change, they’ll be able to become a direct asset manager.
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Bonx: This is a device created by some University of Tokyo students that wanted an easy way to keep in touch while doing adventure sports. It’s an audio receiver that lets them talk to each other while snowboarding, skating or doing other types of group activity. They say their tapping into the same multi-billion dollar market that GoPro answers with its tiny, mountable cameras.
Shopcounter: This is a pop-up shop platform that lets merchandisers, artists and clothing retailers set up temporary shops in spaces more quickly than if they had to sign long-term commercial leases. They have a platform that lists all kinds of space by the day or week.
Mijin: This is a startup that is trying to replaying traditional databases with the underlying power of the blockchain to create payments systems, online games, airline mile programs, logistics, insurance and financial systems. The startup is currently in beta test phase, and early next year, they’re going to do a closed test with a business partner.