Disrupting Japan


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Disrupting Japan

Tim Romero

Japanese startups are fundamentally changing Japan’s society and economy. Disrupting Japan gives you direct access to the thoughts and plans of Japan’s must successful and creative startup founders. Join us and bypass the media and corporate gatekeepers and hear what’s really going on inside Japan’s startup world.

1 Jun 26, 2017

92: The Little Startup from Japan That Took Down NTT – TownWiFi

It’s rare for a Japanese startup to challenge NTT and come out ahead. But that’s exactly what Takehiro Ogita and his team at TownWiFi have accomplished. TownWiFi is a mobile app that automatically detects and logins into available WiFi hotspots. Since TownWiFi was very modestly funded, Takehiro and his team relied on a better user experience and word of mouth to get the word out. Today we sit down with Takehiro and dive into that story, but we also look at the company's existing overseas userbase and his plans for global expansion on a shoestring. There is so much changing among Japanese startups right now, and Takehiro explains some of the social forces working for and working against new Japanese startups. It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Show Notes The universal problem with free WiFi What allowed TownWiFi to gather a userbase so quickly Why Rakuten produces so many startup founders Why Takehiro had to hide his startup from his family How TownWiFi managed to beat NTT in direct competition A common sense plan for global expansion How pivoting from a C2C to a B2B model saved this startup Links from the Founder The TownWiFi Homepage Takehiro's Blog  Friend Takehiro on Facebook And, of course, download the TownWiFi app  Leave a comment Transcript   Disrupting Japan, episode 92. Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Takehiro Ogita started TownWiFi as a simple way to allow Wi-Fi hotspots to be accessed and shared to mobile phones or mobile device users in general. There are a number of free Wi-Fi finding apps out there today but there are a few particularly interesting things about TownWiFi. First, unlike almost all their competitors, TownWiFi has found a way to monetize this app. And while they’re not yet profitable, they are earning revenue. Second, and I love this for so many reasons, the dominant player in this space, when TownWiFi launched their product was NTT and little TownWiFi has absolutely crushed NTT in the marketplace. Don’t get me wrong. I like NTT. I have friends at NTT. NTT is actually doing a lot of positive things in the area of corporate development and open innovation. The reason TownWiFi’s story is so inspiring is that it would have been absolutely impossible 10 years ago. Back then, NTT DoCoMo was not only the dominant mobile carrier but strictly controlled which apps would be allowed to be featured on their platform and sold to their subscribers. This may sound vaguely like the way Apple runs the App Store but it’s not. At that time, Japanese carriers would select one or two apps in each category, usually from closely associated companies and then lock everyone else out. Apps did not really compete with each other and there is no way that a serious challenger to the carrier’s own app let alone one made by an independent upstart would have been allowed inside their walled garden. Things are changing for startups in Japan, and when tiny little startups begin to beat NTT at their own game, it means great things are on the way. But you know, Takehiro tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview. [Interview] Tim: So I’m sitting here with Takehiro Ogita of TownWiFi. Thanks for sitting down with us today. Takehiro: Thanks for having me. Tim: TownWiFi is an app that helps you find free Wi-Fi hotspots but I know it’s more than that, and you can explain it better than I can. So why don’t you tell us what TownWiFi is? Takehiro: We are providing app which can auto-connect and authenticate to the public Wi-Fi. Our biggest point is that we are auto-authenticate, and auto-login, and auto-register to very public Wi-Fi of the world. Tim: So that means that the user can just kind of keep this app running in the background --
92: The Little Startup from Japan That Took Down NTT – TownWiFi
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2 Jun 19, 2017

91: I Was Wrong. Startups Are Not the Future of Innovation in Japan

This is a rather personal episode. We have no guests this time. It’s just you and me. We talk a lot about Japanese startups on this show and the role they will play in shaping Japan's economic future. Well, today we are going to look at this from a different angle; one that puts the hype aside and looks at some cold hard numbers. The result is sobering, surprising and,  believe it or not, kind of inspiring So let's get right to it.  Leave a comment Transcript Disrupting Japan Episode 91 Welcome to Disrupting Japan straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for listening  Once again, I’ve got a special show for you today. There will be no guests, no beer, no playful banter with someone speaking English as a second language. Today it’s just you and me. For the next 20 minutes I’ll be whispering in your ear about something I consider very important, but that not enough people are talking about. It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these solo shows. They tend to among my most popular episodes, I get a lot of requests for them and I love doing them. I would like to do more, but you might be surprised at the amount of research and revisions that go into these solo-shows. Not to mention the times when I get two-thirds of the way putting one together only to realize the primary thrust of my argument is flawed and the whole thing needs to be reworked. Unfortunately, I’m not really smart enough to just turn on the microphone and talk for 20 minutes.  It’s so much easier sitting down and talking to amazingly creative Japanese startup founders and innovators who are doing and saying crazy things.  Well, today, I’d like to share something with you that first occurred to me about a year ago. And the more I research it, and the more people I speak with, the more I become convinced it’s right.  I’ve haven’t talked about it a lot before, because well, frankly, it’s something that a lot of people in the startup community here will disagree with — and some will disagree in very strong terms. But it’s important, so let’s strap in and get right to it.      Over the next twenty years, startups are not going to revive the Japanese economy, nor are they are they going to be the primary driver of innovation in this country. Don’t misunderstand, startups have a role to play, a very important role to play, but they will not be the primary drivers of change. No. Japan’s mid-sized companies will be the primary drivers of both large-scale innovation and economic growth over the next ten years. For this to make sense, we are going to look at the role that mid-sized companies play in the Japanese economy today, we’ll then step back in time both to see how things get this way and to understand why Japan is at such a pivotal juncture today, and then look at how thing are likely to shake out over the next 15 years or so. Now, to the average podcast listener, this would sound like a dry topic, but you as a DJ listener are of a special breed, and you’ll be rewarded for coming with me deep, deep into the weeds. If you come along, I promise that in twenty minutes you will have a new way of looking at mid-sized companies in Japan, and perhaps a new way of looking at Japanese startups as well. You see medium-sized enterprises are the middle child in Japan’s corporate family. The large companies, the brands you know Toyota, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Mistsu. For the most part are the remnants of the once incredibly-powerful keirestsu groups.  These companies are are the oldest child. Everyone knows who they are. They are in the news. They have influence. They work closely with the Japanese government, both the legislators and the bureaucracy, to ensure that the needs of Japan’s large corporations are reflected in national policy and international trade agreements. And of course, the vast majority of government grant money, primary contracts,
91: I Was Wrong. Startups Are Not the Future of Innovation in Japan
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3 Jun 12, 2017

90: How this Musical Shoe Startup is Helping Hospitals – No New Folk Studio

Most great startup ideas don’t grab your attention right away. It takes a while before the founder’s vision becomes obvious to the rest of us. On the other hand, the startups that immediately grab all the press attention often go out of business shortly after shipping their first product. Reality never seems to live up the to promise. And then there are products like Orphe. This LED-emblazoned, WiFi-connected, social-network enabled dancing shoe seems made for fluffy, flashy Facebook sharing, but only when you really dig into it, do you understand what it really is and the potential it has in the marketplace. Today we sit down with Yuya Kikukawa, founder of No New Folk Studio and the creator of the Orphe, and we talk about music, hardware financing, and why this amazing little shoe is finding early adopters in places from game designers to hospitals. It’s a great conversation, and I think you’ll really enjoy it. Show Notes The inspiration for musical shoes Why Yuya's first musical instrument attempt was a failure The biggest challenge in moving from prototype to production Orphe's technical specs How Orphe is being used in hospitals and other healthcare applications How small Japanese startups can achieve global distribution Where the next big startup opportunities in Japan will be Why most hardware startups fail Links from the Founder No New Folk Studio Hompage See Orphe in action Check out Yuya's blog Follow Yuya on Facebook Check out PocoPoco on YouTube  Leave a comment Transcript Disrupting Japan, episode 90. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me. You know, most good startups are obvious. I don’t mean that I could have had the idea before the founders did. By obvious, I mean that right away you can understand the problem the company is solving for their customers and how they’re doing it. Naturally, that makes it easier for the customers to buy. Most non-obvious startups are in reality still struggling to find the product market fit and are probably not long for this world. And then there are products like Orphe, an LED-emblazoned WiFi-connected social sharing enabled dancing shoe. Yeah, it sounds like something you would find on Indiegogo and that one time not too long ago, it was. But when I sat down with Yuya Kikukawa, founder of No New Folk Studio and the creator of the Orphe, it became clear that this was not some quirky side project or some overfunded crazy hardware startup. This was something really different. We talked about the original inspiration for the shoe and what does and does not qualify as a musical instrument and how Orphe is being used by the artistic community in Japan. But we also dive into the technology inside it, and that, well, that’s something special. That’s why this quirky little blinking shoe is starting to get used by game and UI designers, as well as hospitals and sports trainers in Japan. It’s a fascinating discussion but you know, Yuya tells the story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview. [Interview] Tim: I’m sitting here with Yuya Kikukawa of No New Folk Studio. Thank you for sitting down with me. Yuya: Thank you for inviting. Tim: Now, you guys make Orphe which is an LED dance shoe but it’s so much more than that. Can you describe what Orphe is exactly? Yuya: Yeah. Orphe is kind of world’s first smart LED shoes. Smart means it has a computer inside of the sole, at the same time there are about 100 full color LEDs. The computer can control each pixel. So the user can change the color through the smartphone application. Tim: Okay. It’s always so hard to describe dance and visual effects on an audio podcast. Yuya: Okay. Tim: So it’s basically a dance shoe with an array of LED lights around the sole that are controlled interactively bot...
90: How this Musical Shoe Startup is Helping Hospitals – No New Folk Studio
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4 Jun 05, 2017

89: How One Good Idea Emerged from Japan’s Nuclear Disaster – Safecast

After the March 2011 earthquake and the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, TEPCO and the Japanese government tried to assure us that everything was just fine. The repeatedly insisted that there was no serious danger posed by the radiation. Not very many people believed them. Reliable data from fallout areas was sparse at best, and many Japan residents doubted that the government was telling the truth in the first place. It was in that environment that Pieter Franken and his team created Safecast. Safecast began as a small group in Japan with home-made Geiger counters making their reading available to everyone. They have now grown into an international movement involving private citizens, universities, non-profit organizations and government agencies. Pieter also explains why environmental science will look very different ten years from now. It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups Why Japan's disaster preparation failed Why you need high-resolution and high-density radiation monitoring Why citizens do not,  and perhaps should not, trust their governments The advantages of creating a DYI kit rather than a product How to maintain data integrity for crowdsourced efforts Why both pro-nuke and anti-nuke activists opposed Safecast How governments have reacted to alternative data sources Safecast's plan to win over the scientific community The future of citizen science Links from the Founder Everything you wanted to know about Safecast Safecast's radiation maps Safecast's radiation report Connect with Pieter on LinkedIn Follow him on Twitter @noktonlux  Leave a comment Transcript from Japan   Disrupting Japan, episode 89. Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. You know, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing in Japan largely gained in its popularity in projects related to the massive March 2011 earthquake, and ensuing tsunami, and the release of radiation at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. In fact, longtime listeners have heard the founders of some of Japan’s largest crowdfunding and crowdsourcing companies explain that breaking away from this image of crowdfunding as a social good was something that they had to overcome before their startups became truly successful. Well, today we’re going to sit down with Pieter Franken of Safecast, one of the earliest examples of widespread crowdsourcing in Japan. And we talk about how they’ve grown from a Japanese patchwork solution to the leader of a global movement. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, people throughout Japan were worried about radiation. TEPCO, who operated the facilities and the Japanese government assured everyone that things were under control and that everyone was perfectly safe. As you might imagine, however, most people were highly skeptical of these claims. The radiation data just wasn’t there or it wasn’t being shared with the public or it wasn’t believed when it was shared with the public. Pieter and his team started Safecast to make sure that lack of information and lack of transparency would never happen again and they began building low-cost Geiger counters that people around the country and then around the world could use to measure their local area and then have all that data uploaded into the cloud and made available for anyone. It’s an amazing story and it’s one that Pieter tells much better than I do. So let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview. [Interview] Tim: So I’m sitting here with Pieter Franken of Safecast. You guys make an open environmental data collection system for everyone but I think you can explain much better than I can what it is. Pieter: To explain what we’re doing, best thing is just to go back in time a little bit. Exactly six years ago in March 2011,
89: How One Good Idea Emerged from Japan’s Nuclear Disaster – Safecast
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5 May 29, 2017

88: How You Can Build American Startup Culture in Japan – OpenTable

Selling innovative software to conservative Japanese businesses is never easy, but it’s particularly challenging in the cutthroat and low-margin restaurant industry. Today, we sit down with Masao “TJ” Tejima and talk about how he brought OpenTable into Japan, and why it took him much longer than he had originally hoped. It’s a wide-ranging and deep-diving discussion on how to identify which companies are most suitable for Japan market entry and TJ’s rather extreme approach to maintaining a consistent corporate culture between Japan and corporate headquarters. We also take a look at some of the biggest mistakes Western companies make when hiring a Japan Country Manager and a few simple ways those mistakes can be avoided. It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll really enjoy it Show Notes Why leave a  company after a successful market entry? How to build a product around a human network Why you need to run market entry like a startup OpenTable's real business model and how is was adapted for Japan How to sell new technology to traditional low-margin businesses The danger of over-localization Why the Japanese fast followers ran into problems How to build a global culture at a Japanese subsidiary The one type of Japanese General Manager foreign companies need to beware of Links Masao's official bio Sports for Life is Masao's latest project is running the Asia Pacific Corporate Games Leave a comment Transcript   Disrupting Japan, episode 88. Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from the CEOs breaking into Japan. I am Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today, we’re going to be sitting down with Masao Tejima or "TJ" as his friends call him and I have to admit, that this interview did not exactly goes as planned. A few days beforehand, TJ and I agreed to sit down and talk about how he brought Open Table to Japan. And he used that experience as a jumping off point to give advice about how to bring in innovative software company to Japan and then sell to very conservative Japanese companies - and we did that. And then in the next forty minutes, you’re going to be hearing all about it. However, Open Table was not TJ’s first Japan market entry. He also brought in Macomedia and before that all this. And our simple talk, meandered him into ninety minutes history of desktop publishing in Japan and how he had to forge strategic alliances and corporate standards that allowed the technology to take route. I walked away with the makings of two amazing stories on tape. So, here’s what we’re going to do. Today, we’re going to tell you the much more recent story of how Open Table entered the Japanese market. And a bit later, we’ll have TJ on again to give us the blueprint of the right technology can let you disrupt an entire industry in only a few years, even in Japan. Today, we’re going to learn about how to identify what companies are most suitable for Japan market entry and talk about TJ’s rather extreme approach to maintaining a consistent corporate culture between Japan and corporate headquarters. We’ll talk about effective techniques for selling innovative software to conservative Japanese businesses and we’ll look at some of the biggest mistakes companies make in hiring their Japan Country Managers. But you know, TJ tells that story much better than I can. So, let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview. [Interview] Tim: So I am sitting here with TJ Tejima of well formerly, Japan CEO of Open Table. So, thanks for sitting down with me. TJ: Thank you very much. Tim: So before we get started with the history of this market entry and what went right and what went wrong, can you give us a brief explanation of what Open Table’s business model is? TJ: It was 2000 or 2002, I was a General Manager of Macomedia which has Aldus, Adobe. I have to be in San Francisco because headquarter is in San ...
88: How You Can Build American Startup Culture in Japan – OpenTable
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6 May 22, 2017

87: How This Startup Makes Money from Children’s Old Notebooks – Arcterus

Education is one of the hardest sectors to disrupt -- or even improve upon -- and most EdTech startups struggle. Today we sit down with Go Arai and we talk about how his company, Arcterus, is taking a bottom-up approach to improving education. Arcterus has developed a service called Clear, which profits by helping students help each other study. Clear is basically a study-notebook sharing platform, and now Go and his team are building it out into something much more than that. We talk about Arcterus’ recent Asian expansion and why some seemingly small cultural differences made their product unviable in certain countries. We also explore why it's sometimes hard for Japanese startups to pivot and the effects of the company and the team when a radical change in direction is needed. It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups Why notebook sharing works in Japan but not in America How lessons from a corporate  turnaround were applied to a startup How a terrible skiing accident ended up launching a startup Why it took the team five pivots to find product-market fit What makes pivoting hard in Japan How to use Twitter to drive business Why other Asian countries are ahead of Japan in EdTech What today's textbooks will evolve into Links from the Founder Arcterus Homepage Everything you ever wanted to know about Clear Friend Go on Facebook  Leave a comment Transcript from Japan   Disrupting Japan, episode 87. Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. You know, for a few very good reasons and many very bad reasons, education is particularly hard to disrupt. I think a big part of this is that the goal of public education is far more than imparting a set of skills onto the students. Although my libertarian friends might disagree, public schooling provides not only the hard skills that students need to function in the society, but universal education provides us with a shared experience and shared frame of reference that helps us define society. It’s something that binds us together. Now, different countries have different approaches to creating this shared experience. In Japan, the Ministry of Education defines precisely what every child in the countries learning, in any given week. In America, there are no national requirements at all, and tremendous latitude is given to the states and to the individual school boards. One approach is not necessarily better than the other but startups that try to disrupt the way we impart skills to our children at the expense of that shared experience, are likely to fail. Or worse, succeed and do long term harm to our society. Well today, we’re going to sit down and talk with Go Arai, CEO of Arcterus, a EdTech startup that is trying to help students learn more effectively but also contribute, just a little bit, to that shared experience. Arcterus is a platform that allows students that share their study notebooks with other students and then profit from that sharing. We also talk about Arcterus’ recent Asian expansion. You know, we in the west often make the mistake of thinking about "Asian" culture. But there really is no such thing as Asian culture. Asian countries have an incredible diversity of cultures and Arcterus ran straight into that as they discovered that very specific cultural traits determine whether they will succeed or fail in a specific country. But you know Go tells that story better much I can. So, let’s hear from our sponsor and then get right into the interview. (Interview) Tim: So we’re sitting here with Go Arai of Arcterus it’s a social learning app based on notebook sharing, but you can probably explain it much better than I can, so why don’t you tell us a bit about Arcterus and about your products?
87: How This Startup Makes Money from Children’s Old Notebooks – Arcterus
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7 May 15, 2017

86: Why Only the Uncomfortable Succeed in Japan – Jeff Sandford – Wovn.io

The translation and localization industry has seen some impressive innovations over the past decade, but in many ways, it has remained stubbornly resistant to change. Today we sit down and talk with Jeff Sandford co-founder of Wovn.io. The Wovn team has developed a way to take the pain out of web localization and translation. They promise to do it all with a single line of code. We talk a bit about the mechanics of web-site localization and state of the industry as a whole, and we also discuss some important but surprising differences between with makes compelling UI/UX design for Japanese and for Western users, and what kinds of tasks machine translation can really be trusted with. Jeff also explains why he decided to start a company with someone he had never meet. It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll really enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups Why website translation is important but often overlooked Why Jeff chose to start a company with someone he had never met  How to combat Japan's "Design by Committee" problem Why you should not trust machine translation for e-commerce When you need to change from a bottom-up to top-down sales strategy The challenges of working with Japanese enterprise customers as a startup Advice for foreign engineers and founders who want to come to Japan Why Japan needs to get uncomfortable Links from the Founder Wovn.io homepage Wovn.io on Twitter Wovn.io on Facebook  Leave a comment Transcript from Japan Disrupting Japan, episode 86. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today we’re going to talk about something that you and I, and probably everyone else listening right now has struggled with. Translation and localization. It’s been an industry that has both seen some impressive innovations over the past decade, but is also somehow quite resistant to change. Localization is a part of business that almost every firm has to deal with, but almost no one looks forward to. It’s a lot like dealing with lawyers in that way, I suppose. Well, today we sit down with Jeff Sandford, cofounder of Wovn.io who say they’ve developed a one line of code method for taking the pain out of localization and translation. We talk a bit about the mechanics of website localization and the state of the industry as a whole, of course. We also talk about the important and surprising differences between what makes great UI/UX with Japanese and western users. And what kind of tasks machine translation can really be trusted with. And Jeff shares a story of what made him decide to start a company with a cofounder who he’d never even met before. But you know, Jeff tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor, and get right to the interview. [Interview] Tim: Cheers. Jeff: Cheers. Tim: So I’m sitting with Jeff, cofounder of Minimal Technologies and the creator of Wovn.io. And thanks for sitting down with me today. Jeff: Thank you very much. Good to be here. Tim: Wovn.io at a high level is simply localization for a website. But it’s more than that. It’s more interesting than that so why don’t you tell us a bit about what it is. Jeff: So often people when you tell them you do website localization, they think translation, which it actually isn’t. Translation is a very integral part of it, but what we focus on is the system of localizing a website. So let’s say you have an English website, and you’ll like to create a Chinese version or Spanish version of that website, we handle all of the details of actually creating those versions, and also managing them and serving them to users. Tim: Now there’s a lot of companies that are doing that, but you guys have a particularly interesting approach to it. The Wovn.io promise, as it were, is the ultimate in simplicity, right? Jeff: Right.
86: Why Only the Uncomfortable Succeed in Japan – Jeff Sandford – Wovn.io
00:43
8 May 08, 2017

85: Can This Founder Solve Japan’s Hidden Mental Health Problem? – Hikari Labs

Seeking help for even minor mental health problems still carries a stigma in Japan. This is particularly unfortunate because clinical research shows that a significant portion of Japanese adults suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Ayako Shimizu, the founder of Hikari Labs, has an innovative approach that represents a huge step forward in addressing this problem. Hikari Labs develops and distributes video games based on cognitive behavior therapy, and these games enable players to literally train their brains out of depression. Her approach bypasses both the stigma and costs involved in seeking treatment. Even in conservative Japan, she is seeing increasing and enthusiastic adoption by corporate wellness programs. But this whole project was almost shut down by the very people who should have been helping her. Ayako has a fascinating story, and I think you’ll really enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups How gaming can treat depression and reduce suicide rates Why marketing mental health games is so challenging The changing profiles of Japanese who suffer depression Why women have higher rates of depression, but lower rates of suicide How Ayako's University tried to put a stop to this project How to build a business model around mental health Why conservative corporations are on the forefront of improving mental health in Japan Links from the Founder Hikari Labs homepage Online counseling YouTube video Todai Shinbun article Follow Ayako on Twitter @Hikari_Lab_Inc Friend her on Facebook Connect with him on LinkedIn Try out SPARX SPARX for iPhone/iPad SPARX for Android Clinical Journal on SPARX  Leave a comment Transcript from Japan   Disrupting Japan, episode 85. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Now long-term listeners know that this show is not really about start-ups. Well, of course it’s about start-ups, but it’s about so much more than that. Japanese start-ups give us a unique perspective on Japanese society. Looking at the problems that need to be solved, the path people are taking to try to solve them, and seeing what challenges society throw up against them can tell us more about a country or a society than mountains of surveys and piles of longitudinal studies. Start-ups tell us the kind of future that people envision, and how the present plans on resisting the future. Nowhere is this more true than with today’s guest. Ayako Shimizu, founder of Hikari Labs. Ayako is developing and marketing video games to treat mental illness, and she has the clinical data that shows the approach has real therapeutic value. And yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, Japanese academia and the medical industry as a whole have been—Well, let’s just say less supportive of her efforts. But still she’s seen steady increases in both the number of users and growing interest from a surprising segment of corporate Japan. But you know, Ayako tells that story much better than I can. So let’s here from our sponsor and get right to the interview.  [Interview] Tim: So I’m sitting here with Ayako Shimizu of Hikari Labs, and thanks for sitting down with me. Ayako: Thank you, Tim, for inviting me here. Tim: Now Hikari Labs is focused on improving mental health through software, I guess. But why don’t you tell us a bit about what Hikari Labs does and what it’s mission is. Ayako: Okay, well Hikari Labs currently have two services. One is online counseling called Kokoro Works, and another one is this game application called Sparx, which was developed at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. And our mission is to help shape a society that’s the psychological care is more reachable to people.
85: Can This Founder Solve Japan’s Hidden Mental Health Problem? – Hikari Labs
00:45
9 May 01, 2017

84: Beneath the Cherry Blossoms with 500 Startups – Dave McClure

Today we sit down with Dave McClure under the cherry blossoms and talk about startups, funding, failure Dave has long been involved in Japan and in the startup community here, and in this episode, we talk about the progress Japan has made in the past decade and the changes that still need to be made. We go over what Dave sees as the gaps in the Japan’s venture capital ecosystem and also dispel some of the pervasive myths that have spread throughout Silicon Vally and the entire startup world. We spend a bit of time diving into what Dave and 500 Startups consider to be a risky business model, and it may not be what you expect, but it’s great advice for anyone thinking of starting a company. It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups Who is doing most of the investing in Japan right now Why Japan needs more angel investors What startups should be looking for in investors How to find a startup idea What Japan should learn from Silicon Valley and what it should ignore Which business models are truly unproven The one thing Japan should change to encourage startups How to really learn from failure Links from the Founder 500 Startups 500 Startups Japan Follow Dave on Twitter @davemcclure Friend him on Facebook Connect with him on LinkedIn    Leave a comment Transcript from Japan Disrupting Japan, episode 84. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from CEOs breaking into Japan. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for listening. Japan, well most of the world really has an unhealthy obsession with Silicon Valley. I’ve been to Japanese language start-up events here in Tokyo where the phrases Silicon Valley, or San Francisco, were mentioned more than twice as often as Tokyo or Japan. And yes, I actually did keep count. And I’m sure none of my friends are the least bit surprised by that. My point is that while Japan can learn a lot from Silicon Valley, the reverse is also true. There are a lot of things going right in Japan, and many things that are developing differently here than they are in Silicon Valley. Well, today we sit down with Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups, and we talk under the cherry blossoms about start-ups funding failure, and about some of the most pervasive myths surrounding start-ups and start-up founders. For our listeners who are not familiar with the Japanese tradition of Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, I’ll explain it to you in both theory and practice because those two can be a bit different. In theory, Hinami is a time to reflect on the transitory nature of beauty, of our possessions, and of life itself. The cherry blossoms bloom only for a few days a year before their pedals fall. And almost everyone in Japan no matter how busy or sick will make at least a little time to go out and walk among the blossoms. The trees really are beautiful, and that beauty is made all the more precious by the fact that they can only be appreciated for such a brief period of time. In practice, people from all over Japan get together with their friends under the cherry blossom trees, get rip-roaringly drunk, sing karaoke, and have a great and boisterous time.  So when Dave and I are talking and in the background, you hear school girls laughing, drunken cheering, and people suddenly breaking into song, you’ll know what’s going on. It was a great party and a great discussion. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview. [Interview] Tim: Cheers. Dave: Cheers. Tim: So I’m sitting hear with the indomitable and encourageable Dave McClure. Dave: Encourageable sounds right. Tim: So thanks for sitting down. I really do appreciate your time. Dave: Yeah. Tim: You’ve had ties to Japan for a long time. Dave: Yes, probably about 20 years or more. Tim: And you’ve been actively involved in investing here for about, what, 10 years? Dave: Maybe seven.
84: Beneath the Cherry Blossoms with 500 Startups – Dave McClure
00:38
10 Apr 24, 2017

83: These Japanese Bio-Hackers Are Growing Meat in A Lab – Shojinmeat

Growing our meat in a lab or factory has been a science fiction staple for decades, but much like jetpacks, it has never quite worked out in practice -- at least not at scale. Yuki Hanyu and his team at Shojinmeat, however, are changing that. Actually, scientists have been growing muscle tissue in labs for more than 100 years, but Shojinmeat has developed techniques that bring the cost down to less than one 1,000th of traditional approaches. Now, that still leaves it too expensive for most commercial applications, but Yuki explains how his team (and others) will bring the costs down into the commercial range very soon. We also talk about both why Japanese life-sciences startups have such a hard time raising money in Japan and how Shojinmeat found a way to make the system work for them. It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups How do you grow meat in the Lab? Why cellular agriculture doesn’t get funding Is lab-grown meat kosher? Combining open research and patent protection How to bring down the cost of cultured meat Solving the taste problem How cultured meat will become available Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Shojinmeat How Integriculture is commercializing lab-grown meat Check out Yuki's blog Follow him on twitter @yukihanyu1 New Havest talks about Yuki's project  Leave a comment Transcript from Japan Disrupting Japan, episode 83. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today we’re going to talk about the future of meat. Many would say the future of humanity, but really today we’re just going to talk about the meat. Yuki Hanyu and his team at ShojinMeat are growing meat in the lab, and they’re doing it at a tiny fraction of the cost of traditional methods. Actually, it turns out that lab-grown meat or cellular agriculture—as the discipline is actually called—is not particularly new. It’s been in active development all over the world for well over 100 years. What’s different about ShojinMeat, however is that they’ve been able to bring the cost down by an astounding three orders of magnitude. And that brings a technology within striking distance of a lot of practical uses. We dive into the actual science behind cellular agriculture. And if you can follow all of it, it means that you’re a huge biology nerd, and I love you for it. Otherwise, it would be good just to let the science wash over you. It’s a pretty amazing topic. Another thing we talk about is why Japanese life sciences start-ups have such a hard time both raising money and growing here in Japan. And how ShojinMeat meat has found a way to make the system work for them. But you know, Yuki tells that story much better than I can so let’s hear from our sponsor, and get right to the interview. [Interview] Tim: So I’m sitting here with Yuki Hanyu of ShojinMeat, and thanks for sitting down with me. Yuki: Thank you very much for inviting me to the podcast. Tim: Today we’re going to talk about meat. Yuki: Yeah, meat. Tim: And most specifically, cellular agriculture. So to get started. Why don’t you explain what what ShojinMeat is? Yuki: We are a collection of volunteer students, artists, and people of various disciplines to develop cultured meat technology. Tim: So it’s a bio-hacker community here in Tokyo, right? Yuki: Yes. Tim: So how long have you been doing this. Yuki: If you’re talking about active wet novelty work, that will be about a year and a half. Tim: Okay. Yuki: And if you’re talking about people building a team, that would be about two and a half years. Tim: Alright. Okay, well actually before we go forward in this, let’s step back a bit and talk about the process. So exactly how does the process work? What are you doing?
83: These Japanese Bio-Hackers Are Growing Meat in A Lab – Shojinmeat
00:37
11 Apr 17, 2017

82: How Virtual Reality is Changing Surgery in Japan – Holoeyes

Many VR startups are a solution is search of a problem, but Holoeyes is already in use at hospitals around Japan. Although the medical industry is one the most highly regulated, conservative and hard to disrupt, Holoeyes has made inroads by solving a very specific problem for surgeons. Today we sit down with Naoji Taniguchi, CEO of Holoeyes, and talk about the steps his startup had to take to sell into the medical market in Japan and to win over traditionally conservative doctors. Holoeyes builds up virtual reality models of organs from CT scans, and lets doctors analyze and discuss these matters much more directly and clearly than they could before. It’s a great interview and I think you’ll enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups How VR can actually save hospitals money and improve outcomes Why the world needs a GitHub of surgery What Japanese startups get out of accelerator programs Why the real value in surgical VR is not what you think How Holoeyes achieves medical quality in low-spec devices How Holoeyes convinced conservative doctors and hospitals to try a new technology Advice for startups trying to sell to doctors Why more and more medical professionals will be getting involved in startups in Japan Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Holoeyes Follow Naoji on Medium Follow him on twitter @tani_yang Friend Naoji on Facebook See Holoeyes in action https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrYlsSldXSM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu9RU03PPho https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANN64JeUjog&t=2s  Leave a comment Transcript from Japan Disrupting Japan, episode 82. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me. The medical industry is one of the world’s most highly regulated and hard to disrupt. And for the most part, that’s a good thing. But there are a number of innovative start-ups that have ways of improving things. Not disruptive change, mind you, but simple, more cautious, incremental change that will make life better for everyone. Holoeyes is one of those questions. And today we sit down with Naoji Taniguchi and we talk about how their VR solution is winning over doctors all over Japan, and changing the way surgery is done. Holoeyes builds up a virtual reality model of organs from CT scans, and let’s doctors analyze and discuss these matters much more directly and efficiently than they could before. We’ll get into the details during the interview. But one of the things that impressed me the most about Holoeyes, is that is is already in use today. So much VR tech and so many VR companies have an amazing wow factor, but only the promise of future applications. But you know, Naoji tells that story much better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview. [Interview] Tim: So I’m sitting here with Naoji Taniguchi of Holoeyes. Naoji: Yeah. Tim: This is an application that uses AR and VR for medical training, and thanks for sitting down with me. Naoji: Okay. Tim: Can you tell me a bit more about the application and how it’s used? Naoji: Holoeyes make customized model for each patient. For VR, our mixed reality, our product helps communication between doctor, surgery team members, or training senior doctors and new doctors. Tim: So let’s just walk through from start to finish how it’s used. So how do you build up this VR model? Naoji: Partially use Diacom Viewer. Diacom Viewer is viewer of CT scan image. Now we are trying to use deep learning to automate, create, make part of a model from CT scan image. Tim: Okay, so it’s laterally taking a CT scan and building up the VR image kind of slice by slice? Naoji: Yes, yes. Tim: Alright, that makes sense. And then the doctors can use this to communicate and to show the model. Naoji: Yes.
82: How Virtual Reality is Changing Surgery in Japan – Holoeyes
00:30
12 Apr 10, 2017

81: Japan’s Laundry Folding Robot Is Taking Over Your Closet – Seven Dreamers

It’s often surprising to discover which problems are hard for AI. We hear stories about artificial intelligence being better than the most skilled humans at go, chess, Jeopardy, and better than many at driving a car, and we assume that computers will be as smart as we are very soon. Then we discover how hard it is for AI to fold the laundry. Shin Sakane and his team at Seven Dreamers have been working on this particular problem for 12 years, and they are now rolling out the first commercially available laundry-folding robot. They will be first to the global market and have secured a production partnership with Panasonic. Shin and I talk a lot about AI and innovation in Japan, and also cover his rather unusual corse to innovation here. Seven Dreamers is not your typical venture backed startup, and they might just provide a blueprint for innovation that many existing Japanese firms can follow. It’s a great interview, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups Why AI can drive a car but not fold socks Why starting a company in Japan is different today Shin’s formula  for developing innovative products How to work with large Japanese companies Why the future of laundry is more disrupting than you imagine Why big data wants to hack your washing machine The need to go global quickly Can Japan once again lead the world in AI Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Laundroid Friend Shin  on Facebook Seven Dreamers Homepage Find out more about Laundroid on Facebook or Twitter Nastent website Find out more about Nastent on Facebook or Twitter The carbon-fiber golf shafts on the Web and on Facebook  Leave a comment Transcript from Japan   Disrupting Japan, episode 81. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. You know, the term artificial intelligence is thrown around far too loosely these days. Every start-up using decision trees, Bayesian algorithms, or the simplest machine learning techniques, label themselves as world leaders in AI. Now there’s no question that projects like Google’s driverless cars and IBM’s Watson have pushed the limits of what’s possible, and have introduced astounding innovations in AI over the past few years. But sometimes it’s surprising to take a look at the kinds of problems that are extremely difficult for AI. It turns out that folding laundry is one of those problems. Today we sit down with Shin Sakane, CEO of Seven Dreamers and inventor of the Laundroid. The first commercially available fully automatic laundry folding robot. We talk a lot about AI in general. And the importance and the risk of attacking the really hard problems. And what he and his firm had to go through to make Laundroid a reality. It’s also worth noting that Seven Dreamers is not your typical venture back start-up. And Shin and I talk a lot about the role that mid-size companies have to play in kick-starting the Japanese economy and returning Japan to the global leader in innovation she was in the 60s and 70s. But you know, Shin tells that story better than I can. So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview. [Interview] Tim: So I’m sitting here with Shin Sakane of Seven Dreamers, and we’ve been bumping into each other for a long time now. Shin: Right. Tim: So thanks for finally making time and sitting down with me. Shin: Thank you very much for coming. Tim: We’re here to talk a lot about the Laundroid. Now it’s a robot that folds clothes, which I guess is the simple way of explaining it, but why don’t you tell us more about what it is. Shin: Okay. We’ve been working on this project for the last 12 years almost. Tim: Wow. Shin: Yeah. We started back in 2005. This robot really folds daily life clothes and separate by categories or by family members. Tim: Oh, okay.
81: Japan’s Laundry Folding Robot Is Taking Over Your Closet – Seven Dreamers
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13 Apr 03, 2017

80: How A Failing Music Startup in Japan Pivoted to Global Success – Nana

It’s hard to make money with music apps. The competition is intense, and most people simply are not willing to pay much for music apps; either because music is something they only do casually or because if it’s something they do professionally, they probably don’t have money. Akinori Fumihara of Nana, however, is succeeding despite the odds. Nana is a collaborative music creation app, where different users upload and submit different tracks to a song, which can be edited and remixed by others to create an unlimited number of arrangements. Today Nana has a highly engaged global user-base that numbers in the millions, but it almost did not work out that way. Three months after the initial release, Nana was running out of money and was watching new installs trend towards zero. How Aki and his team managed to turn things around is an amazing story, and one I think you’ll really enjoy. Show Notes for Startups Why "casual music" is important How to develop an overseas user-base by word of mouth Why teenage girls form the heart of Nana How a YouTube video inspired an iPhone app Why it's hard to monetize a music app Why startups in Japan (outside of Tokyo) struggle The difference between Tokyo and Kansai startup founders Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Nana Friend Aki on Facebook Check out Nana on Facebook  Leave a comment Transcript from Japan   Disrupting Japan, episode 80. Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for music apps. The competition in this space is intense, and almost every niche seems to be filled. So trying to differentiate a music gap calls for a lot of creativity. But it’s usually their quixotic quest for business models that is the most interesting. The problem is that people just don’t want to spend money on making music. The amateurs and the dabblers don’t spend enough time on the hobby to invest much. And the professionals, well speaking as a former professional musician myself, I can tell you that professional musicians never have money in the first place. Well today, we sit down with Akinori Fumihara of Nana, and they might have just cracked the code. Nana is a collaborative music creation app where different users upload and submit different tracks to a song. Which can be edited and remixed by others to create an unlimited number of arrangements. Now Nana has become a huge hit with its millions of users. And just like Google, the name Nana itself has become a fully conjugatable verb in Japanese. “Nananu Nanateru, Nanata.” “I use Nana. I’m using Nana. I used Nana.” Now I’ll warn that Aki’s English is not as good as some of our other guests. But the man is really excited about reaching out to foreign listeners and so he decided to make it work and come on the show. Nana is a very cool app, and Aki’s a pretty cool guy. He’s got an amazing life story, and he started a fascinating company. But you know, Aki tells that story much better than I can, so let’s hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview. [Interview]  Tim: Cheers. Akinori: Cheers. Tim: So I’m sitting here with Akinori Fumihara, the CEO and founder of Nana. Thanks for sitting down with me today. Akinori: Nice to meet you. Tim: That’s great. Now Nana is a social music platform, but can you explain what is social music? How does Nana work? Akinori: Nana is music collaboration. I’ve found and enjoyed that biggest feature is collaboration and over dubbing. For example, like the base line, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Next, with the base add drums, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. So with the beat it adds piano. Tim: So each user adds a new part to the piece— Akinori: Yes, yes. Tim: And they collaborate to build the song. To build the orchestration.
80: How A Failing Music Startup in Japan Pivoted to Global Success – Nana
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14 Mar 27, 2017

79: The Missing Link in The Internet of Things Ecosystem – Soracom

Soracom is one of those rare Japanese startups that has the potential to become a major global player and to change the way Internet of Things devices work. The real deployment bottleneck in the Internet of Things is not the hardware or the software, but the connectivity. There are still relatively few inexpensive, flexible and scalable ways that IoT devices can transmit and receive data. Cellular connectivity is expensive, and WiFi is largely limited to stationary devices in homes and offices. Today we sit down with Ken Tamagawa, CEO of Soracom, who explains his solution to this problem, and it's a good one. Soracom operates a mobile virtual network and provides widespread connectivity for IoT devices for pennies a day, and since their infrastructure runs completely on AWS their costs are significantly lower than the competition's. Soarcom is extremely well-funded, and they are quickly expanding globally. You are going to be hearing a lot about them in the future, so let’s get to know them today. I think you’ll really enjoy the interview. Show Notes for Startups What are  MVNOs and why are they important  for the Internet of Things Why replacing hardware with software drives innovation How Japan Taxi is taking advantage of the Internet of Things The most surprising thing about going global from Japan The future of the IoT in Japan Why play and serendipity remain important even as a company scales Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Soracom Follow Ken on twitter @KenTamagawa Friend him on Facebook Check out the Soracom blog Get started with the Soracom Developer Site Safecast P2P Radiation Monitoring  Leave a comment Transcript from Japan   Welcome to Disrupting Japan- straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero, and thanks for joining me. One of the most important problems of the internet of things is not the internet or even the things. The problem lies in connecting those things to the internet. In fact, much of the promise of the internet of things is based on the idea of thousands of connected devices working together. It turns out that building the hardware and writing the software has proven to be much simpler than developing an affordable, scalable, and secured network that enables these devices to communicate with home base and with each other. Some applications use WiFi and that's a great solution for stationary devices that operating homes or offices, or anywhere else where you can be certain to have a connection. But, many devices are mobile or need to operate whether there may not be a WiFi connection. Some applications paired with cellphones and that works well for personal devices and wearable’s and things will carry around with us. But for things like sensors and inexpensive autonomous devices, well, having a cellphone plan for each of them is simply cost prohibitive. So, right now, connectivity is the real problem for a lot of internet of things applications. Well, Soracom has a solution and a damn good one in my opinion. Today, we sit down with Ken Tamagawa, CEO of Soracom to talk about their solution which involves slicing up mobile bandwidth and using Amazon web services as their backbone and this enables a pay as you go remote communication package for pennies a day. We also discuss Soracom's global ambitions. Soracom is one of the few Japanese start-ups to raise a round of more than 20 million dollars and a lot of that is targeted on their global expansion. Soracom has something that is truly unique and you'll be hearing more about Soracom in the years to come. But Ken tells us story much better than I can. So, let's hear from our sponsor and get straight to the interview. [Interview] Tim:                     I'm sitting here with Ken Tamagawa of Soracom. Soracom is a communications platform for internet of things devices but you can expl...
79: The Missing Link in The Internet of Things Ecosystem – Soracom
00:44
15 Mar 20, 2017

78: How This Startup is Getting Japanese Moms Back to Work – Waris

Miwa Tanaka, CEO of Waris, is working to make things better for working women in Japan. Although things are slowly changing, most Japanese women still must leave the workforce when they have children. The Waris platform helps them get back on track, either as a freelancer or by restarting their career. We talk about her startup, of course, but we also talk about the difficulties women still face, the kinds of roles they are traditionally placed into, and the traditional employment structures and roles are changing. It’s a optimistic interview and Miwa explains why she believes that corporate Japan truly wants to change things for the better. It’s a fascinating discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Show Notes for Startups Why Japanese women leave the workforce when they have children The problem Japanese women face during negotiations How the Tohuku Earthquake changed Miwa's life path Why the Japanese government changed its opinion on freelancers What "diversity training" actually means in Japan and why it's important The importance of startups selling to each other and bootstrapping  the ecosyste Why Japanese women are attracted to entrepreneurship and  freelancing Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Waris Friend Waris on Facebook Follow Waris on Twitter @info_Waris The Waris community blog Cue for working women in Japan. Friend Miwa on Facebook  Leave a comment Transcript from Japan Welcome to Disrupting Japan, -- straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I am Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Miwa Tanaka, the CEO of Waris is working hard to make things better for women in Japan. The changing roles of Japanese Women in both start-ups and large enterprises is something we talked about quite a bit on disrupting Japan and Miwa has a unique perspective on this subject. Waris is a platform that is helping Japanese women who've quit their jobs to have children, rejoined the work force. Now, of course, we talk about the social and business conventions that results in Japanese women having to quit their jobs to have children in the first place. But often the best solutions to these kind of social problems are small steady improvements, and that's what Miwa is trying to do. In fact, hearing Miwa explained what Waris is shows us some microcosm of women in Japanese business, --- the difficulties women face, the kind of roles they've traditionally been placed into and also how those roles and the traditional employment structure are changing but more important, perhaps, how Japanese women themselves are choosing to adapt, to work around, occasionally, walk away from those restrictions. And as Miwa explains, another sign that things are getting better here in Japan is that Waris has a steady stream of corporate customers who are asking for diversity training. I think that this is a sign, much like it was with previous guest who discussed the demand for open innovation and LGBT sensitivity training that corporate Japan wants to change. I think much of corporate Japan and the government as well, are sincere on their efforts to make things better. But as Miwa explains, sometimes those changes can painfully slowly, but Miwa tells that story much better than I can. So, let's hear from our sponsors and get right to the interview. [Interview] Tim:                     So, I'm sitting here with Miwa Tanaka, the co-founder and the CEO of Waris. So, thanks for sitting down with us. Miwa:                  Thank you so much for inviting me. Tim:                     Now, Waris is an online job matching service to help women continue their career after they've had children. I'm sure you can explain it much better than I  can. So, why don't you tell us about what Waris does? Miwa:                  Okay. Thank you. Waris is a job matching company for women who have professional skill sets and w...
78: How This Startup is Getting Japanese Moms Back to Work – Waris
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