With Silicon Valley in the US and Silicon Roundabout in our own capital, we know the West is good at taking the plunge and being entrepreneurial. But what of the East?
In Japan, business culture is still ‘dominated by the concept of lifetime employment’ where, in exchange for unwavering obedience and loyalty, the employee can expect stability, security and several company perks. However, as the next generation of 20 year olds reject the restrictions and limitations of the corporate world, Japan’s entrepreneurial spirit is slowly reviving.
As a keen Japanophile, and having lived in the country among a number of budding business minds, I like to keep a close eye on the ideas emerging from the Land of the Rising Sun, in the hope that one day they’ll expand into the UK. So below is a list of some of my top 10 favourite contenders.
1: Combinator (EN) – So you have a fantastic idea for a business – but what happens when you don’t have the skills to develop your service or product yourself? Helping to turn ideas into reality, Combinator is a platform where budding entrepreneurs can pledge their time to fledgling start-ups in the making. You can be as committed as you want, whether that’s working the odd weekend, helping out after you finish your day job, or fully committing yourself to the project.
2: Air Closet (JP) – Ever looked at your wardrobe brimming with clothes and thought you still have nothing to wear? Fear not, for Air Closet is effectively a library of clothes that you can borrow, with membership costing approximately £40 a month – you receive a package containing three items of clothing, selected for you by a professional stylist, and are allowed to keep the items for as long as you like. It looks like you can only borrow three items at a time though, so once you’re ready to get your next batch, you simply send the clothes back (free return delivery and no need to wash) and review. The more feedback you share, the more accurate the stylists can be.
3: Conyac (EN) – Machine translators are getting good, but if anyone has seen this Let It Go Google Translate parody, we know that language is sometimes simply best left to the people who know how to use it! Conyac is an online platform that connects individuals and businesses alike with 40,000 affordable translators around the world, catering up to 75 languages. But perhaps what makes this service special as opposed to your ordinary translation agency is that they have three levels of service: light requests, standard requests and business. For a light request – say a quick email reply in the sender’s language – you can get a translation from a human in as quick as ten minutes.
4: Living Room (JP) – Your children have left their toys all over the floor, refuse to brush their teeth and simply don’t want to help with the household chores. Is there any hope? Yes says Living Room, a Japanese platform that helps to gamify the cleaning, washing, tidying, hygiene – you name it – experience for children. Set for release in February, children are assigned tasks through characters in a ‘game’ app (John the Adventurer in “Chores Quest” for the boys and Princess Marie in “The Magic of Chores” for the girls). The children’s apps are connected to a parent app, where Mums and Dads can confirm when a job has been completed – and once they give the green light, the children receive an in-game reward. The platform also includes a ‘Mama & Papa café’, where parents can discuss ideas and suggestions.
5: Listnr (EN) – We’re getting to a stage in technological development where interacting with your environment by sound is very much becoming a reality – and Listnr fits beautifully into the puzzle as an interactive baby monitor. Working in conjunction with an app, the user receives notifications when the device registers certain sounds – be that laughter or crying. As it develops, Listnr is also set to register the tone of voices in a room and change colour accordingly. The product is still very much in its infancy, but with backing from Panasonic and a successful CES 2015 under its belt, it’s sure to be a strong contender in the smart home arena.
6: Popinfo (JP) – Timing and visibility are of the essence in any marketing and promotional campaign, but can often be difficult to get right – after all, emails and display ads can be easy to ignore. Popinfo aims to increase click-through rates by combining geographical and behavioural insights for perfectly timed push notifications directly to consumers. It appears to be an opt-in service, with users subscribing to shops and cafés of their choice, so it’s a great way to keep your customers updated on activities and events, and drawing in the crowds.
7: AnyPerk (EN) – It’s not unusual nowadays for people to move job every few years, but if you’ve got some great talent in your midst, you won’t want to just let them go. Companies who subscribe to the AnyPerk platform give their employees access to over 700 pre-negotiated products and services, ranging from gym memberships to childcare services. The perks never expire, have no limits on redemption frequency and are redeemable immediately – companies can also customise what’s available to include their own perks, as well as remove those that don’t fit their company culture. Those that sign-up further receive regular updates on redemption statistics, enabling them to identify the most popular perks and benchmark themselves against competitors.
8: Giftee (JP) – How many times has a friend come through for you last minute – whether paying for your taxi home after losing your wallet on a night out, or coming over at a moment’s notice and offering a shoulder to cry on? Giftee specialises in small token gifts, allowing users to show their appreciation through digital vouchers for little treats, such as a cup of coffee, a slice of cake, a beer, a bowl of ice cream or even a copy of their favourite magazine. It’s the perfect way to spread the love.
9: AmazingLife (EN) – Like all things in life, everything and everyone eventually passes – but it can be difficult, and indeed complicated, to prepare for a death. AmazingLife has therefore developed a number of smartphone apps to help simplify the process and payment of services – from cremation and funeral preparations, to wills and inheritances – so that people can take the time to decide what is right for them at their own pace.
10: Type (JP) – As a fellow glasses wearer, it’s not often that a company comes around trying to make specs more ‘cool’. Oh My Glasses, however, attempts to do just that with their new line of eyewear products – Type – inspired by the similarities between the function and design of fonts and frames. The currently have four styles, named after the typefaces they were born from – Din, Futura, Garamond and Helvetica – and I can honestly say I was drawn immediately to my default font…
There are, of course, many, many more fantastic business ideas emerging in Japan – and I’ll be keeping a beady eye out for them. But in the meantime, I hope you’ll agree that there are some worthy contenders in the East that could really take the West by storm – and we should be encouraging them to try.