Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan podcast

Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan

Tim Romero: Serial startup founder in Japan and indomitable innovator

Startups are changing Japan, and Japan is once again starting to innovate. Disrupting Japan introduces you to some of the Japanese innovators that will be household brands in a few years and explains what it’s really like to be an innovator in a society that values conformity.

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  • Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan podcast

    This disruptive tech started with a dance move

    It's hard to get paid to do what you love. Perhaps no one understands this better than dancers, but Taku Kodaira and his team at Mikro Entertainment are on a mission to fix that. But this conversation, and Mikro Entertainment itself, is about much more than dance. Mikro's marketplace for dance moves is just the first application of Mikro's new motion-capture technology, and things are just getting started. Today, Taku and I talk about the surprising economics of dance moves, the adoption curve of disruptive technology, dance-move lawsuits. and one very important law that looks like it is about to change. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes How you sell a dance move Making a market - who is buying dance moves Why growing up international made it easier to start a startup How copyright law needs to expand One danger in allowing dance moves to be copyrighted Lawsuits against Epic Games over Fortnight dances How big is the motion capture industry The adoption curve for  disruptive technology Why it is impossible for any startup ecosystem to have enough engineers Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know Mikro and GesRec Friend Taku on Facebook Mikro coverage in Wired (in Japanese) How to use GesRec models in Unity   Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.  I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Truly disruptive technology is usually hard to spot when it first shows up. Sure, after the IPOs and the mass market success, everyone claims that they knew it all along. But in the early days, disruptive technology is usually shrugged off as being too simplistic or unprofitable or most often, just a solution looking for a problem.  When Kodak invented the digital camera, they dismissed it as a toy with no real commercial applications. LED light bulbs were first written off as impractical. And in 1911, the military brass dismissed the airplane as, quote, "a scientific toy with no military value." All of these seemed like, well, solutions looking for problems.  We'll pick up that thread later. But I want you to keep it in mind as we sit down today and we talk with Taku Kodaira, the founder of Mikro Entertainment, who's developed technology that can create full 3D motion capture models for mobile phone videos.  Now, Taku's initial and current application of this technology is the world's first global marketplace in dance moves, and he has some of the world's most famous dancers signed up on the platform.  But this is a conversation that will take us on a journey of how digital dancing is already being monetized in gaming and social media, about copyrights in dance and plagiarism and choreography. And we'll also explore the new uses and new markets that this technology will open up in the future.  But you know, Taku tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So I'm sitting here with Taku Kodaira, the founder of Mikro Entertainment and GesRec motion capture marketplace. And thanks for sitting down with us. Taku: Thank you very much, Tim. Tim: Now, what you guys are doing, it's really amazing tech, but you know, you can probably explain it a lot better than I can. So what does it do and what are you selling? Taku: Right. So just starting about the name GesRec, we tried to combine two words gesture and recognition and tried to create like a one word. My wife is a dancer, and I've been talking to her and she told me all the difficulty dancers are facing, and we just realized, okay, these people are doing so much stuff out there. Is there any way we can try to support them? Right now we are utilizing our technology to capture 3D motion and turn it into the data from the 2D video. And we are creating a marketplace that we sell and trade those 3D motions that's actually coming from a lot of people,
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    The Future of Disrupting Japan


    Disrupting Japan turns seven years old this week! Unfortunately, because of current conditions in Japan, we won't be able to sit down over a beer and talk about startups live as we usually do. Today, I'd like to share a story in three acts. We'll talk about the podcasting industry, what Disrupting Japan really is, and the likely future of Japanese startup founders. Please enjoy. Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. This week is Disrupting Japan’s seventh anniversary. Normally we mark each anniversary with the Disrupting Japan live show.  We invite a few guests on stage. We gather a few hundred of our biggest fans and our closest friends. And we spend the evening talking about Japanese startups and innovation over a few beers. Well, because of the pandemic, like so many other things, that’s not happening this year. I was hoping to do something creative, and I talked with some friends about maybe doing some kind of online gathering, but it just would not have been the same.  So next year. Next year for sure.  It’s hard to believe how much things have changed in the past seven years. This podcast, Japanese startups, the podcasting industry, and, well, even me as a person, have all gone through some pretty radical changes in recent years. And a strong case can be made that these have all been changes for the better.  Every episode of Disrupting Japan is focused on a new aspect of Japanese startups and innovation, but today we are going to talk about Disrupting Japan itself and how it fits into the future of podcasting and Japan. Because, well, it’s our birthday, and we get to do that on our birthday.  And I promise, that by the end, you’ll see how this all gives you a unique insight into the future of Japanese founders themselves.  1. The Future of Podcasting  So first, let’s talk about podcasting.  Podcasting has changed a lot in the past few years. And from the perspective of a startup founder, it’s been amazing to be a part of it and the future looks incredibly bright. Podcasting is growing up. Podcasting is becoming a real media business with large buyers and big rewards for the creators of the most popular shows. Of course, this rocket-like growth is enabled by the fact that the podcast industry is streamlining. It’s consolidating. And that brings other changes as well.  Long-time listeners know that Disrupting Japan has had several monetization strategies over the years. At one point we were in negotiations to become an official Nikki podcast. We didn’t quite come to terms, but we’re still good friends with the Nikki’s podcast team. For about a year, Disrupting Japan was independent, ad-supported and my primary source of income, and about four years ago I was putting together a podcast advertising network startup, which I then decided to spin down in order to join TEPCO and then Google.  So as you see, as a startup founder, I’m a big fan of monetizing podcasts.  Now, it was right after I shut down my podcast advertising project and returned Disrupting Japan to being ad-free that the podcasting industry really began its explosive growth phase.  Because of this, a number of my startup and podcasting friends have told me “Tim, you got out too early! You missed your big chance!”  Well, no. I mean, I understand why it might look that way, but I knew what I was doing.  Let me explain.  It was clear back then that podcasting was becoming a serious media business, but I knew enough about the media business to know that’s not what I wanted to do — at least not as talent — at least not for this show. Disrupting Japan is something special.  I don’t particularly want to attend meetings to see if the show is hitting this quarter’s growth objectives. I never want to be put in a situation where I’m being told “Interest in robotics is down now. You need to do more gaming content.
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    The new era of Evocative Machines. Why you’re going to love it.


    We speculate a lot about our future "robot servants" or "robot masters", but that whole metaphor is wrong. It's not going to happen that way. This is a very personal and rather speculative episode. No guests this time. It's just the two of us. In past episodes, you have already met some of the founders at the center of an amazing cluster of startups that have the potential to redefine the way humanity interacts with machines. Evocative Machines is a uniquely Japanese approach that has universal appeal, and I guarantee you that it's not what you expect. So let’s get right to it. Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know Evocative Machines Some evocative machines mentioned in this episode The GrooveX Lovot and Kaname's interview Yukai's Bocco and Shunsuke's interview Gatebox's Hikari (We'll have to get these guys on the show!) Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Once again, I’ve got a special show for you today. There will be no guests no playful banter with someone speaking English as a second language. Today, it’s just you and me. Today we’ll be diving deep into a specific and unique area of Japanese innovation. There is something interesting happening in Japan, a cluster of startups working on something new. You’ve heard parts of it on past episodes, but today we are going into new and unknown territory, and I for one *love* being in new and unknown territory.  It’s a trend I first talked about on Disrupting Japan a few years ago as Evocative Machines. Evocative Machines is a unique Japanese technology emerging from the nexus of artificial intelligence, robotics, and healthcare, and it is something that could utterly transform our world.  It’s a technology that could birth a dozen Japanese unicorns, but we are at such an early stage and this is such a moonshot, it might not result in any at all.     But a lot has changed since I first talked with you about Evocative Machines, so today I’ll explain the technology and its importance, bring you fully up to date, and then we’ll pull out our crystal balls and predict how evocative machines might actually change the world.  Now, at the end of this podcast, I predict that 50% of our listeners will find what I am about to explain as interesting, but not important, another 40% will consider it important, but unlikely and impractical.  And maybe 10% of you will understand that this is going to change the world and will want to be a part of it.  And for those10% of you, I’ll provide a way for you to get in touch. There are amazing things about to happen. Building an Evocative Machine  So what exactly is an “evocative machine”?  Machines are unquestionably becoming smarter, and recently there is a lot of good work being done on creating empathetic machines.  But an “evocative machine” is quite different from an empathetic machine.   The distinction is that empathetic machines are those that can understand our emotions and empathize with us. Evocative machines, on the other hand, are those which evoke emotions in us. Evocative machines are machines that cause us to empathize with them.  So why is this useful, let alone disruptive or transformative? The whole point of automation is to get things done more simply. I don’t want to feel sorry for my refrigerator when it breaks down. I don’t want to sympathize with my microwave about how hard it’s working when it heats my dinner. Life is stressful enough. Why waste our emotional energy on inanimate objects?  Well, when you focus on a single task, that line of thinking is absolutely correct.  But you know something? The Western approach to automation, AI, and robotics is hurting society. It’s grinding us down without us even realizing it, and Japan’s newly emerging evocative machines are the solution to this problem that we haven’t completely realized we have...
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    Why the robot uprising will give us Robot Pets, not Robot Masters


    Japan has a very different approach to robotics. Japan leads the world in industrial robots, but there is also a growing movement that is reinventing the way we share our world with machines. Kaname Hayashi was one of the creators of Softbank's Pepper robot. His latest startup, GrooveX, has raised over $100 million to develop the Lovot; a companion robot, or perhaps more accurately, a robot pet unlike any other. We talk about the Lovot itself, of course, but we also cover GrooveX's unique business model and talk about the very different ways that people of different sexes, ages, and nationalities interact with the Lovot. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes Why the Lovot is as much a pet as a dog or cat Data that proves how our interaction with robots is changing Why the Lovot's form factor is so important Why GrooveX invested so much in getting the Lovot's eyes right How the Lovot makes friends The Lovot's business model. Will this scale? The biggest surprise from the Lovot Cafe Why Western men don't love the Lovot Japan's anxiety trap and how to fix it Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about the GrooveX Follow Kaname on Twitter @HayashiKaname Friend him on Facebook See the Lovot in action The Lovot on Instagram - this is way too cute The Evocative Machines Project Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. I've never really fully embraced the Japanese concept of cute or kawaii. I mean, it's fine and all, all the mascots and characters are nice but it gets a bit odd sometimes.  For example, my bankbook is covered with pictures of Mickey Mouse and Goofy which are images Western financial institutions would probably not want to be associated with their product but hey, it works in Japan but there's actually something deeply fascinating and important underlying the idea of kawaii.  Today, we sit down with Kaname Hayashi who was formerly part of SoftBank’s Pepper Project and then went out on his own to start Groove X and create the Lovot. Now, the Lovot is a companion robot or a pet robot and we talk about the robot itself, of course and please check out the links on the site for pictures and videos. It's very cute and you really have to see the Lovot in action to appreciate it but more important than the robot itself is how people are interacting with it.  Now, we've talked about social robots on disrupting Japan before but people are interacting with the Lovot differently and far more socially than anything that's come before it. It's the first robot I've seen that not only could be fully accepted as a pet but is being fully accepted as a pet. Kaname and I also dive into the business model. Groove X has raised a lot of investment and as you'll hear during the interview, this is a startup that could go either way, it could fizzle out into nothing or it could change global society. In fact, in post-production, when I was editing down the interview, I kept thinking of more and deeper questions I wanted to ask Kaname, so we'll have to get him back on the show in the future but for now, you're about to hear a story about the difference in the way children and adults and Westerners interact with robots, the intersection of toxic masculinity and robotics and why science fiction usually gets human-robot interaction all wrong but Kaname tells that story much better than I can. So, let's get right to the interview.  Interview Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Kaname Hayashi of Groove X, the maker of Lovot, so thanks for sitting down with me today.  Kaname: Thank you very much.  Tim: So, Lovot is a cute and I mean really, really cute companion robot but you can probably describe it much better than I can. So, what is Lovot? Kaname: Yeah, good question. Lovot takes a role as a pet.
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    One way that AI is transforming family farms


    Some of Japan's innovations are going to have a much bigger impact outside of Japan. Like most startups, most AgTech startups sensibly tend to focus on their own markets. While this makes things easier at first, it tends to overlook the huge challenges -- and potentially huge profits -- that exist in the developing world. Today we talk with Shunsuke Tsuboi of Sagri, and he explains how Sagri started life as a satellite -imaging startup focused on incremental innovation in Japan, but then quickly transformed itself into a disruptive FinTech startup serving India and Southeast Asia. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes The truth about university startup support in Japan Why India is a better target for this Japanese startup Why selling to family farms is harder than selling to industrial farms Why sustainable business models are hard for agriculture startups The challenges for market entry in any agriculture startup Three reasons there are so few agriculture startups in Japan Why most Japanese VCs don't invest in AgTech What Japanese universities can do to improve creativity Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Sagri Friend Shun on Facebook TV Interview about Sagri. (Japanese) Nikkei interview with Shun  (Japanese) Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today, we're going to about agricultural startups in Japan.  You know, it's interesting, with Japan's high food prices, the financial support for farmers, and the strong system of university agricultural research, I've always been a bit surprised that we don't see more AgTech startups in Japan.  Well, today's conversation goes a long way to explaining exactly why that is, it's both fascinating and a little frustrating.  Today we sit down with Shunsuke Tsuboi of Sagri, who is using satellite imaging and AI to help small-scale farmers, some in Japan but mostly in the developing world. Shunsuke explains the challenges of launching a startup from universities without specific startup support, why going global often has nothing to do with the US or Europe, and why the world is a better place when there are tens of millions of small family farms in it and why those are worth preserving.  But you know, Shunsuke tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: I'm sitting here with Shun Tsuboi of Sagri, who is using satellites and artificial intelligence to solve agricultural problems. Thanks for joining us today. Shun: Yeah, thank you very much. Thank you for this time. Tim: It's great to have you, and I mean, agriculture tech, AgTech is something that's it's interesting in Japan, and people don't talk about it enough, so I'm really glad you're on the show. So can you explain a little bit more about what Sagri does, what is the service you're offering? Shun: Sagri company is based in Japan and India. So we are using satellite data to checking the each of the farmland and also the food of farmers we get using satellite data for smartphone, such as when is the best harvesting time and also which is a good soil situation, we can check it. Tim: The soil analysis, is that done by satellite or do you have people on the ground checking? Shun: They're using satellite, yes. Tim: Really? Shun: Yeah, along the 1,000 farmland, checking just 10 farmland detail, we can spreading the satellite information. Tim: So from satellite imaging, you can tell soil composition, you can tell farmers when the ideal time to apply pesticides, when to harvest. How do your customers interact with this? Is there a smartphone app? How does it work? Shun: So using satellite data checking through the application, they can connect it that mechanical, so this machine is automatically do that.
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    What you can learn from this “PoopTech” startup


    The bacteria in our gut affect our lives and our health in ways we are just starting to fully realize, and mapping this biome is expected to advance medical science and pharmacology as mapping the human genome. However, our gut biota is not a mappable sequence, but a complex ecosystem, and one that may be unique to each individual. In our conversation, Shinji Fukuda, founder of Metabologenomic (aka Metagen), explains how the science is advancing, what kinds of consumer devices we are likely to see first, the importance of global expansion, and the challenges of being a deep-tech startup in Japan. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes What Metagen is really trying to do Fecal transplants in Japan Japan's Gut design project - a database of poop The biggest business model challenge for Japan's deep-tech startuups Smart toilets and other consumer products Why Metagen has been turning down VC money Why global expansion is critical for both business and scientific reasons Some advice for Japanese deep-tech startups Why academics need startup founders Why Japanese startups need to stop playing defense Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Metagen Metagen on LinkedIn Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today, we're going to talk about the future of poop, and I promise you that it is both a lot more interesting and also a lot less, well, strange than you might think.  Shinji Fukuda is the founder and CEO of Metabologenomics, a startup which is usually, and thankfully, referred to as Metagen. Shinji and Metagen are mapping out the complex biome of the human digestive tract.  Our gut biome is an incredibly complex ecosystem that exists within all of us, and it is an ecosystem. These bacteria don't share our DNA and they're not simply along for the ride. We couldn't function without them, and there's a lot of variation between cultures and between individuals.  Metagen is now working with some of Japan's largest healthcare, pharmaceutical, and chemical companies to commercialize this research. Of course, Metagen is not the only startup in this space, and Shinji and I talk a lot about when and how this tech is going to roll out to consumers, some of the scam startups that are already trying to get into this bandwagon, and we dive deep into one of the biggest problems facing deep tech startups in Japan.  But you know, Shinji tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Shinji Fukuda of Metabologenomic who's researching and monetizing the gut biota, so thanks for sitting down with us. Shinji: Hi. Tim: And by the way, is it okay if we call the company Metagen the way people tend to do in Japanese? Shinji: Yeah, Metagen. Tim: Okay, good. So, listen, I think you can explain this much better than I can, so what exactly does Metagen do? Shinji: Our goal is to create the digital society, so we have a huge number of microbes in the gut and the gut microbiota has a lot of function, and maybe you know it's very important that the imbalance in the gut microbiota are related to some disorders like colon cancer, inflammatory bio-disorders, and also, the microbiota induce some systemic disorders like metabolic disorders and also meta-disease. That's why gut microbiota is really important to keep our health. Tim: It's amazing the amount of research that's being done on this right now and it's still a relatively new field. So, for Metagen, what is the main goal of the company? Are you trying to develop more targeted medicine? Is it better food? Is it a healthier population? What is it that the company is focused on? Shinji: Here, actually, everything, but we have a priority. Our goal is healthcare, to develop the technology to keep our health,
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    Instagram for skin disease? Wait, this could work!


    A lot of great ideas seem crazy when you first hear about them. Today Ryotaro Ako, founder of Atopiyo, explains not only why this is a great idea that is deeply valued by his users, but he also frankly talked about the difficulties in bringing it to market. We talk about the challenges of forming a long-term, core team and of developing a steady cash flow while trying to focus on a social good, and the risks involved in monetizing a community. Ryotaro also explains why extensive press coverage and shelves of startup awards don't make developing a sustainable business model any easier. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes Why share photos of skin conditions? How to find a technical co-founder, and what to do if you can't The two challenges all MedTech startups face The danger of long-term plans without short-term action How to monetize a community, and why it's risky Possible competitors The myth of Japanese conservatism Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Atopiyo Download the Atopiyo App Friend Ryotaro on Facebook Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today's conversation with Ryotaro Ako, founder of Atopiyo, is going to be a little bit different than usual.  I first met Ryotaro several years ago at a Disrupting Japan live event, when he had just launched Atopiyo, an online community in which people with atopy and related skin conditions can support each other and exchange information about treatments and progress. Since its launch, Atopiyo has gone on to build an engaged and growing user base, attract extensive and positive press attention, and win a lot of startup awards from press, government, and industry.  This is the kind of startup I really want to succeed; the kind of startup I think everyone really wants to succeed, actually. They're using startup techniques and technology to solve problems and actually make the world a little bit better.  At least in theory.  You see, Ryotaro and Atopiyo have a bit of a problem, and it's a problem that almost all social entrepreneurs run into, but very few managed to solve. If in this interview, I sound like I'm beating up on my guest a bit (by polite Japanese standards anyway) it's coming from a place of desperately wanting to see him succeed.  Everyone who has an idea for a social startup and a passion to change the world can learn a lot from Atopiyo's story and this discussion. But you know, Ryotaro tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So I'm sitting here with Ryotaro Ako of Atopiyo, which helps people with atopy understand the disease and connect with each other, so thanks for sitting down with me. Ryotaro: Thank you very much, Tim. I'm very glad to talk with you. Tim: And we're glad to have you. I gave a really brief description of Atopiyo but I think you can explain it much better than I can. So what exactly does Atopiyo do? How does it work? Ryotaro: Atopiyo is Japan's first visual SNS for atopic dermatitis. It's like Instagram specializing in atopic dermatitis. Tim: Okay, I mean, at first reaction, sharing pictures of atopy and skin conditions does not sound that appealing. Ryotaro: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tim: So I mean, tell me about your users. Who uses this? Why do they find it valuable? Ryotaro: Yes, yes, our images can be this. So I think it is not so photogenic or happy images but patients want to know the other patients, their skin disease, how are getting better or how getting worse because of these drugs or other drugs, and they want to know their process of the skin disease. So it's useful for the patients, and what's more, they want to choose their images into their private mode. So if you set it to the private mode, this image is only for users. Tim: Okay,
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    So, your startup wants to play in Japan’s Regulatory Sandbox?


    Disruption comes slowly to medicine.  And that's a good thing. Since the ethos of the profession is "First, do no harm", it makes sense that safety and efficacy are prioritized over rapid innovation. But innovation does happen, and the Japanese government is working to make sure it happens faster. Today we sit down with Taro Ueno of Susmed and talk about the challenges and tradeoffs in innovative medicine. We talk about why he left medical research for entrepreneurship, and how iPhone apps and blockchain are being used clinically in Japan. And in both cases, I assure you, it's not what you think. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes Why leave medical practice to start a startup Why Japan just can't fall asleep Why Japan over-prescribes sleeping pills and other drugs Why it's very hard to get apps approved as medical devices in Japan The reason so few medical apps have been approved in Japan The importance ofJapan's regulatory sandbox How blockchain is actually helpful in clinical trials What kinds of medical apps are we most likely to see first on mobile phones? Why so few apps have been approved and why that might be changing Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Susmed Connect with Taro on LinkedIn Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.  I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Today, you're going to learn about how to make money in blockchain. No, no, no, it's not like that, it's not what you think. Today, we're going to sit down with Taro Ueno of Susmed, and we'll talk about how Japan's new regulatory sandbox has enabled his startup to get approval for their blockchain-based platform for clinical trials. The platform prevents trial results from being changed after they've been recorded, which as Taro will explain, has been a real problem in Japan. Taro is also a medical doctor and a PhD, and he's developed an insomnia app that he is in the process of getting approved as a medical device. We talk about the challenges of getting mobile apps approved for clinical use in Japan, why this technology is so frustratingly slowed to come to market, and why people in Japan just can't seem to fall asleep. But you know, Taro tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Taro Ueno of Susmed, and thanks for sitting down with me today. Taro: Thank you. Tim: Now, Susmed is an app-based solution for insomnia and you also make a platform to improve clinical trials, but you can probably explain Susmed much better than I can, so tell me a bit about the company. Taro: Susmed stands for 'Sustainable Medicine.' This is our vision and we are developing digital therapeutics using smartphone apps, and we are now developing several apps for diseases like insomnia and cancer, and so on. Tim: Tell me a bit about your customers, so are these apps designed for doctors to use in a clinical setting? Are they designed for consumers to use on their own? Taro: Doctors prescribe this app for insomnia patients. This is alternative for treating patients Tim: Before we dive into everything that's going on with medical technology in Japan, I want to ask a little bit about you. You got your MD and then your PhD, what drove you to startup after that? I mean, you put a tremendous amount of work into becoming a doctor. Taro: Yeah, I agree. Yes, as you mentioned, I have a background of medical doctor and especially in psychiatry. I got PhD in basic research over sleep medicine. I have seen so many patients with overprescription with sleeping pills. That's why I try to develop DTx for insomnia patients. Tim: I mean, I find that fascinating, the ability to develop software for an app gave you greater ability to help people than practicing medicine or research?
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    Why people are afraid to trust AI. And how to fix it


    Artificial Intelligence makes a lot of people nervous. That's understandable. Today we sit down with Ken Fujiwara of Hacarus to discuss why that is, and what this startup is doing to fix it. As in so many other fields, when comparing AI in Japan and the West, we find that the technology is fundamentally the same, but the social attitudes and business strategies are very different. Ken is a serial entrepreneur, but running an AI startup was never part of his original plan. He had bigger goals in mind, and we talk about how he plans to pivot back to them someday. We also discuss Kyoto's booming startup ecosystem and why one CEO has publically stated he wants to destroy it. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes The problem with Deep Learning and how Hacarus is unique The importance of founder's hidden failures Why Ken left Sony to start a startup How to know when you need to pivot Why pivoting is hard in Japan The integrator business model and why it works in Japan Pivoting a startup to back to your dreams The importance of explainable AI Why you need to know about Kyoto startups Why one company wants to destroy Kyoto's startup ecosystem The reason you see so many interesting IoT startups coming out of Japan now Links from the Founder Everything you ever wanted to know about Hacarus Follow them on Facebook Connect on LinkedIn Get in touch by email: inquiry@hacarus.com Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. As you can imagine, I get asked a lot about how the Japanese startup ecosystem is different from others and I love that question. The problem is that people usually aren't really happy with my answers. It seems that everyone wants to hear stories about anime or strange gadgets, or cool trends in gaming, and yeah, there's plenty of that in Japan too, but the things that are really unique and interesting like evocative machines and the integrator model, and the role enterprise has to play in supporting startups, those things take a lot of time to explain to anyone who doesn't already understand Japan, at least a little bit, but they're important.  Today, we sit down with Ken Fujiwara of Hacarus and we're going to look at how Hacarus is using the integrator model to jointly develop AI products with large enterprises. Ken also explains how he had to pivot Hacarus away from his original vision and how he might be able to pivot back to it in the future. We talk about the challenges of pivoting and staying true to your mission, cover a few very good reasons why people don't trust AI, and we talk about one CEO who has made it his mission to destroy a startup ecosystem. Oh, and near the end of the show, we have a really interesting discussion about the startup ecosystem in Kyoto. There really are some amazing things going on in Kansai, but you know, Ken tells that story much better than I can, so let's get right to the interview. Interview Tim: So, I'm sitting here with Ken Fujiwara of Hacarus, and thanks for sitting down with me today. Ken: Thanks for having me. Tim: Hacarus is a collection of AI platforms that's targeted both at medical and industrial use but you can probably explain this a lot better than I can, so what exactly does Hacarus do? Ken: Alright, so Hacarus is basically AI startups and provide AI desk applications for medical, such as AI-enabled diagnosis solutions and for manufacturing industry, we provide digital inspection services, and one of the core differences of our company is that we don't use a mainstream AI technology called deep learning. We use something else. Tim: I've noticed that, so you've talked a lot about your ability to create AI models based on very small data sets. How does that work? I mean, what exactly are you guys doing, if you don't mind me asking what the "secret sauc...
  • Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan podcast

    What you can learn from Japan’s seven-minute miracle


    Today we are going to look at a different kind of innovation. It's not technology. It's not patentable, and I'm not sure it's scalable. But it is important. It turns out that the story behind a Japanese viral video can teach us a lot about the future of work. It's an example of Japanese innovation at it's best I think you'll enjoy it. Links The Seven-Minute Miracle video Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. I have a special story for you today.  No guests. No playful banter. Today it’s just you and me and a story about Japanese innovation at its very best. And it’s also the real story behind a famous video about Japan that you’ve probably seen a dozen times on the internet and on western news shows. But like so many stories about Japan, the media gets this one wrong; or at least get it incomplete. They leave out the part of the story that actually teaches us something important about Japan. But there is something pretty amazing going on once you dig into it, and so that’s what we are going to do. The story I’m talking about is the so-called “seven-minute miracle” of the Shinkansen cleaning crew. If you live in Japan, you’ve probably witnessed this personally, and I’ll put a link to the video in the show notes for any listeners who have not already watched it.   The Seven Minute Miracle The Shinkansen is both an engineering and an operational marvel. There are times when JR East is running trains three minutes behind each other at 320 kilometers per hour. To make this work requires an insane commitment to schedule. A departure is only considered to be on-time if happens within fifteen seconds of its scheduled time; no earlier, no later than 15 seconds. And most trains arrive within six seconds of their scheduled time.  Part of making this work means that at Tokyo station, each train has only a 12-minute turnaround-time. It takes about five minutes to get the current passengers off and the new passengers on, which leaves seven minutes for cleaning.  In those seven minutes, a crew of 22 people clean 1,000 seats, wipes down all the tray tables, exchanges seat and headrest covers, turns the seats 180-degrees to face the new direction, cleans the floors and bathrooms, empties all the wastebaskets, collects any forgotten articles from under the seats or in the overhead racks to turn into the lost and found, adjusts the window blinds, and generally makes sure everything on the train is neat and tidy. In seven minutes. And the cleaners do it all with an efficiency and grace that seems more like the mastery of a craft than the execution of a duty. When they are done, usually with time to spare, they assemble on the platform at the front of the train and bow in unison to the passengers who are about to board.  Sometimes the passengers even clap.  And a few minutes later, a new train arrives, and this is repeated for each of the 120 to 170 Shinkansen trains that depart Tokyo every single day.  It’s amazing to watch, and a few years ago CNN picked up the story, and the whole world was, quite rightly. impressed. However, the CNN story focused on how Japanese employees are so efficient and take pride in their work. And that’s not quite true. I mean, these employees clearly are, and Japanese workers certainly can be dedicated and efficient, but anyone who tells you that Japanese employees are just naturally dutiful and efficient has clearly never had to manage Japanese staff.  In fact, even in this celebrated case, it was not always so. This is a relatively recent development, and looking at the innovations that began in 2005 can also tell us a bit about where the gig-economy is headed and the kind of innovation that Japan can bring to the world.    The Making of a Miracle The company responsible for the seven-minute miracle is Tessei,

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