Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan-logo

Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan


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.

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.


Tokyo, Japan


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.






Selects: Why Japan’s Geisha are disappearing in the social media age

You don’t usually think of Japan’s geisha as being an industry, but it is. In fact, strictly speaking, it’s a cartel. A cartel that is now being disrupted by internet-based booking agencies and low-cost substitutes. It seems that even geisha are not immune to internet-based disintermediation. In this special interview Sayuki, Japan’s only geisha who also holds an MBA, explains the business model behind geisha. We talk about the way things used to be, the current threats that have many geisha...


Your Japanese textbooks are lying to you

They probably mean well. They are telling you something that is easy to understand and that seems like it's true at first, but it's still a lie. I received an overwhelming response to my recent episode on success via public humiliation, and more than a few people tried to set me straight about how Japanese keigo is supposed to be used, so today I'm going to return the favor. Don't worry, this is not a Japanese lesson, at least not in the pedantic sense, but it might clear up a few of the...


DJ Selects: Why startups lose control of their sales channels, and how to fix it – Allen Miner – Oracle

Oracle first came into Japan more than 25 years ago, but the challenges they faced and overcame then are exactly the same ones firms are facing today in executing their Japan market entry. Allen explains why Oracle needed a unique sales and marketing strategy for Japan, and how he managed to get buy-in from headquarters — even though Oracle already had a sales and marketing program that had proven fantastically successful in other markets. We also talk about how Oracle managed to negotiate a...


What makes people pay for new online events

You would expect that event-focused startups would be some of the hardest hit by the global pandemic and lockdown, and for the most part, you would be right. But Peatix is one event startup that adapted fast and is now actually thriving during the lockdown. We've talked with Taku Harada before, and if you have not done so already, you should check it out. It's a great conversation and there is no overlap with today. Today we talk about how startups can pivot and survive during the pandemic,...


Why public humiliation is the secret to success

I've never managed to find a direct road to success. My bio reads like a random walk down many different career paths, so I always feel unqualified to answer when people ask me for career advice. Today, however, I'd like to share one insight about doing business in Japan that I learned the hard way. If you've been through something like this, I hope you'll be able to identify with it. If you haven't, I hope you can learn something from it, and avoid it. Please share your experiences in the...


The Japanese Trap of the Glorious Failure

Japanese businessmen famously fear failure. But that understanding is horribly incomplete. In fact, there is one type of failure that is admired, almost sought after, in Japan. Today we take a look at the trap of the Japanese glorious failure, see how it's hurting startups, and examine our options on fixing it. Show Notes Life lessons from Mark the Dog When and why failure is feared in Japan What is a Glorious Failure, and why it is admired How the Glorious Failure is hurting Japanese...


DJ Selects: Why Your Startup Accelerator is Going to Disappear

Almost all startup accelerators are going bankrupt and going away. Hiro Maeda, the founder of two of Japan's most successful, and most different startup incubators explains both the brief past and precarious future of startup incubators and accelerators. We talk not only about the mechanics and challenges of what it takes to make an incubator successful, but Hiro has some practical advice on when founders should consider joining an accelerator and how they can avoid the 99% of them that...


One important lesson startups will forget after the panic

Innovation drives society forward, but everyday competence keeps it on the road. Over the past five years, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of disruptive innovation, but today I’d like to talk about the framework that allows disruptive innovation to be a net positive to society. The coronavirus pandemic has some people looking for innovation and others for stability. However, examining how Japan and the rest of the world are getting though it shows us something very...


Why boring startups are actually the most interesting

Some of the most important startups are ones you never hear about. Some industries are so complex and arcane that its hard for people on the outside to understand the problems that startups are solving or the long-term gain of solving them. Freight forwarding is one of those industries. Today we talk with Taka Sato of Shippio, a startup trying to change the way freight forwarding works in Japan. We talk about the challenges involved in trying to disrupt a low-tech, low-margin industry and...


DJ Selects: How this Musical Shoe is Helping Hospitals

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 to the promise. And then there are products like Orphe. This LED-emblazoned, WiFi-connected, social-network enabled dancing shoe seems made for fluffy, flashy Facebook...


Why Japan’s #KuToo is Not Really About Shoes

Today I am going to correct two big mistakes; one of my own and one of society's. I lot of listeners emailed me about the comments I made regarding how Japanese companies treat their employees and customers while they are pregnant. I got it wrong, so I would like to set the record straight. I also explain what I see as the obvious answer to the current #KuToo controversy. I realize that this puts me at serious risk of having to publish another retraction, but I think it's an important way of...


Big News for Disrupting Japan! – Japan Startup News

There is big news for Tim and for Disrupting Japan this week. It's a very short episode, and I have no special links or show notes this time around. Please give the show a listen for the big reveal, and please accept my sincere thanks for all your support over the years. Disrupting Japan is just getting started. The best is yet to come. Leave a comment Transcript -- vintage news sounds -- This is a Disrupting Japan news flash. We are broadcasting live from Tokyo, Japan to bring you today’s...


The Ultimate Guide to Raising Money in Japan

There has never been a better time to be raising money in Japan than right now. Founders ask me about fundraising more than any other topic, so this guide is long overdue. There are links that cover the basics in the Show Notes, and I will be keeping this page updated as new information becomes available and members of the community create new resources. Calling something "The Ultimate Guide" to anything is a pretty big claim, and I'll do my best to make sure this page lives up to it. Please...


How Japan’s forgotten past can stop IoT’s dystopian future

Technology is global, but ideas are local. The same IoT technology is being deployed all over the world, but a small Japanese startup might be who helps us make sense of it all. There is amazing work being done in user experience design, but most designers are operating with the contract of keeping users engaged. This is a fundamental shift from the traditional user-centered and functional design approaches. Today we sit down with Kaz Oki, founder of Mui Lab, and we talk about user design...


Japan leads the world in this one important branch of AI

Technology develops differently in Japan. While US tech giants have been grabbing artificial intelligence headlines, a business AI sector has been quietly maturing in Japan, and it is now making inroads into America. Today we sit down again with Miku Hirano, CEO of Cinnamon, and we talk about how exactly this happened. Interestingly, Cinnamon did not start out as an AI company. In fact, when Miku first came on the show, the company had just launched an innovative video-sharing service....


DJ Selects: Why Men Need Women Founders

Ari Horie has always had a different approach to supporting women entrepreneurs. She doesn't talk about "empowering" women and ...


The big reason Japanese companies can’t innovate

Japanese enterprises are their own worst enemy when it comes to innovation. In this live panel discussion, I talk about my experience driving innovation at TEPCO, and Ion and Jensen share their experiences running innovation labs. This panel was part of the btrax Design for Innovation event in Tokyo last week. We talk about the specific challenges that Japanese companies are facing and the strategies we've used -- with varying degrees of success -- to help overcome them. Of course, like...


The hardest thing about hardware startups : Live from CEATEC

This year at CEATEC, I worked with Plug & Play Japan to bring on stage founders from two very different hardware startups. We talk in-depth about what it takes to be a hardware startup in a world where venture capital seems fixated on SaaS companies and software platforms. Although their startups seem very different, Tomo Hagiwara and Keith Tan had very similar core experiences. Tomo and Keith share some great advice about raising money as a hardware startup, how to give large companies...


Artificial Intelligence’s broken promise and its secret truth

The promise of AI is easily understood by anyone with an imagination, and for 40 years, venture capitalists have been enthusiastically investing in that promise. However, it's been significantly harder for founders to turn that investment into sustainable business models. Today we are going to look at why that is, and go over what might be a blueprint for startups to create business models around artificial intelligence. Tatsuo Nakamura founded Valuenex in 2006 with the goal of using...


DJ Selects: A Japanese MBA Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

Education is very hard to disrupt. That’s both good and bad. Education is so important to both individuals and society, it should not be changed on a whim, but over time it seems that our institutions of higher education have drifted away from meeting students real needs. Yoshito Hori, founder and CEO of Globis, is making radical changes. He turned a small training school into Japan's first independent and fully accredited business school with an MBA. Less than ten years later, Globis became...