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Disrupting Japan



Tokyo, Japan






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...


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....


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...


How scammers are using your devices to steal money

Ad-fraud is one of the most profitable activities for organized crime today. The scammers are sophisticated, disciplined, and numerous, and they might be using your IoT devices to rip people off. Over the past decade, there has been relatively little of this kind of cybercrime in Japan, but that's changing as the ad-fraud crime networks go global. Japan has to catch up and catch up fast. Unfortunately, Japan defenses have been rather poor. Today we sit down and talk with someone who is...


These robots are changing cooking forever. But one thing will never change

The robotics ecosystem in Japan is amazing. And confusing. It's a collection of crazy ideas, odd creations, and true breakthroughs. And despite the combination of fawning prise and snide skepticism that Japanese robotics evoke in the international press, only time can really separate the true breakthroughs from the dead ends. Today, we sit down with Tez Sawanobori, the founder of Connected Robotics, and we talk about how robots are being adopted in the restaurant industry here in Japan....


Outside of the Bubble with Japan’s Startup Girls: Mone Kamishiraishi

Those of us who spend our lives working with startups live in a bubble. Whether you spend your days programming at a startup or investing in new ventures, you and I see things differently than “normal” people. It happens to everyone to some extent. We all tend to interact with people who are like us, who care about similar things and who work in similar industries, so of course, we frequently hear the same ideas and opinions. The startup bubble, however, is particularly strong and...


Live from Stanford: Where are Japan’s Unicorns?

I’ve got a special bonus episode for you this week. Last month I was part of a panel discussion hosted by Stanford University and the Japan Society of Northern California. It was part of this year’s Japan-US Innovation Awards, and it was a great conversation, so I thought I would share it with you. The panel was moderated by Dr. Richard Dasher and was a discussion between me and Allison Baum who is an investor and a prolific writer about startups and innovation. We talk about a surprising...


DJ Selects: IoT, Japan, and the Uncertain Future of Poop

Startup founders claiming their company is going to “change the world” has become a cliche. But rarely do we see a product that could clearly and significantly make someone’s life better. D-Free is one of those products. However...


How Government Money is Hurting Japanese Startups

Japanese university and government venture funds play a much larger role in Japan than in the West. I've always considered this difference to be, on balance, neutral, today's guest makes a convincing case that these funds are actually hurting the startup ecosystem here. Today we sit down and talk with Hiroaki Suga, co-founder of PeptiDream. PeptiDream is now a $7 billion biotech company, but it started out as a couple of university faculty members funding operations out of their own pockets....


What You Need to Know to Raise Money in Japan

Startups and venture capital work differently in Japan. The rounds are smaller, the priorities distinct, and while the same terms are used, people quickly discover that the definitions are often subtly different. The game is played differently in Japan. Today we get a chance to clear up a lot of the confusion as we sit down with James Riney, founder of Coral Capital and head of 500 startups Japan. We talk about some of the most significant changes that Japanese venture capital has seen over...


DJ Selects: The Myth of the Successful Startup Failure

Startup culture has crazy and contradictory views about failure. As founders we are told to fail fast, but also to never give up. We are told to follow our vision, but be ready to pivot. Somehow this macho-bullshit culture of “I never really fail and ‘m not afraid of failure.” has become dominant amount founders. But it’s the result of denial. Trivializing failure is a way of not thinking about it’s effects. The truth is that failure sucks. Failure is painful. Failure ...


Live: What You Need to Know to Work at a Startup in Japan

I’ve got a special bonus episode for you today. Last month, I moderated a panel discussion at Coral Capital’s “Bilingual’s and Gaijin in Startups” event.' Our panel focused on what foreigners should expect when working at Japanese startups and what Japanese startups should start doing to better support their international employees. It was a great conversation with four amazing people from four of Japan’s most interesting startups. Tetsuya Sawanobori of Connected Robotics Jordan Fisher of...