It is the startup that provided the app service “Taptrip” to all the world by sparking communication among strangers from all over the world through the posting of photos.
In the start-up world overflowing with western language, the company name is downright eye-catching, but not only in the naming, the company is also unique in its origin. After all, the company was established with the Incubate Fund at its center, entrepreneurs joined later as CEO.
The one who was the literal founder was Keisuke Wada from Incubate Fund. He had certain aspirations to create a vessel like the Kiheitai, and welcomed Rzosuke Abe, the current Representative Director CEO, who shared this aspiration. Both of them share the aspiration: “from Japan, a world standard”.
-Thank you for your time today. For the company called “Kiheitai” did you have in mind a specific type of company? What kind of company did you want to make it?
Wada: At the foundation was our idea to create a service in Japan that would scale to world-wide. Mr. Abe resonated with this idea and joined us.
Abe: I had been doing consulting work at the time. Japan’s main means of foreign currency acquisition was in the manufacturing industry. Consulting work is also dependent, hanging on this big industry, as it were. I was thinking if I were to choose, next time I would like to do “business” with my own hands, and moreover, I wanted to work on a business like the manufacturing industry, that generates its revenue from overseas.
-Shared aspirations. The reason why Mr. Abe was invited to be the CEO was not only that, right?
Wada: Invade overseas. Saying the words is easy, but there is no doubt that this was a terribly difficult challenge. I believed Mr. Abe was a person who would take on this difficult challenge with persistence. And more than anything, he was a person who had “ambition”.
Abe: There was no Japanese web service at the time that was used world-wide. But there were a lot of challenges. All the challenges should have been thoroughly considered by talented people. But still they did not quite reach the scale. Of course it was not easy for me to take on this challenge in this kind of environment, but it was definitely exciting.
-So the “advance party” aiming for the world was “Taptrip”, right? Communicate with people from all over the world through sharing photos. This concept can also be applied to instagram.
Abe: We are asked about that a lot. (laughs) But are we really able to communicate across borders on instagram? We feel like on instagram the focus is only on sharing photos. On the other hand, on Taptrip the goal is to make a connection and build friendships. That’s why the app features a translation function. This difference in purpose attracts users and sparks communication. However, we had to go through some twists and turns for the service to get here. (laughs)
-I have heard that there was also a difficult time in expanding the service.
Abe: At the beginning of the service, Taptrip communication was mainly text-based. However, this way it did not scale at all. (laughs) I am the type of person who is good at keeping up the PDCA at a high speed by repeatedly making small improvements. The text era was also not lacking small improvements, but this was totally useless.
Wada: We needed to prepare ourselves to take the plunge and rebuild it from scratch. When was that, do you remember when we talked on the phone? I certainly remember making a call from Fukuoka and suggesting that “there could be a need for an essence of visual communication like instragram”.
Abe: Was that how it was? (laughs) However, at the time the number of downloads was not satisfactory, so I still thought we needed to take the plunge and rebuild it. And then we incorporated the element of photos in the service, which lead to Taptrip. And then the numbers also changed. It was not on the level of “the numbers are gradually going up”, the increase in the number of users was clear.
-We have heard that currently you are trying to capture the non-English-speaking countries. Is it that visual communication is important in order to communicate beyond languages?
Abe: Of course, it is not irrelevant. However my feeling is that, even though in business we often think in categories such as English-speaking or non-English speaking areas, actually there is not such a big difference. People around the world mostly speak English. Of course there will be differences in the level of conversation, but I believe Japanese typicall feel strongly that “I cannot speak English”. Now, even though Taptrip is gaining acceptance in the Middle East and Asia, if we would further expand our service area in the future, it would be contiguous with the current state of Taptrip.
-In your opinion, what kind of organization should it be if you want create a business that will be accepted internationally?
Wada: We are also exactly in the middle of going through trials and errors. We do not have a clear solution for it. What about Mr. Abe?
Abe: I feel team building is very important. If Japanese people think of service, it will always be a Japanese type of service. Instead, I think it is important that we have overseas manpower in the team. Now, we have foreign nationals in the company staff, and also freelancers from overseas are also joining in remotely. I think a team with such diversity is needed.
-In order to grow the business, even more than team building, could it be that what is also necessary is a stable management foundation?
Wada: The most important issue, even above sales, is the improvement of the service. It is more important than anything that the users love it. Of course we do not neglect to consider the return, but we need to take care to “think big”.
-In what way do you feel the support of the Incubate Fund?
Abe: It is not formal, in a good way. It is just like a collection of four individual investors. (laughs) However, therefore it has provided us with support that has a personality. Mr. Wada often tells me to “take care of the ROI (return on investment) in both time and money”. Also, “Think about what you will leave in three months.”
Wada: Managers have to think clearly on the one thing that is needed right now, and have to make a decision. What we can do is establish the conditions for that decision and I would like them to steal my decision-making skill from me.
-What kind of impact do you want to have on the world through Kiheitai?
Abe: There are still borders between countries in the world. However, smartphone and web services have the power to jump through those “borders”. If you go to an unknown place, it will make you reconsider your values and you should be able to make friends. “Relationship” have absolutely no boundaries. For example, the relationship between Japan and South Korea is not good, but a person from the company communicated with a South Korean using Taptrip, and the two of them can build a friendship. This is a matter of course if there is communication. But physical distance and borders have hampered these friendly relations. We would like to make a world where communication is spreading a matter of course using the web.
Wada: We would like to make it so everyone can see a new world. At my age it would be difficult to travel around the world. But we would like to build a world where you can experience that through our service.
-Is “seeing a new world” a fundamental vision for you, Mr. Wada?
Wada: That’s right. Not only physically, but also in business I believe there is value in being able to propose something new.
-First you start from your vision.
Wada: Of course there are businesses that start from using the abacus. But I believe vision is fundamental. Whether or not others can resonate with your vision will greatly change the story of your business and it will also decide the kind of people who join you. The Kiheitai was organized by Shinsaku Takasugi in the Edo period is the name of a group of people who all had a common desire to improve the world. Therefore we chose the company name Kiheitai to express that it is a gathering of people who truly believe they want to make a revolution. We want to make it a gathering of people who really want to make a change.
-Mr. Abe was very qualified to be the captain.
Wada: That’s right.
Abe: I am still a bit embarassed when they call the company name at the bank. (laughs)