Kyoto Startup Digest 2018 – Nota Inc.Kyoto Startup Digest 2018 – Nota Inc.
Kyoto Startup Digest 2018 is documenting the Kyoto startup scene through a series of articles and videos by the following members of the KYOTO Design Lab and interns from the University of Texas.
Facilitating Natural Communication with Web Sharing Services
From near bankruptcy in Silicon Valley to receiving more than 10 million site visits a month, Nota Inc. overcame the hurdle of growing and keeping an interested user base that startups often can’t jump.
In Silicon Valley in 2007, Isshu Rakusai founded the company with the goal of making online communication more productive and natural. He also built the company with a desire to create something he believed in and wanted for himself. After toiling in Silicon Valley for several years, Isshu made the jump back to Japan after the company’s first angel investment from the co-founder of DeNA, a Japanese social gaming company. Nota still holds a second location in Sunnyvale, California, but most of the development happens in Kyoto.
Nota’s core product is Gyazo, a cloud based instant-screenshot sharing app that includes auto-tagging for archived, clear, structured communication and display. Once a screenshot or a short screen-video is taken, a shareable link is generated and with auto-tagging, everything captured is easily searchable by keyword, website, or filename. This service is perfect for providing feedback, giving support, and capturing data and analytics. With both free and premium users, Gyazo has grown steadily since its launch with over 10 million website visits a month. The expression “to gyazo” has become common with the user community and can be found regularly on Twitter.
After the success of Gyazo, Nota is developing Scrapbox, an online team note taking platform. With Scrapbox, data is archived using a central dashboard and instant links, perfect for teams working on complex and detailed collaborative tasks. A unique 2-way link structure allows Scrapbox to track one’s progress and stay structured, tracing the connections users have made. The principles are similar to Wikis, but the ability to quickly link related thoughts and embed content while typing results in a clearer context that mirrors the many connections between past and present ideas. As more content is added and linked into Scrapbox, users’ work develops overtime and a structured idea map is created effortlessly. Scrapbox is open for everyone and free to sign up.
These services ultimately enable users to effortlessly discuss ideas, projects, and virtually anything ranging from personal to business matters. With about 80% of customer and user base outside Japan, Nota has successfully entered the global playing field and is steadily growing. In 2014, Nota closed its series A funding of approximately 2 million USD from VCs including Yahoo Japan Capital and Miyako Capital. The company is now focused on entering series B with higher prospects.
To discuss how Nota enables users to create content that is easier to share, we sat down with CEO Isshu Rakusai and Marketing Director Ben Foden. Ben joined the company as an intern in 2007 in San Jose, California and recently moved to Kyoto in 2018.
When you were developing these products, did you anticipate it’s wide usage by startups or small teams?
Ben: That was definitely the focus for Scrapbox from the beginning. Gyazo did not have that focus but we found that it was very popular with a lot of small teams including Unity 3D, makers of the Unity game editor. They used Scrapbox for their collaboration around the world and across different teams.
Isshu: What’s unique about us is that at first we built something that we wanted. That was always our primary and unique approach. We first started finding customers that were really near or similar to us. While doing that, we still kept developing our tools. It’s very simple and generic so that the tools could be used with a wide audience.
These 2 products are focused on real time collaboration. What exactly does collaboration mean to Nota and how do you facilitate this?
Ben: If you’re working by yourself, you need to see your own ideas in context, but if you’re working with a group of people, it’s really important to see what everyone is doing and come together at the right point and move forward. Collaboration is about getting to that understanding more clearly and getting to the next step more easily. With Gyazo, you can see what people are doing and they can share their work immediately. Just screenshot the link in chat and somebody can see exactly what you see, it’s very fast. With Scrapbox, there’s all kinds of written content and discussion you need to have. If you use documents for example, you lose track of what you did before and there’s not a good structure, you don’t get a sense of how things are related and can very quickly lose things. Scrapbox solves all those structural visibility problems and lets you come together and really get to understanding what the next step is, faster.
Isshu: We are still not using the whole power of the internet when we work and that’s something we are challenging. In Scrapbox, we use the link feature. If you use a link, you create necessary information in the company and anonymous people can join in and contribute to make something new. That kind of innovation can now be brought into the company. We enable all coworkers and employees to create something new in a different way.
Any obstacles you’ve faced in the past?
Ben: Companies strive to build a sustainable business and it’s a challenge to keep people interested in your service. We’ve also had challenges going from focusing on consumer to focusing on businesses, but we’re seeing good progress in that direction now. Companies should be careful about transitioning from consumer to business focus. Make sure to have a good strategy in place and understand that it is a different market, but if you understand that, then you can definitely expand.
Isshu: One story I can tell is after the 3 years I spent in Silicon Valley, our company was almost bankrupt. That’s why I moved to Japan. We were able to get some of the first customers but we did not succeed in monetizing. In those situations, small startups simply go bankrupt and stop doing business but we kept surviving. I think the biggest reason that we could survive was that we really made the tools for us and our vision and mission has not changed. We didn’t choose these simply so that we would make money. We made something that we believed in and we wanted to have for ourselves. That’s why I think our company could survive.
Isshu: Kyoto is well known for having lots of researchers and students. About 10% of the population are students making it the highest student population city in Japan. Kyoto University is well known and they have Nobel Prize researchers, so the potential is really high, but there are still few startups here in this city. The students of Kyoto are very talented and they are seeking good jobs. The supply of these jobs are not in this city yet, and that’s a problem. Kyoto is also known as a creative city. Companies like Nintendo and Kyocera developed some very good products and are selling them to the world. We have lots of tradition in making something unique. Kyoto also has lots traditional artistic atmospheres and you can get a lot of inspirations from that. Design and art is getting more and more important in the startup scene too.
Ben: There are all these qualities of the city that make it a unique place in the world. It’s a great environment for startups looking to hire talented people and, as someone who moved to Kyoto recently, the quality of life here is excellent. There’s a nice balance here and honestly it’s not that expensive. What you get for your money is really incredible and as a startup, you have to be concerned about your cash flow. If you’re trying to hire people, you can hire people and give them a great quality of life for less. It just makes it much easier as a startup to get off the ground, get going, and continue to grow.
Have you seen cross discipline collaboration growing in Kyoto between businesses or your consumers?
Ben: We do have a very strong connection to the universities compared to what I’ve seen in my previous work experience. Most of the companies I’ve worked at did not have a super strong connection to students and the universities. We’ve gotten a lot of interns and have had a great experience with Kyoto University students who have made really big contributions to the company.
Do you have any advice for startups and entrepreneurs before they begin to venture out into Kyoto?
Isshu: I’m part of Startup Weekend Kyoto, and I have coached maybe 10 times or so. Many students come to that event but they don’t end up founding a company and that’s the problem. Maybe the biggest reason is that we don’t have any successful cases in this city yet. We have lots of potential but that’s the only thing we don’t have yet. Yes, Nintendo is successful but it’s an old company.
Ben: I think most people in Japan like to see a successful example before they feel comfortable doing the same thing. I would like to see more people encouraged to start their own company or try to join a startup, I think having a big success story local in Kyoto would clearly give people inspiration and give them some confidence that they can do it too.
Check out Nota Inc. here