Kyoto Startup Digest 2018 – ZenVitaKyoto Startup Digest 2018 – Zen Vita
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.
Bringing Japanese Aesthetics to the World
The Japanese aesthetic is simplistic and minimalistic, embodying stark beauty and tranquility. This “Japanese style” involves a wide range of architectural design woven through the country’s history. From traditional to modern, each design has a very unique aesthetic representing the era of its origin. As these aesthetics have become more noticed around the world, there has been an increase in demand for authentic designs from expert architects, most of which are based in Japan.
Having worked as a consultant helping with cross-border Japanese architecture projects, founder and CEO Kaz Shigemitsu noticed a lack of promotion in Japanese lifestyle related businesses. With his passion for beautiful, meaningful architecture, he wanted to promote these aesthetics to the world while simultaneously representing architectural designers based in Japan. As a result, Kaz founded ZenVita in 2015 to help promote Japanese architects overseas. The startup aims to work with people truly interested in Japanese lifestyle, aesthetics, and culture.
ZenVita is an architectural design agency promoting unique Japanese aesthetics to the world via consulting services that offer clients the opportunity to connect and collaborate with experienced architects for residential or commercial projects. Normally, access to such work would only be available in Japanese, but with the English language support between clients and Japanese architects provided by ZenVita, such collaborations are made possible.
ZenVita guarantees quality assurance and project monitoring, online transaction payment protection, and linguistic support to ensure satisfaction from start to finish. The company, with only 4 full time employees, works extremely close with a variety of Japanese architects and landscape designers who are thoroughly screened on their quality of work. On the website, clients can browse the large range of designs, portfolios, and projects. ZenVita provides a free consultation that includes clear, facilitated communication with architects and will continue consulting until clients are satisfied. If the original designer wasn’t suitable for the project, clients may be redirected to another at no extra cost. If clients do not have their own contractor, ZenVita will assist in finding a qualified contractor in the area to undergo the construction.
Because ZenVita’s services are entirely based online, their “Risk-Free Policy” is an important addition to their business model. ZenVita believes that it is crucial for their clients to know and trust that they are receiving designs of the highest caliber. In addition, payment protection is provided by holding funds securely until the project is completed.
Currently, ZenVita has one angel investor from Singapore and a has a capital fund of 10 million yen. With the majority of their work already based in the U.S. and Southeast Asia, the company is now looking to reach out to agencies in Singapore and Malaysia to gain more clients and new investors interested in supporting their projects.
ZenVita is looking to expand their support into the real estate business. Over the past six years, there has been an increased interest in property and homes in Japan. However, there is a significant lack of English speaking agents. ZenVita aspires to continue promoting original Japanese architecture abroad while also striving to become local agents that provide communication support for those looking to buy property in Japan. With a strong focus on quality, ZenVita has created a credible service that brings original and unique design from experienced architects to people and projects around the world.
We met with founder and CEO Kaz Shigemitsu to discuss ZenVita’s mission to promote Japanese architects and designers abroad. He gave us details on what makes the consulting company unique.
What was the initial idea when you started this company?
Kaz: Before I started ZenVita I was working in a consulting firm where I helped Japanese companies with their international business ventures. I assisted with gathering funds, finding partners, and international marketing. Some big companies miss out on opportunities for new markets, so I wanted to continue my work in consulting. Japanese fashion and food companies like UNIQLO and MUJI have been successfully adopted by international markets. I believe the same could be achieved with home life culture.
How do you facilitate communication between clients and architects?
Kaz: Most of our customers are business owners and prefer to communicate through email. Additionally, we provided our own chat system through our website. Throughout the process, we share large files like graphic designs and important information regarding the projects, so communicating without risk is a priority. At the moment, media is the easiest way to communicate, sometimes we Skype chat for the duration of the project to ensure proper communications of ideas.
Do you notice a language barrier between your clients and architects?
Kaz: Yes. Japanese architects that do not have a lot of experience with international projects do have a language barrier, so they depend on us to communicate. Customers from places like the U.S and the U.K have different preferences and conduct business differently than our Japanese clients. We see that clients form the West have more requests which differs greatly from Japanese clients who give full creative responsibility to the architects. Our architects experience the difference in expectations, communication, and processing. We provide support in proper communication to secure successful projects.
Can you explain your Risk Free policy?
Kaz: We organize remote work over long distance, so customers need to know that payments, transactions, and quality of work is guaranteed and risk free. We allow customers to check the work of architects before we retain fees. Until we get approval from the customer agreeing on the quality of work, payments are not conducted. Our payment arrangement is important because it assures customers of a safe online transaction with payment protection. On the part of the architect, they’re also guaranteed payment when they finish their work successfully.
How’s the market for this type of consulting service?
Kaz: Each country has a different market type and customer preference is all different. When you talk about the U.S., it’s the most diverse and customers there are always looking for new and unique ideas, and I believe this is how our customers find us. Our projects require a long period, we need at least two months to finish, and each project budget is very high. But when the projects are done successfully, many of our clients introduce our work to their friends and family. Through that communication, we’ve gained this type of credential. It allows us to captivate good architects who are interested in creating interesting projects. That kind of circulation makes us bigger and ultimately opens opportunities.
Other than project design and consulting, does ZenVita have plans for scaling?
Kaz: Our next project is a real estate business in Japan. We are going to introduce local property to international markets, another scalable opportunity for us. For the past 6 years, international investors have been looking to buy property and houses in Japan. However, there are not a lot of English speaking agents, which raises conflicts in communication. We are aiming to be the local agents in Japan, providing support and introducing people to these properties for those looking to invest here.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs or startups interested in Kyoto?
Kaz: Kyoto is getting more internationally diverse and is a city of students. I believe that Japanese students here should interact more with international students to make and discuss new ideas. If you are looking to enter the startup scene, of course you will need a unique idea. Kyoto is very traditional but you see young people from different backgrounds making the city more interesting and exciting. Use this advantage of diversity that other cities don’t have.
Check out ZenVita here