My Tokyo tour of French entrepreneurs
After two months Googling all variations of “Japon French startup”, collecting pieces of information here and there, and another two weeks actually meeting the people who make the French entrepreneurs scene in Tokyo, I can finally say: Oui, it exists!
But you really have to leave no stone unturned, as most of them are hiding well, fully immersed in the big city. So who are they? And what are they doing in Japan? To answer these questions, I had a chance to meet some of them, and I must say it was an exciting experience. So let’s take a quick tour of the French entrepreneurs scene in Tokyo!
When you actually start looking for French startups established in Japan, this name pops up everywhere. Fastcolabs did a pretty long coverage of Locarise a year ago, so I won’t extend much. Backed by Open Network Lab, they develop a store traffic solution, providing shops with detailed analytics to better understand and retain their customers. What’s interesting about Locarise? Their solution can pretty much adapt to any market, but the three co-founders met at Tokyo’s Orange Lab, and decided to stay and launch their startup there. After a little less than 2 years of operations, Locarise’s CEO Sébastien is now the only founder currently living in Tokyo, as the two other co-founders felt the need to move back to France in order to further develop and sell their product.
Again, three French system engineers getting together to create a company. Yes, the story is similar to Locarise, except Bitcraft should be more labelled as a small IT consulting company rather than an actual startup in the “looking-for-a-business-model” sense. Bitcraft is operating on a very niche market of game applications servers setup and monitoring, and they are leveraging on a fact that surprised me when I heard about it: There is apparently a shortage of talented engineers in Japan. When I met them, they did not seem worried about the future, were hiring employee number one, and were smiling thinking about the potential for growth.
Tan Nguyen originally landed in Japan a bit by chance, following one of his customers all the way to Tokyo. He is now running the EDI xperts branch here (as well as the French one, remotely), a company which he founded back in 2009, specialized in Electronic Data Interchange. After a couple of years actually working on implementation projects for his customers, Tan was about to go full speed on the business development side, and I will definitely meet him again to see how it is going.
I had a chance to meet Shearwater’s founder Baptiste Bassot twice and was impressed by how deeply immersed he is. He is a multi-entrepreneur, having already founded and sold a couple of businesses in Japan. Baptiste is currently leveraging on his 10-year experience in the Japanese market to run a small cloud-based ERP solution implementation company, Shearwater. In parallel, he is also focused on developing a more ambitious project of Deep Sea Water Cooling system through his other venture DeProfundis. A truly can’t-miss face of the French entrepreneurs scene in Tokyo, and on top of that, a very, very nice person to talk to!
Unsurprisingly I guess, there are plenty of ventures focused on the mobile games business in Japan, and Wizcorp is one of them. Recently acquired by Ankama after 6 years of operations, Wizcorp’s business covers the whole range of services dedicated to mobile games, from platform setup to game design. I unfortunately did not get to talk to Wizcorp’s CEO Guillaume, but I understood here again that his level in Japanese and his connections came in handy when it was time to develop his business.
Along with Locarise, LM3Labs is probably the “French-founded” company you will hear about the most in Tokyo. Not really surprising, judging by the fact that they’ve been implanted for 10 years already. They propose very advanced services in the field of computer vision-based solutions, from body tracking to image recognition. It was interesting to hear Nicolas share that they run most business meetings in English, hence going against the conventional “wisdom” for basic business practices. If there is a sentence you hear a lot when trying to launch your business there, it would definitely be “That’s the way we do in Japan”, and it was somehow comforting to see that there are options off the beaten path.
Waku Waku may be the youngest venture of the bunch, and is somehow still exploring different business models. Founded by Vincent Bonhomme, they do mobile ads with a twist: You know that rush of Dopamine when you unlock an achievement in your favorite game? Well, display a 10% discount voucher for Family Mart at that exact moment, and you suddenly jump into the achievement-based advertising. Though the idea seems great at first, Vincent admitted that “coupon business in Japan is a bit cluttered”, and next step for him was to patent an idea to consolidate coupon fetching.
Bonus startup: Kabotip
Though I did not meet them, I understand that they are the second French startup supported by Open Network Lab. ONL program seems to be one of the most interesting here, running batches of 6 months and providing hosting - as well as funding - to five promising startups every batch. On top of that, their co-working space looks really cool.
Can you speak japonais ?
My objective coming here was to make this list as exhaustive as possible (but if I missed some, please let me know!), and I guess it gives a pretty good picture of what the French entrepreneurs scene consists of in Tokyo. Though speaking Japanese is oubviously a strong asset, I also met a few people who were doing more than “getting by” without necessarily having an outstanding Japanese level. A second conclusion: French people seem to have a reputation of being great engineers, and with the apparent shortage of local ones, we can’t help but notice a land of potential opportunities for French people willing to go on an adventure. Last but not least, though the French entrepreneurs’ community may not be as strong as in some other places in the world, I could feel a strong will to support each other that was just waiting to be enabled.
For more on French startups and ventures in Japan, follow @FrenchTechJapan!