Monozukuri Hub talks about the “F” word!

We’re back with our Monozukuri Hub Meetup series, this time debuting at our brand new Kyoto Makers Garage. In this new hub, aiming to celebrate all kinds of makers, we invited two Japanese startups brave enough to break the silence and share their stories about their failures in the land of robotics!

One of the most important points in any community is the mutual collaboration, including sharing lessons and mistakes. But as I’ve noticed since started working in Japan, there’re still some taboos even in the startup ecosystem, specially when it comes to the “F” word. If you have any doubts, try to organize a startup related event and find entrepreneurs willing to speak up about their own failures.

“In Japan (…)failure traditionally carries a deeper stigma, an enduring shame that limits the appetite for risk, in the view of many of the nation’s cultural observers. This makes the Japanese far less comfortable with choices that increase the prospect of failure, even if they promise greater potential gains. (PETER S. GOODMAN, The New York Times, link here.”

Not surprisingly, startup stories of failures aren’t available to support curious engineers and designers who spend their spare time alone trying to invent new things.

It’s about the time for makers to meet those who’re building a new hardware business! We break the silence mode and give the stage to different kinds of narratives, other than the successful ones currently available when we talk about startups in Japan.

Reception team: present! Name tags and paper for Q&A notes — ready to go!

Considering how rare events in Kansai are held around the “F” topic, we handed out papers for the Q&A session right at the reception desk, and even before we got started, there was already one question to be answered.

As first speakers and also to warm up the conversation, our International guests Lucas Graffan & Marie Levraul, MakerTour team members passionate about the makers movement and the importance of communities.

MakerTour team members Lucas Graffan & Marie Levraul.

Their focus is on how to empower the global impact of makerspaces, as they provide an overview of their 8-month journey in Asia, after a previous exploration tour through Europe. The number of makerspaces has increased everywhere in the world, and MakerTour team presented key highlights of the 30 Asian makerspaces documented, from Iran to South Korea.

In the end, they also shared some of the challenges and opportunities for the future of makerspaces, bringing real cases of startup projects booted by collaboration. Having just arrived in Japan, Lucas and Marie spent the entire day with us at Kyoto Makers Garage. (You can check their updates on their Youtube channel!)

The second speaker was Yoshiyuki Kawai, Mimamora CEO & Co-Founder. His startup idea happened after his personal experience, when his 68-yr-old father was diagnosed with mild dementia, a common aging problem for senior citizens. Aware of the limitations in the case of such disease, Kawaii decided to work on his own solution to solve his family problem, when realizing the risks they were facing — as a strong Japanese man, his father enjoys playing baseball and would be sometimes over 250km away from home.

According to Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare studies, by 2025 over 7M elderly tend to suffer from dementia, representing almost 20% of the population. Only in 2016, 20,000 senior citizens went missing and over 200 people found in a state near death. When dementia gets worse, patients start wandering around and might get lost very easily, going way further than one could expect.

Founded in July 2016, Mimamora Inc is working on a new monitoring service, in collaboration with EASEL (Yokohama City), and about to launch the world’s first band-type LoRa + GPS device as a solution to support elderly people & pets monitoring. The device tries to overcome the current options, in terms of portability, radio wave intensity and battery life.

Last July, Mimamora’s field Test (BLE device) failed, as per a limited reach of only 15m, not enough to guarantee the product’s tracking system!

So how did Kawai solve this problem? He quickly decided to contact experts in the field for specialized mentorship and qualified support! That’s when he met Mr.Matsumoto, now his main advisor, who recommended him to switch to LoRaWAN! Problem solved but still a lot of work to be done.

His recommendation for makers is: reach out to experts in the field they’re getting into, as the curve of learning might to be suitable for startup timing.

Nature Japan CEO Haruumi Shiode opened his speech with fresh news: his first product Nature Remo, a universal smart controller for ACs, has just been launched! As this might sound like a great metric for a successful startup, he quickly remarked the audience that prior to such achievement there’s always a full set of failures to be shared. And that’s exactly why he was called to join the meet up as a keynote speaker.

Shiode noticed a systemic problem once he got involved in power plants development, working for a Japanese large corporation, where he witnessed a lot of disasters. That’s when he decided to rethink the entire supply chain of power system, starting from basic daily wastes.

In order to make the difference, he made a decision to start his own project. One of the main sources of domestic energy waste is the room temperature control — ACs, more specifically, aren’t smart at all!

He found that with new devices as Google Home and Amazon Echo, popular all over the world, there should be an easier device to help control ACs remotely, no matter the device. That was his main concept for Nature Remo Universal Smart Controller for Room ACs.

Nature Remo demo video used for their crowdfunding campaigns.

To make share there was a real demand for such a product and, at the same time, some initial budget for the production, Nature Japan launched campaigns on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and the domestic Makuake. Prior to manufacturing, the startup had already sold 2,250 units on crowdfunding + pre-sales of + 1,000 additional unities, validating the real need for such an innovative product. As a successful milestone achieved, crowdfunding was just the kickoff for the real work that was about to start.

Check Shiode’s failure lessons for makers all over the world!

  1. Finding the right factory is not easy. Even when you have contacts that introduce a list of possible manufacturers to work with, taking the time to visit and checking all suppliers capabilities is time consuming — if you can manage to make it easier, it’ll save your time. In his case, HWTrek network (only available until the end of November, unfortunately) was very helpful but he still had to travel in order to visit all places in China and Taiwan.
  2. We are so small. Startups dream big as it should be but our small lot production are not so interesting for manufacturers who are used to have large orders and can make more money easily. Look for a partner who can understand your vision and challenges startups face, prioritizing a long term gains.
  3. Hardware is Physics — and there’s no way to avoid it, no matter how much startups want to disrupt the world! In the end of the day, you must comply with the laws of nature. In our case, we worked on what he had considered a great design: a white colored device to match most of residential walls. But what we didn’t know before is that there is one reason why most of remotes are black or transparent: it’s easier for the infrared to connect to domestic appliances.
  4. Monozukuri is a long journey! (And always more than entrepreneurs wish!). Making physical products involve a chain of partners and supporters, so no matter how good your team is, there is always a range of risks and failures involved.
Nature Remo learnt from its own mistakes that there’s one reason for certain industries practices: Physics!

Shiode’s notes about Failure:

  1. Failing is an inevitable step: just get over it!
  2. Action, action and action: once you fail, make the best out of it and move on!
  3. Persistence is key to find a solution. If you expect anything to work perfectly all the times, rethink your goals. I had to remake my prototype over 20x before reaching the current stage.

After a break, there were two panel discussions with invited guests.

In the first one, I spoke to Torsten Fischer (Innovation Consultant at KVART Inc) about the similarities between European and Japanese ecosystem players when it comes to collaborations with startups.

Torsten, originally from Germany, has bridged some conversations about innovation in Japan and Europe, focused on circular economy in Asia.

Win-win collaborations between European corporates and startups are also recently new and still in early development, and Torsten believes Japan could learn much from such cases, when large corporations join young entrepreneurs, who gain flexibility to offer customer-oriented innovative solutions. In the other hand, startups can benefit from corporations when it comes to branding and infrastructure they miss.

Considering the topic of “failure”, Torsten agrees it’s still not well seen in most of the European hubs, but it's impossible to avoid this discussion and we should try to lead and understand how to learn from failures in order to build entrepreneur’s skills.

The second panel discussion was lead by our CEO Makino with both Japanese startups. In this last session, the audience could learn more from the speakers and ask personal questions directly to the entrepreneurs. It was the main part of the event and also when attendees seemed to be more engaged.

If you have any stories of hardware failures you’d like to share, email me: sabrina@makersboot.camp

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