Cloud-based personnel management tool SmartHR wins Open Network Lab 10th Demo Day

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See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based startup incubator Open Network Lab (OnLab) held a demo day event earlier this week, showcasing six startups from the tenth batch of its incubation program. One startup was not disclosed because they are in stealth mode.

While this batch received applications from 80 startups including 20 team from overseas, only seven teams were selected and allowed to receive mentoring and other support for three months. At the end of the demo day event, mentors selected and commended promising teams from the batch.

‘Best Team Award’ winner: SmartHR

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Personnel management requiring the preparation of forms and documents to be filled is a time consuming task, especially at small companies. SmartHR is a cloud-based platform that enables users to complete all these tasks in one week for free versus three weeks for a cost of 20,000 yen ($170) on average if outsourced to a labor and social security attorney.

The service has not yet been launched, but the SmartHR team received pre-registrations from more than 125 companies employing 1,449 people two weeks after the launch of a ‘coming soon’ landing page. The team received responses from 10 companies among these applicants that are willing to pay for the service after watching an on-site service demo.

SmartHR is targeting four million small and medium-sized enterprises employing 27 million people in Japan. The team is planning to integrate it with the E-Gov API (application program interface) that the Japanese government will introduce soon. A database of employees is also formed by using the platform so it will also provide the feature that encourages companies to enact office rules or hire an industrial physician according to how many employees they have.

Tokyo-based Kufu, the company behind SmartHR, has developed several web services including Yknot, a buzz marketing site focused on business-to-business and business-to-employee services, and Skillsand, a platform introducing web creators with their profiles and quantified skills.

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‘Special’ award winner: Lifeclips

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Prior to launching Ideakitt, the company behind Lifeclips, CEO Ryohei Fujita was previously worked at Tokyo-based mobile event and ticketing startup Peatix as a business development specialist. In a conversation with his previous boss and Peatix CEO Taku Harada, Fujita heard that Harada has been exploring a good place to speak his mind because he was connected to too many people on Facebook while he thought blogging was tiresome. That inspired Fujita to develop Lifeclips.

Lifeclips is a social network platform where users can express their thoughts. The small number of inputs required, such as user id and password, makes it easy for users to start writing, while also allowing users to set the range to be shared for every article posted such as public, private, or for selected people.

Since its launch in November, more than 20,000 articles have been posted on the platform, where monthly active user ratio is over 50% and users remain on site for over ten minutes on average. The team aims to make LifeClips a standard for noting and sharing texts, following Instagram as in photo sharing and Vine for videos. An iOS app was launched on Tuesday and was featured as a recommended app on the Apple iTunesStore.

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‘Special’ award winner: Tsunagu Japan

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Tsunagu Japan is a website that introduces Japanese lifestyles to the world in English and Chinese, and publishes articles on sightseeing spots and other attractions in a curated format, which conventional travel portals have never offered in this way before. They earned a high reputation from readers around the world with a recent article introducing Halal-certified shabu-shabu restaurants in Tokyo.

The team has acquired 430,000 monthly unique visitors, increasing 245% on a month-on-month basis. Leveraging assets like 1 million Facebook fans, 320 overseas ambassadors, and content syndications with Digg and TripZilla.sg, the team is aiming to hit the one million user milestone by July.

They plan to establish more vertical media platforms focused on hot spots in Japan such as hotels, restaurants, and shopping venues, as well as publishing more articles, especially in Chinese.

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The following startups did not win but gave interesting pitches.

Makey

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Makey is a web-based knowledge sharing platform focused on women’s make-up. The team has been offering makeup lectures for users in collaboration with Japanese cosmetics brands like Kao and Kose, and will launch a mobile app in late April.

The Makey team expects to generate a primary revenue stream from advertising and affiliate marketing by driving user traffic to cosmetics e-commerce sites. They will launch an online media site after summer, aiming to establish a solid media presence in the Asian and Chinese markets, which are valued at $12.6 billion.

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Flap

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Flap is a matchmaking platform that connects hairstylists and their potential customers. There have been search portals that introduce hair salons in Japan, but nothing for hairstylists. Users can browse hairstylist portfolios on the Flap platform. Hairstylists gain a primary income from basic pay and a commission received from their salon when they are selected by customers for offering treatments. The amount of this commission consist much of their income so hairstylists are always expected to have more steady customers.

Users can browse portfolios of various hairstylists on the Flap platform, whereby the psychological hurdle of potential customers is lowered to choose a specific hairstylist when booking for a treatment. 42% of the first-time users has posted their profiles, 35% of them keeps using for over a month, and 7.5% of them has succeeded to acquire new customers.

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HouseCare

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HouseCare provides house cleaning services. Originally launched as a crowdsourced baby-sitting service, but they pivoted because they thought that the business is tough in Japan. If you choose which rooms to clean and book online one day before the date of cleaning, the service costs 2,500 yen ($21) per hour.

While Duskin, one of Japan’s major cleaning service operators, usually charges around 10,800 yen ($91) to clean a bathroom, HouseCare will clean an entire house for the same price (the capacity depends on the size of the house and number of rooms). Some 37% of those who have signed up for the service made a booking for cleaning in two days. HouseCare at present only serves the Tokyo area, but will partner with vacation rentals such as AirBnB.

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Tomoya Sasaki, president of Open Network Lab, said that 58 startups have graduated from the incubator in all past ten batches, whereby the total market cap of all the startups graduated from the first to the eight batches are now valued at 3.3 billion yen ($273 million), a 23-fold increase in value compared to the initial investment opportunities in these startups.

After the demo day event, Open Network Lab started receiving applications for the eleventh batch of their incubation program. The incubator had been offering a maximum 2 million yen ($16,800) to every qualified team, but they announced that this will be raised to 10 million yen ($84,000). The amount of investment will depend on the phase of the startup. The application deadline is 12:00 on 18 May, Japan Standard Time.

Edited by Kurt Hanson

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