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Disrupting Japan

Tim Romero

+1 FAN
Japanese startups are fundamentally changing Japan's society and economy. Disrupting Japan gives you direct access to the thoughts and plans of Japan’s must successful and creative startup founders. Join us and bypass the media and corporate gatekeep...Show More

32:00 | Sep 2nd

The robotics ecosystem in Japan is amazing. And confusing. It's a collection of crazy ideas, odd creations, and true breakthroughs. And despite the combination of fawning prise and snide skepticism that Japanese robotics evoke in the international...Show More

24:06 | Aug 19th

Those of us who spend our lives working with startups live in a bubble. Whether you spend your days programming at a startup or investing in new ventures, you and I see things differently than “normal” people. It happens to everyone to some extent...Show More
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26:46 | Aug 12th

Last month I was part of a panel discussion hosted by Stanford University and the Japan Society of Northern California. It was part of this year’s Japan-US Innovation Awards, and it was a great conversation, so I thought I would share it with you. ...Show More

31:29 | Aug 5th

Startup founders claiming their company is going to “change the world” has become a cliche. But rarely do we see a product that could clearly and significantly make someone’s life better. D-Free is one of those products. Atsushi Nakanishi and his ...Show More

39:46 | Jul 22nd

Japanese university and government venture funds play a much larger role in Japan than in the West.  I've always considered this difference to be, on balance, neutral, today's guest makes a convincing case that these funds are actually hurting the...Show More

52:52 | Jul 8th

Startups and venture capital work differently in Japan. The rounds are smaller, the priorities distinct, and while the same terms are used, people quickly discover that the definitions are often subtly different. The game is played differently in ...Show More

41:55 | Jun 24th

Startup culture has crazy and contradictory views about failure. As founders we are told to fail fast, but also to never give up. We are told to follow our vision, but be ready to pivot. Somehow this macho-bullshit culture of “I never really fail ...Show More

53:24 | Jun 17th

Last month, I moderated a panel discussion at Coral Capital’s “Bilingual’s and Gaijin in Startups” event.  Our panel focused on what foreigners should expect when working at Japanese startups and what Japanese startups should start doing to better...Show More

41:39 | Jun 10th

The idea of computers capable of reading our emotions and responding to them is both fascinating and terrifying. Will this technology serve us or manipulate us?  Well, the speculation is ending because the technology not only exists, but it is bei...Show More

38:25 | May 27th

It turns out that we are not willing to pay very much for simple convenience, so the technology is coming into our homes bundled with different agendas.  We've seen this happen with the success of Alexa and Google Home, and we are now seeing it he...Show More

56:12 | May 13th

Selling SaaS in Japan is very different than selling products or traditional software. Everyone knows that relationships are important in Japan, but not many people understand why they are so important, and how you can use that understanding to bu...Show More

25:49 | Apr 29th

New listeners might not know that for about one year, Disrupting Japan was sponsored and was my primary source of income.  So today, I thought I would share the history of Disrupting Japan, about my decision to go pro (and then go amateur), my vision...Show More

39:26 | Apr 15th

The promise of renewable energy has always been alluring. Now that the technology has caught up to the promise, record amounts of wind and solar are coming onto the grid both in Japan and throughout the world.  But so far startups, especially Japa...Show More

33:29 | Apr 1st

It's a great time to be a programmer in Japan. Everyone is hiring and there simply is not enough talent available. But why is that? The truth is that until about 10 years ago, programming was considered kind of a blue-collar, low-skill job. It...Show More

36:41 | Mar 18th

Corporate accounting is not usually the first thing the comes to mind when you think of disruptive technology, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. Daisuke Sasaki of Freee, however, is changing the way accounting is done in Japan from the bott...Show More

44:17 | Mar 4th

A few years ago, shiny new startups were using their marketing dollars to tell the world that chatbots were going to change everything. Those marketing dollars have now been spent and most of those startups are no more. But for the past few years...Show More

39:06 | Feb 18th

Everything about employment in Japan is changing.  Lifetime employment is gone.  Skilled workers are discovering that they have job mobility and large Japanese companies are increasingly confused by the fact that many new graduates don't want to w...Show More

32:25 | Feb 4th

Uber and, to a lesser extent, Airbnb are failing horribly in Japan. There have been quite a few articles that have tried to explain what this is, and most of those articles have focused on why the market conditions in Japan make it hard for those com...Show More

40:17 | Jan 21st

The developed world is facing a severe programmer shortage. Around the world, coding bootcamps have stepped into this gap to teach newcomers basic programming skills quickly. But in like so many other areas, Japan is different. Coding bootcamps h...Show More

29:47 | Jan 7th

For decades, Japan has been struggling with the economic need to attract more foreign residents to the country and the general social reluctance to do so. Over the years there have been some well-publicized failures and a few quiet successes, and ...Show More

31:05 | Dec 24th, 2018

The aerospace industry has been particularly resistant to disrupting in Japan. In the rest of the world, launch vehicle and spacecraft technology has made incredible gains over the past decade, but here in Japan its still mostly the same government c...Show More

32:32 | Dec 10th, 2018

There is something odd about the way we treat sleep. We understand that it is essential for good health, but we are almost ashamed when we admit that we get enough of it. We are rightfully proud when we keep our resolutions to go to the gym more or t...Show More

42:58 | Nov 19th, 2018

Whenever you hear someone claim that the Japanese will never do something for unspecified "cultural reasons", you know there is a fortune to be made.  Lu Dong is the co-founder and CEO of Japan Foodie, a cashless payment system currently masquerad...Show More

36:51 | Oct 29th, 2018

Japanese thoughts on risk are changing, but they are changing slowly. Many people still consider failure to be a permanent condition, and that makes it hard to take risks, or in some cases even to be associated with risks. Today we talk with Ha...Show More

37:15 | Oct 15th, 2018

The conventional wisdom is that traditional Japanese companies can't innovate. And traditionally, that's been true.  Hosoo, however, is carrying on a 1200-year-old tradition, but they are hardly a conventional company. Today we talk with Masata...Show More

00:47 | Oct 8th, 2018

Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Twice a month, you and I will sit down meet the founders of some of Japan’s most innovate startups. We'll talk a bi...Show More

29:40 | Oct 1st, 2018

Disrupting Japan is four years old, so we decided to invite a few hundred movers and shakers from Tokyo’s startup community over to have few drinks and to hear three of Japan’s most successful foreign startup CEOs talk about what it takes to succeed ...Show More

40:37 | Sep 17th, 2018

There are a lot of aerospace startups in Japan these days. We are seeing innovation in everything from component manufacturing to satellite constellations to literal moonshots. All of those, however, depend on the ability to place new satellites i...Show More

33:14 | Sep 3rd, 2018

There are relatively few biotech startups in Japan. Few investors are willing to write the multi-million dollar checks and have the decades-long patience that is required to really succeed investing in this industry. But startups find a way, an...Show More

37:51 | Aug 20th, 2018

Most of us don't actually zone out in front of the TV. In fact, we give off all kinds of clues to what we really think about the shows we are watching. Japanese startup, T-Vision Insights has come up with a way both to measure and to monetize thos...Show More

38:02 | Aug 6th, 2018

The single most common question I get asked are variations of "How do you start a business as a foreigner in Japan?"  or "What's it like to start a startup as a foreigner in Japan?" It's always been a hard question to answer simply because it is s...Show More

44:07 | Jul 23rd, 2018

Japan had been a global leader in robotics for decades, but recently the traditional Japanese leaders have been losing ground to the better-funded and better-publicized firms coming out of America and China. Mujin is changing that. While iRobot an...Show More

48:21 | Jul 9th, 2018

Twenty years ago, we all thought that starting a startup required a special and rare kind of talent. It was something you either had or you didn't. Today, founding and running a startup is considered more of a learnable skill. It has its own best pra...Show More

42:18 | Jun 25th, 2018

Today, rather than diving deep into a specific aspect of startups in Japan, we are going to take a hard look at both what is and what is not working within the Japanese startup ecosystem as a whole. And at the end, I'm going to answer the most com...Show More

40:54 | Jun 11th, 2018

If you've ever done business in Japan, someone probably walked you through the intricacies of Japanese business card culture. Chika Terada, the founder of Sansan, created one of Japan's most successful startups around the business card protocol. A...Show More

29:53 | May 28th, 2018

Startups are changing how business is done in Japan, but medicine remains stubbornly resistant to innovation. In some ways, that's good. We are literally experimenting with peoples lives, so caution is definitely warranted. We don't want to rush t...Show More

45:03 | May 14th, 2018

Preferred Networks is making changes in Japan. Over the past few years, this AI startup has raised more than $130M in venture funding and grown to more than 130 people. If you live outside of Japan, you might not have heard of this team, but th...Show More

37:00 | Apr 30th, 2018

Education is very hard to disrupt. That’s both good and bad. Education is so important to both individuals and society, it should not be changed on a whim, but over time it seems that our institutions of higher education have drifted away from mee...Show More

34:54 | Apr 16th, 2018

The insurance industry has proven very resistant to innovation. In fact, it has not really changed much in the past 200 years. The way insurance is sold and managed has changed, of course, but from the point of view of the consumer, things remain sur...Show More

40:52 | Apr 2nd, 2018

Blue Innovation attracted a lot of international attention last year when they announced the  T-Frend drone system. This dystopian drone flies around offices after hours reminding staff not to work overtime, and taking pictures of those who violat...Show More

1:01:15 | Mar 26th, 2018

Have you ever been at a crowded and noisy party and heard a conversation across the room? You catch pieces of it, and you know it is interesting, but you can’t quite make it out and you can quite push your way over to that side of the room to be a...Show More

35:08 | Mar 19th, 2018

Hardware is hard. In fact, sometimes the simplest and most straightforward ideas turn out to be the hardest to implement. Today I’d like you to meet Kyohi Kang the founder and CEO of Atmoph. Atmoph is a programmable window which can display the...Show More

38:40 | Mar 5th, 2018

Right now, it looks like the most profitable business models that are emerging from the mapping of the human genome are not in the field of medicine, but in a variety of B2C business models focused on consumer marketing. That may be a surprising c...Show More

32:07 | Feb 19th, 2018

We startup founders and investors like to talk about “moonshots”. It points out startups that have huge dreams, those that are solving hard problems, and those that will actually change the world if they succeed. Usually, the term moonshot is used...Show More

34:26 | Feb 5th, 2018

Using artificial intelligence to change the way the education system works seems like a fool’s errand. When you combine the fluid and opaque nature of AI technology with the slow, bureaucratic decision making of education, you usually wind up with...Show More

40:08 | Jan 22nd, 2018

The global energy markets are transforming themselves right before our eyes. Very little fundamental change has occurred over the past 70 years, but 10 years from today the Japanese and global markets are going to look completely different.  Today...Show More

37:32 | Jan 8th, 2018

Having a free product tier is a time-proven way for startups to get a foot in the door by giving potential customers a low-risk way of evaluating your product. However, there are times when it's easier and much more profitable to simply make the s...Show More

1:08:49 | Dec 25th, 2017

Japanese labor law is very different from what is standard in the US or Europe, and more than a few foreigners have made simple mistakes that have cost them their jobs or their entire companies. Terrie Lloyd has started more than a dozen companies...Show More

35:12 | Dec 11th, 2017

Japanese fashion is unique, and so is the entire Japanese fashion industry. Today I would like to introduce you to a Japanese fashion startup with a genuinely unique business model. Tsubasa Koseki and his team at Facy, have created a fashion marke...Show More

30:45 | Nov 27th, 2017

There are a lot of passionate opinions about Japanese design. From the beauty and subtlety of the best Japanese anime to the design horrors of most corporate Powerpoint presentations, Japanese design covers a huge range. Things are changing though...Show More

47:11 | Nov 13th, 2017

Video is taking over the internet, but in many ways, it has not changed significantly in the past 40 years. The way we discover and pay for video content has changed significantly, of course, but we still consume video in a continuous, linear sequenc...Show More

32:00 | Nov 6th, 2017

Today I have a special in-between episode for you. At this year's big Tech In Asia Tokyo event I moderated a panel on artificial intelligence with some of the leaders in the field in Asia. We talked about how to separate the AI hype from reality, ...Show More

34:13 | Oct 30th, 2017

There is far more to startups in Japan than SaaS software and IoT hardware companies. Biotech startups are beginning to make a mark here. Today we sit down and talk with biotech pioneer Mitsuru Izumo and talk about his ground-breaking work at E...Show More

34:00 | Oct 16th, 2017

There’s a very good reason most Japanese hardware startups fail. Today we sit down with Takuro Yoshida CEO and founder of Logbar, and we dive into the reasons and also go over Logbar’s strategy for avoiding the mistakes that have killed off so man...Show More

56:10 | Oct 2nd, 2017

Disrupting Japan is three years old, so we decided to invite a few hundred movers and shakers from Tokyo's startup community over to have few drinks and to hear three of Japan's most successful startup CEOs talk about what it takes for Japanese start...Show More

38:37 | Sep 18th, 2017

Corporate Japan is about to go through a major transition in its approach to computer security. In the past, Japan-only payment systems and the Japanese language itself provided a barrier that kept international fraud and attacks at a very low level....Show More

25:18 | Sep 4th, 2017

Welcome to our 100th show. If you are new, welcome to Disrupting Japan. If you are a long-time follower, thank you for being part of the community and helping to make Disrupting Japan what it is today. This is a special, and rather short, episo...Show More

33:44 | Aug 21st, 2017

Fewer than 1% of Japanese consumers have ever purchased a product or service from a sharing economy platform. It's actually quite puzzling. Social and economic factors all seem to indicate that Japanese cities would be ideal for sharing economy bu...Show More

39:22 | Aug 7th, 2017

The financial services industry in Japan is pretty unsophisticated. There are relatively few options for brokerages and mutual funds, and what options there are tend to be expensive. Furthermore, since pensions and taxes are generally handled by the ...Show More

42:05 | Jul 31st, 2017

Japanese enterprises are particularly susceptible to disruption, and Japanese startups have a harder time than most pivoting. Both of these problems stem from the same root, and today we are going to dig up that root and have a look at it. Today w...Show More

43:39 | Jul 24th, 2017

FinTech in Japan is far more advanced than most outside observers imagine it to be, and based on new deregulation and government incentives, finTech in Japan is about to accelerate even more. Today we sit down and talk with Toshio Taki, co-founder...Show More

13:08 | Jul 19th, 2017

This is a short and very personal episode. Things will be changing for me and for Disrupting Japan, and sometimes when you are facing a lot of big changes, it really helps to be able to share your thoughts with people you care about. That's you. ...Show More

45:47 | Jul 17th, 2017

Two of the most persistent and damaging myths about Japan are that it is hard to start a company here and that it is hard to do business as a foreigner.  Well, those are not complete myths. Both of those things are indeed difficult, but no harder tha...Show More

41:06 | Jul 10th, 2017

Japan has a long history of small shopping streets and tiny markets. In fact, despite the population density, American-style mall culture never took off here. The back streets of even the most crowded downtown office districts are filled with little ...Show More

40:05 | Jul 3rd, 2017

Platform as a Service (PaaS) has been a difficult startup business model in the US, but Wayland Zheng, founder and CEO of Mobingi, has found a way to make it work in Japan. His approach involves a combination of leveraging both a unique feature set a...Show More

34:54 | Jun 26th, 2017

It’s rare for a Japanese startup to challenge NTT and come out ahead. But that’s exactly what Takehiro Ogita and his team at TownWiFi have accomplished. TownWiFi is a mobile app that automatically detects and logins into available WiFi hotspots. S...Show More

33:54 | Jun 19th, 2017

This is a rather personal episode. We have no guests this time. It’s just you and me. We talk a lot about Japanese startups on this show and the role they will play in shaping Japan's economic future. Well, today we are going to look at this...Show More

37:53 | Jun 12th, 2017

Most great startup ideas don’t grab your attention right away. It takes a while before the founder’s vision becomes obvious to the rest of us. On the other hand, the startups that immediately grab all the press attention often go out of business shor...Show More

47:18 | Jun 5th, 2017

After the March 2011 earthquake and the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, TEPCO and the Japanese government tried to assure us that everything was just fine. The repeatedly insisted that there was no serious danger posed by the radiati...Show More

46:05 | May 29th, 2017

Selling innovative software to conservative Japanese businesses is never easy, but it’s particularly challenging in the cutthroat and low-margin restaurant industry. Today, we sit down with Masao “TJ” Tejima and talk about how he brought OpenTable...Show More

41:03 | May 22nd, 2017

Education is one of the hardest sectors to disrupt -- or even improve upon -- and most EdTech startups struggle. Today we sit down with Go Arai and we talk about how his company, Arcterus, is taking a bottom-up approach to improving education. Arc...Show More

43:59 | May 15th, 2017

The translation and localization industry has seen some impressive innovations over the past decade, but in many ways, it has remained stubbornly resistant to change. Today we sit down and talk with Jeff Sandford co-founder of The Wovn te...Show More

45:12 | May 8th, 2017

Seeking help for even minor mental health problems still carries a stigma in Japan. This is particularly unfortunate because clinical research shows that a significant portion of Japanese adults suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Ay...Show More

38:25 | May 1st, 2017

Today we sit down with Dave McClure under the cherry blossoms and talk about startups, funding, failure Dave has long been involved in Japan and in the startup community here, and in this episode, we talk about the progress Japan has made in the p...Show More

37:09 | Apr 24th, 2017

Growing our meat in a lab or factory has been a science fiction staple for decades, but much like jetpacks, it has never quite worked out in practice -- at least not at scale. Yuki Hanyu and his team at Shojinmeat, however, are changing that. Actu...Show More

30:47 | Apr 17th, 2017

Many VR startups are a solution is search of a problem, but Holoeyes is already in use at hospitals around Japan. Although the medical industry is one the most highly regulated, conservative and hard to disrupt, Holoeyes has made inroads by solving a...Show More

52:08 | Apr 10th, 2017

It’s often surprising to discover which problems are hard for AI. We hear stories about artificial intelligence being better than the most skilled humans at go, chess, Jeopardy, and better than many at driving a car, and we assume that computers will...Show More

26:06 | Apr 3rd, 2017

It’s hard to make money with music apps. The competition is intense, and most people simply are not willing to pay much for music apps; either because music is something they only do casually or because if it’s something they do professionally, they ...Show More

44:59 | Mar 27th, 2017

Soracom is one of those rare Japanese startups that has the potential to become a major global player and to change the way Internet of Things devices work. The real deployment bottleneck in the Internet of Things is not the hardware or the softwa...Show More

38:23 | Mar 20th, 2017

Miwa Tanaka, CEO of Waris, is working to make things better for working women in Japan. Although things are slowly changing, most Japanese women still must leave the workforce when they have children. The Waris platform helps them get back on trac...Show More

37:31 | Mar 13th, 2017

From the transistor radio to the walkman to the gameboy and the Playstation, Japan has always been both a leading force in hardware technology and a Mecca for gadget geeks. Over the past ten years, however, Japanese dominance in consumer hardware ...Show More

39:46 | Mar 6th, 2017

There are no shortage of startup accelerators, innovation spaces and startup community hubs, and sometimes it can be difficult to put your finger on what makes one a success and another a failure. Today, Tim Rowe the CEO of the Cambridge Innovatio...Show More

32:48 | Feb 27th, 2017

Hiking, back-country skiing and mountain climbing are not usually the first things associated with Japan. Japan, however, has some stunning natural beauty and Yoshihio Haruyama of Yamap is trying to get more and more people to appreciate that. Yam...Show More

38:14 | Jan 16th, 2017

More and more Japanese founders are moving their startups to San Francisco. It’s easy to see why. There is more venture capital, more startup know-how, and more startup energy in that city than anywhere else in the world. In fact, there is a small...Show More

32:32 | May 11th, 2015

Makuake is one of Japan's largest crowdfunding platforms. It was spun out of CyberAgent in 2013 with Ryotaro Nakayama (or Naka as his foreign friends call him) as CEO. Crowdfunding has taken off more slowly in Japan than it has in the US, and it h...Show More

35:25 | Apr 27th, 2015

Yuta Inoue and Quantum have developed a model to help large Japanese companies both work with innovative startups and to remember how to innovate internally. Many find it hard to believe today, but Japanese companies used to be some of the most innov...Show More

35:34 | Apr 13th, 2015

Koichiro Yoshida took CrowdWorks from idea to IPO in less than three years, and today both CrowdWorks and crowd-sourcing in general are seen as essential to Japan’s future economy.  Just 10 years ago,  Japanese politicians pointed to freelancers and ...Show More

34:41 | Mar 30th, 2015

Startup founders know that going from zero to one means not only making mistakes, but also asking for help. Unfortunately, in Japan asking for help has traditionally been seen as a sign of weakness.  In both professional and personal life you are exp...Show More

37:41 | Mar 16th, 2015

Investors were skeptical that combining traditional face-to-face learning with a P2P web platform would work. Over the past three years, startup founder Takashi Fujimoto of StreetAcademy has been proving them wrong. Takashi is showing Japan that the ...Show More

33:03 | Mar 2nd, 2015

One Japanese startup founder is on a mission to change not only the way we think about the news, but the way we think about each other. The "filter bubble" is a term that describes the natural, but tragic, result of search engines and news services g...Show More

33:56 | Feb 16th, 2015

Casey has been on the founding team of several Japanese startups in markets ranging from from retailing, to recruiting, to information sharing, to private social networks for pachinko parlors. Add to that the fact that he's just published a book on J...Show More

35:28 | Feb 2nd, 2015

Starting and growing companies is nothing new to Hiro. He's been doing it his whole adult life. In his younger days, he always felt caught somewhere between Japanese and American culture, never really belonging to either. Hiro found inspiration in an...Show More

22:47 | Jan 19th, 2015

The phrases "disruptive innovation" and "disruptive business" are thrown around far too often and far too loosely these days. Of course, at first glance, it would seem that the same charge could be leveled against this podcast. This is a special one-...Show More

35:54 | Jan 5th, 2015

Yusuke epitomizes the new generation of Japanese startup founders. That means he is exactly the opposite of what most Westerners picture as a startup founder in Japan.  He left a fast-track, high-status job in academia to start one startup after anot...Show More

29:24 | Dec 22nd, 2014

Masanori Hashimoto is the hardest woking slacker in Fukuoka. He's bootstrapped a collaborative diagramming company that is growing internationally and founded Myojyowaraku, the largest technology, music and arts festival this side of South By Southwe...Show More

38:32 | Dec 8th, 2014

Akiko Naka is an amazing woman. When you first meet, her reserved and unassuming manner makes you wonder if she really knows how potentially transformative her ideas and her company are. As you get to know Akiko, however, it becomes clear she knows e...Show More

36:04 | Nov 24th, 2014

Taku walked away from the kind of a career that most people dream of. He had proven himself at Sony Music, Apple and in his late twenties he was quickly rising thought he ranks at Amazon Japan. He and his friends knew they had an amazing career ahead...Show More

36:40 | Nov 10th, 2014

IPO of Realcom was just a milestone in a longer journey to change the way people work together and share information. Now, I realise, that sounds like a typical committee-written and board-approved mission statement from any number of enterprise soft...Show More

37:09 | Oct 27th, 2014

Jason came to Japan from Australia to study martial arts, and his company MakeLeaps is now kicking ass in online invoicing. Jason bootstrapped MakeLeaps himself and he and his partner, Paul Oswald grew the company organically, acquired two of their ...Show More

28:40 | Oct 13th, 2014

The startup ecosystems in America and Europe are built around people like Ikuo, but men like him are still quite rare in Japan. After founding a series of successful (and a few less than successful) startups, Ikuo moved to the other side of the table...Show More

28:54 | Sep 29th, 2014

It was a unique combination of Naoki's adventure driving through the US, his ongoing frustration in working for a large Japanese firm, and his love of an anime character from his childhood that inspired him to start his own venture and to try to chan...Show More

29:02 | Sep 16th, 2014

Business cards are far more important in Asia than they are in the West. Business cards command the same level of respect and deference as the person they belong to. Here in Japan, there are many times when a business conversation cannot get underway...Show More

11:30 | Sep 2nd, 2014

Far too many people, including many of the Japanese themselves, consider Japanese society as inflexible and unable to change. This is simply wrong. In this kickoff episode we look at what was behind the two disruptive, transformative really, chan...Show More