X-HUB is a platform to accelerate business growth globally and support startups based in Tokyo, providing them with access to a wide range of domestic and foreign investors and major corporations. It implemented business matching with foreign corporations this season and held events aimed at gaining knowledge about global market. The number of companies which joined X-HUB program this year and concluded NDAs with global company is more than 90. Furthermore, over 4,000 participants attended in its events including online attendance.
We interviewed Holoash, one of the X-HUB program participants in 2018, about the reasons why they targeted for global expansion, the current business situation and more details about X-HUB program.
- Holoash was founded in 2018. Could you tell us about your business?
Our service is to support mental care for people suffering from developmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and mental problems and people tormented with loneliness. Ashley, the smartphone app which we continue to develop and operate, is a product that enables you to communicate with artificial intelligence (AI). You can choose your favorite one from three charming characters displayed on your screen and have a voice chat (or text) whenever you like. For example, if you say to the app “I’m getting so nervous as I need to take the platform at a big event. What should I do?”, the character will response “You will be fine. Just be relaxed”. It will give you words to cheer you up or send you suitable music to calm down. Launched in the U.S. in October 2019, the number of users has exceeded 5,000 in four months.
This service was developed through my own experience that I myself had ADHD and suffered hardship in life. I’d be very glad if I could make users feel better to positive mind and help them improve their self-esteem.
- Why did you start your business in the U.S.?
The language we use in everyday life is called “natural language”. When AI processes this natural language, English is more suitable than Japanese and that’s the main reason for us to have launched our business in the U.S.. If users get an awkward answer from AI, it will be counterproductive for them. Besides, the U.S. market is larger than Japanese market.
Detailed analysis of our users has revealed that men in their twenties living in urban areas tend to use our app. It seems that many American men struggle with the prejudice, American men are tough and strong. They don’t even want to tell others that as they actually have counseling.
Currently the app is free to use but we are thinking about premium services in the near future. With the spread of smartphones and the emergence of various messenger apps, many people seem to worry about distracted behaviors and be tired of pretending themselves in front of others even if they are not diagnosed with developmental disorders. That’s why our users come to Ashley as it provides with them a place where they can be themselves.
- Why did your company, that’s already running in the U.S., attend the “West Coast Expansion Course” held by X-HUB in 2018?
- We participated in this program in June 2018, when we just started our business. I thought if I could participate in the startups program hosted by Tokyo Metropolitan Government, we can develop trust as a business entity. Especially in the U.S., “who introduces you” and “who supports you” is very important. A key person in Silicon Valley serves as a mentor in the X-HUB program and he introduced investors and Venture Capital for us. While many startups support programs in Japan focus just on organizing exhibitions overseas, X-HUB program enabled us to build and keep network that still continues even after the program periods.
- What challenges did you have in the U.S.?
I was surprised at high labor costs as our headquarter is located in San Francisco. Laws in the U.S. vary from state to state so we also need to ask for help from lawyers. To this point X-HUB program connected us with our partner lawyer.
Paying close attention to staff communication is also important because our staff members come from various countries. I try to speak as simple as possible and make each task open. We regularly conduct feedback meetings where we can point out what is good and what is not enough for each member. This allows us to share constructive feedback and avoid unnecessary internal politics.
In the U.S, it is said that participating in startup and investor communities is difficult. Trying to reach a group with investors, we rarely get a successful appointment at the initial contact via email or phone without proper introduction. At that time, the introduction is a key factor to become a member of the community. We can say that the merit of attending X-HUB program was great in that sense.
- Could you share some advice for companies trying to succeed in the global market?
There are two main points. The first step is to build up steadily what you can do while you are still in Japan. Preparing yourself well for English communication is one good example. As you would like to sell wine, the impressions of two words, “cheap wine” and “inexpensive wine”, is different. Using SNS is helpful to obtain common phrase and good command of English.
It is also important to determine whether the services and products you plan to launch globally are suitable for respective local needs. Japan has a unique market and each country has different challenges. I think it is necessary to choose carefully a place to do business in advance.
- Could you tell us about the prospects on your business?
I myself and the company have set the goal of creating a social environment where people with differences can thrive while you can be yourself. Now we should focus on our current services. As of now, 400 thousands conversations interacted on our app but we are seeking for 2.5 million conversations in this year. Voice and text small talk data is of value, even GAFA has not yet covered.
The company name “HoloAsh” was inspired by Nordic mythology, grabbed from the name of tree where various creatures snuggle up. Toward realizing a society where we can be ourselves and cooperating with various people, we keep on going step by step.