Rocket Staff is a young, Tokyo-based startup which has introduced a location-based iPhone app called PepperMeet. With GPS technology, the app allows you to chat and share pictures with any other users nearby, and the latest version (PepperMeet Plus) has introduced a feature that allows people to navigate to nearby evacuation sites in the event of a major earthquake in cities.
We recently had an opportunity to interview the startup’s CEO/founder Young-wook Kou.
What made you introduce this app and this new feature?
Prior to launching my own startup, I’ve been working at Movida Japan, an incubation office by well-known angel investor Taizo Son. Then I launched a web app called TwitMarket, which helps people to exchange updates on selling goods they don’t need and buying others which they need. Due to some [unforeseen] reasons, I closed it more than a year ago, but as you remember, there was the massive earthquake attack in the Tohoku region on March 11 last year. I tried to find what I could do to help the disaster victims and serve our local community. I launched a website delivering updates on what the victims need by customizing the previously running web service, I named it ‘Twit for You.’ It was launched in a week after the quake hit and has helped match more than 2,000 sets of people in their needs for assistance and utility goods.
I planned ‘Twit for You’ to be a time-limited service, and I thought I would shut it down after a little while if the victims no longer exchanged information. But we keep operating the service because we had many who were asking for it to continue. PepperMeet can be considered as some sort of a [derivation] from the two apps, TwitMarket and Twit for You, and I’ve been positioning it as a mobile app.
How many users do you have?
We have 10,000 users now (as of the middle of Feb 2012). But I would like to reach 400,000 users by the end of the next fiscal year, which is March 2013.
The app is available in four languages — English, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Are you planning to target any market other than Japan?
Sure. I have a plan to deploy a massive promotion in my home country of Korea this coming March. I also would like to get into the Chinese market, but the app adopts Facebook Login to authenticate users, so I should develop another interface that allows Chinese users to login with RenRen or QQ login. I’m now considering when is the best to start working on it.
How do you monetize?
By advertising and receiving OEM service orders from potential corporate clients who are interested in having a fully-customized version of the location-based app for their marketing. We can put their brand logo on the app. When you launch the app and try to find other users or your friends nearby, the logo will appear in a selection of friends, and you will be able to navigate to the nearest shop or branch of the brand if you prefer.
Why did you come to Japan to launch the startup?
Several years ago, the Korean government lifted the ban on Japanese culture (Korea was colonized by Japan before WWII, and the government subsequently had strictly banned selling or broadcasting Japanese literature, movies and TV dramas), so that we were allowed to watch Japanese dramas and commercial films on TV. I was so impressed with the high quality of those works, and that drove me to come to Tokyo. Just in four days after finishing service in the Korean army, I came to Japan and started working with a TV program production in Tokyo. But a couple of years ago, when I was looking at the social game industry in the middle of the boom, I thought it has had many people hooked because of game addiction. I wanted to make a change and do something to make the world better. That’s why I started working at Movida Japan, and then [eventually] launched my own startup.
Rocket Start consists of three people in total: Mr. Kou as CEO, US-based New Zealander Zane David as a UX designer, and Korea-based Jason as the chief developer. The startup fundraised 5 million yen (approximately $62,000) from Tokyo-based seed investor Samurai Incubate last October.
We can’t disclose a lot about it at the moment, but we’ve heard a new accelerator program in Korea will soon start encouraging Korean startups to go abroard. Mr. Kou expects to help a lot of them make their businesses successful in Japan. I’m looking forward to see how his app spreads out in the Asian region, and I hope he can bridge the startup communities in these two countries going forward.