What's the startup community like in Korea and Japan?
January 22, 2008 11:38 AM   Subscribe

What's the startup community like in Korea and Japan? I'm sorta wondering how I can find out how many small businesses there are (and what kind of moolah funds them) in Korea and Japan.. but just the ones that are sorta "Web2.0" or have a mostly online business. Any ideas? Are there government resources that track private companies and categorize them that way? Thanks in advance!
posted by mhh5 to Technology (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I live in Japan and am answering based off of what I have seen around me.

First, if you don't know Japanese or can hire someone who does, there will not be much market for what you are offering because the level of English knowledge by the general public is close to nil. Have heard similar things about Korea.

Second, online businesses are mostly used for shopping, but I have rarely seen one run by a foreigner. If you were simply interested in working here in the tech field, you would need to know some Japanese, but there are jobs available, such as the Mac store in Tokyo.

In general the only small businesses in Japan which are run by foreigners are restaurants, and they are very far and few between. For a look at foreigners in the Japanese market, check out this story about Bull Dog Sauce. This is regarding larger corperations, but can give you an idea of what to expect. They aren't photographing and fingerprinting foreigners in immigration for no reason, it's because they are afraid of anyone who is different.

Most online businesses based out of Japan that are run by foreigners are aimed at selling Japanese products to foreign communities. So I suppose it depends on what you are interested in offering. Probably not the answer you were hoping for, but unfortunately race plays a big role in living here.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 7:57 PM on January 22, 2008

sorry, cooperations, not corperations.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 8:00 PM on January 22, 2008

I'd say one of the best people to ask about this is Gen Kanai. He might be willing to answer some questions privately via MeFi mail, or maybe respond publically to this question inthread. He's in Japan (works for Mozilla Foundation, if I remember correctly), and recently wrote an interesting article about the open source/non-IE scene in Korea (and how bad it is) on his site (among other things).

My short answer (after more than a decade as a web-dev hobbyist in Korea) is that much like fan_of said for Japan, unless you are Korean, there are no entry points to the business in Korea, and most online activity is firmly locked up by the majors (much like the greater economy at large). Even Google has had great difficulty making an entrance to the market here.

My knowledge of 2.0-ish Korean web sites and services is limited, though, I admit.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:38 PM on January 22, 2008

Check out Joi Ito who runs Digital garage that funds/helps startups also Japan Inc. a business/entrepreneur magazine and other web/media/IT employment business run by an Australian here in Japan. Also look at Fast Company's community pages.
I would slightly go against what the other posters have written (in regard to Japan) in that if it meets a need and you can get the funding then here it doesn't matter where you are from and being a gaijin to some degree can help, as long as you have the language...
In the last web boom there were quite few startups by non-Japanese that are still going strong and making money ValueCommerce springs to mind
posted by AndyM825 at 5:34 PM on January 23, 2008

fan_of_all_things_small -- thanks for the pointers, but I'm not really looking to move to Korea or Japan. I'm more interested in a kind of "benchmark" for those markets -- or maybe a government report that tries to classify small companies. (eg. http://www.kbiz.or.kr/cms/content_eng.jsp?site=www.kbiz.or.kr&ch=english|smbusiness|trendsme)

Thanks for info, tho. Good to know if I ever do need to move to Japan/Korea... And I guess I'll need to memorize my blood type, too.. :P
posted by mhh5 at 7:27 PM on January 24, 2008

stavrosthewonderchicken -- thanks! not sure I'm going to cold-email a guy I only know as "Gen Kanai" -- but it's interesting that you imply open source browsers are not widely adopted in Korea? I didn't know that.

Got any info on Korean web hosts? I guess they're all Korean-owned and operated? Which ones are the big ones? Is there an analog of 'GoDaddy' in Korea?

Oh, and I should link that URL I pasted above better... here.
posted by mhh5 at 8:06 PM on January 24, 2008

AndyM825 -- great answer.. I'll have to go thru those links in more depth.. and see if Fast Company has any info on Korean startups..
posted by mhh5 at 8:09 PM on January 24, 2008

stavrosthewonderchicken -- thanks! not sure I'm going to cold-email a guy I only know as "Gen Kanai"

Dude, that's his name. He is a Metafilter member, which is why I linked to his profile. Metafilter has internal messaging now; asking him if he had anything to contribute to this thread in case he hadn't seen it would certainly not be out of line. He's a nice guy.

And no, I have no idea about web hosting in Korea. Personal websites on personal domains are much rarer here than they are overseas; I don't think it would be a lucrative business.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:40 PM on January 24, 2008

stavrosthewonderchicken -- oops. I thought "Gen Kanai" was some pseudonym.. like "General Tsao's Chicken" -- I didn't think that was his real name... my bad. :P I'll trying pinging him...
posted by mhh5 at 12:18 PM on January 25, 2008

I have a number of thoughts about the Internet venture market in Japan but first please check out posts from my friend fukumimi, who has the best English blog on the VC market in Japan. Specifically please read, Japan 2006 IPO roundup, 2006 Japan IPO data digested (Part 1 of 2), 2006 Japan IPO data digested (Part 2 of 2), and On Worldwide VC Rankings. Unfortunately, the vast majority of information on the venture market in Japan is only available in Japanese (for instance CNet Japan's Venture View.)

The post about Korea and Internet Explorer that stavrosthewonderchicken was talking about was my post (warning, self-link) the cost of monoculture, which managed to hit the front page of Digg as SEED: How South Korea's Encryption Standard is Holding the Nation Back.
posted by gen at 7:15 PM on January 25, 2008

I think my advice is applicable to someone not planning to live there as well.

One point being that if you don't know Japanese, there's not a lot of opportunity. Also, your name alone is enough to brand you in the mind of the potential customer.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 7:24 PM on January 25, 2008

gen -- wow. thanks for all the links... lots of good info there. Only I wish I could read Japanese, tho. Looks like about 35% of VC investments in 2005-2006 went to IT-related firms. Given that there were 2,834 "deals" (where a "deal" seems to be ill-defined), there would seem to be about 1000 IT-sector companies with VC funding -- with an average investment around 0.5M euros.

Any thoughts on the web hosting side of things? Is there a patchwork of datacenters handling all these small companies? Or are there a handful of very large hosts that dominate the whole country?

posted by mhh5 at 11:13 AM on January 29, 2008

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