Startup Aims to Simplify Global E-Commerce

Back to Contents of Issue: July 2000

by Daniel Scuka

Japan is nothing if not the Land of Internet Opportunity these days, and Netpreneurs from around the world are coming here to pitch intriguing new ventures. One such outfit that caught our interest recently is Vanguard, a tiny but internationally minded (like Japan itself) software developer offering a multilanguage, multicurrency e-commerce solution.

Mojo is a fully configurable, secure SSL e-commerce engine integrated with traditional Web, email, and FTP servers. It's a turnkey system that Vanguard says can be easily configured by most website operators. The package includes real-time credit card clearance through Exodus Communications, and Vanguard founder and president Tim Romero is talking to CyberCash, Cybersource, and several other online clearance providers. Mojo also lets webmasters create detailed e-commerce reports to assist management and marketing. "The technology is no longer the bottleneck," says Romero.

It isn't a cheap product, but, then again, setting up a world-savvy e-commerce solution isn't an inexpensive endeavor. "We set the price at ¥2.7 million, which is cheap compared to building an e-com solution by yourself. To compare, people are paying ¥12 million for comparable functionality from Eccoss. The beauty of Mojo is that we've taken everything an online merchant could want and put it into one box."

With e-commerce taking off in Japan, Vanguard should have no problem attracting the SMEs (small and medium-sized companies) it's targeting with Mojo. Says Romero: "We're marketing mainly through resellers, such as Web design companies and ISPs, who resell the system to their clients. Mojo is a perfect solution for Web design shops since it lets them cut their development cycle."

Romero feels confident he's got a winner. Four units were sold, he says, before the marketing brochure was ready. "We launched unofficially in April, and I think we'll hit sales of 700 units by the end of 2000," he says. "We're also looking at Europe, where there's a real need for multilingual solutions -- you have to have your site up in English, French, and German."

For now, Vanguard is a tiny venture consisting mainly of software developers (the first marketing staff were hired in April). "We have a diverse group here," says Romero. "The development team contains people from five different countries. I first came to Japan as a musician; one developer came as a missionary; another to study Japanese."

Romero is pleased with the progress they've made so far. "Vanguard developers have an average of eight years development experience," he says, "and the amount of engineering creativity that comes out of such an experienced and tightly knit group can be amazing. I was explaining some of Mojo's multilingual features to one client, and one of the tech staff there said, 'No -- that's not technically possible,' and I said, 'Yes it is -- we're doing it -- we can give you a demo.' He still didn't believe me."

Will there be a Mojo 2.0? "Our upgrade program is a little different," Romero says. "Usually software companies aim for 18-month product cycles. They issue a major release then charge everyone a lot of money for upgrades. What we're trying to do is have short, two-month development cycles. The upgrades will be free for six months. After that, we'll charge a nominal fee. We want to lock in our clients not because it's too expensive to switch vendors, but because we provide the best service. We're also talking to several companies about licensing agreements."

Watching a demo of Mojo, which is impressive, the question that comes to mind is funding. Bit Valley startups with proprietary products and their own intellectual property are particularly interesting to investors these days. "Our first open round closed in April and the participants were mainly individuals," says Romero, "although Broadview purchased a significant percentage of the offering." And for the next round? "We'll probably look for $8 to $12 million," he says. "The majority of that will go into building the business -- marketing, sales, sales development, and infrastructure. And we should be able to pay real salaries! [Laughs.] All the staff have taken serious salary cuts to be here."

Sounds like classic Bit Valley.

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