Hirohiko Sasaki

Back to Contents of Issue: October 2000

by Kyoko Fujimoto

SasakiHirohiko Sasaki's company socioware.com has received investment from Netyear, NetAge, and Neoteny -- the best-known Net incubators in Bit Valley. The company offers meishi (business card) management services through its site. A 30-year-old Tokyo native, Sasaki graduated from Gakushuin University before heading Stateside for an MBA from the City University of New York. He wrote a best-selling book in Japan called The GE Way -- an Easy Guide. Kyoko Fujimoto caught up with the enterprising young businessman/author in the Jingu-Mae Media Square Building in Tokyo.

How did you get into the Internet business, and how did you come to establish your company, socioware.com?
My first experience with the Net business was in 1994, when I was an MBA student in New York. I worked as an intern in a new team called McCann Interactive at McCann-Erickson. That was before the first online ad, and that team should have been the industry's first marketing team for interactive media.

I got my MBA in '95, and got a job at iSi-Dentsu of America. That's where I met Sonny Koike, who was the head there and is now CEO of Netyear Group. We worked on what we could do in the Net business, but it was still a new arena that not many knew about. We made sites for Japanese companies and organizations in the US. In the fall of '97 about 10 people decided to really focus on the Net and established Netyear as a subsidiary of iSi-Dentsu. Headquarters moved to Silicon Valley, while I remained in the NY office. After about a year of Net incubation and consulting, Koike did a management buyout in the fall of '98 and Netyear became a separate company.

In early 1999, Netyear decided to come over to Japan. We could see that Japanese Net ventures weren't doing well, and, as you've covered, Koike and Mr. Nishikawa of NetAge drew up the plan for Bit Valley [see May 2000]. I was also an original member there, and still am the director of the Bit Valley Association.

While I was with Netyear, I wanted to start up my own business as well. I made a business plan with some people I met in New York, and that led to the formation of socioware.com in New York last August. But after seeing how much the venture business scene in Japan changed, we established the new socioware.com in Japan this January. We've made the US office the subsidiary. I'm still with Netyear, but my job there is to incubate socioware.com.

Tell me about this Internet-based meishi management service.
When you exchange meishi, you may want to put the data into your own database. But instead you create your meishi with our service and ask the other party for meishi exchange on the Web. Then if the other party moves or gets a promotion, for example, the information on your meishi holder is automatically updated.

Our vision is to make a relationship-management platform. Relationship here doesn't refer only to relationships between people, but also between people and corporations, or between people and services. We would like to make a platform that can manage all kinds of relationships. Meishi exchange is just the beginning.

How are you collecting users?
We go with viral marketing. This service usually invites other people to join in, so the users grow like a virus. But the original users mostly came from people in Netyear and another incubator of ours. We already have about 20,000 email addresses registered, and about 7,000 users have created meishi using our service.

How are you making revenue out of this service?
We do get ads, but our main plan is to receive revenue from corporate users. Our individual meishi service is free, but we are planning to charge on the corporate level. We can provide a service that allows you to manage the meishi list for your entire company. The corporation can have a huge meishi holder, as well as personal meishi holders for each individual. When the company wants to, for example, send out New Year's cards, it can avoid sending several cards to one recipient. And since the other party updates the information when they move, the sender doesn't have to worry about having an outdated address. This will all be all done on the Web, and we would like to start this service later this year. We are going to be the ASP for meishi management. We will never sell our data to anyone, nor send out junk mail.

Since this type of service is quite new, it may take a while for people to understand the merit of it. But I'm sure this is a very useful offering. Also, whereas many of the Net services in Japan already exist in the US, ours really is new. We'd like to make this a global service from Japan. Meishi exchange is a global thing, so we are making our system multilingual. An English version will come out soon, and Korean and Chinese will follow. Our target is to have about 500,000 users by year's end, and 1 million users within 12 months.

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