Bit Valley Central -- GAIAX

Back to Contents of Issue: May 2000

by Tanya Clark

GaiaX fits the Bit Valley archetype so perfectly you almost want to look for flaws.

It's a startup founded by three young Japanese -- aged 25 years or so -- who quit their mainstream jobs to develop and market an Internet solution. Launched in March 1999, GaiaX will close its books this May and (maybe) IPO on Mothers in the third quarter. The company already claims some 70 business partnerships for its software -- including Japan's largest travel agency, Japan Travel Bureau (JTB), the retailer Sofmap, and search engine firm Infoseek.

Their product -- a beginner-friendly home page/calendar/ diary/chat forum editor -- is, they say, so unique they hope to export it beyond Japan's shores.

Their office? So close to Shibuya station the building appears to be part of the station's forecourt. Many of the staff even sleep there (after missing the last train) and bathe in one of Shibuya's two sento (traditional public bath houses).

Now employing eight to ten full-time staff and another 10 or more part-timers (mostly students) who camp out on about a dozen white desks working at tiny B5 laptops (mostly Mebius and Vaio), GaiaX connects to the world via NTT's ISDN trial network.

OMI Building, 8F, 3-19-1 Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, 150-0002
Founders: Yuji Ueda, CEO
Maki Yamane, business development
Sono Mikuchi, tech
The company's product is provided entirely free to individuals and partners. GaiaX plans to make money from advertising, but for now, "Well, we are rather focusing on taking market share at this moment," says Maki Yamane, the 25-year-old cofounder in charge of business development.

The company has taken no venture capital funding but was finalizing investment from five communications related companies: Gala (an Internet firm), Shoeisha (publishing), Gootle (mainly sells cell phones), Alpha International (also sells cells), and Media Ring, a Singapore-based firm, says Yamane.

The firm started from a simple idea. Yamane and GaiaX CEO Yuji Ueda, 25, were working for an investment firm and in 1998 decided they wanted their own company. Having used the Internet since university, they felt that was their niche.

Ueda got in touch with an old friend from Kyoto, Sonosuke Mikuchi, 24, and asked him to help out. Mikuchi had dropped out of Kyoto University but had picked up enough programming skills to create the program in the first few months of 1999.

Their days are now so busy the only time they get out socially is for a quick dash to the sento, Starbucks, or to grab lunch in the basement of their building.

As for Bit Valley, Yamane says locating in Shibuya has helped a huge amount in terms of raising their profile (the company moved from Ebisu last December) and that the networking opportunities provided by the Bit Valley Association have been outstanding.

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