JA

JP STARTUPSJP STARTUPS

The web magazine that introduces and supports Japanese startups

Bridging the Last Mile of DX; Techtouch's goal of making web systems easier to use and the future of field-driven DX

Share:

This website has been translated into English using automatic translation. Please note that the translation may not be entirely accurate.

IT services are expanding each day. While the convenience of these services is increasing, an increasing number of people are finding it challenging to keep up with these rapid changes. Since the services are convenient, we would want to make them easy to understand so that more people can use them, and Techtouch is a tool that makes this a reality.

You can easily add a usage guide to any web system, and relieve the user's psychological hurdles. Techtouch Co., Ltd.​ ​Mr. Naka Imuta, the founder and representative director of the company, has reached his current business through a career in foreign-affiliated finance and an MBA. The area that Techtouch is challenging is a huge market overseas called DAP (Digital Adoption Platform). We asked Mr. Inuta about the world he is aiming for in the future.

After careful pre-research, the service was launched and received a solid response at the exhibition

Could you tell us about your career to date and your inspiration to start your own business?

After graduating from Keio University Faculty of Law, I worked in the financial industry from 2003 to 2011, first at Shinsei Bank, which had just been sold to an overseas PE fund after financial restructuring. It was an interesting environment where people with various backgrounds from foreign affiliated companies mixed with a Japanese traditional bank. After that, I interned at a 30 billion yen real estate fund for about six months in New York and then went to Columbia Business School for my MBA. A double major in finance and real estate, and on the verge of becoming a financial man. At the time, I was exploring a career in investment banking and joined the Deutsche Securities Tokyo office in June 2008. Until May 2011, I was engaged in corporate financing and M&A advisory services. At that time, Deutsche Securities was full of people with a spirit of challenge, and some of my colleagues moved on to become CEOs, CFOs, VC capitalists, and so on. Even now, many of my colleagues are engaged in friendly competition in the startup industry.

There were many significant tasks in finance, and every day was exciting. On the other hand, although it was inevitable due to the nature of the financial business, I was required to be a part of a team, and it was not the case that I could always continue to create new value for the world.  I wanted to take on the challenge of providing new value, which naturally led to the idea of starting my own company. However, when I left Deutsche Securities, I still didn't have a clear idea of how I wanted to start a company. There was a time when I tried to open a grocery store in Okinawa, although I stopped after a few months.

I lacked the prerequisite knowledge for business planning. With that in mind, I decided to join an IT company to learn IT business. However, even when I was job hunting, all I got were offers for CFO positions because of the image of my previous job. Under such circumstances, United, a company engaged in the smartphone application business, accepted my desire to start a business and allowed me to experience the IT business broadly.

What kind of IT services were you involved in at United?

I was involved in several zero-to-one projects. Also, at the time, United had a smartphone app that became a global hit, and I was able to join the team there. We set up a subsidiary in the United States and launched a new business through joint development with a local startup. The irreplaceable experience of that time remains in me as flesh and blood.

After that, I started my company and established Techtouch in March 2018 with co-founder and CTO Mr. Jun Hibino.

How did you meet Mr. Hibino?

He is a colleague from United. We developed the previously mentioned app from scratch and developed the app to a large scale. He also worked with me on new business development at our United States subsidiary for collaborating with a local startup.

If you're a former colleague, it would be easier to communicate about various things.

If you're a former colleague, it would be easier to communicate about various things. After deciding to start a company, I thought about many business ideas in the first month. The one that ultimately remained was SaaS, which runs on a web browser and allows non-engineers to enter operation instructions. The deciding factor was that I felt that there must be other people who would find this inconvenient, based on the sense of "financial systems are difficult to use" and "this part of the application would be difficult to use" that I had felt when I was working for a company. To obtain a wide range of user needs, we interviewed about 50 large companies through a spot consulting service called VisasQ. The unit cost per interview is also startup-friendly and often used for startup market research. Initially, we envisioned our business as targeting SaaS companies, but after the interviews, we decided to focus our development efforts on end-user companies that use SaaS.

The market research before the launch was quite thorough. Techtouch is both the name of the company and the service, but what is the origin of this name?

It's a customer success term. Techtouch allows technology to complete onboarding, which was conventionally done with so-called high-touch or low-touch, which requires human involvement.

Techtouch is a system that allows users to add on-screen operation guides to the system without the need for programming. It also adds input validation, RPA-like functions, and analytics functions that allow visualization of system usage. Since even people unfamiliar with the system can operate it intuitively, we see a great need for it in large companies that are increasingly computerized and complex in their operations as they carry out DX.

In February 2019, we released a closed alpha version; the feedback we gathered in a month was silently reflected in the service. With great excitement, in May 2019, we exhibited for the first time at an exhibition.

It's Japan IT Week Spring [2nd half], one of the largest IT exhibitions in Japan, held at Tokyo Big Sight. How was the response at the exhibition?

Since I was a complete amateur in B2B IT, I reserved a space that was insanely large for the size of our company. When I saw the exhibition space in person the night before, I was stunned by its sheer size. I remember feeling uneasy about whether we would be able to attract visitors.

However, when the doors opened, the event was a great success. Nine demo machines had queues, so much so that we had to prepare additional special machines.  We received positive feedback from our visitors and felt a solid response during the three days. I think that was when everyone on the team, including myself, truly felt we could make it.

At that time, the product was in its infancy, and some functions were completed on the eve of the exhibition after a series of rushed functional improvements for demonstration. The cost of exhibiting at trade shows ranged from several million yen to 10 million yen, and I think Mr. Hibino, the CTO, felt sick to his stomach every day under pressure (laughs).

About six months later, you also exhibited at Nikkei xTECH (Cross Tech) EXPO 2019.

At this time, I was also fumbling about how much it would cost to exhibit. When I arrived at the exhibition hall on the day of the show, I saw the logo of Techtouch alongside the logos of top-notch companies such as Microsoft and AWS on the banner of the highest-class sponsor. Then, I realized for the first time that this might have been an investment beyond our means (laughs). Nonetheless, this exhibition was successful, and the ROI was significant. This successful experience convinced us of the scale of our service.

Around the end of 2019, you released your first large-scale, company-wide implementation at a major property/casualty insurance company.

It's strange when you are a startup, and several savior-like people suddenly appear. The person in the DX department of this company is precisely one of those people. When we introduced the product in our first business meeting, he immediately decided to buy it on the spot. When we engage in business with large companies, we are very grateful when they purchase our products here because the case studies and achievements speak volumes. That person has switched jobs, but we still keep in touch.

You are also expanding its introduction to major companies.

Thanks to the support of our clients, some of Japan's leading companies are using our services, and we continue to see a large-scale implementation of our services with tens of thousands of users. We often support DX projects, especially for large companies, and there are many examples of large-scale introductions of SaaS, such as Salesforce and SAP.

It seems that there are quite a few startups that feel that the hurdle of internal approval is high when introducing it to a major company, but how did you proceed with the approach?

At our company, Techtouch, the fact that we were introduced by a major insurance company I mentioned earlier was a major factor. The hurdles to introducing it to other companies have since dropped dramatically. I believe it is imperative to be able to find innovators and early adopters like we did. At that time, we were trying to acquire customers for the time being, so we created access points with many people through venture capital firms and our connections.

Competing in the huge DAP market, considering scale with an eye on overseas markets

What challenges did you face in fundraising?

At the time of our establishment, we mainly utilized debt financing rather than equity financing. Japan has policy-based financing, so I think it's easy to borrow money even when starting a business. We were very grateful for the start-up loan from the Japan Finance Corporation and the guaranteed loan from the Credit Guarantee Association, so we highly recommend that you take advantage of them.

Equity financing was implemented after some initial traction. The seed round, in September 2019, was 120 million yen from VCs and angels. The Series A round raised another 500 million yen. Thanks to that, we've always received good reviews, so we haven't had any significant difficulties, but for some reason, I always feel uneasy about financing (laughs).

Could you tell us about the organizational culture and recruitment?

Recruitment materials are also published on our website; as stated on the website, we want to support a fun and positive life and create a company where people can enjoy work as part of their life. Techtouch's products also incorporate the philosophy that the system should not be a source of stress but something that expands human possibilities.

About 10 months after the company was founded, there was an interesting episode where a small gong was rung when there was a celebration, and I thought it seemed like a welcoming atmosphere.

(Pointing to a corner of the office) The gong is still in use there. At the time, we talked about raising funds and making it a bigger gong for each new series, but it fell through as the number of people coming to the office decreased (laughs).

That's why we have a culture that places great importance on teamwork.  In July 2019, about a year and a half after starting the business, we held our first off-site event, and at that time, we discussed our values together and established three: "Keep challenging, we have your back," "Deep Thinking," and "Always in High Spirits". From there, we have been holding regular off-site events, creating original apparel and doing other things, all in a friendly atmosphere.

Another feature of our hiring process is that we have a 60-minute interview dedicated to determining cultural fit. Especially at the initial stage, even one person who doesn't fit well in terms of culture will have a significant impact, so we consider whether the candidate will fit in with the atmosphere of the company and whether they can get along well with the team. Every Thursday, we hold a Zoom drinking party called Recruitment Meetup, where we rotate between candidates and current company members and interact with a small group. This is not a selection process but rather a measure to help candidates determine the fit with the company before joining.

You have been selected for Forbes Japan's "CLOUD 20 Rising Stars" and Weekly Toyo Keizai's "Amazing Venture 100". How is your public relations strategy designed?

As a premise, we believe public relations are important for a startup like ours. This is because, for a company like ours, which is promoting new services, "how to gain recognition and create a market" will affect the subsequent management of the company.

Based on this way of thinking, our PR strategy is designed based on the multiplication of what the media wants to report and what we want to convey to them while considering "Who is the target audience for our services?" and what topics and content will make them say, "Oh!".

What are your thoughts on future business development?

This field, which aims to maximize the effectiveness of system implementation by preparing web systems so that anyone can use them, is known as "DAP" worldwide. Several unicorns have also emerged among overseas competitors.

In the Japanese market, we take pride in being a pioneering player in this field. Internally, we call it "DXP® (Digital Transformation Platform/trademark registered)", meaning that it will be a platform that promotes DX.

In the earlier stages of the company's operations, we were limited in what we could do, but as we grew and reached the current stage, I felt again that we could do many things. We have accumulated data and know-how, and we can now understand what kind of systems are being used by what kind of companies and what issues need to be addressed when introducing Techtouch. In the future, I wonder if this kind of data can be used to improve corporate productivity and provide consulting services to propose improvement.

In terms of the market, if it is domestic, it is the public sector. And when I look overseas, I feel that Asia is a white space. The delicate characteristics of Japanese people and DAP go well together, and I feel there is room for our products to be accepted overseas. We are gradually starting to expand overseas subsidiaries of Japanese companies, and we are strengthening our English-speaking human resources in hiring.

A culture of bottom-up citizen development

Could you tell us about your upbringing?

My father was a financier, so he had to transfer frequently, and although I was born in Aichi, I moved from place to place. In college, I didn't think much about anything (laughs). I think I spent a lot of time in clubs and part-time jobs. It's amazing how many college students are interning at startups rather than looking for a job these days. I also applied to various places during my job hunting, but the decisive factor was that Shinsei Bank seemed to have a lot of interesting people from different walks of life.

How do you spend your holidays, and how do you refresh yourself?

After my father worked at a bank, my mother and I ended up starting a business together. I think that I have been influenced to some extent, including my own entrepreneurship.

I think that family time is what I exactly need to refresh myself away from work. My daughter is in elementary school, and the other day we went to Yokohama Chinatown together. Talking to children is a good change of pace because they live in a completely different world, and it naturally switches my train of thought. Occasionally, I am asked, "How many employees do you have now?" (laughs).

Do you have a message for startups in the pre-seed to seed stage?

I would like you to assume the market size while firmly facing customers. I have been involved in several new businesses, and market size is a very important factor in business execution. Capital policy and fundraising are irreversible, so it's challenging to be in a situation where you enter a market but cannot scale because of the market, as many different people are involved. Researching thoroughly and creating an image of a product that can win in the market would be good. Until then, you must be patient.

Finally, please tell us about the world you want to create and give a word of advice for our readers.

Nowadays, various IT services are being created one after another, and it is an era where productivity can be steadily increased if the person is motivated. On the other hand, many people, especially the Japanese, are allergic to IT. To increase productivity in Japan, which has been steadily declining compared to developed countries, I think knowing how to use IT is very important.

Techtouch allows the people in the system or business department to make daily improvements to areas they find challenging. I believe that the Japanese people are exceptional in operations, and it would be interesting if a bottom-up approach to improving IT while improving operations took root.  If you feel the same way, let's change the world together.