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Web company IPOs in Japan pick up pace

by Akky Akimoto

What Web services are hot in Japan? One indicator that a company’s business is growing and that it’s expecting more growth is when it lists on the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) with an IPO (Initial Public Offering).

Today I’ll introduce a few Japanese Web companies that are being listed.

Photo Create

Photo Create is planned to list July 10 on TSE’s Mothers (market of the high-growth and emerging stocks). Its business bridges pre-Internet analog experiences and digital photo purchase. The company dispatches professional photographers to take photos at public or school events (such as sports days and so on). Then the photos are sold to the event attendees. Event organizers and schools do not have to pay for the service.

The founder and president Akira Shiramasa says on the company website that he began this service in 2002 after seeing a similar service in the United States.

Because of the migration from film to digital cameras, local photo studios and film labs are rapidly vanishing. However, people often habitually order school photos from the same-old local studio. At my kid’s school, photos are posted on a wall and ordered by writing down the picture’s number, which is still the same system as when I was a kid. It’s nostalgic, but if this old habit is replaced by an online ordering system, which seems inevitable, then Photo Create’s business has the ability to grow.

Aucfan

Aucfan was listed in April on TSE Mothers. As the name “Auction Fan” suggests, it is a Web service for Internet-auction users. The service aggregates prices from major auction and shopping sites, and displays a price comparison list on the product a user is seeking. Users can see which site is selling the product they are after at the lowest price, without having to visit all the various sites themselves — such as the recently rebranded from Yahoo! Auction, Yafuoku; Amazon Japan and so on.

Aucfan started in 2006, and now boasts about 30,000 paid members, plus about 5 million regular visitors who use the free search function — which only covers the past 30 days and has no photos. With the ¥498 per month membership fee users can access bids from the past 3-years plus each deal’s transition, several auction assist functions, tips and a guide. Most premium members are professional or semi-pro sellers who need to make more in the auctions than the ¥6,000 a year membership.

Some critics point out that Aucfan’s aggregation business depends on larger services to survive, especially the gigantic Yafuoku user base. In reality, last September, Yafuoku released a function to search deals made over the past 90 days, which nips at Aucfan’s heels. Yafuoku boasts more than 9 million premium members who don’t mind paying ¥399 every month for better features. If Aucfan can continue to provide convenient tools and tips — and not incur Yafuoku’s wrath — then adding more paid members to the current 30,000 seems doable.

Yumetenbou

“Yumetenbou,” means “dream landscape” in Japanese, and the Web service of the same name is an Internet-only apparel maker/seller targeting teen and 20-something girls. Outside its target demographic the site is scarcely known, but it is one of the most popular sites among young women who purchase clothes on their cellphone.

The company successfully made the transition from regular cellphones to smartphones while maintaining its loyal users, and now about 70 percent of purchases are made via smartphone — helped by the higher resolution images of the products that can be displayed. The company’s listing day on TSE Mothers will be July 10.

According to a report by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, fashion is one of the biggest growing e-commerce sections — along with with drug/cosmetics and groceries. So things look promising for Yumetenbou.

Akky Akimoto writes for Asiajin.com, an English/Spanish blog on the Japanese Web scene. His Twitter account @akky is followed by 120,000 users.