National | GENERATIONAL CHANGE

App maker on quest for unique, crowd-pleasing products

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

Daisaku Yamamoto, an up-and-coming Web services creator, recounts being an attention-seeker as a child, always trying to differentiate himself from everyone else.

“You perhaps still remember the song you repeatedly listened to when in high school, or a movie that totally changed your life. . . . That’s the kind of thing I always wanted to invent,” the Hiroshima native said in a recent interview at his office in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

The CEO of venture LeLeLe Inc. said writing was his favorite subject because he could pursue it with maximum creativity. He wasn’t a math type because the process of seeking just one correct answer held no fascination for him.

Despite his preference for writing essays, Yamamoto eventually chose to pursue computer engineering as his dream. Now, at 36, he has found what he says is a unique a way to let nearly anyone stand out from the crowd.

TimeTicket (www.timeticket.jp) is a Web-based service that allows people to share or sell their time. Deals start by purchasing online “tickets” advertising what people have to offer. The minimum time period is 30 minutes and rates must be set between ¥2,000 and ¥10,000 per hour. A Facebook account is required.

Registering links the user’s TimeTicket profile to his or her Facebook page so ticket sellers can be identified, he said.

Sellers are given a space with a limit of 30 Japanese characters to dream up an attention-getting ticket title. Once a ticket is purchased, the bartering begins, leading to the seller and buyer meeting face to face or via video chat.

The most popular titles include “I’ll give a ‘That’s it!’ name to your anything,” posted by a marketing professional offering 30 minutes of creative thinking for ¥2,500.

Another is “I’ll find your virtue during a conversation and tell that later in a secret way,” posted by a female entrepreneur offering 30 minutes of analysis for ¥3,000.

Selling tickets gives everyone, pros and amateurs alike, a unique opportunity to assess their distinctive traits so their abilities can be marketed or donated to others, Yamamoto said.

“The things you take for granted may be considered highly appreciated wisdom by others — that’s the interesting part,” he said.

Since its debut last July, TimeTicket has drawn more than 17,000 users and sold over 2,000 tickets.

Yamamoto said TimeTicket’s success reflects an upcoming Internet trend he calls “the generation of cooperation.” He says more people are seeking real-life interaction and cooperation on an individual level outside of business settings, where faceless online communication is increasingly the norm.

“I think it is a fundamental human desire to be wanted and to please others through one’s accomplishments,” Yamamoto said. “With TimeTicket, users can reconfirm their values if their tickets are purchased.”

There is also a charitable aspect to his site.

While 30 percent of the ticket receipts go to his company, sellers must donate at least 10 percent of their profit to a social, environmental or educational cause. Options include the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Human Rights Watch and Cancer Net Japan.

Although his success has been established, Yamamoto’s career didn’t always follow a charted course.

At the turn of the century, while a sociology major at Hosei University in Tokyo, Yamamoto was trying to get into the media industry, a typical pursuit of liberal arts students, to tap his creativity.

But few leads developed, and Yamamoto in 2001 decided to join Fuji Research Institute Corp., which is today called Mizuho Information and Research Institute Inc., as a computer engineer.

“Actually, that was the first time I learned how to do programming,” he said with a laugh.

Once he started developing in-house Web applications, however, Yamamoto found himself more and more drawn to the profession.

“I was fascinated with the feeling that my Web creations moved people,” he said. “I realized this is the career I want to pursue.”

Still harboring a desire to influence large numbers of people, Yamamoto moved on to IT venture Feedpath Inc. in 2006, where he further developed his individual Web creation skills. He also started developing online services outside his regular job.

One of these was a YouTube-integrated music search app called tunebuzz, which won an award in the Mashup Awards 4 Web app competition held in 2008 by Recruit Holdings Inc. and Sun Microsystems.

In 2009, Yamamoto moved to Recruit Media Communications Co., now Recruit Communications Co., where he actually became one of the hosts of the competition.

While at Recruit, he launched the Coffee Meeting Web service outside of his job in February 2012. It eventually became a game changer for his career.

The Coffee Meeting service links people who want to meet with someone at a designated time and place.

At that time, Facebook was already popular in Japan, but Yamamoto said he found it difficult to ask someone via Facebook to meet him without making the person anxious. “I personally wanted a service that people lay open their available time first, so that I could easily sign up,” he said, explaining why he started the service.

“From the moment I released Coffee Meeting, I sensed a momentum that I had never experienced in my past products,” Yamamoto said. Indeed, within the first week of its launch, the Web service gained more than 2,500 members with 120 meetings taking place.

“Coffee Meeting surpassed all of my past creations within that first week,” he said. It has grown to a 40,000 user-registered service with more than 30,000 meetings to date.

Yamamoto credited its success to his change in attitude toward Web services.

“My previous motivation was egoism; I merely made things I wanted to make,” he said. “But for Coffee Meeting, I tried to answer the trend in social media — that people were getting tired of online relationships — and worked hard to make my product widely supported by people.”

The success of Coffee Meeting pushed Yamamoto to go independent and establish LeLeLe in May 2012. Then he had what he said was the biggest setback of his career.

The smartphone app FriendToss was released last February as his one-man company’s first product. But the app, designed to set up meetings among friends of friends via Facebook, failed to measure up to his past successes.

“Just immediately after its launch, I realized the app was a failure,” Yamamoto said. FriendToss is no longer available for download.

Yamamoto said the fact that his company’s first product was also its first failure was “the bitterest pill” he ever had to swallow and left a bad taste that lingers nearly a year later.

But the experience also compelled him to make the next leap, to TimeTicket.

“Thanks to that failure, I learned I’m not the type of guy who is good at creating discreet products,” he said. “For me, making something unique is the way to live.”

Yamamoto has received a lot of positive feedback from people who say their lives have been changed by his products. He said that, as an app creator, this is when he feels happiest — making things others will remember for a long time, like a song that stirs teenage memories.

“If you do something others don’t, it will always turn out to be fun,” he said. “No matter what the majority say to you, there is always someone who will find your creations interesting. . . . That’s what I’ve learned.”

Asked if he had ever faced criticism for attempting the unconventional, Yamamoto said: “Maybe.”

“But I have no time to waste listening to critics.”


Key events in Yamamoto’s life

2001: Graduates from Hosei University with degree in sociology but joins Fuji Research Institute Corp. as a systems engineer.
2006: Joins Feedpath Inc.; begins developing his own Web app as a hobby.
2008: Web app Tunebuzz wins prize in Mashup Awards 4.
2009: Joins Recruit Media Communications Co.
2011: Selected as a committee member for Mashup Awards 7.
2012: Launches Coffee Meeting, attracting 2,500 members and 125 meet-ups in one week.
2012: Starts LeLeLe Inc. after leaving Recruit Media Communications Co.
2014: Launches FriendToss, which bombs.
2014: Launches TimeTicket, attracting 5,000 registered members and 300 ticket purchases in a week.

“Generational Change” is an interview series that appears on the first Monday of each month, profiling people in various fields who are taking a leading role in bringing about change in society. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp .

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