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The first year for any new company can be tough, and Tokyo-based e-ticketing platform Zaiko wasn’t immune to the ups and downs of starting out.

“We were a small startup taking on established players, trying to get as many new clients as possible, improving the system bit by bit,” says current COO and co-founder Lauren Rose Kocher, 34. Zaiko, which launched in January of 2019, experienced 21 percent growth every month and was able to land high-profile projects such as electronic music festival The Labyrinth and Japanese rapper Kohh’s nationwide tour.

“I thought in January this year, ‘Wow, we made it.’ It was a tough year but I expected 2020 would be fantastic for live events,” Kocher recalls.

Then came a global pandemic.

Although a nationwide state of emergency has been recently lifted, there is still uncertainty over how concerts, club events and music festivals will fare in the foreseeable future.

The situation would have delivered a devastating blow to most companies, but Zaiko’s young age was an asset in its ability to adapt to the situation quickly. As artists shifted their performances online, Zaiko pivoted to selling tickets for livestreams, becoming one of the first in the country to do so.

The company’s main offering, before the pandemic hit, was online ticket sales in multiple languages that dealt straight with consumers, who could then skip going through a third party. Artists who work with Zaiko can also create their own ticketing page that allows them to keep tabs on consumer data and fosters a fan community. All tickets are digital, eliminating the need to go to a convenience store to print out a physical slip — ideal for music fans now stuck indoors.

Think fast: Lauren Rose Kocher's year-old company Zaiko had to adapt quickly to a rash of concert cancellations.
Think fast: Lauren Rose Kocher’s year-old company Zaiko had to adapt quickly to a rash of concert cancellations.

In fact, the threat currently facing Zaiko isn’t so much the pandemic as it is other players adopting their model without giving them credit, a problem faced by many young startups.

“I wanted to start my own company doing something digital and global for the Japanese entertainment industry,” Kocher says, adding that Zaiko allowed her and her team the chance to innovate in a corner of the country’s gig market that has long been ignored.

Originally from the U.S. state of Indiana, Kocher has worked in the Japanese music industry for a decade, with six of those years at Sony Music Japan.

“As much as the ‘old guard’ talks about how badly they want to take Japanese entertainment into international markets or master digital tools, in reality they are doing literally zero of the hard work it requires to achieve such things,” she says.

The “new guard” is another story, though. Kocher says she has discovered pockets of the music industry who are on the same wavelength as Zaiko, not surprisingly they are younger and in charge of ticketing for artist events. That has helped her build a list of clients.

In February, as the live calendar in Japan began to vanish, Zaiko launched its livestreaming ticket alternative. Individual artists and festivals such as Rainbow Disco Club in Shizuoka applied the system.

“The stream was too beautiful for words,” says Kocher when asked how RDC went, adding that it was festival director Masahiro Tsuchiya and the Real Rock Design production team who really made it shine. “When we do our job well people don’t even notice — the stream is smooth, the sound is good, purchase and log-in are simple, everything starts on time, and questions are easily answered. Our effort goes into making sure the performers have nothing standing in the way between themselves and their audience. We did this for Rainbow Disco Club and the unanimous positive reaction from thousands of viewers is a testament to that.”

And this is what attracted imitators.

“Very early, we noticed copies, mostly other tech companies adjusting their platform to mirror ours and often adding their own spin on it,” she says, which is a common tactic in Japan and in the online business ecosystem overall. Kocher says she can only respond by pushing forward by doing what Zaiko does best: creating technology and moving fast with new things. “There’s also a lot of heart and soul in what we are building for the artists and venues we care about. We plan to stay far ahead of the competition.”

The experience offers some lessons for how other non-Japanese entrepreneurs should navigate the Japanese business world.

“Learn Japanese, and figure out that balance of making concessions to the local culture while not compromising on your values,” she says. “As for starting your own company — know your partners well. I’m lucky to have known some of my co-founders for over eight years.”

Zaiko continues to find new angles for the livestream experience. Kocher says she has started working with performers in the comedy and rakugo world, along with sports, challenging the notion that an online show isn’t just a replacement for a real-world event but a unique happening in its own right.

“We look forward to new opportunities such as album listening parties or music video premieres using our platform, or the first hybrid real-ticket and streaming-ticket festival,” Kocher says. “We feel we have discovered something very special and hope it helps a lot of people.”

For more information on Zaiko, visit https://zaiko.io.

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