It’s rare for a Japanese startup to challenge NTT and come out ahead. But that’s exactly what Takehiro Ogita and his team at TownWiFi have accomplished.
TownWiFi is a mobile app that automatically detects and logins into available WiFi hotspots. Since TownWiFi was very modestly funded, Takehiro and his team relied on a better user experience and word of mouth to get the word out.
Today we sit down with Takehiro and dive into that story, but we also look at the company’s existing overseas userbase and his plans for global expansion on a shoestring.
There is so much changing among Japanese startups right now, and Takehiro explains some of the social forces working for and working against new Japanese startups.
It’s a great discussion, and I think you’ll enjoy it.
The universal problem with free WiFi
What allowed TownWiFi to gather a userbase so quickly
Why Rakuten produces so many startup founders
Why Takehiro had to hide his startup from his family
How TownWiFi managed to beat NTT in direct competition
A common sense plan for global expansion
How pivoting from a C2C to a B2B model saved this startup
Links from the Founder
The TownWiFi Homepage
Friend Takehiro on Facebook
And, of course, download the TownWiFi app
Leave a comment
Disrupting Japan, episode 92.
Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs.
I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.
Takehiro Ogita started TownWiFi as a simple way to allow Wi-Fi hotspots to be accessed and shared to mobile phones or mobile device users in general. There are a number of free Wi-Fi finding apps out there today but there are a few particularly interesting things about TownWiFi.
First, unlike almost all their competitors, TownWiFi has found a way to monetize this app. And while they’re not yet profitable, they are earning revenue. Second, and I love this for so many reasons, the dominant player in this space, when TownWiFi launched their product was NTT and little TownWiFi has absolutely crushed NTT in the marketplace.
Don’t get me wrong. I like NTT. I have friends at NTT. NTT is actually doing a lot of positive things in the area of corporate development and open innovation. The reason TownWiFi’s story is so inspiring is that it would have been absolutely impossible 10 years ago.
Back then, NTT DoCoMo was not only the dominant mobile carrier but strictly controlled which apps would be allowed to be featured on their platform and sold to their subscribers. This may sound vaguely like the way Apple runs the App Store but it’s not. At that time, Japanese carriers would select one or two apps in each category, usually from closely associated companies and then lock everyone else out. Apps did not really compete with each other and there is no way that a serious challenger to the carrier’s own app let alone one made by an independent upstart would have been allowed inside their walled garden.
Things are changing for startups in Japan, and when tiny little startups begin to beat NTT at their own game, it means great things are on the way. But you know, Takehiro tells that story much better than I can.
So let’s hear from our sponsor and get right to the interview.
Tim: So I’m sitting here with Takehiro Ogita of TownWiFi. Thanks for sitting down with us today.
Takehiro: Thanks for having me.
Tim: TownWiFi is an app that helps you find free Wi-Fi hotspots but I know it’s more than that, and you can explain it better than I can. So why don’t you tell us what TownWiFi is?
Takehiro: We are providing app which can auto-connect and authenticate to the public Wi-Fi. Our biggest point is that we are auto-authenticate, and auto-login, and auto-register to very public Wi-Fi of the world.
Tim: So that means that the user can just kind of keep this app running in the background —
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