In our interview below, Tatsuo shares his background story and how the idea for Shiroube came about.
What were you doing before you started the company?
I worked in a fast growing mobile contents company for 10 years, and was in charge of international business development. In that position, I helped startups, negotiate deals and also built products with my team as an intrapreneur and I worked in China, France and England and lived in Switzerland apart from Japan. I never think of myself an entrepreneur type, like most of other colleagues and employees - I worked for my career in corporate. But my family was different as my grandfather run pickles factory, farther is a architect and mother is a painter, sister used to be a designer for animated films. So it's quite a mix.
Tell me how the idea for Shiroube came about?
The idea of Shiroube was given by my personal experiences. I’ve been travelling a lot in my life, visiting more than a hundred countries for business and pleasure.
When I traveled to an Eastern European country, I got the original model Shiroube.
I arranged Japanese teaching (I'm native Japanese) for a local student and I asked him show me around local area.
He said that he was happy to show me around and he asked me to speak and teach him some Japanese during the visit because he never had a chance to speak Japanese in his local city. (There are no Japanese speakers in his area) in exchange. Then arrangement done, I taught and spoke Japanese and he guided me his local city.
Although the city has some tourist places and historical interests, the walk around he gave me was far beyond ordinary, the one that I expected. We went his elementary school, a restaurant his friend working, university class, clubs and the neighborhood only people know.
It was like scenes in movies. If I were just with a guide book and followed it, the kind of experiences wouldn't have happen. In addition to it, the arrangement works for both sides, I got a tour for free and he got rare chance of lessons for free.
What is Shiroube trying to solve?
Shiroube is a micro travel guide marketplace that connects local residents and travelers.
Do you need local experiences and knowledge for your ordinary trip? Let's discover new experiences with Shiroube local guides in your travel destinations. On Shiroube, You could participate in a local club party, discover the town history with local students, visit a gallery with local artists - all up to you.
We are trying to solve mismatch between local residents and business, and it's visitors needs. Locals have a lots of things they would help visitors like offering rides, invite cultural activities, language class and so on. Likewise, visitors have faced difficulty to find those activity even on th internet.
Talk me through the first few months of running the business? What would you say was the hardest part of starting the business?
Our team is based in Paris ,France and Tokyo, Japan. Though it works pretty well now, we had some rough time to manage all things done. I've been practically awake 24/7/W to communicate and control all problems.
How were you able to fund the business?
We are self funded and working on to seek for extra funding.
Would you say the initial idea for the company, or that your business model has changed since last year?
No, we haven't made pivots yet as initial idea goes pretty well. However, we may adopt new pricing and business model from time to time as technology changes so fast.
What would you say has been some of the most crucial that you've done to build the company to this level now?
As you see, we are really a startup, 3 people, bold and make mistakes all the time;) But we also got a crucial strategy shift within the period. I decided to switch quite a part of our resources to marketing from product development. Once we start focusing on people and marketing, not the product, everything got momentum and number of people using Shiroube have grown.
Is the business profitable?
We have marginal revenues from current structure. Our plan is to cover 100,000 cities in 3 years and shift business model with it.
What’s been your most memorable moment so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
I remember the first moment that a French guide actually put her guide ad on Shiroube. What she did was what exactly I wanted people to do - I thought Shiroube definitely gonna be big.
What pieces of advices could you give to aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Listening to others is great but not too much. You should be responsible for important decisions only by yourself. That's what I can say.
What can we be expecting from you and Shiroube in 2012?
We would cover 30,000 cities, foreseeing active visitors of 50,000 on Shiroube.