Three things I learned from the Tohoku Earthquake

It has been two years since the earthquake and Tsunami hit the east part of Japan in 2011.  I have experienced two big earthquakes in my life.  One was Hanshin-Awaji in 1995, and the other this in 2011.
I’ve been fortunate enough to live through these earthquakes, however millions of peoples’ lives have seriously been changed because of the two earthquakes.  Some lost their lives, some lost their love ones, some lost their homes, and some lost their jobs.

There are three things I’m sure to say through these experiences.
One is that we really can’t expect what will happen in the future, and those events can be totally uncontrollable.  Nothing can be 100% sure.  It is therefore a good idea to avoid too much concentration of our assets.

Secondly, we are facing so many risks consciously or unconsciously, and the sensitivity towards those risks varies a lot.  I learned it through the past two years especially from the argument with the risk of radiation.  My wife and I have very different views especially on this matter, and it is almost impossible to close the gap.  Through tons of discussions, I came to respect her view and her will to move out of Tokyo for the sake of our daughter even though my personal view is different.  It is sometimes wise not to try to change someone’s mind but to find a way to cope with it.

Lastly, it is much healthier for us to focus on what we are doing than on unknown risks.  Being cautious is sometimes smart, but being worried is not productive.  Life is short, so let’s focus on making the world better.  That should be the best tribute for those who suddenly lost their lives in the earthquake.  The pic above is from Kamaishi city and it says, "We'll make this town better than before!"

May peace come for everyone tonight whose life has been affected by the earthquake.


MessageLeaf @ SF JapanNight

We participated in the pitch contest at “SF Japan Night SemiFinal”.  The following is my 5 min presentation slide then.  The competition was to pick the 6 finalist teams among 17 to go to SF.  We could not make it although I have nothing to regret with my presentation.

<”Real Fight” - Lovely nature of the competition>
In the real business world, it sometimes matters who you know and where you belong to more than what you know and what you do.  However, this competition cares what you do, why you do, and how much you look promising.
It was more like going into a real fight of 5 minutes 1 round boxing match, and I loved this format.  You would be literally shut up if your presentation went even 1 second beyond 5 min.  This is much harder than giving a 1 hour speech.
I was so nervous that I felt my stomach ache when I came back to my seat after finished my presentation.  I had not had such an experience.

<Is MessageLeaf a Japanized service?>
I talked to several judges to listen to what they thought about MessageLeaf.  The take home message was that they liked it but felt it too “Japanized (Japanese specific)” and did not think very scalable.
As all the judges were foreigners and knew Japanese culture, it is understandable that they thought being shy in front of others was Japanese specific problem.  Our hypothesis is that there surely are many foreigners who are as shy as Japanese, not showing their thoughts or feelings in the socialized tool such as comment field.  Such shy folks are just invisible in this socialized web community.  We also think that even for the people who are not shy, there surely are some moments that they prefer 1 on1 communication depending on the subject.  However, this can be proved only through accumulated facts.  We need the results to show that this service can truly be international.

As for the scalability, I think the definition of the term matters here.  MessageLeaf surely is not as “scalable” in terms of # of users as many social tools.  We value more the depth of messages than the number of users as we think our users are on the same page.  Such depth and meaningfulness of the communication would result in a form of business.  However, this also can be proved only through accumulated facts.

It was great to know that people tend to think this service not international or scalable, anyway.  That means we are not competing in an apparently sexy market, which is good as we have good time to strengthen our service model.

Finally, it was a great experience to know that there still are many promising Japanese startups who are young, highly motivated, with a conscience.  Most of them did a great presentation in English, and showed good insights with their services or products.  You can see their services or products here. 
I wish a great success in their next presentations to the finalists, and would like to show my appreciation to btrax who held and managed this great event!


Emerge of "Global Middle Class" and the death of "Old Middle Class"

Happy New Year!!
We saw full of political events in 2012. U.S.A, China, Russia, France, and Japan had major elections to choose our national leaders.  All the developed countries (U.S., France, and Japan) have been struggling economic downturn since “Lehman Shock”, and it seems to be the downturn is not temporary but more structural.  The leaders in these countries are in the same boat in a sense, but what is the real issue?

I was introduced an interesting book last year.  The book is “The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism” written by Robert B. Reich in 1991.

Reich describes how the U.S. achieved the equality of wealth through its high economic growth through 1950s, and that equality has been deteriorated and “the death of middle class” has occurred through the globalization of economy.

I think that this returning of “disparity of wealth” in developed countries essentially caused by “the global equalization of wealth”.  What we have seen in “BRICs” is exactly what have happened in U.S. in the 50s.
Let’s check if this statement holds through the analysis of annual income distribution of U.S., Japan, China, and India using “Gapminder”.

Here is 1970.
In 1970, both China and India were very poor with the annual income distribution concentrated around a bit less than 1000 dollar.  The U.S. seems to have thick “middle class” concentration around 20K dollar level.  Japan surprisingly had the most “unequal” distribution among these four countries.

In 1985, we see centralization and growth of income in Japan.

The next graph is year 2000.

Japan accomplished its “the middle class centralization” at this stage.  The income is normally distributed with high concentration at 20-30K dollar.
Meanwhile, China and India started catching up the tails of the U.S. and Japan, and a mini concentration started to be shown at the level just below 10K which is “right shoulder” of the distributions of China and India.  The U.S. used to be normally distributed, but it started showing some concentration at just below 10K level which is “left shoulder” of its distribution.  I think the new but small concentrations at just below 10K at this point are “the new global middle class”.
It is a pity that I couldn’t figure out how to generate the graph of 2010, but I firmly believe that the total distributions of China and India shifted toward right to catch up the U.S. and Japan, and the concentrations at around 10K level become even clearer.
The thing is that this trend is very irreversible, changing the current social system to fit with the new form of income distribution is the real issue for the political leaders of "developed countries".   


Official Launch of English Version of MessageLeaf

Merry X’mas!!
Surprisingly, it has already been 4 months since I updated this English blog. 
We have improved the UI of MessageLeaf in many aspects in this period including major design change of the website.  The official launch of Japanese version was done on Oct.10, and now we are happy to announce that our English version is officially launched.

<Front Page and Account Management Page>
As you can see, our front page (http://en.messageleaf.jp/) is fully renewed as shown below. 

We also made the account management page fully available in English, which enables any English bloggers or website owners to set up MessageLeaf on their sites by themselves.

<Newly applicable blog services>
We have made MessageLeaf applicable to all the main 3 blog services in English.  Those are WordPress, Tumblr, and Blogger.  Covering the “big 3”, we expect around 200 mil blog owners have become our potential users.
Although we can set MessageLeaf both on Tumblr and on Blogger in normal form, WordPress.com is exception as it does not allow sidebar customization.  Coping with this problem, we created new button instead of popup gadget for WordPress.com blogs.  The button, if appropriately set, would look like the following picture.

<Virtual Cycle to go global>
As shown in our vision and mission, we hope many blog owners will set up MessageLeaf on theirs sites so that they will have feedback otherwise unheard, and will be encouraged to make yet another good entry.  We feel this kind of virtual cycle has already started in Japan, and are very sure that the same thing will happen all over the globe. 


User experience of MessageLeaf

Having been a month and half since the launch, more than 140 users have started using MessageLeaf in Japan.
Here are some feedbacks from our early users.

< from web owners >
l  “I surely got many more “leaves” than “comments” on my new blog post.”
l  “The feedbacks through MessageLeaf are longer and deeper than those of comments in the blog, Facebook, or Twitter.  It naturally makes me feel write back a leaf to them.”
l  “It is actually more joyful than I expected to have a leaf from others.”
l  “One of the readers giving me a leaf told me that he knows me since my previous job, and we finally agreed to have a lunch together through our leaf communication.  It is beyond my imagination what MessageLeaf can do to me.”
l  “I feel the timing of pop-up is too early for my readers.”

< from readers >
l  “This is a new experience.  It feels different from mail or from SNS.”
l  “The pop-up move from the bottom-right is just good.”
l   “If I see it on iPhone, MessageLeaf is too annoying as the pop-up suddenly covers up all the screen.”

All the feedbacks lead to our motivation and to the area of improvement.  For example, based on the last feedback, we temporarily stopped the pop-up in smartphones or tablets, and started re-designing for smartphones or tablets.
We ourselves are the biggest user of MessageLeaf in terms of # of leaves, and we are taking advantage of them.  I believe that creating services that one really needs is the best way, and I am glad to see that MessageLeaf is becoming a great example.


Lean Startup of MessageLeaf

<OurTeam to be “lean”>
The team MessageLeaf is relatively small.  The core team members are
Yoshihito Kuranuki: Development Designer
Shiro Fujiwara: Project Coordinator
Teruo (Intel) Adachi: Chief Engineer
Eisuke (Ace) Suzuki: Product Owner
Although the above is our basic role, we often cover others’ roles very voluntarily.  We are lean enough, but not too small to stop moving forward without one member.

We basically are doing “Lean Startup”.  Once assumption is well boiled down through discussions, we develop “MVP (Minimum Viable Product)”.  We test those MVPs either among ourselves or small number of participants depending on the maturity of the product.  Getting various kinds of feedbacks, we keep improving.

<Two “Pivots” MessageLeaf has faced>
MessageLeaf has experienced a couple of “Pivots” so far.  “Pivot”, a buzz word in Lean Startup, means a major direction change of the project.
The first one was when I first met Yoshihito last autumn.  At that time, the original idea was kind of a button in which the site visitors can decide on the amount of appreciation to the content.  I remember Yoshihito said that blog owners do not write blogs to get points or something, and he did not think those owners would like to set that kind of button.
I agreed, and through hot discussions, we generated a new idea of MVP that is a “Chrome extension” tool.  If you use “Google Chrome” as a web browser, and set the tool, you can send your message to any website owners.  We tested the ”Chrome Extension” version of MessageLeaf among us and my friends in the beginning of this year.  After asking 15-20 of my friends to set up the tool, and watched how they reacted, out team felt the responses were not what we expected, so we decided to have a lunch party where the users or potential users at that time got together to talk through about their experiences or reactions.  
After the luncheon in March, we felt the need of “pivot”.  One thing was that many people did not use “Chrome” as their main browser.  The other finding was that people did not get motivated as they were not sure if the leaf would be really read by the site owners.  (Even if they can send MessageLeaf to any websites they want, the site owners would not read the leaf unless they also use MessageLeaf.)
We went through a serious discussion again, and within a couple of weeks, we managed to generate a new idea which basically is what we have right now.

I’m not sure how many more pivots we may have from now on, but I’m sure that our team is capable of handling the tough decision quickly as long as we are lean.


Why I started MessageLeaf

Don’t you have an experience that you want to tell something to the website owner, but there are no good tools available?

I myself had such experiences, and I did want to have something which would enable me to contact the website owner as closed communication.
You may say just pushing “Like!” button is enough.  You may say writing “comment” is a good option.  However, I do not want to make it “socialized”.  What I want to have is personal, closed, and still casual communication.
That is how I came up with MessageLeaf.

On the website MessageLeaf is available, you, as a website visitor, can send your personal message to the site owner.  You can write anything you want, but remember that your Facebook account and picture is open to the site owner, so you need to be responsible with what you write there.

You as a website owner can set MessageLeaf on your site, and enjoy 1 on 1 communication with your site visitors.

Many more 1 on 1 communication over websites start going around which make both the owners and visitors happy - that is the world I want to develop.

You can now try English version of MessageLeaf from this blog or the following site.