Few are able to accomplish what Akira Morikawa has done. In 2007, the ex-LINE CEO rose to the position in a mere 4 years since joining LINE. Previously known as Hangame Japan, Morikawa joined the LINE when it was plagued with minimal sales and a limited number of employees. The motivating story of how he adopted unconventional methods to revolutionize the structure of the company – by basing salary on meritocracy, abolishing daily company meetings, migrating operations to China and retaining key creative employees under his direct supervision – is one that will inspire many a distressed leader. LINE experienced astronomical growth under his charge with US$717 million in sales and 650 employed staff in 2014.
Today, Morikawa has vacated LINE to pursue his passion in digital media by founding the startup C CHANNEL which streams content from independent video bloggers to young women. We managed to catch up with Morikawa on his vision for his new venture as well as his impressions of the ecosystem in Asia.
IEV: At TechSauce, I remember you shared about the history of telephone, messages, social media. How does C-CHANNEL fits into the history of communication? What trends justify a new app like C-CHANNEL?
Akira: Young people tend to communicate by video now. Before that, they mainly communicated by images by taking pictures through their smartphones. Communication is becoming richer and richer with each passing day. C CHANNEL aims to engender a new video communication era in Asia.
IEV: You previously founded companies which had a huge impact first in Asia and then globally, either directly or through the features and possibilities they offered. A simple example is how Facebook takes inspiration from Asian chat apps, and also experiments new things in markets such as Thailand. What’s so special about Asia and mobile?
Akira: Asian people love visual communication to a greater degree in comparison to people in the US and Europe. In Asia, comics are a huge favourite of both youth and adults alike whereas in the US and Europe adults tend to see comics as only for children. As a result, the use of stickers in mobile messaging and communication finds much popular in Asia. The aspect of cost-free calling is of critical importance as well – it was imperative that LINE capitalized on it swiftly.
IEV: How do you think messaging apps – as well as what you do now with C-CHANNEL – will transform the ways by which we do business? We know brands and companies are able to open ‘official’ accounts and gain exposure in the m-commerce or s-commerce markets. Despite such opportunities, it still seems a bit limited since it’s mostly limited to advertising. Will C-CHANNEL bring new ways for businesses to go digital?
Akira: We started C CHANNEL on the platform of texting and messaging apps such as on LINE in Japan and KakaoTalk in Korea. C CHANNEL is finding increasing popularity on these platforms and we intend to venture into video commerce by this year, probably with a freemium model.
IEV: You decided to focus on one very specific demographic: Japanese women. Why that choice? What behaviour do they possess which make them special? Would Millennial women be similar in other markets?
Akira: Asian women served as one of the main driving forces in making mobile service as popular as it is today. As for similarity across Asian women, they are interested in beauty and cooking very much like the Japanese.
IEV: You mentioned C-CHANNEL was a simpler way to publish videos. Are there other points of friction you can see in today’s messaging or social apps that needs to be rectified before one can achieve future success in these fields?
Akira: I believe that young people will begin venturing into video e-commerce and teach something by using video on texting or messaging apps.
IEV: What do you see as the future of video communications? You talked about chattiest, AI, big data. What would be 2-3 use cases you anticipate and you think are worth turning intro products for the 2-3 years to come?
Akira: The first that comes to mind is that of video e-commerce. I believe that in time, shops will begin incorporating live streaming video commerce into their daily operations. Another field in which I believe will see the realization of the potential of video is healthcare services; patients are able to have his or her medical conditions diagnosed by a doctor through videos. This shows the effectiveness of artificial intelligence in today’s day and age. E-learning through videos also shows potential.