We interviewed Mr. Kentaro Ikemoto of Airbuy Inc., a startup that began at MIT and is now promoting sales in Yokohama, Japan.
Please tell us about Airbuy.
Airbuy is a B2B startup offering services that target international travelers to airports and airline companies. For example, when international travelers come to Japan we can advertise and deliver personalized Japanese items and events to them. As our first step, we’ve been working with international airline companies and airports on measures to increase the sales channels of duty-free shops. Travelers often use their passports for verification when purchasing items from duty-free shops, which means there’s already available data with an extensive history on who’s buying what. We realized that this non-personally identifiable data, such as nationality and age, has great marketing potential so we’re planning to initially build our business out from that premise. Our next step is going to be expanding out from duty free shopping to focus on every aspect of shopping, including sales of experiences as well as items. We want to be able to improve upon travelers’ time spent in their destinations by providing them with personalized information like event recommendations.
I believe that there are already services focusing on domestic experiences for tourists, but I don’t believe there are any others yet partnering with and globally optimizing international airline companies and airports. Even when it comes to duty-free goods, there are domestic services that try to increase the sales of their countries’ duty free stores, but I think Airbuy is the only one focusing on international partnerships. Currently for the Japanese market we’re working with Nihon Unisys and are in negotiations with major airports and airline companies to provide not only duty-free items but also sightseeing experiences.
How do you view the Japanese market?
Duty-free items are really popular in Asia. For example, the sales at duty free stores at Tokyo’s Narita Airport are around one hundred billion yen. That’s top ten in the world. Being from Japan, once I joined the Airbuy team I became in charge of our sales in the Japanese market. Our other members are focusing on the Americas, Singapore, and India at the moment. So far even compared to those other countries, our tapping of the Japanese market has been going well, and we’ve received support from investors.
It seems to me like there are many people who want to open their business in Japan right now. I think if you can do well in the Japanese market, it’ll really help your standing in other international markets as well. I do hear often that language and business customs are the largest barriers to entry, so once you can clear those you’ll have a lot of momentum to succeed.
What do you think of your current location in Yokohama?
I lived in Yokohama back when I was a student, so I have a certain fondness for it. It’s easy to speak freely with other innovators working in Yokohama, and all of the relationships I’ve made here have been very friendly and open. Compared to other cities, Yokohama is home to a lot of different kinds of people. Business might be more easily carried on in Tokyo, but many of the people that want to innovate come to Yokohama. The WeWork Ocean Gate Minatomirai in Yokohama is large, and it’s easy to have free and open discussion. WeWork offers beer for free between 12:30pm to 9pm on weekdays, which I think is proof that the atmosphere is relaxed and lighthearted enough that everyone’s able to communicate and drink at their leisure. That kind of openness and acceptance is what sets Yokohama apart.
* Photo taken at WeWork Ocean Gate Minatomirai.