We interviewed Mr. Tomohito Akiyama, the CEO of Yokohama startup TRIPLUS Inc. TRIPLUS exhibited at Tokyo Slush 2019, a startup convention held in February, and was selected as one of the top 40 startups among the 600+ that attended.

Could you tell us about your company?

TRIPLUS is a service that strives to offer the experience of living in Japan to foreign visitors. Using this C2C service, users can search online for and apply to a selection of “experiences” hosted by Japanese citizens aged 50 and over: For example, a cooking class focused on traditional Japanese food. Foreign visitors also have the ability to request certain experiences they’d like to see or take part in themselves. We’ve had around 5000 foreigners sign up to use TRIPLUS, so we’ve already had a large number of requests, which has helped shaped our understanding of our customers’ needs and desires. Currently our focus is on continuing to grow our foreign userbase and increasing the number of experiences we offer domestically.

The initial idea for TRIPLUS didn’t actually originate from a desire to create an internationally focused business, but rather from wanting to create a solution to Japan’s “hyper-aged” society.  Interviewing seniors in Japan, the responses we received overwhelmingly were “I want to be able to work more,” and “I don’t want to be treated like I’m old.” Starting from there, we connected that to international tourism. I drew from my own experiences abroad, where the memories that stuck with me most clearly weren’t the famous landmarks I saw or the restaurants I ate at, but rather the human connections and experiences I had with the people living there. For example, the fact that being treated to homemade cooking stood out to me as a memorable experience became the inspiration for starting this service.

Many foreign customers come on weekdays to avoid the travel congestion on the weekends. But we believe that works in our favor, since even if there’s demand around mid-day on a weekday, it’s generally easy for Japanese seniors to be active at those times. Additionally, since our service focuses of offering on deep, personal experiences in traditional Japanese culture and ways of life, we believe we can extend our userbase beyond tourists to also target foreigners living in Japan.

Why did you decide to base your startup in Yokohama?

The biggest reason is that Yokohama is my home. I entered into a Tokyo-sponsored business contest, and as a result of placing high in the contest I was offered an incentive of 1,000,000 yen in funding if I started my business in Tokyo. That was obviously an extremely attractive offer, but ultimately I still chose Yokohama. Our service is an international one, and I wanted to build it in a city like Yokohama that has always had a great influx of foreign culture and people.

What are your upcoming goals and future prospects?

Our present goal is to secure our foothold in the Japanese marketplace. While we procure funding, we’re going to work on expanding our base of hosts so we can offer experiences in more areas of Japan. I want to expand locally to substantiate our services. For example, we’re attempting to partner with a railway company so that we can offer experiences along the railroad lines. Currently the largest percentage of our registered userbase comes from Asia, but we also have many users registering from North America, so we’re aware of the future potential of that market as well.

In the future we’d like to be able to develop and establish similar services in other countries as well. A simple tourism service wouldn’t be likely to succeed abroad, but if we can leverage our distinctive idea and developed skills in motivating an active senior community, I believe we can differentiate TRIPLUS from the competition and increase our sales.

Interviewed on March 27, 2019

 

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