Early Stage Startup: What It's Been Like Before Launch
It has been quite awhile since I've written six months ago. It's my last night in Manila before I return to Tokyo after having spent the last three weeks here. The reason I am here is that I've been in the middle of building out aoiShip's MVP back-end system with my friends and partners from Bliimo Technologies, who are supporting us with a team of engineers and architects in preparation for our September 25th launch. I'm so grateful for them, because it has been WAY more work than I was expecting, even though I tried to expect this would be.
Above: Bliimo Technologies development team in Manila
September 25th is a special day for us at our aoiShip, as it will mark our one-year anniversary as a company. It's hard to believe it's almost been a year already!
As I sit here a month away from our launch, I look out from the windows of a cityscape loft in Ortigas, Pasig, reflecting on how I even got here, and how much has changed from the start of this year. It was just six months ago I was making my first pitch for aoiShip. We were still only just an idea—albeit an idea that was searing in my head—with only one way to execute at the time without funding, which was to bootstrap. So much has happened since.
Momentum picked-up for us after we were approved by Japan Finance Corporation for a ¥10,000,000 startup loan.
This became the catalyst to get aoiShip rolling beyond an idea. From this loan, we were able to quickly build a fully-customized platform of over 30+ screens for Version 1.0, which will go beyond the initially-planned MVP, with support from:
- Createx Studio based out of Odessa, Ukraine who has helped support User-Interface and User-Experience Design. Thanks to their professionalism and creative genius, we will be rolling out a beautiful, aesthetically-pleasing platform that is well thought-out and fashion-forward, drawing upon their several years of experiences designing e-Commerce platforms worldwide. This will allow the exclusive items we will be sourcing from Japan to shine through to shoppers, influencers, and any viewer.
- Bliimo Technologies, based out of Manila, Philippines in support of back-end development, taking on Version 1.0 and building out our core features and key differentiators, as well as building out the foundations for Version 2.0+ development which we are already planning, such as implementation of blockchain in order to promote the impact of micro-influencers around the world.
Without JFC's loan, getting to where we are now would have taken another year or more easily, as we would have had to fundraise first without the same level of product to show. We are incredibly thankful to JFC for their full confidence in our concept and our abilities.
As a startup that is based in Japan, Kazu and I view the global-makeup of our minds as founders as a key differentiator. We view the ability to create global virtual teams from Ukraine and the Philippines as a success and something we hope to build upon to gain a competitive advantage going forward as we enter the launch phase a year into our journey. We estimate total development costs to end up around ¥2,000,000 at launch. Although it required a few extra trips of global travel, had we tried to deliver the same output solely using Japan resources, our costs would have been at least 3x higher in expense based on our estimates.
More specifics will be shared when we launch our service in one month.
We applied and interviewed for our first startup accelerator.
As we came closer to completing our product, we felt it was the right time to boost our momentum by entering an accelerator. I was advised to consider programs such as 500 Startups and Y-Combinator in San Francisco. While they are excellent programs to consider, both require international startups to reincorporate their business to the United States if accepted, which is not an option for us. So we began to look towards Asia-based programs, and after careful consideration of a handful of options, we applied to AppWorks, an AI and Blockchain-focused Accelerator based in Taipei.
The process-in-itself was an exciting and rewarding journey that helped Kazu and I as founders to deeply consider and really frame our business model. The first step was an online application which was lengthy, comprehensive, and thorough. It asked us over 20 questions designed to understand our minds, goals, missions, and finally, the business model itself. It even asked us to record a one-minute CEO introduction video:
- "Why did you start aoiShip? What is your mission?"
- "Why did you choose your co-founder?"
- "How do you overcome problems?"
- "How often do you fight with each other?"
- "How do you split your roles and responsibilities?"
- “After careful consideration, we want to inform you that we have chosen to move forward with other applicants, but we’d like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn about your skills and accomplishments.”
Since that time, Kazu and I have been looking forward to September 25th Launch.
While I have been spending time in Manila, Kazu has been preparing the opening of our first warehouse in Tokyo. We were able to sign 16 designer brands from Japan to join our launch, with 10 more now in negotiations as of the time of this writing. Those signed brands are:
- ko haction
- GARDÉ COLLECTIVE
- Re couverture
- TISSU ROUGE
- OCTOBER & MARCH
- OVER THE STRIPES
- curio style Japan
- Field of Pine
We will be making these brands available for worldwide shipping to all countries around the world, with free shipping offered to orders totaling more than ¥15,000.
Our marketing efforts will be made first to Southeast Asia and China, as sizing dimensions for Japanese apparel are most similar to these regions than western markets such as the U.S. and Europe. As we become more sophisticated with the accuracy of size estimate conversions, we will then expand our marketing to more regions.
We will be creating a separate application of our service for China, after having a promising meeting with the TikTok team in Japan, who will help position us to take advantage of their powerful influencer network and services. This will be completed after our initial September 25th launch.
Above: Hanging out with the TikTok Japan team in Nishishinjuku.
While the superpowers-that-be make news headlines around the world on a daily basis, aoiShip will continue to pursue connecting the whole world closer to Japan's untapped fashion creations.
There is a famous quote in the fashion industry:
“The best things in life are free. The second best things are very, very expensive.” —Coco Chanel
While we think this is a catchy quote by Coco Chanel, I have to respectfully disagree.
Because for us at aoiShip, we truly believe one thing:
“The best things in life are Japanese.” —aoiShip
It is after all why I decided to move to Japan.
See you after launch.
Co-founder & CEO