Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today we are introducing you to “meshtiles”, a photo posting/sharing application. You may think, “Is that a wonderful idea? There are many photo sharing services!”. But this story does not confine itself to meshtiles. Furthermore, the episode of meshtiles is just the beginning of the whole story.
meshtiles & something & something… About not only photos but also services derive from its current system, Taichi Ito who’s in charge of developing/managing the meshtiles talked to us about its potential.
– Taichi Ito –
Graduated from Keio Univ. (Bachelor of Commerce). Gained experiences at a trading company and venture company, and joined the First Retailing Co.,Ltd., which is famous for Uniqlo. Ito was involved in production, product development, marketing and business operation as a supervisor of the women’s clothing line department.
Later he joined Revamp, a management assistance/project support company. CEO of a company assisted by Revamp, and established his own company called “Cellbridge” in October 2010.
Idea before Instagram launched
Twitter is popular in Japan as well as in other countries, but I would be lying if I said that Japanese enjoy 140-letter communication with people overseas. Because Twitter provides a letter-based communication service. There are few people who can communicate with others in English in Japan. So I came across a photo/image-sharing service. I thought anybody can enjoy communication regardless the language gap by using the service.
meshtiles is, briefly speaking, a good mix of Instagram and Pinterest. Instagram is a photo-fabrication/sharing service, Pinterest is a service that enables you to consolidate your favorite photos which is presented on the web into your own clipboard.
It’s best to think of meshtiles as a combination of them. But let me say one thing. When I was making meshtiles, Instagram was not launched yet. When there was no photo-posting/sharing app in the world, I noticed photos and images make it possible to communicate with people all over the globe and came up with an idea of meshtiles.
All information about each user contained in every photo
You can do photo processing easily like Instagram and tag a photo. But one great difference from Instagram is that the keywords to describe yourself become embedded in each photo automatically.
Let me use an example as an illustration. If someone who loves “surfing” and “Porsches” take a photo of a flower and uploads it on meshtiles, the info about his favorite things (surfing and Porsches) is embedded in that flower photo. So he/she connects with not only people who love flowers but also those who love surfing and Porsches.
But the number of tags which you can tie to a photo is up to two. When I was using Instagram, I found some users who tied countless tags to a photo. Because they want it to be viewed by as many people as possible. But I find some people tie tags which has nothing to do with a photo and other ones are weary of it. So I thought that there should be rules for tagging and we narrowed the number of tags to two. Fortunately many of meshtiles users say “Very easy to use” “Tagging will worry me no more”.
People who share similar hobbies or interests connect with each other through photos and communicate with each other in many ways on meshtiles. We don’t want to create only a photo-sharing service but also a service which invites the new way of communicating.
In particular, we store the data of each user’s favorite things and things that each user is interested in in our database, and we put people in contact with other people. Those who like the same things meet up with each other and exchange the info of their hobbies or impressions about something lightheartedly – We would like to build such a service.
Interaction with an e-commerce system
Meshtiles sets three phases. The 1st phase is building a photo-sharing SNS as a smartphone app service.
And the 2nd phase is “meshtiles on an internet browser”, which means you’ll be able to use meshtiles on PC at home or office. Actually smartphone is more popular and it is said to replace a PC. But PCs are still easy to operate so maybe you won’t use smartphone when you are in front of PC. If PC users can use meshtiles, increase in the exchanges of users would be expected.
And finally, the 3rd phase is to launch our own e-commerce system & interact with meshtiles. Let me explain with an analogy to an automobile. Meshtiles is an engine and the wheels that act to carry our business forward are our future e-commerce.
Interaction between SNS and e-commerce is not something new or something unusual. Many companies set up their pages on Facebook or Pinterest. We are different from them. We’ll fully interact meshtiles and e-commerce.
It doesn’t make sense yet? I mean we are organizers of meshtiles and we’re organizers of an e-commerce. We’ll organize both and users’ info of meshtiles and e-commerce will be fully-shared. Users of meshtiles will be able to be users of our future e-commerce website through the same accounts. And vice-versa – users of e-commerce website will be able to be meshtiles users through the same accounts.
Also if someone presses “Like!” or “Cool!” for a photo, that transaction will be reflected on our e-commerce website immediately.
Assuming you want to get something on our e-commerce. If you post a photo of a product which you want to sell on an e-commerce website, the same photo will be posted on meshtiles automatically. It won’t be posted on a different place from other photos even though it’s a product photo. It’ll be posted in the same way as other ones. Meshtiles users won’t notice that it’s a product photo. People who get interested in a photo and see its info learn that it’s a kind of a commercial photo. They get interested in the product and they click a link to further details about the product.
Something what you want could be turned into reality
And one more thing – you’ll be able to post a photo of “something you want it to be commodified”. This kind of function has never been installed on SNS before. One day you find something which you want produced on a commercial basis” and take a photo of it. You plant a “Want” flag on a photo and post it on meshtiles and that photo will be posted also on e-commerce website. Other users will be able to plant a “Want” flag on it. Many “Want” flagged photos will be posted on meshtiles. As I told you before, all information about each user will be contained in every photo so we’ll be able to find what people like what products.
Then people who want to sell something on our e-commerce website may think “If I show him/her my product, he/she would be interested in it”. It means meshtiles would be a guide for people who want to do something on our e-commerce website.
As for “Want”, it would be helpful for companies’ product development. So we think we would be able to collect very interesting data for companies. I believe there’s no service like we have planned in the world now.
We’ll make a photo-sharing SNS an engine and make an e-commerce system wheels that carry forward our business and we’ll found the field called a “Serendipity interest commerce” which has never been seen before.
Developing with a Vietnamese technical team
Of course I learned about basic level of application development, but I have no IT background and cannot write a program. So we develop meshtiles in conjunction with Vietnamese technical team. I spearhead the app development as a CTO, Chief Technology Officer.
In my opinion, Japanese companies, especially those in IT, almost never combine their operations with engineers abroad. That is because they are afraid to and also because no one would dare to open up their product development and services overseas before making inroads in Japan. Even if such a company existed, it would likely make a commission-based contract with a foreign company and leave all decision-making to them.
But we never do that. We’ve been thinking that we should never leave everything to others. When I was working at First Retailing (Uniqlo), we conducted strict quality inspections by ourselves and we told them directly when we found things should be improved even if our products were produced overseas. I learned that we should do it in order to offer excellent quality products the hard way. So we never leave everything to others.
Then where did we find the technical team? We had the option of developing the service with a Japanese team, but I thought that we would be kind of spoiled because we can communicate with them easily. Maybe they will complete an assignment from us if we ask them, “Make it like…” because we Japanese understand each other without talking. But it would be similar to what I never want to do.
However we can communicate with foreign team members precisely and develop the service together because they don’t understand if we don’t express something clearly. Moreover we’re eying the global market, so we want them to receive their feedbacks from standpoints of overseas people. So we stack to development in overseas. Also we looked for a client company who would accept a “Lab contract” (The contract which make a decision on hiring engineers for a set period of time and building a laboratory for the development. Contractee manages a laboratory so it’s easier to accumulate know-how on methods. Also it’s possible to increase or decrease the number of engineers in every contract period, so contractee can set up a flexible development system).
We looked for a team in China, the Philippines and Vietnam. Many companies asked us to leave them everything. It was tough to find a vendor who would accept a system of indirect hiring in which their company and we would determine the organization of the development team and that vendor would be in charge of hiring and assigning engineers for us and allowing us to manage a team. But finally we found a company who accepted an agreement in Vietnam.
In case of leaving everything to a team, it’ll be cheaper than lab contract if they can develop the service in one process of operation, but it’s really unusual. If you have to ask them for some revision after they complete something, I prefer to develop the service through maintaining communication with them because the service will have a high achievement level. Also we can easily have different engineers for the service for iPhone and for Android in case of lab contract.
And one more reason why we partnered with a Vietnamese team is to improve their skills. When they showed us their finished ones for the first time, user interface looked terrible. I showed them other apps and asked them to reach the same level as those. Now they look into other apps in order to develop the meshtiles. Vietnamese are hardworking, steady and straightforward. And the government puts muscle into science. There are very excellent scientists in embryos at Hanoi University of Science and Technology.
If we continue to develop the service with them and the service which they are involved in, they will be used all over the world, they will gain self-confidence, we believe.
“Global” will be obsolete
I think the words such as “global” “borderless” “cross-border” will be obsolete someday because of the smartphone.
With widespread smartphone use, IT business became truly cross-border. It means we are based on a prediction that we operate business worldwide. Until now we always cared about boundaries, but now apps are downloaded in overseas even though we don’t actively promote in other countries. I think we now have much greater opportunity to make our services popular than before. Actually half of the number of meshtiles downloaded are from overseas.
We’ve never promoted meshtiles in other countries. We’ve accommodated them for use in three languages such as English, Japanese and Vietnamese (translated by Engineers) , that’s it.
So to us, an application is just a “tool”. You can use the tool even if you don’t sit in front of a PC. And the tool brings you opportunity to spread your service around the world. That’s also the reason it has been a given fact that overseas expansion of meshtiles since we launched it. As evidence of this, you can use only alphabets when you tag photos. You cannot enter text in Japanese when you tie a tag to a photo. If you’re a non-English speaker, don’t worry. You don’t need to make an English sentence when you tag a photo. Also basically we communicate with each other through photos on meshtiles, so the hurdle is not high for people who consider English to be a challenge.
At a glance, you may think that meshtiles is a hand-me-down of Instagram, but our future vision is totally different from that. App, PC and interaction with an e-commerce system… that’s our idea as I told you before.
We’ll create a “world-scale flea market”
The name of our company is “Cellbridge“. We liken each person or each business to cells and we build bridges between different cells through our services – that is what our company name means. I hope we would gel our thoughts through meshtiles.
People who have similar hobbies or interests connect across borders. It becomes natural and sometimes they exchange their favorite things with each other… If we can provide people such a place, this world would be a really enjoyable place.
Also as for company’s production activities, no mass production, no heavy stock anymore. Instead, we would like to create a place to connect a person who really wants a product and a producer of it and they can buy it from a producer in the most efficient way. If it’s an exciting place for users, I’ll be really, really happy.
In our future e-commerce system, you won’t need to carry an inventory which is currently needed to open a shop, you’ll be able to locate a store even though you have just a few left in stock. Every product is in a different color or is shaped differently, that’s OK. Those are the big differences from the existing e-commerce services from ours. We would like to offer you an opportunity to look at them and touch them.
And it will trigger to spread Japanese local area products or wonderful things made in the developing countries around the world and people worldwide will be happy. That’s our goal of meshtile project.
Stories about the path he took to get to the idea… Click here!