This series introduces entrepreneurs who have received support from UTokyo incubation and funding programs or who have used university research. UTokyo’s support aims to expand Japan’s innovation ecosystem.
Chitoku Tosu first realized how fascinating business can be when he joined a student club at Tokyo University in 2002 that planned and organized public order and business idea competitions. Tosu was a freshman undergraduate and aspiring to become a career bureaucrat or a politician at the time.
“The club took a modern approach and asked for corporate sponsorship” for the competitions, Tosu recalled. “I thought I could add more to society by doing business.”
With their smartphone, users can access Babily, a Chinese video media platform that covers baby care and everyday family life issues.
Since then, Tosu has grown from a student entrepreneur to an executive at a foreign startup, an executive at a consulting firm and finally to a managing director at Onedot Inc., the business company Babily, a video media platform for baby care and topics of everyday family life in China. Babily has gained more than 15 million followers since its launch in 2017 and has become one of the most successful platforms of its kind in China.
Tokyo-based Onedot and Shanghai Wanli Network Technology Co., Ltd., a wholly-owned Shanghai company, are attracting significant attention as the target of UTokyo investing in venture companies to drive innovation. In May 2020, Onedot received 500 million yen from a UTokyo Innovation Platform Co., Ltd. fund. (UTokyo IPC), a wholly-owned UTokyo subsidiary founded in 2016 to strengthen the university’s ability to accelerate venture firms.
Founding a company, joining the joint venture as a student
A turning point came when Tosu was a third-year student in UTokyo and enrolled in law school. Under the tutelage of a senior club member, Tosu and two other students founded a company that provides solutions to small and medium-sized businesses struggling with stringent privacy regulations since a Japanese Personal Data Protection Act was enacted in 2003, The Best Opportunity for Internet Savvy Law students to use their knowledge of law and information technology. They worked high-paying part-time jobs to raise the 10 million yen capital required to start the business.
Think for yourself and create good value for the public
Student startups are more common these days, but it was rare for Japanese students to start up a business in the early 2000s. Was Tosu discouraged by the idea of entering uncharted waters? “Doing things differently from others usually doesn’t intimidate me,” said Tosu. “My parents always said to me, ‘Think for yourself and do what you want. ‘That influenced me a lot. “
In 2006, Tosu left this company to become an executive at a foreign startup offering innovative music distribution service because of his keen interest in the digital music business. One might assume that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to work as an executive while also being a law student. Tosu cleverly maximized his time, however. “During the exam period, I said goodbye to the company for about a week,” said Tosu. “I often studied all night before the tests and attended company meetings in the afternoon. That was the kind of life I led then. “
Unfortunately, his career plan was suddenly turned upside down. The venture company was dissolved after the Japanese and US parent companies were taken over by separate companies. “I was proud to run the company’s business and have tried to start a new business with a few other core people to continue the same activities,” said Tosu. “However, we haven’t been able to secure the capital and facilities we need. We tried everything but eventually had to give up. “This was Tosu’s biggest setback since he started as a student entrepreneur.
From main consultant to startup CEO
Chief Administration Officer Xue Zhu of Onedot
In 2010, Tosu joined the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and assumed a leadership role in internet-related business development and global strategies. In 2016, Tosus last year at BCG, he joined a new project where Unicharm Corp. was involved, a major Japanese manufacturer of disposable hygiene products. Deeply impressed by the Unicharm President’s willingness to pursue parenting-related business opportunities in China, Tosu became CEO of Onedot, which Unicharm and BCG Digital Ventures, a BCG subsidiary, founded in 2016 in February 2017.
In order for a Japanese company to do business in China, a great Chinese executive is essential. Tosu had no problem in this regard. He met a trusted partner, Xue Zhu, in 2016 while doing market research in Shanghai prior to Onedot’s launch.
“We hit it off at our first meeting,” remembers Xue. “I admired his passion for the new business he wanted to prepare and for what he wanted to achieve.”
At the time, Xue was an executive in the branch of a Japanese trading house in Shanghai. Xue previously worked at Recruit Co., Ltd. for almost 10 years. (now Recruit Holdings Co., Ltd.) in positions that included involvement in new business formation and human resource matters. However, she wanted a new challenge and eventually the start of a new company. “I immediately suggested to Tosu that we should work together,” she said. Xue provided Tosu with external HR support for several years before officially joining Onedot as Chief Administrative Officer in 2019.
Xue, whose husband is stationed in Tokyo, is raising two children in Shanghai with the help of her mother. The global COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the business landscape, so Xue needs to be flexible in responding to “surprises” that pop up almost every day, she said. Xue serves as a bridge between Japanese and Chinese employees with different cultures and values. Together with other executives, she is developing new customer goals before the post-COVID-19 era, in which the business environment is expected to change fundamentally.
Onedot has raised funds to expand its business, including through the development of mini-programs (apps that run in another app) that are likely to skyrocket because of their ease of use. Onedot raised 1.05 billion yen, including 500 million yen from UTokyo IPC, through third-party allotment of new shares in May 2020. After this capital increase, Onedot will no longer be a consolidated subsidiary of Unicharm, which gives it more scope to develop as a firm . “Our immediate goal is to make Babily the leading parent media platform in China,” said Tosu. “The demand for online businesses will increase. We are determined to pursue companies useful to Chinese consumers in areas where Japan is ahead, such as education, beauty, health and care. “
Onedot was acquired by Unicharm Corp. in December 2016. and BCG Digital Ventures founded. In February 2017, Onedot launched Babily on Weibo, a Twitter-like Chinese social network. The following month, the company established its wholly owned subsidiary, Shanghai Wanli Network Technology Co., Ltd. Onedot distributes parenting-themed videos, generates revenue from advertising on Babily, and helps Japanese companies set up digital businesses, develop business strategies, and market their existing businesses in China. In May 2020, Onedot raised 1.05 billion yen through third party allotment of new shares to UTokyo IPC, Nippon Life Insurance Co., Sumitomo Corp., BCG, Mizuho Capital Co., Ltd. and other. A total of around 50 people are employed in the offices in Tokyo and Shanghai.