Interview with Shibuya’s Startup Visa Holder： How Shibuya founder helps make AI accessible to small businesses
In this series, Sasha Kaverina, our communication advisor, interviews successful Startup Visa applicants so you can learn about startup founders in Shibuya. Read about their stories, from what led them to Shibuya to tips on tricks on how to navigate Startup Visa application.
A seasoned entrepreneur and data scientist, Trouni Tiet has been awarded a Shibuya Startup visa to develop his AI-centric business automation platform. Read about how his passion for entrepreneurship brought him to Japan!
Hi, Trouni. Could you please tell me about your entrepreneurial journey?
I studied engineering in one of the top engineering schools in France. Even before I finished my studies I knew I would spend my career bringing business ideas to life. During a gap year in my engineering studies, I started an internship in the technology department of a very large company in France, but quickly realized that the work I had been assigned would have virtually no impact on the company. Even worse, it was unlikely to teach me any useful skills. It was an intimidating thing to do as a young intern with no experience, but I was thirsty for practical knowledge and experience, so I kindly explained that to my supervisor and quit the internship.
A month later, I landed in China for what turned out to be an amazing experience that would shape most of my personal and professional life. I joined and shadowed a founder launching his first startup in Beijing and that’s when my head-spinning startup journey began.
Since then, I founded and helped launch companies in Australia, Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, and most recently Japan. As companies’ priorities ebbed and flowed, I took on and off almost every hat you could think of, from marketing and logistics to IP management and production, or even web design and cold calling for sales! It helped me develop a broad overview of business in general and of all the challenges that you might face managing a company or product.
After moving to Japan, I focused on engineering and product deployment, and also started teaching data science at a coding bootcamp in Tokyo. I could see digital transformation causing fundamental shifts in many sectors in Japan and decided to seize this challenging but promising opportunity.
Timing was good because my business partner — also regularly teaching data science at the bootcamp — was interested in new opportunities within the industry. After some exploration, we decided to work together on a platform empowering businesses on their digital transformation journey.
Could you please tell me more about your startup?
We are building a platform that helps small business owners use AI to automate line-of-business problems. It addresses a mismatch between businesses who are unaware of available AI solutions and service providers lacking domain knowledge about client companies.
Through the platform, users can access a database of AI solutions used by similar companies and submit their data samples to obtain a tailored estimate of the feasibility, implementation and running costs. No expertise in the field of AI is required to navigate the platform that aims to simplify difficult tech processes and decisions.
Many companies in Japan are only starting with their digital transformation – and this is a huge opportunity for us. We see a lot of businesses who want to implement new solutions and are curious to see how they can do it. Although the risk-averse culture in Japan remains one of the main obstacles that we are preparing ourselves to face.
Why did you decide to apply for the Shibuya Startup visa?
What made me interested in the first place is the support provided for foreign entrepreneurs willing to start a business in Shibuya. I attended several events co-hosted by Shibuya Welcome Service together with Le Wagon Tokyo and had a very positive impression of how foreign-friendly and supportive Shibuya is. Although I can speak some Japanese, I really appreciate having an official contact explaining all the paperwork and legal aspects in English.
Secondly, I was initially looking at the business manager visa but some of the requirements such as a dedicated office space seemed a bit cumbersome at this stage. Instead of spending money to rent an expensive office in the middle of a pandemic, I can now invest these funds towards developing and marketing our product.
Could you please explain how the application process went?
During the first call, Miho Tanaka from Shibuya Welcome Service kindly explained all the possibilities that I had in terms of visa alternatives and listed out the documents to submit for the Startup visa application. It took me a couple weeks to prepare and make some tweaks after Miho’s feedback. The next step was to pass a 30 minutes assessment interview with some members of the Shibuya city and a venture capitalist. The questions were sharp and targeted some challenging aspects of my business plan, and I am really thankful to the judges for the valuable feedback.
The results came very quickly, within the same day. I received a congratulatory email from Miho letting me know that my application had been accepted and that an approval letter for the Immigration Bureau would be issued shortly. A roller coaster day indeed!
What are your next plans?
We’ve started working on a technical proof of concept and are continuing to conduct customer interviews. We know it will probably take a lot of trial and error, and we’re not afraid of pivoting a few times if needed.
We’re currently both working on product development but we’re adding a part-time web developer to the team to help us build our prototype, and I hope to gradually switch some of my focus to sales and customer relations.
Thanks to Shibuya Welcome Service for their incredible support, dedication and accessibility! I am thrilled to join the cohort of Shibuya-based entrepreneurs and contribute to the budding startup scene in Tokyo.