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  3. Promoting "work style x DX" with honesty for the fourth time Toward a platform that supports working styles in a new era
Promoting "work style x DX" with honesty for the fourth time Toward a platform that supports working styles in a new era
Promoting "work style x DX" with honesty for the fourth time Toward a platform that supports working styles in a new era

"Entrepreneurial aspirations" to hear the background of deciding to start a business, the conflict until the business gets on track, and the desire to realize through the business.
In the first session, we interviewed Mr. Hitoshi Naganuma, CEO of ACALL Inc.

Yoshihisa Yoshihisa Naganuma, CEO of ACALL​ ​Inc.

Graduated from the Faculty of Business Administration, Kobe University. Joined IBM Japan in 2004. After working as an IT engineer and consulting sales staff for IBM Global Software for financial markets in Japan, he established ACALL Inc. in 2010. After working in corporate software development business, mental health web service business, etc., started the current business in July​ ​2016. With the vision of "Life in Work and Work in Life for Happiness," we aim to create a world where people can freely design "living" and "working."

[What'sACALL Inc.]
Founded in October​ ​2010. We have evolved from the application cloud service "ACALL" that realizes unmanned office reception, conference room management, and security cooperation to the corporate workspace management platform "WorkstyleOS", and are developing and providing it.

WorkstyleOS is a software service that digitizes the check-in experience not only in office scenes such as company entrances, conference rooms, and in-house office spaces, but also in out-of-office workspaces such as nearby coworking spaces and homes. By accumulating data in the data linkage platform of WorkstyleOS, it is possible to analyze and visualize worker behavior history, evaluation, and environmental information, and automate, facilitate, and recommend with AI. This will form a feedback loop for improving work quality and productivity, and create an open next-generation work style that allows diversity.


"Move your feet to get information" All experience is entrepreneurial training

-First of all, let me ask you what made you want to start a business.

I was conscious of starting a business when I was in high school. When I was in the first grade, my father, who was a civil servant, died of pancreatic cancer, which was a big turning point in thinking about my life. Life is only once. I continued to think about what a regrettable way of life would be like a good life at the last moment, and I came to think that it would be interesting to "run a company by myself".

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― After graduating from university, you have gained working experience at IBM Japan for five years before you founded ACALL Inc. Why did you choose to get a job instead of starting a business?

When I was in college, I was skeptical about the life of a salaried worker who said, "I wear a suit every morning and go to work at a fixed time." I wonder if that is interesting ... But it's not good to criticize it even though you haven't tried it. After experiencing a salaryman once, I decided to get a job, trying to start a business or do what I wanted to do.

I chose IBM because I liked science fiction movies. I was attracted to IBM 's technological capabilities to create the future space. With cutting-edge technology, I wanted to create something with an exciting feel. With five years as a guide, I decided to find a theme that I wanted to work on in entrepreneurship, so I actually quit after five years.

-When you decided to start a business in five years and worked, were you aware of how to prepare for starting a business and how to proceed with your work?

At IBM, we had three occupations, system operation and maintenance, sales, and consulting, and when creating a company, we thought that it was better to know as much as possible about the business flow.

A company is a place where people with various strengths who play various roles gather. I had a strong desire to absorb it here.

On the other hand, if you are in a large organization, you can do high-impact work. It's hard to throw away the fun, and I've come to think that I wish I could work wherever I was. I think that the conflict between job satisfaction and the cramped work style is linked to entrepreneurship.

Actually, I was doing my own "entrepreneurship training" even outside business hours.

When I came up with an idea for starting a business, I wondered if there was a need for it. Since I lived in Tokyo at that time, I also conducted a street survey on the weekend in Omotesando. I involve my wife, print out a lot of questionnaires, and talk to people who go by together. I was glad that you answered unexpectedly.

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-Entrepreneurship training with a couple! It's a great ability to act. What kind of idea did you verify?

For example, using customer data at a beauty salon. Everyone will have the disappointing experience of not being able to convey the desired hairstyle and saying, "It's not such an image." Therefore, I thought it would be great if there was a service that could be shared with stylists and customers by converting the contents of orders so far into detailed data together with photos. However, although it felt good in the questionnaire, we decided that it would be difficult to commercialize it due to the needs of beauty salons and the high hurdles for introducing IT.

In addition to the questionnaire, when I came up with the idea of "rental conference room business," I looked around the rental conference rooms in Tokyo and calculated how profitable it would be. As a result of the simulation, I came to the conclusion that it was difficult, but I kept "moving my legs to get information" all the time.

Difficulties after starting a business, the fourth challenge

-After leaving IBM, I have been studying at a space design vocational school for a year. You were very interested in workspaces and office spaces.

I agree. IBM was one of the first to pay attention to the fact that the place of work and the environment affect the development and motivation of the company, such as starting to advance the free address of the office. At this time, I realized that there is a deep relationship between "working" and "place." Perhaps it was because I was at IBM that I had the perspective of thinking about how to work from the workspace.

Let's change "working" into something "excited" by "technology". In this way, the three keywords that I want to achieve in entrepreneurship have been solidified.

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-As originally decided, ACALL (BALANCE & UNIQUE Co., Ltd. at that time) was founded in the fifth year of working life. How did it lead to the development and provision of Workstyle OS?

Immediately after starting a business, while undertaking system development for corporations, we were sending out prototype products developed in-house one after another. CTO offers three services, including a portal site that supports IT attracting customers for the real estate industry and construction industry, an app for BtoC that shares favorite places with friends, and a mental health service for companies that can check employee stress. With Hiroyuki Fujiwara at the center, I formed a development team of UI / UX designers and programmers, and I was in charge of sales. The products that lead to the present are finally born from the fourth prototype.

System development contracts for corporations generate stable profits, but do not scale. I wanted to find something that would go through with my own product, but it didn't work out. We can expect some profit, but we can't get excited, or we can't feel the expansion of the market where 1 becomes 10,000. Unless it is a business that includes the three elements of "working x technology x excitement" and a mechanism that can drastically solve problems, I will not be motivated to continue my own business. I realized that.

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Office at that time

-After that, in the fourth challenge, the application cloud service "ACALL" that realizes unmanned office reception, conference room management, and security cooperation was born, and is currently evolving to "WorkstyleOS".

"ACALL" was originally developed to improve our work style. Since it was a small organization centered on engineers, if there was a visitor, someone would stop and respond, and the work would be divided each time. However, if an unmanned reception system is introduced to improve efficiency, it will cost more than 1 million yen. Therefore, we utilized the cloud, which we were good at, and linked it with the iPad app to create a simple mechanism that makes a sound from the in-house speaker when there is a visitor. If you are a visitor without an appointment, you will see a message saying "Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo". "This is interesting and increases productivity!" Also, customers who came to the company started using the system and asked, "This is good. Isn't it sold?"

Furthermore, when I tried posting it on my blog and Facebook, I received more and more inquiries from large companies. In a hurry, I made a proposal, went to a business talk, and asked what kind of function it should have. While vehemently opposed the engineers, "Isn't it for our company?" (Laughs), we added functional improvements and officially commercialized it in July​ ​2016.

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Origin of ACALL

-It's a commercialization that has all three elements of "working x technology x excitement".
At the beginning of the business, you were promoting management that did not rely on financing, such as investing in product development while allocating funds by contracting system development. What kind of change was there in the process of accepting venture capital?

From the beginning, he declared that he would be listed in seven years. The company is for the sake of society, and I think it makes sense to be public and to be a sustainable organization.

I was drawing a picture of creating and scaling my own service for listing, but if I put in the funds from the beginning and failed, it would be a nuisance. Until I got a response and got on track, I was thinking of trying and error with the money I earned from the contract. Since around 2016, I felt a response with "ACALL", so I started to consider raising funds from venture capital in order to aim for the listing, which was the initial goal.

Then, around 2017, when I participated in the Osaka City Startup Company Support Program, I met JAFCO and then interacted with the capitalist in charge several times. At that time, unfortunately, I did not make an investment and procured from another VC, but I had continuous contact with the capitalist in charge. As the business has grown, I started thinking about raising the next fund, and when I consulted with him in April of this year, he received high praise for his business growth potential and received an investment from JAFCO in June​ ​2020.

It's been a long time since I started a business, and I raised funds from VCs, but if I started a business now, I would have considered raising funds from the beginning. We have been supported by various VCs and shareholders since the seed period, but the value of Mr. JAFCO, who can give us advice and support toward the same goal in terms of both business and organizational management, is extremely great once again with the investment. I feel that.

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Mr. Naganuma and Mizuki Takahara, the capitalist in charge of JAFCO (left)

You can sympathize with each other by sharing "excitement"

-What is the idea that Mr. Naganuma has cherished in running a business as an entrepreneur?

The perspective is "who to provide the service to".

Since I was going to Omotesando to get a questionnaire as a training for entrepreneurship, I thought it was most important to listen to the voices of users directly. We will listen to the feedback, improve the service as quickly as possible, and change the customer's expectations into the motivation for development. I think that the accumulation was one of the factors that made "ACALL" accepted by our customers.

The other is to "share the excitement" with our customers. We will tell our customers that they want to provide this kind of service in the future and want to spread this way of working. If we can sympathize with each other, we will receive various suggestions from our customers, such as "Then, we should have more functions like this." In order to play catch with a customer, it is not enough to wait for the ball. We will immediately implement the request and throw it back from here as well. You need to keep the antenna up all the time.

For me, a company is a "vessel," and value is created when various people gather there. With customer feedback, JAFCO's support, and the support of the local people, the vessel will become large and public, and we will be able to take on more challenges. In that sense, entrepreneurship is an effective way to make a big impact on the world.

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Mr. Naganuma and Mr. Fujiwara, CTO of the Board of Directors (right)

A world where anyone can work anywhere and perform

-While the work style is undergoing major changes due to the corona disaster, what is the "ambition" that Mr. Naganuma wants to realize for society through his business?

What I want to create is a world where anyone can work anywhere and demonstrate their performance.

With Corona, remote work permeated society faster than expected, and everyone realized the convenience of remote work. While it doesn't hinder your work even if you don't meet each time, many people will realize the value of face-to-face communication. With remote work, we can see the downsides, such as being skeptical because we can't see each other's work situation, and reducing the chances of ideas being born from a little chat. How to manage the workspace while covering them will be an important theme in the future.

While searching for the best ratio of face-to-face with remote, it is ACALL 's social responsibility and our "will" to provide decision-making materials including quantitative data. ..

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-Finally, do you have a message for those who want to become entrepreneurs and young entrepreneurs?

I'm sorry to all the talented young people, but if I can say to myself in the first year of entrepreneurship, I can only say, "I'll fall three times, but don't give up and continue until I succeed." If we do not lose our perspective on what our customers want and what society needs, one day the timing of the world and the timing of the services we provide will be exactly the same. I think it is most important to continue reluctantly.