Founded in 2013, Nanameue runs the largest anonymous social media app in Japan, “Yay!”, with more than 5 million users. In 2021, Nanameue raised a $15M round from Headline Asia, Infinity Ventures Crypto (IVC), Akatsuki, FFG, DG Daiwa, and other prominent venture capital firms.
Despite his recent progress and success, the founder of Nanameue, Takahiro Ishihama has come a long way. This interview will look into his days when he was a student and his visions for the future.
What were you passionate about when you were a student?
I would say, learning English.
To tell you a secret, I didn’t get into the college that I wanted to get into, as my scores were not good enough. I was quite good at math and other subjects, but I didn’t do well in English. To overcome such frustration, I become overly fixated on learning English.
I joined and spent lots of time in ESS (English Speaking Society), which is an English debate club with the purpose of attending the national cross-college English debate tournament. I did pretty well and even became a finalist in the tournament.
Later on, I went to San Francisco as an exchange student for a year in 2012 to further improve my English skills. Without knowing anything about Silicon Valley and startups, I was exposed to the culture and atmosphere of “startups are cool” in San Francisco, and I witnessed how Airbnb, Dropbox, and Github were growing exponentially.
As your passion changed from learning English to startups, what did you do to pursue such passion?
I founded Nanameue and I developed more than 200 apps.
Before that, when I was still in the US, I worked for Concept Art House to help Japanese gaming companies redesign their game characters into a more American style and I got a taste of [working for] startups there. Then I learned programming from my friends and by myself, and developed several mobile apps just for fun.
In my senior year in college, I started Nanameue, where I developed mobile apps for clients as a contractor, but also developed our own app. We were having so much fun developing all kinds of apps, including casual games. Staying up late till 3 a.m. every day, we have released more than 200 mobile apps! At some point, we decided to only focus on developing social media apps. We believe that all social media apps eventually would have identical features and what would differentiate a social media app from others is the community. Under such a thesis, we built different apps that were specifically targeted at different verticals of communities, such as gamers, mothers, and younger girls.
Is Yay one of the 200 apps that you developed then? And how did the other apps turn out?
“HIMABU” was one of the 200 apps, which is the former version of Yay.
The vertical market that HIMABU went after was students, and it was very clear that it hit the bull’s eye. We had run other apps that took six months to reach 1,000 users, while HIMABU hit the 1,000-user mark in just a few days since its release, with zero marketing and zero media exposure. Very quickly, almost all of the high school students in Japan got to know about this app, and at one point we had eight million users!
On the other hand, we did fail many times and we learned a lot. For example, we were very confident in one of our apps, which was quite similar to Vine at the time (or TikTok nowadays), but it turned out to be a huge failure. Some of the other apps have been doing pretty well, and we are gradually converting those users to our main app, Yay.
We learned two things. Firstly, we started to understand how the App Store and ASO (App SEO) worked. Secondly, we learned that the hardest thing was not the initial traction, it was how to maintain a healthy community after we got the initial traction. To do so, we needed to make sure the content on our social media is not toxic or harmful.