Kenji Kajiwara, Representative Director of chikaku Inc.
Note: This article was originally published on the website of the INCF (the predecessor of ICF) in October 2020.
Due to the increasing trend toward nuclear families, many families have limited opportunities for distant grandparents and grandchildren to meet in person. We interviewed Mr. Kajiwara, who aims to create a society where people can be closer to those they want to be close to, regardless of physical distance.
―Could you tell us what motivated you to start the business and what issues are you aware of?
Kajiwara: My parents’ house is in Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture. When I was a child, there were three generations, including my grandparents, and I was a grandpa’s boy. I currently live in Tokyo and have two children, but I do not have many opportunities to go back to Awaji Island. As the children grew older, I began to wonder how many more times I could let my parents see their grandchildren. I think there are many families like mine. So, I started this business to allow people to communicate across generations whenever they like, which used to be the norm, as if their grandparents were living next door.
Putting seniors first, we thoroughly considered how to create the same feeling as when people met in person and decided to make use of TV sets, which were often around the older generations. Although smartphones were intended to be the one-size-fits-all solution and to be used by all generations, they were not common enough among seniors.
―What kind of business do you mainly do?
Kajiwara: We offer a service called Mago Channel, which sends photos and videos you take with your smartphone to a receiver connected to a TV set via the Internet to let your parents watch them. More specifically speaking, when you upload photos and videos of your children from your smartphone app, your parents can watch them on their home TV set as easily as they would watch TV shows. Even those who are not familiar with operating IT equipment can use the service simply by connecting the receiver to their TV set with a cable and by controlling it with the same TV remote control they use with their TV normally. The receiver also has a built-in communication function so that the service can be used at home without the Internet.
Although you have always been able to share your children’s photos with your parents using your smartphone, you probably often do not know if they have seen the photos you sent. The Mago Channel allows you to receive a notification when your parents start watching a program on the channel. We have received comments from users saying that they were grateful for the channel as it worked as a monitor to let them know how their parents were and that the program often led to new communication, such as a phone call to discuss the pictures.
―What goals do you have and how successful have you been so far?
Kajiwara: I think we live in a good era where the Internet is a tool that enables us to transcend physical distance and time. Even now, however, we cannot get in touch with distant family members as often as we like, despite the fact that we also do not really know our neighbors, either. I find this situation strange, so I am aiming to create a service that makes family members and other loved ones feel close to each other. In fact, we have received a lot of positive feedback from users, such as “I can’t imagine my life without the Mago Channel,” which has made us feel very confident.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, we are now in a situation where it is difficult for people to interact with each other physically and near one another. Even before the pandemic, there was a need for communicating more, but COVID-19 has accelerated it in some ways. The government recommended online get-togethers before the Golden Week holidays, and Tokyo Governor Koike introduced the Mago Channel as a recommended tool for online get-togethers during the Obon holiday season. Our shipment volume for the last few months increased two to three times year-over-year and has maintained a high level since then.
―How do you collaborate with stakeholders?
Kajiwara: We are working with partners on areas that are outside our core competencies. For example, we met SECOM, whose philosophy is to provide safety and security, through an acceleration program in Tokyo. Together, we developed and provided a service to watch separately on the Mago Channel.
In addition, local governments have need of providing non-face-to-face administrative services. We have started a demonstration experiment for Izumiotsu City in Osaka Prefecture to distribute local and administrative information (such as on welfare and disaster prevention) to households using the Mago Channel. When we reported the progress of the demonstration experiment to Osaka Governor Yoshimura, he gave us high marks for the potential of the service, saying that it could be used for community circulation for the Reiwa Era.
―Do you have any difficulties such as conflict with conventional values?
Kajiwara: There have been a certain number of people who say that they do not need our service because their distant parents use smartphones. I feel that what they say indicates a major issue in spreading the Mago Channel. Some investors also give similar opinions. However, many seniors who use the Mago Channel also use smartphones, and we have received comments from them, such as, “Watching on TV is very different from watching on a smartphone. If I had known earlier, I would have used it sooner.” We would like to come up with ways to drastically change people’s traditional values.
―What are your expectations and aspirations for the future?
Kajiwara: There are more than 13 million elderly households in Japan. Since it would take both time and money to realize our dreams on our own, we would like to increase cooperation with other companies and local governments that want to convey the same thoughts we do, which will increase our added value. We would like to expand our ecosystem across organizational boundaries to create a world where people can feel close to their loved ones without the restrictions of distance and time. (The company name “chikaku” means both “be close” and “feel” in Japanese.)
|The Mago Channel is a completely streamlined product that puts seniors first. The simplicity allows even seniors to operate the product without any resistance. We feel that it also has great scalability and look forward to its development as a new communication tool in the era with and after COVID-19.|
This article is part of a series of articles introducing venture companies working together as INCF members to resolve societal issues.