Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Cell phones in Japan are moving swiftly up the evolutionary chain toward the apex of true media powerhouse. Hot new ‘killer idea’ FM Keitai – a partnership between KDDI (Japan’s second largest wireless provider), handset maker Sanyo, and FM radio heavyweight Tokyo FM – launched about a year ago and is now bringing real-time interactive radio content to 500,000+ keitai (Japanese for cell phones) users and counting. The number of 3G subscribers in Japan is steadily increasing — 16.7 million+ as of June 2004, and FM Keitai is taking full advantage of 3G’s enhanced capabilities. The FM-enabled handsets let listeners tune in to the station of their choice, and 53 Japanese radio stations participating in FM Keitai send track information and lyrics directly to the user’s phone via the pre-installed BREW applet. (Sales of BREW-enabled handsets are outpacing sales of Java-enabled handsets in Japan by a factor of 2-to-1.) Users can also download a 30-second Chaku Uta music file (MP3-quality ringtone) of any song they hear for USD 1 to USD 2, simply by clicking a link on their handset screen. The memory of FM Keitai compatible phones is designed to hold 50 to 60 Chaku Uta, and the music files themselves are provided courtesy of Label Mobile, a Japanese major record label joint venture formed in 2002 specifically to supply musical mobile content. (more…) What’s the quickest way to get a busy mom’s attention? Reward her hard work, listen to her opinions, and respect her economic power as the Household CEO. That’s exactly what US based ClubMom.com has diligently been doing, and business is now taking off: mothers across America are joining up in droves. ClubMom is a free national membership organization for American moms celebrating and rewarding everything ‘mom’. The focus is on consolidating the voices and buying power of mothers across the country, and supplying access to tools, resources, and services that make the tough job of being a mom a little easier. Mothers join by completing a simple sign-up form, after which they have immediate access to all of the ClubMom membership benefits. (more…) The family car no longer has to suffer the slings and arrows of oil stained concrete and lopsided tool shelves. In a great take on home improvement meets Hold Everything, Premier Garage turns plain old garages into sleek living spaces for discriminating autos (and disorganized tools). The photos of the remodeled garages on the Premier Garage website look more like modern minimalist recreation rooms sans furniture, than a place to park the car at night. The makeover starts with installation of wear-resistant, weatherproofed glossy flooring in the consumer’s choice of 13 solid and simulated granite colors. Then modular storage cabinets and “specialty organizers” are installed according to the customized plan created by one of Premier Garage’s designers during the pre-construction consultation. The result is maximized storage potential and a garage that’s aesthetically pleasing enough to become a real extension of the home living space.

Opportunities

The home remodeling and improvement market continues to burgeon, and thinking outside the box when it comes to use of space is one of the keys to taking advantage of the boom. Premier Garage’s focus on making a largely overlooked space attractive and optimally efficient is a good example. And it all fits beautifully with the INSPIRIENCE trend, with home owners creating their own domestic ‘youniverse’ including home offices, gyms, spas and entertainment rooms, all meaning they need space, space and even more space! In fact, the real business Premier Garage may find itself in soon enough is getting rid of the car altogether (park it outside!) and turning freed up space into yet another destination room. Premier Garage’s goal is to have a presence in all major US metropolitan markets, so entrepreneurs wanting to get in on the Premier Garage action can take advantage of their turnkey dealership opportunities. European and South American entrepreneurs, you have the chance to own the first dealership in your region, as this is another Spring-Spotting that has yet to reach your shores. Updated: December 2004 Leave it to auction juggernaut eBay to single-handedly inspire thousands of entrepreneurs to launch complementary services catering to eBay’s 95 million or so registered users. Our favorite new eBay feeder business? Auction drop-off shops! At DropShop in Munich, Germany and AuctionDrop, iSoldIt, AuctionWagon, and Quikdrop.com in the US, consumers and businesses can now drop off items they want to sell. Staff will evaluate the goods, take professional photographs, and prepare an attractive, detailed listing on eBay. They’ll then track the auction, answer questions from prospective buyers, and process payment when the auction closes. Once an item has been sold, they’ll ship it to the winner, and send their customer a check minus the shop’s commission, which ranges from 20 to 40% of the final selling price. Items that don’t sell are returned. Benefits for consumers and businesses extend beyond just saving precious time and hassle: selling on Ebay these days is quite an endeavour (feedback ratings, ad and price strategies, PayPal accounts!), so what started out as the ultimate do-it-yourself service has turned into something better left to professionals. This latter also explains the massive growth of eBay’s Trading Assistants Program, which allows individuals to leverage their eBay selling experience, sell and buy on behalf of others, and basically function as one-man drop-off stores. More than 21,000 people worldwide have registered. To qualify, a seller must have a minimum of 50 feedback comments from previous eBay sales, at least one transaction in the previous 30 days and a positive rating from at least 98 percent of his/her customers. How’s that for re-intermediation?!

Opportunities

Something that not only saves consumers time and hassle, but also makes them money from surplus possessions, will surely do well. With professional drop-off shops operating in only a handful of countries so far, this leaves a pleasant market opportunity for many an entrepreneur. Especially as not just the US, but the entire world is selling and buying collectibles and bric-a-brac on eBay. The future for drop-off services thus is decidedly global: with net international transaction revenues growing 96% in 2003, eBay’s local sites from Spain to Singapore underscore the global riches to be had. And what about massive emerging economies where access to online computers is still relatively low? Consumers in Brazil, Russia, India and China have plenty of desirable local goods (Chinese antiques!? Communist memorabilia?) they would like to auction off, and the world would be happy to snap up. So why not open drop-off shops in Shanghai or Mumbai, providing a brilliant bridge to gap the dreaded digital divide. Entrepreneurs and NGOs alike, pay attention, before this opportunity is going once, going twice, gone! Another hot import from the land of the Rising Sun has made it to US shores, and tuners couldn’t be happier. Super Autobacs is a veritable theme park for auto enthusiasts, and it’s positioned to become the defining brand for the full car experience. When the first Super Autobacs Creative CarLife store opened in the Metro Tokyo area, Japanese car culture aficionados rejoiced. Fueled by Japanese race queen culture and the country’s love of driving as a hobby activity, Super Autobacs fast became THE auto experience destination and the most successful auto parts chain in the country. From customization, maintenance services, and (of course) auto parts to the latest hot rims, electronics, music, and tuner fashion, the superstores provide a full one-stop-shopping experience in a hip-yet-functional environment designed to appeal to the aesthetics of tuner culture. Super Autobacs quickly expanded to Taiwan, France, Thailand and China, and with the recent opening of its first US superstore in Orange County, stateside tuners can now indulge in Autobacs-bliss. The 35,000 square-foot Orange County store will carry over 20,000 separate products including the newest and hottest brands, but the product selection is just the tip of the Super Autobacs iceberg. Central attractions include the autobay-as-art, where customers can watch hot customizations being installed by Autobacs mechanics (also known as “automotive Iron Chefs”) while reclining in comfort in the custom-designed waiting rooms. (more…)