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Monday, December 4, 2023

Why a well-established eyeglass company gave birth to a start-up company

Atmosphere Glasses," a glasses-type information terminal that ambiently transmits information from a smartphone as if it blends in with the surrounding air. Linked to a smartphone, the device allows users to keep track of incoming calls, e-mails, schedules, timers, and various other information while walking, having meetings, or working on a PC, through the blinking of full-color LED lights and sound from a small speaker. The company that released this product is Namae Megane Corporation, a start-up born out of Miki Holdings Corporation, a long-established eyeglass manufacturer founded in 1930. Atmosphere Megane" was born against the backdrop of light footwork that is not typical of a major company and the sincere craftsmanship that is typical of a long-established company.
*This article is reprinted from an article published in CREW MAGAZINE on November 26, 2015.

You can't ask, "Hey, what's this guy's name?"

The company name "Namae Megane" comes from a project to create "name-recognizing glasses. As we get older, we can remember faces, what people look like, and what we have talked about in the past, but only their names do not come up. At such times, wouldn't it be nice to have a pair of glasses that would tell you the name of the person you are talking to as if to say, "This is Mr. Whose? This was the impetus for this project.

Approach to wearable gadgets as an eyeglass shop

So how do we make glasses that recognize our names? What about NFC? How about Bluetooth? After repeated trial and error, we completed a prototype, although it was not in the shape of glasses. At the time, technologies such as face recognition were gaining popularity. We wondered how we could approach the problem of not knowing who the recipient was, and wondered if we could create "glasses that know your name" by combining face recognition and embedding an individual ID in the glasses.

With the idea of glasses as such a wearable gadget in mind, I decided that I needed to know what the wearable market was like in the world, so I went to visit the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2013.

Many of our company members went to see the actual product, and although not all of them saw it, they all had the impression that "That's not a pair of glasses. I had the impression that glasses shops could take a different approach. After returning to Japan from Barcelona, we spent about three months trying to figure out what we could do with the device. After three months of trial and error, the idea of "making the lenses themselves glow" was born. Of course, there were no glasses in the world that made the lenses themselves glow, so we started working on a prototype as a unique idea.

The plan is to exhibit without using the name Miki, known for Paris Miki, ......

Then a year later, in February 2014, we went to the Barcelona Mobile World Congress. We decided to exhibit the product out of the blue with a prototype. The objective was to see the market's voice and reaction to persuade the company, since it is an impossible product to get all the consensus within the company, which has only dealt with regular glasses, in the first place. Can we go ahead with this project as is? Exhibiting at the exhibition was meant to serve as a litmus test.

At the time, the project itself was a secret project, known only to a few top management within the company, so we were doing everything ourselves, and the prototype was completed the day before we left for Barcelona. We exhibited under the condition that we would not mention Miki's name, but the Japanese press knew that I was an employee of Miki HD, and the headline "That Miki..." appeared on the web, and when I checked with our Japanese colleagues, they told me that the story was completely different, and that the press was not able to make an announcement. I checked with my colleagues in Japan, and they said that the story was completely different, and that they were not ready to make a press release...

When I returned to Japan, I was afraid that I might not be able to go back, but the press gave me positive feedback, saying, "This is what we have been waiting for," "Only the Japanese could create a wearable gadget that can be used normally with glasses," etc., and there was a growing momentum within the company to promote the product more and more. This was a good sign that the company was gaining momentum to move forward.

Use crowdfunding as test marketing

It would have been good to commercialize and start selling the product as is, but a product that does not exist in the world means that we are proposing a new sense of value to our customers. But, the fact that a product does not exist in the market means that we are proposing a new sense of value to our customers. The product itself is a very simple product, and its appeal will not increase unless developers around the world develop a variety of interesting applications for it. With this in mind, we decided to challenge crowdfunding on Makuake.

As a result, we cleared our target amount early and started on the path to commercialization. However, after shipping to supporters on Makuake, when we finally consider going to general sales, it will be difficult to conduct business within the holding structure, and we will establish ourselves as an independent entity.

To a company that values softness and sensitivity.

Normally, Miki would use the wholly owned subsidiary method, but "Namae Megane Inc." is not a wholly owned subsidiary of Miki. This was done with the idea of inviting a wide range of investors to become involved in the business.

The company is small, with four people actually working, including myself. We also appoint women from outside the company as outside directors. Miki, where many women are active in the business, has always placed importance on women's opinions regarding its products, which is perhaps a little different from ordinary companies. Also, the products themselves emphasize "sensitivity," so women's opinions are important to us. Men tend to be more inclined to say things that sound logical (laughs).

The little words that emanate from a woman's sensitivity have characteristics that men's reasoning cannot produce, and it is their frank opinion that plays an important part in our products.

Especially in IT-related manufacturing, the parts used are almost the same everywhere. However, the products assembled from them are different when used. It has to be a product that truly stimulates the senses. I think it is a very important part of a product's longevity that customers simply find it "interesting.

I think this is the source of Miki's ability to do things that other manufacturers are unable to do. I think this is the source of our ability to do things that other manufacturers cannot do.

For products that involve a larger number of people.

Atmosphere glasses are based on the very simple concept of glasses that allow the wearer to feel, or rather, perceive. Rather than providing advanced technology of recognition, it is a product that directly appeals to the senses, and because glasses are a product that is used on a daily basis, it would be disqualifying for a product made by an eyeglass maker to add various functions and become extraordinary.

For example, we do not need a sophisticated function that reads out the incoming mail when it arrives, but would like to offer a product that "feels" the mail by simply informing the user of who sent it. Of course, this is not to deny the high functionality of the product, but it is just our way of thinking.

Since this is such a product, we would like to invite various people to participate in B to B activities in the future. We do not believe that we have to do everything on our own, so we will provide the frames and pursue various possibilities as "sensory glasses.

Just as the basic stance of eyeglasses is to compensate for vision, it would be good if they were "atmosphere glasses" that compensate for "feeling".

Atmosphere glasses" are born from the product development know-how that only a long-established "glasses shop" can know, and that gently approaches the user. It may be a good idea for hardware and software development companies to consider how they can be combined.

writing (e.g. as a profession)
PORT Editorial Office 
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PORT by Creww is an open innovation media for startups, entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs in recovery, and companies seeking to create new businesses on the theme of social issues, operated by Creww Co.


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