Startup the Party: SF x Tokyo Underground Conference

September 24, 2014 Nina Mehta

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Last week, some of our industry’s best entrepreneurs from around the world met in Tokyo for the world’s first underground conference. This weeklong event brought together people who work and play in the startup scene, dance music community and those making immersive guerrilla art.

Startup The Party Organizers.003Startup The Party Organizers.004Participants who live in these three communities tend to be smart and creative community leaders. These are people who are hungry to see the world in new ways and want to share those experiences with new people.

Pivotal Labs was an essential sponsor for this event and made it possible to bring the vision together and introduce Janice Fraser as a mentor to run her world famous ideation and synthesis workshops.

The event was hosted by yours truly for SF and in Tokyo by Keigo Fukugaki ( founder and architect for buildings like Facebook Tokyo) and Alisaun Fukugaki (finance oddball and active community builder).

Our goal for the conference was to break the startup silos in Tokyo by injecting the social energy and experience from our entrepreneurs in San Francisco. We also wanted to help San Francisco techies return home recharged with new inspiration to do meaningful work in a city that’s sometimes bloated or jaded from empty startups. In the end, we wanted to craft a space to help our guests make real connections that would last for not weeks or months, but decades.

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We started the conference by taking participants to a remote, special underground techno festival in the Naeba Greens forest several hours outside Tokyo. It’s cited as being one of the best sound experiences in the world. Labyrinth boasts 24 Funktion One speakers perfectly tuned at an intimate 2,500 person outdoor single-stage venue. It’s is not your typical party. We began here to help our SFers not only adjust to the timezone but for us to truly get to know each other and start building a tribe.

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We returned to Tokyo beaming with joy but ready to work. The session began with panel discussions about the tech scenes in Tokyo and San Francisco. The afternoon reintroduced Lean Startup methodologies with the Stanford Design School Wallet activity. Participants were put in pairs, one member from the West and one from the East.

They interviewed one another about what’s inside their wallets to practice interviewing and empathy. Based on their findings each person they had exactly seven minutes to prototype something new and better. What they did here was learning about their users and making fast product decisions which was essential for the following days.

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We all know real learning happens by doing and being out in the real world.

We sent small teams into the field for ethnography to practice observation and breaking assumptions. They went to Tokyo’s Love Hotels, Sex Shops, Maid Cafes, Cat Cafes, Harjuku, one of the busiest train stations in the world, boutiques and one dollar shops.

Startup The Party Organizers.018The groups came back with lots of learnings but not yet findings. Pivotal Labs helped bring our very own Janice Fraser to do the workshop she’s run for startups around the world and even the White House. In just two hours, she helped these teams extract hundreds of learnings and synthesize them into one user-centered idea they were going to prototype the next day.

Each of these incredible days ended with a private dinner at Tokyo’s best restaurants. We needed this to decompress from each day. Spending time together outside work helped us get to know people in different teams and understand each others as people and representatives of our cities.

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10438443_10100362407903458_4012609792840120241_nDAY 3 – PROTOTYPES & PECHAKUCHA
By now we’ve partied together, asked hard questions of each other and found new ways to think about our own homes and other cities in new ways (whether it be Tokyo or SF).

On the final day, each team had seven hours to create a prototype and 20×20 PechaKucha presentation.

A PechaKucha presentation is 20 slides with 20 seconds each. The presentations are primarily visual and the slides advance automatically, so everyone really had to know their stuff. But that is why we brought the best and the brightest.

Participants created smart travel guides, 3D renderings of shopping rest stations, secret car-services for Love Hotel guests, sex-toy parties appropriate for women in Japan, remote cat cafes and more. What stood out about these prototypes is that they came from real needs from real people based on what the conference participants learned in the real world the day before.

The PechaKucha talks brought over 200 people from all over Tokyo in a room packed shoulder-to-shoulder and a line out the door. What we reminded the audience was that Alisaun, Keigo and I are not here to create the Startup Scene in Japan. We created this conference for everyone in that room to meet each other and build the community there together. We came to Startup The Party and give the community ownership to everyone.


P123061010687939_10104681415003669_8554720693402718573_oDAY 4 – ART & EXPERIENCE

After several days of hard smart work, we took everyone to see what’s happening in the underground art scene of Tokyo.

The latest projection, Bction (like one step after Action), took over a building that was set to be demolished due to earthquake codes. Before the destruction, the Bction crew brought the best graffiti artists around Tokyo to use the stripped building as a blank canvas. And on the first floor, each of us got to leave our own mark.

The days following included hand-crafted grilled sanma fish and a spaceship boat cruise designed by the same manga artists who did Daft Punk’s Discovery Album.

We’re oodling with ideas for next year. Should it be in Tokyo? Croatia? Amsterdam? New York? What if we brought Japanese artists to San Francisco and explored how to reinvigorate the art scene juxtaposed against Silicon Valley. There’s a lot to explore and we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about where to next Startup The Party.

Thank you again Pivotal Labs for sharing our vision and helping Janice get all the way to Tokyo. Needless to say, bringing the these communities together charged us with a lot of energy and inspiration to do work that is useful and meaningful.

Each of us came away with the reminder to get out of our comfort zone at work and play. Here’s to being better people and advocates for our clients, users, and communities.


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