Monday, February 5, 2007

Gaydar: Why You Can't Trust the Japanese Market

I overheard a pitch in Starbucks that was basically a location-based profile/meeting service. And I thought does anyone remember Gaydar? A company that sold beepers that activated whenever another beeper was within forty feet. Obviously, they were marketed to gay men. It failed.

The interesting thing to me is that Gaydar was very successful in Japan, except it was marketed to straight people. Over 100,000 units were sold.

The reason I find this interesting is because a lot of the next-gen mobile apps show up in Japan first. Japan is way ahead of the USA in terms of mobile usage. I suspect a lot of people look to Japan for business ideas that can be adopted for the US market. I mean, if it worked in Japan, then surely it'll work everywhere, right?

Except it doesn't. Japanese culture is REALLY different than American culture. In Japan, you can get your nails manicured by a vending machine. Japan has a popular movie series called Rapeman, it's about a hero who rapes women who have spurned the advances of lonely salarymen. It was shown at the local cineplex.

Japanese have strict social customs. Every interaction is highly ritualized. I suspect the rising mobile culture allows the Japanese to circumvent those customs and that's a big reason for the popularity of social mobile apps. In the US, social interactions are not restricted. I want to talk to a girl in a coffeeshop, I say hello. No one thinks I'm crazy, unless I happen to be homeless.

My point is this: be careful when you look to Japan for the validation of a market, other companies have been burned, it might happen to you, too.