Q&A with Akemi Tsunagawa on LEVART, an app connecting locals and travellers exploring Japan

Increasingly, the travel industry is fast changing with the rapid development of apps.

According to insights by Sabre, one of the trends in travel apps is localisation.

Localisation is the concept of delivering geo-targeted recommendations and offers to travelers, based on location and traveler preferences. With integration of mobile location insights, travellers can create experiences that offer convenience and relevant offerings.

One such app is LEVART. Founded in October 2015, LEVART is an online community where travelers and locals can connect with likeminded people to explore Japan.

It strives to provide travelers with authentic cultural experiences that cannot be achieved through following a guidebook or joining large tours. Connecting travellers with locals to create an unforgettable journey in Japan.

Akemi Tsunagawa, CEO of Bee Spoke and the LadyBoss behind LEVART spoke to us:

Q: Why did you take the plunge to being involved in a startup?

A: Coming from finance background, I wasn’t so interested in startups to be honest. The product we’re building now (both Bebot and LEVART) is something I’ve always wanted when traveling around.

After having another inconvenient experience and not being able to find suitable solution during my trip to South East Asia last year, I finally decided to leave my finance job and make one myself.

To me personally, “I wish something like this existed” came first, and that’s was the beginning. And now it happens to be called a “startup.”

 

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Q: What are some of the main challenges in this business?

A: I’d say technical challenges, such as:

-the difficulty or pulling and merging information from lots of different sources

-understanding what users are saying when their messages are very short (natural language processing)

-deriving trends among our users and making recommendations based on their history and similarities with other users

We have users from more than 100 countries at the moment.

Q: How’s the user base and traffic at the website now? How many people do you lead in your team?

A: We have users from more than 100 countries at the moment.

Many of our users are from France, UK, Spain, US and Australia. We can’t disclose the number around traffic just yet.

I currently lead the team of 10, and mostly non-Japanese developers. We consider ourselves as a technology company.

The kind of places off the guidebooks.

Q: What’s the idea when you started Lev-Art?

A: “Experiences beyond guidebooks”

My travel experiences have always been significantly better when I know locals at destinations. They’re happy to share the kind of places only family or friends can tell you about.

The kind of places off the guidebooks. Because it’s unrealistic to hope that we will have friends at every destination we travel to, I’ve decided to create a platform where people can enjoy the same sort of authentic experiences as if friends were showing them around.

How much more authentic does it get than being taken to a little ramen shop you’ll never find in guidebooks?

Q: What are your plans for Lev-Art in the next 5 years? What’s your ultimate vision for Lev-Art?

A: Over the next 5 years, we plan on expanding our database throughout Japan, enhancing personalized recommendation features, adding visual analysis etc. and mostly importantly making this available to anyone who’s interested in visiting Japan.

We strongly believe that Japan’s got much more to offer than just shrines, temples and animal cafes, and we would like to communicate that effectively to the rest of the world.

Our ultimate goal for LEVART is to provide once in a life time travel experience, and hopefully in near future, that will go beyond Japan. We’re building LEVART because we personally want to use it when traveling outside of Japan.

I’m much happier now than before even with very little sleep everyday only because I’m doing something I’m truly passionate about.

 Q: What motivates you personally?

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A: I simply enjoy making the product I’ve always wanted. Seeing the noticeable progress in our product is the most enjoyable moment for me.

Many people talk about how passion drives startup success, and just like most people, I never understood what it actually meant until last year.

Hanging out with friends after work, going to gym everyday, weekend trips to some exotic islands – all of these were gone once I started the company because there is no time for it. Yet, I’m much happier now than before even with very little sleep everyday only because I’m doing something I’m truly passionate about.

For me, waking up to go to work every morning has never been this exciting.

Q: How is the startup and entrepreneurship eco-system for women in Japan?

A: 
Because I haven’t experienced startups in overseas, I don’t really have anything to compare to, however, I don’t believe it’s much different for me here as a woman than for men.

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There are a few occasions where some institutional investors made comments like “we don’t invest in women around 30 because they might get married, pregnant and need to take a few years off,” but things like that would happen no matter you go.

I am certain it sometimes works the other way too. Having said that, it all depends on how you take it.

Startups aren’t just about technologies. Technology plays a critical part but not the only essential skill required

Q: What would be your advice for women who are interested to be involved in a startup?

A: I’d recommend attending startup events and conference as those could be good places to meet potential collaborators, cofounders/partners, and even investors in some cases.

Startups aren’t just about technologies. Technology plays a critical part but not the only essential skill required. Many more things are required including but not limited to product development, finance strategies, sales & marketing, PR, client/customer relationship management, data analytics, content writing etc.

Networking with people who are already in the position you’re trying to get to could help realize many things you’d need to start thinking about if you were to end up in startups, in my view.

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This article was written by the LadyBoss team. Want to be a contributor? Drop us an email at editor@ladyboss.asia

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