See the original story in Japanese.

A former student entrepreneur has returned to the startup scene in order to challenge global issues.

In 1995 Takeshi TED Homma was a student entrepreneur working with the early internet doing web design and development. He followed this by playing active roles at Sony and Rakuten, and recently talked with The Bridge about a new startup he is working on.

HOMMA, the startup, tackles issues related to “the home.” As is written on their website “Redefining our standard of living,” it is an ambitious project to create a new vision of the future with regards to the necessities of life. Homma had never contemplated a return to entrepreneurship, but a single opportunity presented him with the chance to get back to the startup world.

He said:

I was thinking of buying a house, but it would take few years to complete. That’s a few years. In Japan it would only take a matter of months. And what’s more, it would be very expensive. I tried to find a solution, thinking there must be one. But no. That’s what got me thinking.

But it would take Homma nearly 2 years to reacclimate himself back into the entrepreneurial world.

He continued:

Is this really necessary? Is there no solution? Since there was no need to rush I focused intensely on preparing. At the same time, I never went so far as to say this about the entrepreneurial pursuits of my 20s, but somewhere I think maybe there was a part of me doing it for self-actualization too. But this time I had a clear vision and that’s how the decision came to me to spend what’s left of my life doing something for society. So that’s why I’m doing this.

The vision of a new lifestyle, especially the innovation of daily living, is what convinced the self-questioning Homma.

He added:

It took 100 years for the telephone to become the iPhone. 100 years later and Ford cars have evolved into Tesla. But what about homes? Have they changed in 100 years?

Homma used the phrase “a housing version of Tesla” so that even I could easily understand his meaning, but with just 5 words the view of the world that he is trying to achieve spawned endless possibilities. He originally began due to the fact that houses are expensive and take years to finish, but solving these problems will result in “homes becoming more fun”.

Their task is to make houses smart. If their goal is to summit the mountain, they are still at the foot, perhaps having approached the first station.

Regarding funding, Mistletoe, B Dash Ventures, Genuine Startups, 500 Startups Japan, East Ventures, Draper Nexus, and architectural firm KMDW participated in the seed round. The prominent lineup of individual investors starts with Hiroshi Mikitani (co-founder and CEO of Rakuten), and includes Tomohito Ebine (founder of Opt), Shintaro Yamada (CEO of Mericari), Hirokazu Mashita (founder and director of m&s partners), Hiroaki Yasutake (former managing executive director of Rakuten), Kotaro Chiba (co-founder of Colopl), Hollywood-based film producer Mashi Oka.

The company raised $4.1 million in capital. This is an extraordinary amount to raise at the seed stage for a Japanese startup, but is appropriate when you consider them trying their hand on the world playing field. Furthermore, companies that sympathize with his vision such as Apple, Tesla, Amazon and Disney are gathering around him in support. Their current team of 7 members is working full time to prepare their product at their headquarters in Silicon Valley.

So, what image of the future are they trying to paint? What is their current situation?

As they are in stealth mode, and also currently still verifying whether the product lives up to Homma’s vision of the “new home,” a precise answer to these questions will take a little more time. However, he was able to talk about challenges with current devices for so-called “smart homes.”

He said:

The so-called ‘smart home’ market is a power struggle between big players like Google, Apple, and Samsung. As a result there are lots of apps and plenty of devices too. I’ve tried them out, but after taking out my smartphone and opening an app that shows battery level, the login screen comes up. (And I think) ‘So, when is the battery going to run out?’

If you ask Homma, at the moment the solutions are not at all useful, and there are three big problems to consider with the current smart home market.

He continued:

First, with smart homes you always have the issue of controls. But this is merely a discussion of on/off and adjustments. Not interesting at all. Next, the level of integration is low. For example, you add a thermostat, but the cooperation with the house is low. As a result we’re not able to do much. Finally, the third problem is communication. If you have 100 smart light bulbs and replace the router, you have to reset everything from scratch. If you use all-purpose Wifi and BLE problems in stability will arise.

Homma disclosed that if he had to choose one way of advocating smart home platforms, as opposed to the direction of horizontal development that Samsung chose in acquiring SmartThings for $200 million, he envisions a model similar to Apple’s or Tesla’s where everything from devices to software are vertically integrated. However, he intercedes that in everything there are a series of stages to go through to achieve goals.

He explained:

Time is the problem. For example, to build a house from ground up takes a long time. We have to think about it together with a scalable deployment. Take the iPod as an example; first, you make the software and the rest comes along after that, or Tesla that started by developing batteries.

But while listening to him speak I couldn’t help but imagine a lifestyle like those portrayed in 2001: A Space Odyssey or works by Osamu Tezuka. With childlike excitement that I couldn’t contain, I felt that I want to experience it as quickly as possible, and now Homma and his team are preparing to make it real.

It takes a little more, for Homma as well, to imagine the collection of big data, that is mass data taken from sensors, from these houses. But, with this as a basis, houses using artificial intelligence for home controls are something he is conscious of. In the past, this field has seen challengers in the area of communication robots here and there, with voice recognition controls by major home appliance makers and more recently in Vinclu’s Gatebox.

In other words, you arrive home and when you announce, “I’m home,” a robot turns on the lights while scanning your face for user recognition, and then uses your social data to recommend your favorite TV show–this is a glimpse of the world view. On top of allowing this to more fully develop, they will more intimately integrate with “the home itself.”

Maybe an autonomous driving house. — To borrow Homma’s words, perhaps in the future we may come into contact with such a product.

The reasons for focusing on Silicon Valley while facing the world playing field are its continued growth in population, high talent level of the population, and Homma remarked whoever is left standing here can become the “world standard.”

Nearly 20 years have passed since his days as a student entrepreneur.

Actually, I really thought someone would appear and solve this problem. But no one showed up so I’m going to do it.

Homma said this with a gleam in his eye, like someone ready and even eager to tackle all future obstacles.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka

Edited by Masaru Ikeda