Startup Studio

Ingenious minds behind “Sekai Camera” and the journey to “GAOGAO”: The reunion of two exceptional software engineers


In this article, we interviewed two of our seasoned and experienced software engineers, Kita-san and Kanji-san. They had previously worked at “Sekai Camera”, an app which had 3 million downloads and during the discussion, they shared about how they reunited unexpectedly at GAOGAO! They also talked about the commonalities between Tonchidot(Company which produced Sekai Camera) and GAOGAO and the allure of GAOGAO.

Meeting at a “delightfully insane” company that was striving to bring the world of manga to life


Were you acquainted during your time working at Tonchidot?

Kita: Although we weren’t in the same team and didn’t work together directly, we got to know each other through drinking parties. We stayed connected on Facebook afterward, so I had an inkling that Kanji-san was working at GAOGAO.

Kanji: Yes, that’s right. When I heard that Kita-san was conducting the interview, I was like, “Wait, you mean that Kita-san?” (laughs)

What drew you both to participate in Tonchidot, and what were its appealing factors?

Kita: I would say that Tonchidot’s charm lied in its delightfully insane approach to what it does! People who can come up with unconventional ideas are fundamentally crazy (laughs). At the time, there was no term like AR, and even in manga, there was no one who was trying to realize 3D space. I thought it was insane that they were trying to bring it to life in a serious way.

While anyone can dream, it takes a certain kind of person to actualize those dreams in a practical setting. I don’t mind absurd requests; Someone came to us like “Figure out a way to make this work!” So, I thought to myself, “Sure, let’s give it a try!” and decided to participate in the project.

Kanji: Same for me. I thought, “There’s a crazy company out there!”

When I was researching new and interesting technologies on the internet, I happened to come across Tonchidot. I didn’t know what things like Sekai Camera and AR were at the time. But I was shocked to see that there was a company out there doing crazy things in earnest.

Also, the CEO Iguchi-san, gave a presentation at TechCrunch in English (not fluent), and he captivated the audience’s hearts. I thought it was interesting that there were people with that kind of energy.

I was an embedded software engineer, so my field was completely different. But I wanted to get involved because they were making an impact overseas. At that time, Tonchidot wasn’t recruiting. But when I sent an email, they agreed to interview me. I didn’t even know what Android was, but when they asked me to try making an mobile app, I accepted it and ended up joining the company.

Priority is given to fun above all else

It’s truly remarkable how you exhibit such tremendous action despite your typically composed demeanor, Kanji-san. What were your thoughts when you first used “Sekai Camera”?

Kanji: To be honest, my initial impression was, “I don’t really know what to use this for.” But I definitely felt the freshness of something that hadn’t existed before. I didn’t know what it could be applied to, but I felt its potential for the future.

Kita: I had been involved in Sekai Camera for about a year before its release, and I was extremely excited about solving technical challenges.

Kanji: Indeed. At that time, smartphones were still immature both in terms of hardware and software compared to today and had many problems. Well, that was challenging and interesting.

Kita: Also, we knew from the development stage before the release that it seemed impossible to monetize. But we thought it had impact, so we released it anyway. Then, it exploded and became a huge hit! But as expected, we couldn’t monetize it. We were in a state where no one was thinking about how to monetize it and just focusing on making it fun.

Could you elaborate on the role of Tonchidot in your respective careers?

Kita: Oh, it was a great company. You know, when a company gets bigger, there are often issues with human relationships and other things, right? But there were none of those troublesome things. Everyone was just focused on the goal, which made it a really great company. I think it’s hard to find an organization or team like that.

Kanji: Yes, exactly. Both the software engineers and business people had the same mentality of “Let’s create something interesting.” Everyone shared that mindset, and there was no deviation from it.

Kita: That’s right, the purpose was clear. The foundation was to “Spread Sekai Camera around the world.” We were at the forefront of a new era, and everyone had the desire to leave a mark at that boundary!

Kanji: At Tonchidot, they had an incredibly skilled team of software engineers who were all focused on improving the product. They were constantly exploring new technologies, incorporating them, and creating what wasn’t available yet. There were no employees just taking orders; everyone worked together as a group of self-sufficient professionals.

Kita: Yes, in 2009, Tonchidot had gathered a group of super-skilled engineers with over 10 years of experience. They had only hired such individuals, people who could be CTOs or tech leads at other companies. They were all highly skilled engineers who solved technical problems while brainstorming different solutions. It was an environment where everyone said “we could do it like this, or we could do it like that.” Unfortunately, the company’s funding situation deteriorated, and we reluctantly had to leave.

We prioritized “going from 0 to 1” and being “unexplored” as our top objectives, and as a result…

And then, both of you went on separate career paths, but how did you end up reuniting at GAOGAO?

Kita: I simply found it interesting when I talked to Nakata-san and GAOGAO’s Co-Founder Mizuhata-san. It’s purely based on my instincts from past experiences, but it’s either the conversation clicks or it doesn’t when you first meet someone.

And, of course, it’s because we can create from scratch (0→1). That’s what I love about it. I get bored with stable operations. If someone comes up with an interesting service idea, I like to say “Let’s make it!” and create it.

I’ve always prioritized “being unexplored” when choosing my work. I’ve been making a new service about once a year so far.

GAOGAO is a startup studio, so to speak, a group that specializes in zero to one ventures.

Kanji: One of the things that makes GAOGAO interesting is the opportunity to be involved in various exciting start-ups and 0→1 projects for new businesses while working for a single company.

GAOGAO’s position “I want to start a business, let’s work with GAOGAO”

Kita: I believe GAOGAO could become a shining presence for people who want to start a business and create new ventures.

In this day and age, the first obstacle for people aspiring to become entrepreneurs is “Finding good engineers to work with”.

Even if they don’t hire the right engineers, they can easily outsource the work by paying money. But they won’t be able to tell whether the end product is technically correct or aesthetically pleasing. This can lead to various problems. When the business expands, it can lead to a huge disaster.

If they meet the right engineer who is technically and personally competent at the beginning, the start-up can start smoothly. Therefore, there are countless entrepreneurs who want to start a business, create new ventures, but don’t know how to find the right engineers. So I think it would be great if they could first consult GAOGAO!

Back in the 2000s, there was nothing like what we have now. It’s been about 20 years, and even relatively inexperienced engineers can create things by combining existing components or changing combinations. There are even jokes about “change-neers” instead of engineers. (laughs)

From the outside, this might look like “engineering”. But surprisingly few people can actually fix things when those existing components break. I wish I could explain this fact to non-engineers in an easy-to-understand way. In start-up communities, there are a lot of people like me.

Kanji: At GAOGAO, even young members in their 20s take ownership of their work and actively move forward, with a culture of everyone actually running the company rather than just top-down management.

There are members in their 20s who are even presidents of subsidiary companies, and members who are good at English create global teams and think about what they need to do to achieve business goals.

Why do such members gather together?

Kanji: GAOGAO has its own unique characteristics as an organization. The two founders don’t like to call themselves CEO or CTO. They insist on being referred to as co-founders and emphasize that the GAOGAO members are the real stars.

Rather than a company with a top-down management style, GAOGAO is more like a community where talented individuals gather and work together creatively, each taking initiative. Only those who can think for themselves and act creatively can survive here.

I believe GAOGAO is a great place for engineers who want to go independent or for those who feel stuck in their career path after enhancing their skills. When you work independently, you have to do work in areas outside of your expertise. However, at GAOGAO, you can focus on your specialty because you have a network of like-minded colleagues.

Both Tonchidot and GAOGAO have active and creative thinkers

Both of you have ended up in the same place, and I think there must be some similarities between them. What do you think?

Kanji: Both Tonchidot and GAOGAO share the same approach of not being top-down and instead encouraging individuals to think for themselves and move towards their goals.

Kita: Yes, that’s right. We gather individuals who are active-thinking. I don’t think Kanji-san or I would have participated in GAOGAO if we weren’t. We were attracted to that kind of atmosphere. It feels like we gathered like moths to a flame (laughs).

It’s exciting to think about their future 10 or 20 years from now. It’s possible that they might become like us. Well, whether that’s a good thing to aim for is a different story.

Kanji: I first met the GAOGAO members in Cebu, Philippines. And gradually became more involved with them. Even though I wasn’t officially part of GAOGAO, I found myself having lunch with them and being inspired by their energy and drive. I thought it was interesting, and before I knew it, I was caught up in it too.

In other companies, when requirements or demands come down, people might look at each other and wonder, “Who’s going to decide this?” or “What should we do?” But with the young members of GAOGAO, they identify the problem, share it, come up with solutions, and push forward. It’s impressive and makes work easier to move forward.

About the future

Kita: I don’t like the idea of not being able to do something, so I’m willing to do anything.

I want to continue being an engineer and be able to talk about business matters. I also don’t want to neglect design or business construction. I don’t know what to call it, but I call myself a general engineer because the term “full-stack” is already small. I have a desire to expand that framework even more.

Kanji: I’ve been honing my skills in software engineering. But no matter how much I improve my skills, there’s a limit to the amount I can do on my own. And I often have to refuse many development requests.

Therefore, now I’m focusing on creating an excellent development team. And that place is GAOGAO. I want to continue to help make GAOGAO a more effective development organization. While maintaining the flatness where each member can move independently, I want to create an organization and culture where the team can develop efficiently.

Interviewer: Wow, that’s impressive!

Kita: Is it about the head?

Kanji: Yes, I think I’m also sparkling.

Interviewer: Oh, no (laughs). Thank you very much for your valuable insights! Let’s meet again at the offline event next time.