Bringing Instagram Into the Digital Media Spotlight (Part 1)
Lxgic Inc. President and Representative Director Kenta Hiruma started Lxgic Inc. in June of 2015. This company is launching a service called Expaus in which companies that want to promote services or merchandise are matched with influential Instagram users. While there are many companies that use Instagram as a tool for PR, it is the first platform in Japan where Instagramers and companies are connected. We sat down with 23 year old Mr. Hiruma and spoke with him about how he built a platform to connect businesses with influential Instagram users and what his vision is.
What led you to focus on Instagramers and create the service Expaus?Kenta Hiruma (a.k.a Mr. Hiruma): I had experience with starting my own business since I was in my 1st year at University and felt that I should focus only on things that I enjoyed. When I was a student I often heard from employed graduates and classmates that working in a company was boring, or that they choose a company because the conditions were good, and that’s when I felt that I wanted to make a society in which people were able to make money doing what they love, that way everyone would be happier. When I thought about who would be able to make what they enjoy into work, Instagramers came to mind. Companies will pay if they feel that there is value in amateurs pursing hobbies they enjoy and taking great photos during this pursuit. That is where the idea came from. When I went to see the photo shoots of these Instagramers who are registered on Expaus, they had camera and lighting equipment in their homes that would put professionals to shame. These people describe what they are doing as simply an extension of their hobbies, and I thought that this is the way to live. In America there are already many Instagramers who are earning money by acting in a professional PR capacity, and I know in Japan the number of influential Instagramers are increasing; and with previous examples of success, I believed this business would experience growth. That is a great idea. How have you been cultivating that strategy?Mr. Hiruma: What I am trying to keep in mind is searching for market places that people have yet to occupy. For example there are already several companies in Japan that use Instagramers as a form of advertising and PR. However these businesses are primarily talent agencies, and there is yet to be a platform that allows Instagramers and companies to connect directly. Moreover brokerage fees are typically expensive and I realized this to be a problem as the payout for the Instagramers are little. That is when I decided that a platform such as Expaus could take the approach of allowing companies to search and match with their desired Instagramer. The Instagramer is then involved in price negotiations, which allows them more control over their income, and the monthly fees are very reasonable which makes it easier for small and medium companies to join as well. With this stucture, I felt that both parties would feel that they benefited.Moreover, I made sure to thoroughly investigate the market before starting up the business. I would research other overseas pioneering examples on the internet, and if I felt that it was interesting I would call the entrepreneur right away and ask what points I should be careful to consider. There are several examples of businesses connecting with influencers in America, and I was glad to be able to learn from these cases. Thanks to this, we are currently at 1,800 registered Instagram users as of June 2016. Wow, 1,800 users and it has only been 1 year since you started this business. What is the secret to gathering Instagramers?Mr. Hiruma: I believe the key is creating a trusting relationship, While we collaborate with brands, we feel the Instagramers schedule, pictures they want to take, or comments they want to leave are critical. As for the demands of the companies, we support the Instagramers so that these companies feel that this PR is paying off. In this way, by ensuring that the Instagramers are satisfied, each user becomes more trusting, and through this relationship we are spread through networking and word of mouth, and as a result the number of registered users increase. It is a virtuous cycle. When you were establishing Expaus, why didn’t you accept any funding from Venture Capitalists?Mr. Hiruma: When we started we had the goal of establishing the business with our own resources – without accepting funding. From the beginning stages of starting the service, we received great reviews from PR and Branding staff that they became clients right away. Moreover, there was no need to scale our service right away. We wanted to expand our service slowly as we established relationships with Instagramers, which meant that we did not need abundant funds from the beginning which was another reason we did not accept any funding.
Continues in Part 2