This rockstar banker from Japan built a startup that fuses media and fintech
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Zuu founder and CEO Kazumasa Tomita. Photo Credit: Tech in Asia

After resigning from his lucrative gig at Nomura, Kazumasa Tomita founded Zuu, one of Japan’s largest and fastest growing finance-related media sites

Tech in Asia

Kazumasa Tomita was a rockstar at Nomura Securities, Japan’s largest (and oldest) brokerage firm. He entered the private banking department fresh out of university, dealing solely with high-net-worth individuals. In his first year, Kazumasa set the sales record for Nomura’s private banking division. By his third year, he was the top salesperson in the entire company.

With a streak like that, you’d probably expect him to ride the wave and retire young. Really young. But instead of sailing off into the sunset on a giant yacht, Kazumasa left Nomura to build a startup. He hasn’t left the world of finance entirely, though.

In his college days, he built a social marketing startup out of his dorm room. Despite his many milestones and superlatives as a banker, Kazumasa’s entrepreneurial spirit remained. A traditional bank, with its endless sales cycles, was too rigid for him. The longer he spent at Nomura, the more frustrated he became.

“I never actually considered spending my whole career in finance,” he tells Tech in Asia. “I noticed so many inefficiencies in the traditional corporate finance world. You could buy a mutual fund online with a commission of less than one percent, but Nomura and the other big firms would charge three to four percent. Since the bank’s mission is to generate commissions, brokers encourage an endless stream of buying and selling.”

“Initially, I thought these issues only existed in Japan, but I encountered the same issues in Singapore and the U.S. as well,” he continues. “I realized there are so many opportunities for innovating the finance industry.”

Two and a half years ago, after resigning from his lucrative gig at Nomura, Kazumasa founded Zuu, one of Japan’s largest and fastest growing finance-related media sites. It offers a variety of news and columns related to banking, securities, equity, real estate, insurance, and taxes – each written by an expert in one of those sectors. While many of Japan’s hottest media-related startups focus on “curation” (Japan’s preferred term for aggregation), Zuu focuses entirely on original content. But that’s not all.

Flexibility

Photo Credit: Zuu Online

Photo Credit: Zuu Online

Zuu Online currently attracts 2.5 million monthly unique users and more than 10 million total monthly page views. Kazumasa says its user base has grown 17-fold since last year.

More than 600 contributors from Zuu’s network of 5,000 Japanese finance industry insiders submit between 20 and 30 articles per day. Another 80 in the U.S. produce content for the English language sister site, though it hasn’t been updated since January. Traction data for that version is undisclosed, as the team has been focused on growing its domestic presence first.

“Many of our competitors are focusing on aggregation, producing only two or three original finance-specific articles a day,” Kazumasa says.

With professional writers commanding upwards of JPY 30,000 ($250) per article, it would be difficult for a startup to afford such a large amount of content. Zuu gets away with paying them just JPY 3,000-5,000 ($25-42) by offering flexibility.

“We let our network of professionals choose what to write about,” Kazumasa explains. “They can write anytime, with no deadline, so it’s a good use of their free time.”

Zuu has a number of media partners in Japan that ensure its content is seen by the masses. They include Yahoo Japan (the biggest portal for news in Japan), Google News, Huffington Post Japan, Rakuten Infoseek, and Excite. Zuu content is also available on popular Japanese news aggregation apps SmartNews, NewsPicks, and Gunosy.

Diversified portfolio

Zuu began as an online media startup, but Kazumasa is tapping into his finance background and extensive network in the banking world to add more traditional fintech services to his company roster.

Zuu Advisors is a matching service that connects users with real-word financial planners and accountants.

Our readers tend to fall into the 30 to 50 age group, are 80 percent male, and are at the top of their respective fields – company CEOs, directors, and upper-management at major banks, trading companies, ad agencies, and so on. Between our affiliate advertising and Zuu Advisors, we can send these people to real financial institutions. If they open an account, we get paid. We’ve monetized better than any of our rivals in this regard.

Zuu Signals, slated to launch by the end of the year, is an online portfolio management platform that allows users to get an instant snapshot of their assets. It places a “traffic signal” next to each asset, which suggest when to buy, sell, or hold based on stock performance, M&A developments, and major corporate announcements.

Zuu also runs a premium real estate portal and has partnered with several big players in the Japanese real estate business. It’s a smart move for a startup that – much like in Kazumasa’s banking days – serves a large number of high-net-worth users.

So why did he go the media route before the straight-up fintech side?

“The first reason is simple – it’s easy to start a media site,” Kazumasa says. “When I started Zuu, we didn’t have an engineer, so I created the site myself.”

“The second reason is that, even though there’s a lot of professional information on the internet already, I think some areas are lacking – especially medical, legal, and finance,” he continues. “These are highly specialized areas, so not everyone can write about them.”

Expanding the empire

In August 2014, Zuu raised JPY 105 million ($1 million) from a group of high-caliber domestic angel investors, including Takeshi Natsuno, an outside director for Gree, Transcosmos, and several other leading Japanese companies. Until that point, Kazumasa had bootstrapped almost entirely on his own, taking less than 10 percent of the initial capital necessary to get the business of the ground from an advisor.

Earlier this week, the startup announced JPY 450 million ($3.75 million) in series A funding from Fenox Venture Capital. It will use the money to facilitate global expansion and recruitment, primarily in the U.S. and Southeast Asia. Zuu has 30 employees at present.

The investment will also help Zuu Online ramp up its English content offerings.

“We want to enter Asian markets where wealthy individuals consume news in English,” Kazumasa says. “We’re specifically targeting Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. We’re also considering opening new offices in Singapore and the U.S. west coast.”

If Kazumasa’s ambition could take him to the top of Nomura in just three years, he’s got as good a chance as any to turn his startup into a global financial media empire.

Editing by Judith Balea.

This post was originally published on Tech in Asia

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