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Interview of AI Startup From Estonia: Merits of Collaborating With Japanese Companies

(Japan, UK, Estonia)
November 25, 2020

Realeyes OÜ (Realeyes) is a London-based startup from Estonia that develops emotion analysis technology using artificial intelligence (AI). Even amid the new coronavirus pandemic, the company is actively pursuing business development in Japan. In July 2020, they agreed a strategic partnership with NEC Corporation (NEC), and in October 2020, announced development of an emotion analysis service for video communications that combines both companies’ technologies.

To better understand the company’s global strategy, merits of collaborating with Japanese companies, and others, an interview with Ms. Kyoko Tanaka, Managing Director of Realeyes Japan, was conducted. (October 30)

  • Q.

    Tell us about the business overview of Realeyes and its competitive advantages?

    A.

    Founded in 2007 in Tallinn, Estonia, Realeyes specializes in AI-based emotion analysis technology, and currently has about 75 employees. As the business expands, it has moved its management functions to London. It also has a development team in Budapest, Hungary, with approximately 40 engineers in computer vision, machine learning, and data science. Furthermore, the company has marketing offices in New York and Tokyo.

    Our primary advantage is the size and quality of our database. We have collected over 30,000 videos from 81 countries worldwide, and process the data by considering cultural and ethnic backgrounds. It allows us to develop AI algorithms and training data that can detect emotions more precisely.

Realeyes’ emotion analysis service (photo by the company)

Realeyes’ emotion analysis service
(photo by the company)

  • Q.

    Is there a unique culture as an Estonian startup?

    A.

    The company’s culture is similar to that of startups in the West Coast (US), which I experienced for a long time as I used to live there. If there is one thing that is Estonian, it would be that Estonians cherish the spirit of being who they are no matter where they are. Estonia has a historical background of being dominated by various countries, apparently leading to government initiatives like e-government (which does not concern physical affiliation). As a whole, the company has a lot of positive and energetic people and is very open.

  • Q.

    How did Realeyes come to collaborate with NEC?

    A.

    To develop our services in the Asia Pacific (APAC) market, we felt that a partnership with another company was essential. NEC has world-class technologies in facial recognition and computer vision, and they had an early and deep understanding of our business area of emotion analysis. Considering their corporate philosophy and history as well, we decided to work with NEC because we felt we had a strong affinity.

  • Q.

    Was there any impact of the new coronavirus outbreak?

    A.

    Since we deal with software, there was no significant impact on the business negotiations, which proceeded smoothly. In terms of the market, there are both good and bad sides. The stay-home market has been a tailwind, but the advertising market, our main battleground, has been affected by the poor financial performance of business companies that serve as advertisers.

  • Q.

    From the perspective of a startup from Europe, what are the general expectations for collaboration with Japanese companies and the Japanese market?

    A.

    In the beginning, the head office presumed that there would be considerable challenges in doing business with Japan. However, after going ahead with businesses in Japan, several things have turned out to be misunderstandings. Japan will be the gateway to the APAC market, and I feel that the regulations for startups to start and expand in Japan have become better than before. It is also possible to team up with major Japanese companies and laterally deploy in other countries. In our company’s case, by attacking the European and American markets while also promoting business development from Japan, we have an image of a global market being sandwiched between the East and West. From a different perspective, the Japanese market is highly mature and has a high level of technical requirements from Japanese companies, and if you can meet those requirements, you can sell your products anywhere in the world. Another feature of Japanese companies is that they collaborate systematically using a step-by-step approach.

  • Q.

    Looking forward, what activities do you plan to do in Japan?

    A.

    We will create mechanisms to expand sales through media advertising, which is our main battlefield. Furthermore, we intend to collaborate with NEC on a deeper level in the future to explore diverse possibilities of emotion analysis technology.

Realeyes’ representatives in charge of launching Realeyes Japan. Ms. Tanaka is in the center.
(Photo by the company)

Report by:
ITO Yoshihiko, Director of Investment Team, JETRO London
Gavin Burns, Business Development of Investment Team, JETRO London

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