Startup Success: Qufooit goes global, from Tokyo to London via Lisbon

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A selfie photograph of three people at Web Summit 2023. The person taking the selfie has their mouth open, and the other two people are smiling. In the background is a large, lit-up Web Summit logo.

In our series exploring successful startup stories at our events, we sat down with Qufooit founder and CEO Kazuo Ikeda.

Qufooit is an adtech company founded in Japan in 2016, though now headquartered in the UK and aiming for a global audience.

Exhibiting as a BETA startup at Web Summit 2023 as part of the British pavilion, founder Kazuo Ikeda spoke with us about his experience of the event and what it has meant to his business journey.

As it turns out, for Kazuo, Web Summit was a life-changing experience.

Taking a Japanese startup global

Before founding Qufooit, Kazuo – who has a background in philosophy – had previously worked at a web advertising agency, and was responsible for generating new ideas and pushing innovation.

Tasked with developing new products, Kazuo eventually came up with an idea to optimise in-site results through smarter, harder-working native search.

“Qufooit is a gamechanging force in the search industry, unique for being the sole company globally to collect web users’ insight data,” said Kazuo. “Our patented AI-powered search engine addresses the challenge of low web-user engagement, understanding users’ needs, and boosting revenue and page views for web publishers, ecommerce businesses and advertisers.”

“Freshly launched in the UK, [the company has] already had success in Japan, collaborating with more than 600 web publishers – including the Swiss national broadcasting company – with secured patents in the US and Japan,” added Kazuo.

What perhaps makes Kazuo unusual is that, although coming from Japan, the founder has always had the global market in mind.

According to Ezra Vogel’s book Japan as Number One, many startups in Japan limit themselves to the domestic market, but not Qufooit. “I was looking for a global conference,” said Kazuo.

The startup had a CMO, Jindo Otsuka, who had been to Web Summit as a general attendee and recommended the event.

Kazuo, rather than applying to be part of the Japanese trade delegation at Web Summit, made an independent application to be part of ALPHA. “I didn’t think I would pass the selection process for Web Summit,” said Kazuo, “because it is the greatest tech conference in the world”.

Making a life-changing connection at Web Summit 2019

The application was a success. This immediately attracted a lot of attention at home in Japan, where the decision to apply independently and succeed was considered highly unusual.

Some people attend Web Summit with an open schedule, hoping for coincidence and serendipity. But Kazuo came to the event with a plan: to go global.

While attending the event, the founder had several fruitful discussions with investors and cultivated some new customers. “I could make some global networks with investors and potential clients and others,” Kazuo said.

The most important connection, though, was made with the UK government.

After a discussion at the UK’s pavilion, Kazuo was encouraged to apply for their Global Entrepreneur Programme and move the business to the UK. The founder was put in contact with a facilitator to aid Qufooit’s entry into the British market.

Upon being accepted into the global entrepreneur programme, Kazuo received an ‘Innovator Founder visa’, and although Qufooit maintains a base in Japan, Kazuo now lives in Maidenhead, UK.

Returning to Web Summit in 2023

The move from Japan to Europe has not been without its difficulties. “The differences between Japan have been very difficult. In particular, they have very distinct forms of law,” said Kazuo.

Since the Web Summit-inspired move to the UK, Kazuo has grown Qufooit from revenue of UK£1 million to UK£4 million.

In 2023, the founder returned to Web Summit with the goal of further expanding the business to the European market, and has so far been in contact with several investors. “Thankfully, so far, investors have been very impressed with the product,” said Kazuo.

The founder advises attendees to follow the same strategy: two weeks before you come to Web Summit, start researching and making contacts on the app.

For founders attending Web Summit, Kazuo advised: “If you want to expand your business in the world, you should definitely apply for Web Summit, because this event will give you confidence to expand your vision and ideas into the world, with global networking. For instance, if I did not exhibit at Web Summit 2019, I would still be in Japan as the CEO of a domestic company. However, now I am living in the UK, expanding my business around the world. This is the evidence of the power of Web Summit.”

When asked if he would recommend Web Summit to other founders, Kazuo said “I already have. Web Summit gave me huge confidence to grow my product, to grow my turnover. If I didn’t exhibit at Web Summit, I would have no distribution. Everything is thanks to Web Summit.”

Main image of Kazuo Ikeda, on the right, with the Qufooit team at Web Summit 2023:

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