Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Tomonori Kagaya

Wise Words

We caught up with the visionary founder of Neurowear to hear more about his recent efforts to deliver music based on the listener's emotions.

We’re now reaching a point where technology is almost advanced enough to be able to detect what consumers are thinking better than they can themselves. That’s one of the things that spurred Tokyo-based Tomonori Kagaya to found Neurowear, a startup that’s preparing for a future where emotion-reading is accurate enough to deliver the right content to consumers at exactly the right time.

Kagaya worked on a number of projects ranging from an interactive augmented reality game that encouraged residents of Japan to travel around to find and catch digital butterflies, to music based on local wind data before creating Neurowear in 2010. The startup’s first product was Necomimi, novelty cat’s ears that wiggle based on wearer’s emotions, which was picked as one of Time’s 50 Best Inventions of 2011. Kagaya recently expanded on the idea to create Mico, a pair of headphones that play music that matches the mood of the person wearing them. We asked Tomonori to explain what drives him and his ideas.

1. Where did the idea for Mico come from?

We can listen to over 16 million songs if we use music subscription services like Spotify, Pandora or Rdio, etc. but there is a big problem. How do we “encounter” new music? Search is practical only when you can describe what you want verbally. It’s often like this when someone describes music they like: “Its speedy, dark, heavy, its a little bit different from rock, its like… like… uh… wolves are running, and sometimes gorillas run… you know…” You cannot search for something that you can’t put into words. If we don’t know the title, artist name, genre, then how can we find the song? We need another approach. Don’t go searching for music, let music find you – that must be a new experience. So we made Mico.

2. Can you describe a typical working day?

Come to the office, think about the future, communications, technology. Meet people, creators, entrepreneurs, writers. Write down some of the new ideas that appear from those discussions. Then, talk about ideas with team members and start building the concept.

3. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Mico?

Visit new cities, walk around. Find a new restaurant, drink with friends.

4. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

Create a new concept.

5. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Having to keep on schedule makes me irritated.

6. What motivates you to keep going?

Encounters with new experiences. I’m always looking for a new experience – that makes me excited.

7. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Collect more user data, at least 1000 times larger than we have done.

8. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

We’ll continue developing our listening experience and we want to see more than a million people using our service. To make it, we’ll continue to create new headphones and build our neuro-music database.

9. If you weren’t working on Mico, what would you be doing?

I would make another new prototype that enables people to have novel encounters with media.

10. Tell Springwise a secret…

All new ideas comes from dreams.

11. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Good luck!