Founder Guest Post: By Ken Fukazawa, CEO of Tyffon, makers of ZombieBooth and Show Your Disney Side
“Why don’t you apply to the Disney Techstars accelerator program? I think it’d be perfect for your company.”
A friend of mine said this to me about two weeks before the deadline for applications for the program. The main product of our company, Tyffon, is an app called ZombieBooth 2 that turns selfies into zombies. At that time, the app already had over 20 million downloads across the series, but the majority of users were men in their 20s and 30s. The nature of the app and its target demographics might not be considered suitable for Disney.
I’m not sure what made my friend think that the Disney accelerator would be a fit for my app, but once I had the idea in my head – I couldn’t let it go…
How it All Began: Inspired by Disney’s Haunted Mansion
I’ve always been inspired by Disney. When I was four years old and first visited Disneyland, their “Haunted Mansion” made a strong impression on me. The high artistic quality and variety of tricks made me feel as if I had entered a fantasy world, which inspired me to want to create similar things in the future. Based on this experience, I started to draw scary pictures of skulls, ghosts and zombies, growing up to become a child that loved frightening people. Without these experiences, ZombieBooth may have never been born.
When it came to apply for the program, I was apprehensive since there was very little time to prepare everything and because English is my second language, it made it even more challenging. In spite of all this, I completed our application before the deadline and we were selected to join the program!
Up until then, we had done business completely on our own, without any mentors or networking, simply developing code in earnest from a small apartment. At the time, the company was comprised of just three of us living in Tokyo, but we soon headed to L.A. to participate in the program. The four months we spent in the program were the busiest and the most fulfilling of our lives…
Working with our Sphero Heroes
The Disney Techstars program was an amazing experience for our company. One reason was that the other participants were from truly awesome companies. When the Sphero robotic ball first launched in Japan, I bought one straight away and fell in love with it. When I got to the U.S., I was shocked to learn that one of our fellow cohort companies at Disney Accelerator was Sphero! The other companies also had tons of experience and cool products, so being able to sit with them side by side, sharing the experience of building our business and giving each other advice, was an extremely stimulating and meaningful experience.
The Power of the Network
Another benefit of this program is the 100+ mentors to guide you. Getting advice directly from respected experts, such as Disney executives, was extremely valuable. New ideas and different ways of thinking became ingrained in our thought process which helped to clarify our direction.
On top of this, we were introduced to so many new companies and people — and this was the thing that was the most directly beneficial for us — the network. Until then, our company had only done business in Japan and, therefore, we had very little connections in the U.S. However, by the time we finished the program, we had so many connections with many mentors, the people they introduced to us, Techstars’ staff, alumni, and more. From this network, we were able to meet with people from Disney Parks & Resorts, which then led us to developing an app in partnership with Disney…
Show Your Disney Side
Our new app, called Show Your Disney Side, allows you to transform your selfie into a variety of Disney characters such as Anna, Elsa, and Star Wars characters. The photo after the transformation moves around as if it were alive, allowing you to swipe the screen to make the eyes and face move, and also by tapping the screen you can make characters do special effects such as making it snow (if you are Anna). As with the Haunted Mansion characters (the ones that originally inspired me on this journey), the app was designed so you can unlock special content by physically going to the Disney theme park.
When Demo Day was finished, we were allowed to use the Disney Accelerator office, which was very close to the Disney campus, allowing us to walk to meetings and make progress while maintaining frequent communications with others. Everyone at Disney is extremely creative, and we were able to learn a lot from them as we developed our projects together right next to them.
Media Coverage Boost
From this direct networking, another great benefit was that we were able to grow our company’s presence externally. Right after Demo Day, the LA Times posted a large article featuring Tyffon, and after Show Your Disney Side was released, they also featured an article about the app and our company. We were also featured in a variety of media which allowed us to promote our company and our products much more widely. Without our participation in this program, it would have been very difficult for a no-name company like ours, without any marketing or promotional activities to speak of, to be featured in such influential media!
Give First Really Means Something
We received many more benefits from this program, but the last one I’d like to mention is the amazing people from Techstars. The team there gave their full support to all the participants, working hard to make the program as effective as possible. They truly live their value of “Give First.” Without the kind and professional support we received from all the staff, as well as our Managing Director, Cody Simms, we would have never been able to achieve these results. Not only that, even after the program was finished, they have continued to help us out in many ways and we have experienced first hand the “power of the network.”
The Techstars global ecosystem has proven to be extremely valuable for the future life of our company and we are proud to be a part of it — Techstars for life!
To apply for the Disney Accelerator Powered by Techstars, apply HERE. Deadline April 19th.
(Are you a Techstars founder with a story to tell? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how you have experienced the “power of the network!”)