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Rob Pereyda: 11 Startup Founders I've Met Who Are Shaking Up the Anime Industry

by Rob Pereyda (Paid Advertisement),

These are exciting times of growth for anime. With the market increasing in size by 6.8% in 2022, I'm both professionally and personally looking forward to seeing just how big anime will become globally over the next ten years. Concurrent with this growth are massive societal evolutions in how media is consumed, distributed, and monetized, powered by new technologies big and small (and sometimes even controversial).

Where we are now reminds me of the anime industry in 2008.

A little over sixteen years ago, I joined Crunchyroll as their first business hire, despite warnings from anime industry insiders who said, “Don't do it!” or “You're going to ruin your career!” Crunchyroll was shaking up the industry by removing barriers between the community and the content, and I wanted to be a part of it. Fast forward to later that year and we announced the simulcast for Naruto Shippuden with TV TOKYO and Shueisha. As of the end of 2023, Crunchyroll has over 13 million subscribers.

Now, leading Henshin, my own management consulting practice dedicated to the anime sector, I make it a point to speak to as many startup founders as I can who are touching different parts of the industry, including anime, manga, video games, VTubers, TCGs, and more. My goal is to understand these founders' visions and think about how they may affect the broader industry.

What follows is a list of those founders I've met who, in my view, are shaking up the industry.

11 Startup Founders I've Met Who Are Shaking Up the Anime Industry

Aaron Ng
Company: Hyper Aaron is a biohacker and technologist making VTubing easier for everyone. Since launching Hyper (YCombinator W21) on iOS in 2022, Aaron has helped create nearly a million new VTubers by making it easy to build and capture VTuber content without having to know how to model, rig, or code. Now, they're building a desktop tool with that same philosophy in mind: easy VTuber tools for everyone.

Alex “Zagabond” Xu
Company: Chiru Labs Alex is a Casio watch collector, a cigar enthusiast, and an entrepreneur with a vision for revolutionary new experiences in entertainment. He launched the Azuki NFT collection to great fanfare in 2022 and has since built upon its traction with new ideas like Azuki Golden Skateboard's physical-backed tokens, which set a record for most expensive skateboards ever sold. Now, he's making an Azuki anime with Goro Taniguchi and aiming to bring his innovations to broader audiences in anime and beyond.

Andrew Yang
Company: Parhelion Studio Andrew is a game producer and designer who believes that gaming is a vector for the expansion of global anime talent (and industry). He started Parhelion Studio this year and entered a16z's SPEEDRUN with the same group of friends he's been building games with since they won business competition at college eight years ago. With an upcoming slate of games that aim to deliver first-class anime visuals, Andrew is looking for Parhelion to help cultivate the next generation of global anime talent.

Brandon Chen
Company: Inspired Productions Brandon is a longtime anime and manga fan who didn't know any better when people said that only Japanese people get to write manga. Through his Inspired Productions banner, he's creating original content in English that captures the essences of shonen manga. Two of his hits, Just a Goblin and God Game, are each fast approaching 20 million views, and it looks like the sky's the limit for Brandon.

Company: N LITE Christiano is a storyteller who loves anime and is passionate about bringing untapped stories to life. He founded N LITE in 2019 to produce AFRIME (“afro-anime”), collaborative productions between top anime talent from Japan and abroad, and announcing MFINDA as his first film, bringing on board big names like GKIDS, JuVee Productions, Viola Davis, and Masao Maruyama. Now, he's building a studio in Tokyo to service N LITE's slate of originals and acquired IP as he expands N LITE into apparel, gaming, and more.

Coco Niita
Company: iKHOR Labs Coco is a Grammy-nominated music producer and artist who deeply believes in human creativity at its core. He founded iKHOR Labs (HF0 '23) to empower AI-enhanced human animators to revolutionize the anime industry. Since relocating his team to Japan in early 2024, he has actively been equipping animators with his machine learning-powered tools, designed to refine and accelerate 2D animation processes.

Cory Li
Company: Spellbrush Cory is an ex-synthetic biologist who has been in the AI industry since long before the current boom (dare we call him a pioneer?). He founded Spellbrush in 2018 to unite AI and anime, and since partnered with Midjourney to create the massively popular niji・journey. Now, Cory runs both niji and a small gaming studio, where he works on prototyping a new breed of anime games that focuses on boosting human creativity with the strength of AI-assisted workflows.

Demi Guo
Company: Pika Demi Guo is a former IOI medal-winning programmer and coach (and big anime fan) who believes that anyone should be able to make professional-quality videos with ease. So, a year ago, she dropped out of her Stanford AI PhD program to found the generative video platform Pika. Now, Demi and her team enable millions of people to tell their stories in ways they never could before.

Dylan Telano
Company: VoyceMe Dylan is a former professional esports player and author who wants fans to be able to interact with the stories they love. Just days after winning his college's entrepreneurship competition in 2021, Dylan launched the God Game webcomic on VoyceMe, with over 20 million views to date. Now, Dylan is aiming to build VoyceMe into the ultimate fan-driven anime experience and include manga production, distribution, creator tools, anime, merchandise and more all on one platform.

Rob Latt
Company: Yodayo Rob is an ex-finance professional, longtime gamer, and anime fan who believes anyone should be able to express their love for anime and make content, regardless of their innate artistic ability. When he founded Yodayo in 2022, it quickly gained traction as an app for VTuber fans to come together and share content of their favorite creators. Now, Yodayo is a social-first AI creative hub where more than 100,000 anime fans get together daily and create.

Shunsuke “Captain” Oyu
Company: AnotherBall Captain is a serial entrepreneur who keeps turning his love of anime and VTubers into successful businesses. As an early investor in ANYCOLOR (Nijisanji) and Founder of PRISM Project, he founded AnotherBall in 2022 and knows firsthand that anime and technology can change the way people create. Now, he's doing just that with AniLive, AnotherBall's VTubing app, and Studio Mayflower, a newly acquired anime studio.

While we can't predict with certainty how the disruptive innovations these founders are pursuing will play out in the long term, we can say that each of them has a clear and compelling thesis.

A Few Closing Threads…

Disruption on the Low End: Much in the way YouTube and TikTok free content has emerged as a viable alternative to legacy media, I believe there is a classic disruptive innovation opportunity for faster and cheaper options to anime, starting at the “lower end.” There is always going to be high-end anime, but two emerging options to satisfy low-end consumption are: The rise of VTubing technology alongside its falling costs (e.g. “Can VTubing get good enough to be ‘good enough’ for the casual anime watcher?”). Rapid advancements in generative AI (e.g. possible regulatory and ethical questions aside, will it be “good enough” for just enough people?).

Outsiders Making Anime: Thus far, the outsiders who have made a name for themselves in anime production in Japan have done so through assimilation; that is, they may be non-Japanese, but they worked on bona fide Japan-style productions in Japanese (which I believe has been the right approach). What's different now is we are seeing a combination of creatives with truly massive visions and ambitions who are willing to partner with local talent. I think it's only a matter of time before we see a top anime film or series that unifies both creative traditions.

Anime and Web3: Web3 never made a big splash in everyday society like the true believers were hoping, but maybe that's exactly what it needed. In the world of banking, JPMorgan is using the blockchain to flexibly interact with traditional financial systems and it's actually doing some neat, and practical, stuff that couldn't be done without the blockchain. While I can't imagine another new collection of 5,000-10,000 anime JPEGs doing much to disrupt anime, I think that if there is any way for anime and the blockchain to actually work together, it's going to be the JPMorgan approach.

Henshin is a full-service management consulting practice dedicated to the anime sector and was founded by Rob Pereyda, the first business hire at Crunchyroll (2008-11) and former Head of Anime, Editorial & Publishing at Netflix (2020-22). Visit henshin.com for more information.

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