Funding will advance the infrastructure for post-COVID digital transformation and expand the company’s operations in Japan and new markets


tonari, a social venture building life-sized connected spaces, announced today a total seed and angel investment of ¥340 million (approx. $3.25 million). The investment was led by Tokyo-based One Capital, with participation from Mistletoe Japan, Leave a Nest Capital, ABBALab, and a small number of angel investors. The company will use the new capital to grow its team and expand commercial operations in Japan, followed by Asia and North America.

Technologies for remote work are changing how companies operate and grow. Companies are seeking to build more distributed and multi-national teams to achieve their business goals more efficiently and effectively, and gain access to talent in more locations. The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating this trend, causing huge shifts towards new work styles, and dispersion of talent from large hubs to smaller cities and suburbs where nature is closer and rents are cheaper.

Still, many companies don’t see the pandemic-forced transition to fully-remote work as sustainable. Those who work mainly from home often struggle with loneliness, feeling out-of-the-loop, and difficulty separating work from personal life. Co-presence, or being together in the same place, remains important for collaboration, trust, and informal communication -- and is a must-have for many who work in creative roles, sales, consulting, hiring, training, and more.

tonari builds life-sized video walls that seamlessly connect two distant locations, enabling people to remotely share the same physical space. The experience is natural, fast, and smooth, with floor-to-ceiling video, natural eye contact, clear audio, and ultra-low latency. When connecting distributed offices, schools, and satellite locations, tonari creates always-on and fully immersive spaces, allowing people to communicate and work naturally together.

A tonari installation connecting the company’s locations in Tokyo and Hayama.

A tonari installation connecting the company’s locations in Tokyo and Hayama.

“How will communication change post-COVID?” asked Taizo Son, Founder of Mistletoe. “The experience of communicating through tonari was astounding, even from the perspective of someone who has tried a huge number of communication tools. tonari is packed with the latest technology and design-thinking to focus purely on natural communication, and seeks to create a world where people separated by physical distance can still feel like they are right next to each other. I believe this experience will drive the next era of remote communication, and see massive opportunities for this startup.”

Shinji Asada, CEO & General Partner at One Capital, and former Head of Salesforce Ventures Japan said: “The new-norm of working remotely will stay for the foreseeable future. The video conferencing solutions available today are all optimized for PCs and smartphones. We will need a solution like tonari to replicate the face-to-face meeting experience that brings more authenticity to conversations. We are excited to start this new journey with the tonari team to provide a truly connected experience to customers here in Japan, and then to other markets.”

The software and hardware powering tonari are built from the ground up by an experienced and international team of engineers, delivering breakthrough performance with 2X speed, framerate, and resolution of existing best-in-class solutions. This is achieved through advanced low-level software development in Rust and careful selection and assembly of commercial and custom hardware components.

Ryo Kawaguchi, co-founder and CTO at tonari, added: “During early prototyping, we quickly realized that building tonari on top of existing video conferencing solutions won't get us anywhere close to what we’re trying to build. We decided to throw out a lot of old assumptions made by WebRTC and others, and build the full stack from scratch. In this way, we can go as low-level as necessary to achieve the best performance with the latest hardware and fine-tune the experience. The choices we’ve made to build new and more refined technologies for lifelike video and audio will enable tonari and future partners to deliver products and experiences that connect millions of people in the coming years.”

tonari was founded as a social venture in 2017 with grant funding from The Nippon Foundation. “We started tonari with a long view, considering how society will need to adapt to being more populous and globally connected. Only 5-10% of people fly each year, yet it accounts for nearly 3% of global emissions. What will happen when the rest of the world is ready to fly?” asked Taj Campbell, co-founder and CEO at tonari. “We urgently need to explore technological alternatives to long commutes and physical transit, to create a more connected and convenient society, while being kinder to ourselves and our planet. Our mission is to tackle these challenges and create new ways for people to work, learn, and be closer to their communities and families.”

tonari is available commercially for early adopters in Japan, and is already in use by customers like Frontier Consulting, a workplace design consultancy employing 250 staff across Tokyo and major cities in Japan, the US, and Vietnam. With new capital from investors, tonari will focus on building its team and growing commercial operations in Japan, while looking to extend to Asia and North America next year.

About tonari

tonari builds life-sized connected spaces, to create a world unbounded by distance, with access to work, education, and community everywhere. Founded as a social venture in 2017 by Google alumni Taj Campbell and Ryo Kawaguchi, today they are an experienced and multicultural team of 10, distributed between vibrant Tokyo and the tranquil seaside town of Hayama, about 1.5 hours apart.

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