“So where are you planning to go next?” asked the hotel receptionist in Tokyo, expecting us to list some of the usual tourist places.
“Fukui!” both David and I responded, full of enthusiasm.
The receptionist looked confused. “Why? What is in Fukui?” he asked.
We could of course have mentioned the famous Tonjinbo cliffs, Fukui castle or the prominent dinosaur museum. Those are exciting attractions, they were just not the reason that we were going to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Fukui. We were more interested in meeting with trend-setters than dinosaurs – we had a meeting with Kenji Hiranabe, CEO of ESM, Inc. and CTO of Change Vision, Inc. David talked about Kenji and ESM, Inc. in a previous blog, in this second instalment, I want to concentrate on Change Vision, Inc.
Change Vision, Inc was founded by Kenji in 2006 to develop and market Astah. As an engineer Kenji worked with many software tools that were mechanically right but not user friendly. He dreamed of something more intuitive, something that would align with developer’s logical thought processes and their imagination, something that would allow them to share these thoughts with others. He decided to create Astah, an editor for creating UML diagrams, mind maps, flow diagrams, use cases and much more. Models and diagrams can be shared among teams, integrating with several tools such as Confluence. Astah Professional is built in close collaboration with users, it consistently scores highly in user reviews and it is regarded as a high-quality and user-friendly tool. Simplicity, quality and community were, and still are the top priorities of Change Vision and Astah.
Satomi Joba, Head of Communications, gave us a tour around the office and explained a bit more about Change Vision, Inc. and how a smart strategy of building a strong community around the product helps them to succeed. She told us that one of the Change Vision team’s strengths is the ability to build and maintain strong relationships with their users. Over the years they have built up an Astah community, one that everyone involved with the product is a member of; end users, programmers, marketing, communications and resellers. The close collaboration between community members contribute to Astah’s continuous success. An example of this collaboration is the ‘Friends of Astah’ initiative, launched in 2011 to thank and strengthen the Astah community further. As a Friend of Astah, members are encouraged to spread the word about the product, for example in blogs, at conferences and meet ups etc. As a reward, the member receives benefits such as a free Astah Professional licence. The Friends of Astah initiative helps Change Vision, Inc. kill many birds with one stone. Satomi Joba’s passion for the product and infectious personality made me want to become a friend of Astah even though my profession is not the main target audience. I was happy to settle with becoming a personal friend of Satomi and Kenji.
This word of mouth approach is a relatively inexpensive way for Change Vision to reach their worldwide target audience and potential prospects. And the Friends of Astah truly believe in the product, all are users and are highly knowledgeable about the product. Who else would be better to promote Astah? As the number of license holders increases, the number of users that actively participate in the community increases, giving more visibility on how users from varied industries and countries use the product and what their needs are. This enables the Change Vision, Inc. team to continuously adapt and improve their products. Existing Astah users are kept engaged and happy and Friends of Astah can also give the Change Vision, Inc. team visibility of the latest trends in their industries.
Satomi told us that the Friends of Astah initiative has been phenomenal. The initiative has been rewarding in ways that they could never have imagined. One Friend of Astah in Brazil, Carlos, told Satomi and the team how he used Astah to create a “flood-alerting” system as an open source project. It made everyone at Change Vision Inc. very proud to be part of a project that is actually helping people’s lives on the other side of the world.
Satomi also recalled another milestone. A few years ago Change Vision, Inc. had its 10th year anniversary, and they wanted to mark the occasion with an anniversary party. To surprise Kenji and all of the team, Satomi asked the Astah friends to create a short video message. She did not have to wait too long for a response, the next day the numerous video messages started to pour in from all over the world. Satomi called upon her media editing skills and the result was a heart-warming video compilation that was watched by Kenji and all of the team members at the party. Everyone was touched by the enormous love and support from the Astah friends. Special moments like this gave Kenji, Satomi and all the team the courage and desire to go on for another 10 years at least. It was truly powerful and not something anybody at Change Vision, Inc. imagined would ever happen when launching the friends of Astah program.
Satomi showed us the Friends of Astah world map, displayed in the middle of the office so everyone could see it. The map is continuously updated and shows all of the Friends of Astah, a license holder indicated with a small sticky dot and grouped by country (as a Dutch citizen I was very pleased to see our little country is doing well on the Astah map). Different colour dots showed us the new license holders by year.
The map indicated that the user base in Germany had been growing significantly. Satomi explained that the main factor of this growth was due to HIS GmbH, a company based in Hannover that provides a Campus Management System for higher education institutions across the country. HIS GmbH has used Astah to develop a web-based system for the administration of the student life-cycle, from enrolment to graduation. As their standards have spread, more universities have adopted Astah to refine their own systems. A few years ago, Kenji and Satomi flew all the way from Japan to Germany to pay HIS GmbH a visit and learn more about the work they do. Additionally, they also wanted to express their appreciation to the people at HIS GmbH for being such a long term loyal user of the product. This is part of Kenji’s philosophy of fully embracing the value of “face to face communication” which helps to build trust and relationships with users. Since the visit, Satomi told us that more communications between Change Vision, Inc and HIS GmbH emerged, and sales in German academic institutions keep on increasing.
With a great product, a strong community and smart initiatives Change Vision, Inc. have put themselves prominently on the world map.