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Tomoko Namba

It's a clever idea aimed at Japanese consumers tired of paying among the world's highest prices for everything from apples to TVs. A five-month-old dot-com called Oikura--"How much?" in Japanese--helps them sell used electronics, furniture, and other clutter to the highest bidder. is the third auction site launched by entrepreneur Tomoko Namba, 38, who runs the Internet startup DeNA.

Oikura was an immediate hit. Transactions have soared from an average of 400 a day in February to 1,000 a day in May. Here's how it works: There are 3,000 secondhand shops scattered across Japan registered with the site. Japanese post their goods, then the five shops nearest their home bid by e-mail or fax. Sellers select the highest bidder, money is exchanged, and the deal is done. "I'm not a fanatic [consumer advocate], but it's important that consumers have the power to buy and sell what they want," says Namba.

The idea first occurred to her while she was a student at Harvard Business School 10 years ago and she noticed, to her surprise, that even wealthy students were eager to buy used furniture. Although Oikura may not earn sellers much money, it can save them some. Japanese typically pay garbage collectors $10 or more to haul away big items like couches. And the government levies $40 to $50 on the disposal of used electronics. Namba's pain-free auction site should also cut down on illegal dumping.

Aside from Oikura, DeNA runs two other sites. One is an auction site that, like others, has been overwhelmed by the success of Yahoo! Inc. Japan's auction operation. The other is a site that auctions excess business inventory such as computers and desks.

Namba says she developed an ability to shift gears quickly between projects while working for marketing guru Kenichi Omae at McKinsey & Co. a decade ago. "Once I finish launching one business, I start working on another one," she says.

FEES. She may stick with Oikura, though. The site is free for consumers and businesses who want to sell their goods, but in August, Namba will start charging secondhand shops as much as $160 a month, depending on which categories of goods they purchase. Her ambitious goal is to double the number of shops registered to use the site, to 6,000, by yearend. Namba expects to generate one-third of DeNA's revenue from Oikura by 2002.

Investors are wholeheartedly behind Namba. DeNA just won a fourth round of funding worth $4.1 million from a group that includes Sony Communications, a unit of Sony Corp. As a first mover in the online reselling market, Oikura has an extremely loyal network of stores and sellers. Namba expects that loyalty to help DeNA turn a profit by yearend.

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