Plenty of people at NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NTDMY ), Japan's dominant wireless carrier, helped make a success of i-mode, the two-year-old mobile Internet access service that today boasts some 25 million subscribers. But there's one individual who stands out as a linchpin in this story--Takeshi Natsuno, the guru of i-mode content.
A graduate of Wharton Business School, Natsuno gets the credit for designing a profitable, info-entertainment wireless platform that has morphed into Japan's biggest market success in years. He lured high-quality content providers with a micropayments scheme that enables providers to charge fees for their services--ranging from horoscopes to stock quotes. While PC-based sites are scrambling for a source of revenue, DoCoMo's content partners each charge up to $3 per user in monthly fees, which DoCoMo collects for them. "To become profitable ourselves, we have to motivate and enrich the content providers," says Natsuno.
His ideas are paying off. DoCoMo takes 9% in royalties from content providers, plus $3 per month for each i-mode subscription. But the biggest money generators are the charges for data sent and received by users. Revenues from data services soared 840%, to $2.8 billion, in the business year ended Mar. 31.
The 36-year-old Natsuno doesn't want to stop there. He's dreaming up a new generation of wireless applications to take advantage of higher transmission speeds. Natsuno is also out to prove that i-mode, or parts of it, can translate overseas. If these ventures succeed, many people will claim credit. But Natsuno should be remembered as the one who lit the fire.