You could live without a cell phone that lets you download restaurant reviews and Daffy Duck screensavers. Yes, you could, but Cybird, a mobile Internet-content provider in Tokyo, is betting you won't want to.
CEO Robert Kazutomo Hori's revolutionary idea--to charge subscription fees to cell-phone users for online content--helped hatch Japan's mobile-Internet industry. In Japan, 57 million connect to the Internet on their cell phones, more than in any other country. Cybird subscriptions have jumped 55%, to 7.3 million, in the past six months; the firm turned its first profit on sales of $60 million in the fiscal year through March.
The next step--going global--was a given for Hori, 37, who was born in Washington, grew up in Kobe and studied in London. Cybird already provides wireless content to users in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, and soon China. Cybird will also chart a new path with branded SIM cards. The brains of any phone on the GSM global mobile-phone standard, SIM cards carry a user's account data and can be swapped from phone to phone. Cybird turned them into moneymakers: a SIM card branded with Hong Kong's hot pop act Twins is a fan's must-have, with the duo's ring tone, screensaver and concert dates. So far, it's a hit. "If there's no market," says Hori, "we create one."
--By Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. With reporting by Toko Sekiguchi/Tokyo