Japanese Internet icon, free from prison, starts app design firm

A Japanese entrepreneur who founded one of the country’s largest web portals and was a national celebrity before being jailed for securities fraud is now free and has launched a firm to develop smartphone apps.

Takafumi Horie was once a household name in Japan as the outspoken founder and CEO of Livedoor, a popular domestic website. Dubbed “Horiemon” in the press for his similarity to the pudgy animation character Doraemon, he published several best-selling books on business and once ran for political office with the backing of the prime minister.

He attempted a hostile takeover of a large TV station that led to new acquisition laws in Japan, and when his home and company’s offices were raided in 2006 on suspicion of fraud it caused a plunge in the stock market. Many investors who had sunk their life savings into his firm’s shares were subsequently wiped out.

Horie was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in 2007 and has kept a relative low profile since.

On Monday, a one-page website titled “7gogo” announced he would head a project to develop a “celebrity group talk app” for smartphones, his first project since getting out of jail. The page features his picture with a slogan that welcomes former Livedoor members and says he is actively looking for contributors.

The firm was founded as a joint venture with CyberAgent, a Japanese firm that runs a large online advertising and blog network in Japan. The firm said it aims for a million users for the new firm’s app within a year from launch.

Horie posts frequently to his Twitter account, which has nearly a million followers. Early Monday morning Japan time he posted a message that read “It begins from now...”

Livedoor is now owned by Korean web company NHN, which also owns and operates the popular Japan-based chat app Line.

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