Q & A: Gen Fukunaga
Gen Fukunaga is the founder and president of FUNimation, the person who came up with the idea of starting a site called animeOnline, and also the guy who went on to fund the project. Basically, without Gen, there would be no aO, and you wouldn't be reading this feature right now. Gen was also ranked by ICv2 in 2006 as the most powerful person in America's anime industry. Really, if you have no idea who Gen is, just Google him, then give yourself a pat on the back after you've been enlightened.
Please introduce yourself
Gen Fukunaga: I am the CEO and co-founder of FUNimation Entertainment. I developed the idea for animeonline.com and worked with Navarre to bring it to life. We feel the internet is a critical part of our future strategy and we plan to continue to invest in internet-based initiatives.
What was your goal for animeOnline? What were you trying to accomplish?
Gen: We wanted one web site where anime fans could socialize and be entertained. We wanted to gain more popularity for anime and create a tighter sense of community for anime to insure the continued growth of anime.
Why did you decide to use the name "animeOnline"?
Gen: We tried various URLs, but most were already taken. We wanted the word anime in the URL so that there was no confusion on the purpose of the site.
animeOnline opened to the public in February of 2007, how long was the site in development before then? Were there any drastic changes made to the site before it went public?
Gen: We worked on it for 9 months. We pretty much knew what we wanted from the beginning and we stayed focused on our plan.
What type of research and time went into starting animeOnline?
Gen: We looked at every feature and the popularity of every anime and major social networking site. Simultaneously, we researched the technology and available software. After months of research, we began staffing up and began executing the plan. After 6 months of building the first beta, we launched the beta to test it.
I believe there was a statement made by a Funimation employee that there was a desire to model the site off online video game websites (IGN, Gamespot, etc.)? First of all, is that true, and what type of content and features do you wish to incorporate in the future that other comparable entertainment websites have?
Gen: That is not true. We are investigating all types of social networking concepts. This includes everything from forums, blogs and user content to even virtual worlds and MMORPGs.
animeOnline was the first major anime social networking site to debut in the U.S., what do you think of the reactions and coverage the site received? Did everything go according to plan? What worked and what didn't?
Gen: The idea is an excellent idea and the reaction was very positive. Some technical glitches in our beta site made it not as user friendly as we wanted though. The editorial was highly praised but the usability caused a lot of questions from users.
Besides animeOnline, TokyoPop has chosen to also provide more social features in their website. How do you feel about Tokyopop's website in terms of being a place for social networking, and how does it compare to animeOnline?
Gen: They have made a fine start. We are not certain if we will start small and then add features or if we will try to launch a much more comprehensive, feature-rich site.
It seems many people are confused about between Navarre, FUNimation and to animeOnline... care to clear this up their relationship to each other?
Gen: The strategy was to have an editorially objective site that covered the entire anime industry, so we wanted Navarre to own it and not FUNimation.
How was the software that powered animeOnline? Was it efficient in what it was intended for? What about the design aspect of the site?
Gen: The design was fine and the content was good. We tried using off-the-shelf software, which did not provide for all the elements we wanted to provide going forward.
Will there be more involvement with the Japanese animation companies producing the anime and incorporating that into the site (animeOnline featured free previews of anime before)? Also, are there any Japanese websites that you're using as a type of inspiration for the next version of animeOnline?
Gen: We hope to have the Japanese companies much more involved. We did not use any Japanese sites for inspiration especially since our site will be geoblocked from access in that territory.
What's one part of the site you're most proud of?
Gen: The editorial.
Other than animeOnline, what are some of the websites you visit everyday? Share your bookmark with us!
Gen: I do not really visit most sites on a daily basis. I get e-newsletters and old-fashioned papers and magazines for much of my daily information. I utilize a ton of sites for e-commerce and data gathering. Sites I go to frequently include funimation.com, animenewsnetwork.com, amazon.com, anidb.net, us.videoscan.com, nielson.bookscan.com, alexa.com, compete.com and various investment sites.
According to a report from ICv2 regarding the closing of animeOnline, the site was shut down due to a staff reduction by Navarre/FUNimation. What happened?
Gen: In order to fix the technical issues with the beta site, we realized that instead of bandaging up quick fixes (which we could have done), we needed to completely change much of the back end software so that it would be a top-notch experience for fans. We are known for our quality and we did not want to have the technical glitches create ill-will with fans.
FUNimation itself is hiring more people in general and continues to staff up for growth. We are also investing in new space as we are moving into a new building in the next few months with 40% more space to upgrade our facilities.
So what's going to happen to all the articles, interviews, etc. on animeOnline?
Gen: Since we are in the stages of re-evaluating the whole re-launch of the site, it is hard to say at this time.
According to the official announcement, this marks the end of the Beta stage for animeOnline, will there be a day when the site "officially launches"?
Gen: I certainly hope so. It will not be in the next few months though, because we are considering many changes. How important is getting the name out for animeOnline in relation to the name of your company, as well as your anime titles?
It will be important after we re-launch but our priority as a company is to brand the name of FUNimation and our anime titles.
What's your advice to someone who is trying to break into the industry or creating their own website?
Gen: Any business is competitive and has many pitfalls. The best start is to hire the best people you can with experience in the areas you need.
Any future plans relevant to animeOnline you'd like to reveal to us?
Gen: We are in the very early stages of planning.