Today the majority of early and mid-stage startups opt to focus on a single country strategy, rather than starting with a global vision. Indeed often at this stage, startups ignore globalizing their product in order to focus on other priorities, quickly creating a country-specific MVP. While this strategy lowers a startup’s risk of losing focus, depending on their business model and their potential audience, many startups should think about globalization earlier rather than later. If they don’t, they risk losing important market share and growth opportunities. Facebook and Airbnb discovered this as they grew. Early technology, design and communication choices, influenced by this “global later” vision create serious issues when startups succeed and need to scale-up globally, forcing them to fundamentally rethink and rearrange their setup and architecture. When this happens, the value of the startup could decrease from 10 to 50 percent, due to the necessary operations to scale up the business, which could require up to a full year of re-work and catch-up. Acquirers could even choose not to conclude an acquisition due to this lack of ability to scale globally.
As a matter of fact, many startups and large companies alike, usually rely on a one-off and country-specific product strategy. This strategy might work as long as they focus on just a couple of countries, but once you want to offer your product to the world, you will need to think and work in a completely different way if you want to truly take advantage of the economies of scale, while keeping high velocity, high quality and low cost.
Defining and setting up your product globally from a technical perspective is not as hard as it used to be. Unicode and the internationalization support available today in all major programming languages and operating systems allow faster global scaling up. When you start a service or a product, you have to carefully study and determine the most appropriate technical infrastructure and architecture. The time required planning technical infrastructure and architecture for a global versus a country-specific project is almost the same, if done properly. The best way to expedite this phase is to have a clear understanding of the user experience and the user expectations based on the culture.
As an example if your product requires a user to enter their address, your architecture and code must take into consideration that users in different countries expect to see and enter addresses in different formats. In Italy a user would expect to digit in order the name of the road, the number of the building and then the city, while in other countries like the US it would be natural to start with the building number and then the name of the street. Country-specific formats like address, dates, numbers and others can be easily coded appropriately once and allow for global scale whenever the business is ready to move into new countries. Internationalization of your code can no longer be optional given the reach almost any product can have thanks to the World Wide Web. Startups that fail to properly internationalize their product will have to pay the price in terms of smaller market share and longer time to market for every new market they plan to enter.
Design and Content Considerations
Product design together with product content are the ways your users interact with your product, yet design is often overlooked when it comes to scaling up globally. You should design your application or your website to be appropriate for users all over the world. Icons, “call to action” buttons, images, symbols menu items, the very flow of your app should be easy to understand for anyone in any country. The choice of the text that goes in a button can influence your conversion rates. This all sounds obvious and simple, yet many times designers optimize for the user expectations of their own country of origin, neglecting to develop a global design language that is suitable for a wider global audience.
How you PR and advertise your product might be the easiest part, but not the simplest. You have to define all the aspects of your product communication strategy so that anyone can understand what you mean. Many times products fail or can’t sell in a country because of sub-optimal content or images that sometimes even have a negative connotation in a specific country. You have to consider this before branding your product, and evaluate the weight that a country could have on your overall business when you’ll plan to scale up. Most startups and products today chose to “communicate” in English by default, given its status as today’s global lingua franca, and then offer other languages as needed in each country.
Money Comes from Abroad
In today’s fast growing market, startups have no choice: they need to start thinking of scaling-up globally from the very beginning in order to either secure a more lucrative investment, exit or to win global market share faster than the competition. Just look at today’s largest and most successful companies and it easy to see how on average more than 70% of their revenues comes from global markets.
● Globalize your business (IBM) http://www.ibm.com/software/globalization/
● Articles, best practices & tutorials (W3C) http://www.w3.org/International/articlelist
● Planning World-Ready Applications (Microsoft) https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa292479(v=vs.71).aspx
● Build Apps for the World (Apple) https://developer.apple.com/internationalization/
● Localizing with Resources (Android) http://developer.android.com/guide/topics/resources/localization.html
● Internationalizing and Localizing Web Applications (Oracle) https://docs.oracle.com/javaee/6/tutorial/doc/bnaxu.html