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Internationalization (I18n)

Deeply understand the mindsets and behaviors of customers in each market and find the next vectors of growth and the plan to get there.

If you want the REALLY big bucks you need to go international.  Yes, if you are in the US (or China) you can delay this for a bit, but if you are based elsewhere it is a question that gets asked from Series A onwards.  By the time you are at Series C, your gameplan here needs to be in full flight.

Now there is a lot of noise in this space, and confusion about GILT (globalization, internationalization, localization and translation).  Really localization and translation can be deprioritized as second order challenges.  Globalization is a great topic if you are a high-growth unicorn in multiple markets and dreaming of world-domination – but that is unlikely to be you (yet).  Really this is all a question of Internationalization (a.k.a. i18n).

The first questions to address is ‘why’ and ‘where’ of i18n.  For most businesses after the initial choice of product and business model (followed by the fight to PMF), the choice to go international is the second big strategic question they face.  It is not a decision to be taken lightly, as in most business models the complexity escalation is significant and so you need to be sure of your pay-off timescales.  Here is where classic market entry and strategic viability assessments comes into play.

After prioritizing your markets you need to work out your ‘how’.  This is also non-trivial as it is never as simple as ‘copy-and-paste’ what you already have working.  You need to check the mindset and behaviors of customers in these new markets to ensure your product works for them.  Hopefully your core proposition is very similar and just needs minor l10n (localization).  However almost certainly there will be some form of incumbent that already has a head start on you, so you will need to work out some clever market entry strategy.  There are several flavors of those, all with the usual pros and cons.

Phew… still with me?  At this point often you may well circle back and re-evaluate which markets you picked to enter as the market entry practicalities have become more concrete.  The tough reality is that there are no easy (or cheap or fast) options here.

It’s no wonder that US businesses with a home market 350 million people have a structural advantage over their western european countries and can delay all this i18n fun a bit.  Generally though this means that european businesses seeking to enter the US face mature and scaled competition (which makes this even harder).  But spare a thought for US businesses that have to go i18n into europe, they face fragmentation and complexity on a scale they havent seen before either.

Bottom-line is i18n is a fundamental and unavoidable part of scaling-up that comes with all sorts of difficult challenges.  Even more reason for getting the core home market operation ticking over nicely then, so you can have some brain-space and operating-muscle spare for this tricky second act.

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