Global vs global

Conventional wisdom says that any startup worth its salt ought to be globally focused from day 1.

At a high level that makes sense as the Internet is a global marketing, payment and distribution machine that gives domestic entrepreneurs easy access, for the first time, to huge markets around the world including emerging markets, where much of the growth in internet users will come from, like China or India.

But what does that mean and how real is that opportunity?

We know that the US/UK/Canada etc. opportunity is a real global (little “g”) opportunity but what about the Global (big “G”)  opportunity that includes emerging markets.

2 examples from corporate giants, Facebook and Unilever, and their experiences in emerging markets are enlightening:

Mark Zuckerberg in a recent NYTimes interview

But my life is so different from the person who’s going to be getting Internet in two years. One of the things that we do is ask product managers to go travel to an emerging-market country to see how people who are getting on the Internet use it. They learn the most interesting things. People ask questions like, ‘It says here I’m supposed to put in my password — what’s a password?’ For us, that’s a mind-boggling thing.

Unilever Mobile Marketing Campaign in India

This is not like Spotify Ltd.’s popular music-streaming service where subscribers can listen to personalized playlists. On Unilever’s service a user places a call to a toll-free number which disconnects after two rings. The system then calls the user and plays a 15-minute pre-recorded chunk of music interspersed with ads for the company’s soaps, skin creams, shampoos and detergents. All users listen to the same recorded segment each week, Goenka said.

As more and more people around the world come online, there will be more and more opportunity for entrepreneurs to access them. But that doesn’t mean we’re there yet or that everything being developed in Western countries will translate culturally and instantly to the people in those countries that are driving the growth in Internet user numbers.

If your plan is to extend beyond your domestic market, it pays to understand whether that means Global…or just global.

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