"7 out of 10 of the top internet companies are US-based, but 86% of their users are international. There are 2.8 billion internet users and only 10% of them are based in the US," opened Selina Tobaccowala, President & CTO of SurveyMonkey. If you've recently completed an online survey or questionnaire, chances are you have just become one of her users - and it's likely that any other respondents were outside of the US, doing the survey in a language other than English. So how do companies take advantage of this global distribution?
Selina knows how to build global products: prior to joining SurveyMonkey in 2009, Selina led Ticketmaster's Product & Technology division in Europe. She joined the team after her own company, Evite.com, was sold to Ticketmaster in 2001. SurveyMonkey itself now supports 17 different languages and 28 different currencies - and because of it, is making impressive inroads into international markets.
Watch the keynote by Selina Tobaccowala, CTO of SurveyMonkey, at the Startup Grind Global Conference.
Global Strategy: Adapting Product, Medium, and Message
"Even if you think mobile first for your product, you should know there are 188 million smartphone users in the US which is growing 9% year over year. But globally, there are 2.1 billion international smartphone users which is growing 23% year over year." says Selina Tobaccowala. "So you HAVE to think international from day one".
These numbers come to Selina easily, and she knows just what to do with them: "I'm a pretty big data nerd," she confesses. "If you ship in English now and plan to refactor your codebase before going international, be aware of how difficult that can be." But the product isn't the only hitch in bringing your project to the world.
"It is important to think... not just the user-facing part [of the application], but include marketing strategy and content," says Selina. "To an American, a Japanese homepage for a product might look busy. But research shows that for products in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan do better when there's a lot more text and colors compared to a product in Scandinavian countries where people prefer more white space."
How to Think Globally from Day One
How can we avoid the problem of refactoring an entire codebase to retrofit internationalization and localization - and go global on day one? It's easy to consider 'transcreation' - translating your website for an international market - but if you're really intent on entering a new market, here are Selina top tips:
1. Use a Content Management System right from the start: Make sure your content can go global. CloudFlare and other CDN's can help with this.
2. Design your product and platform for a language other than English: "Design for longer text right from the start" says Selina. Did you know that the same word in English is on average 1.5 times longer in other languages? Work with your designers, UX researchers, translators, and UI engineers to make sure your product can support text in a different language. "Think about encoding. The conversations you have now will save you lots of time later," she advises.
3. Adapt payments and pricing: "How people pay is vastly different in various parts of the globe" says Selina. Every Dutch person walks around with a calculator in their pocket which they use to communicate with the bank that sends them a unique code to complete a transaction. This would definitely never scale for a system designed to handle only credit cards. Not just payments, you also have to consider pricing differences for the same item. "Your system has to support multiple prices for the same SKU. If you're planning on buying the "Hunger Games" book, it's cheaper to buy it for 12 USD in the US than 15 pounds in the UK on the same Amazon website.
4. Consider data architecture, storage and security: Are you using unicode and internationalization for data? Where are you storing data? "Most people think about UTF8 when they think about international support for data. But it is important to also think about how you are structuring your data" says Selina. "Think about data architecture upfront." When you enter markets in the EU, you will have to consider security of data and protecting personal information in ways that might be different for other markets.
5. Mobile is huge: Android share in the US is 52% while globally it is 84%. There's a huge difference in mobile markets and trends between countries. Just under 30% of US users take surveys on a mobile device, but in Japan that number reaches 60%. What about countries where the internet connection is not as reliable? How can we handle that in an international product gracefully to allow users to still use the product offline? It is important to think carefully about all aspects of the application.
Having a conversation with the right people is the most important thing of all.
Speak with your designers. Speak with your data architects. Speak with your customers. Think about all these things upfront when building out your architecture. So that when the time comes to go global with your product, you will have the right architecture in place to do so without investing 1 or 2 years in redeveloping and refactoring code.
As a wise man (Albert Einstein) once said, "A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it."
Be wise. Not clever. Build once. Ship everywhere.