Product/Market Fit: Localizing On A Global Scale

Achieving product/market fit is the first essential milestone in the life of a product. For international products, localization is a key activity to position a product for success in another locale. Does localization lead to product/market fit? What exactly is the relationship between localization and product/market fit? 

You can describe product/market fit in various ways. For example, Hiten Shah (Co-Founder of KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg) asked his followers on Twitter to describe product/market fit (PMF).

Specifically, he asked them to describe it for a friend who’d never heard about it before. As a result, he received dozens of definitions. Marc Andreessen famously defined it as “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” 

Different types of products will have different metrics that reflect satisfied consumers. Additionally, product/market fit is dynamic and can change as user needs or market conditions change. 

There are three scenarios that can help illustrate the relationship between localization and product/market fit: 

  • An unlocalized product that achieved product/market fit
  • A localized product that achieved product/market fit  
  • A localized product that has not achieved product/market fit

In the first scenario, a product developed for a specific country gets traction elsewhere with minimal or no localization.

This case is rare but it does happen. Indeed, this was the experience at Dropbox, according to ChenLi Wang, who managed international expansion at the company. Dropbox, which was started in 2007, “was not localized into any additional languages beyond English until 2011. But, by the time that first round of additional language versions launched, the international user base was already substantial.” 

As you might imagine, straightforward functional products are probably the best candidates for this trajectory. These can also include products that target audiences who speak proficient English as a second language, or products that feature simple and direct language that a user can translate with their browser. 

The second scenario is the opposite – a fully-localized product that satisfies a specific market.

These are often content-rich products that are unlikely to be usable without at least some degree of localization. For example, shopping sites and apps contain important details ranging from product specs to pricing to payments to shipping. These details (units of measurement, currency, payment platforms, mailing addresses) can vary substantially by country. 

The third scenario illustrates the risks of equating localization with an actual fit. While it’s accurate to conclude that in most cases localization is a prerequisite for fit (with some exceptions, as discussed), it is not the same as fit. A product may be localized perfectly and still not address a customer need in an effective way. 

For example, Facebook has succeeded in many countries not just because it’s well-localized. Simply put, it’s also because Facebook’s core functionality and design/UI are the gold standard. This was the case in Brazil, where the well-established social networking platform Orkut (founded by Google) was beaten by Facebook’s superior offering. 

It can be tempting to believe that localization is the sole ingredient for launching a successful international product. But localization is not a substitute for product management. Complete and quality localization gives a product the best chance of success for a specific country. But the challenging work of product management to understand and resolve customer pain points remains the final hurdle and ultimately leads to a product fulfilling its promise. 

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About the speaker
David Grayson Facebook, Product Manager Member

David Grayson is VP of Product at LiveCareer - leading the company's international product team to develop new solutions for career development (resumes, cover letters, interview best practices & more). Prior to joining LiveCareer, David worked for more than 10 years at before its acquisition by Monster - helping veterans secure career opportunities after serving in the military. David holds a Masters degree from The University of Chicago and currently lives in Alameda.

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