Assessing Opportunities Across International Markets

Netflix announced in Q3 2018 that 83% of its subscriber growth came from international markets. Pinterest too reported that 80% of their steep growth has come from outside the U.S. However, other Silicon Valley companies, notably Lyft, have remained focused on their domestic markets. After reaching a level of product success, it makes sense to ask if international expansion is the next step in growth.

What stage does a product need to reach before this should become a consideration? What are the factors you need to evaluate before investing? As with any new initiative, it’s essential to follow product management best practices and examine both the opportunities and costs.

The first key question is how far along the product lifecycle your product needs to be. In most cases, it makes sense to consider after your product has moved beyond the MVP phase and has reached a level of product-market fit in your home market. On the tech side, it’s more straightforward to localize a stable product than one that is still in rapid iteration (where you can anticipate significant feature changes).

This includes developing components that will enable future localization (for example, support for bidirectional text). On the business side, you may discover that domestic and international audiences prefer different designs or executions. It’s prudent to avoid developing multiple configurations before building a core scalable product.

There are exceptions to this approach. Your product may already be seeing usage outside the country despite no marketing efforts. This is what occurred at Dropbox, which was not localized into other languages beyond English until 2011. By that time, due to viral growth, 30 to 40 percent of Dropbox users were already outside the U.S.

Once your baseline product has reached a viable stage or is seeing traction, what are the steps to identifying promising international markets?

Following product management best practices, the process should begin with a focus on the customer. How similar are customer profiles in target markets in comparison to your home market? Are they experiencing the same pain points? Sometimes the answer is straightforward: Spotify and Netflix were both proven to satisfy universal needs. However, though it’s tempting to assume that consumer needs match, you need to conduct user and market research to get clear validation.

Once the customer need is confirmed, the next step is to understand the level of investment. Many people know that localization is a central component. It’s important to recognize that localization encompasses not only translation but other elements like design (e.g., images and color palettes).

E-commerce is critical as customers need the option to purchase using common platforms (especially for B2C offerings). Device usage is another key consideration: Mobile adoption in some regions has outpaced the United States. A product leader will also need to focus on product management marketing and collaborate up-front with marketing and related functions to gain insights into the advertising and marketing landscape.

Finally, an understanding of consumer privacy and legal requirements is mandatory. For example, if you’re planning to market to EU citizens, you need to comply with requirements stemming from GDPR, the sweeping privacy legislation enacted by the EU in May 2018.

Grasping the customer pain points and effective planning will help your team prepare for a rapid rollout. Laying this foundation will ensure your product has the best chance to deliver on its promise as well as contribute to growth.


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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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