He makes the case that, if they are not already, startup founders should reconsider their reticence to working in foreign-language markets. “The English speaking market is becoming crammed with so many viable choices that breaking through requires tremendous effort.” This is true, and we’ve already noted that most global growth today is coming from overseas markets, with Arabic being the fastest-growing language on the Internet.
The most obvious answer is summed up by Blazej’s observation: “Maybe it just doesn’t come to mind.”
Such a mental barrier is perceptual. Startups operating on “lean” and “agile” principles often cannot (or refuse to) perceive anything outside of very, very narrow initial goals and deliverables (the “minimum viable product”) for an initial use case or target market. Scope creep is anathema. Many startups are so ingrained in their own experiences, and hyper-focused on their teflon-coated culture that they do not for a moment try to think outside the box they’ve painted for themselves.
This is not universally true. Adobe has for years championed the idea that software can be agile and localized. “Lean localization” and “agile marketing” have also been facilitated by continuous online translation platforms, such as LingoHub or Transifex.
Yet perceptions and opinions, once set, are hard to shift. Even if it is shown that the most successful U.S.-based unicorns on the Internet are rendered in 20, 30 or more languages. Even if cost really isn’t a barrier. As Blazej quips, “Since a startup’s app is usually solving a single problem, its translation will cost less than hosting a pizza day in the office, and additional updates or consistency checks will only get cheaper as time passes by.” While some content-heavy apps may run contrariwise to this observation, the “pizza day” cost rule will hold for many startups. So it’s not cost. It’s philosophy.
This philosophical difference of whether to even consider localization has been described over the past decade by Common Sense Advisory’s Localization Maturity Model. At the negative end of the spectrum are organizational culture factors that engender antipathy or even hostility towards localization. There needs to be a neutral or positive inflection point — described in lean startup methodology as a “pivot” — at which resistance to localization shifts to acknowledgement of the need, which then leads to actualization of a plan, and, from that, the requisite tools and processes to fully integrate and automate it into corporate culture.
What are your thoughts on Blazej’s article? Are you at a startup? At which stage do you find yourself: considering localization, at a pivot point, currently a work-in-progress, or encountering barriers to move ahead with your plans? Send your war stories and strategies to us at [email protected], and let us know how we can help!