3 Obstacles to Globalizing a Digital Platform

Jean J. Sanders

As technology progresses, it has develop into more and more quick for digital platform providers to get to customers all over the globe. This ease of entry can make scaling up seem to be easy — soon after all, digital marketplaces are borderless by mother nature, and so it can be tempting for these businesses to watch the overall earth as their focus on marketplace from inception. In actuality, nonetheless, distinct problems keep on being when it arrives to increasing a platform organization past its house base.

We executed a collection of quantitative and qualitative studies to discover these difficulties, together with analyses of cell application info from extra than 50 countries’ application stores, regulatory filings, and financial commitment information, as very well as a lot more than 100 hrs of interviews with executives at system companies these as Xiaomi, Dropbox, and ByteDance.

Through this investigate, we identified 3 important places that system firms should take into account when pursuing intercontinental growth: person acquisition tactic, organizational construction, and business enterprise setting.

User Acquisition Strategy

System company products commonly depend closely on network effects to grow their consumer bases. Regrettably, our investigate has shown that network outcomes are inclined to drop when crossing borders. For case in point, Chinese users on the streaming site Bilibili may possibly attract other Chinese users — but they’re unlikely to bring in numerous overseas buyers, restricting the platform’s capacity to mature past China. To grow outside an present network of shoppers, more concerted consumer acquisition techniques are required.

Exclusively, we located many widespread pitfalls that can hinder platforms’ skill to bring in nearby consumers. Initial, whilst quite a few platforms count greatly on algorithms created to automate consumer acquisition, this isn’t a issue you can solve with AI alone. These AI algorithms can aid platforms goal content material to people in their dwelling nations, but far more standard steps, this sort of as marketplace study or online experiments, are usually significant when coming into new marketplaces for which platforms possible have less suitable knowledge.

For instance, though Alibaba subsidiary Lazada had access to sophisticated AI-driven lookup suggestions, it was surpassed in quite a few worldwide marketplaces by the significantly more compact Shopee, which relied additional on neighborhood managerial insights than on imported technological remedies. Similarly, though platforms these types of as TikTok and Twitch are acknowledged for their powerful algorithmic information concentrating on, they have captivated people from close to the environment by complementing these methods with investment decision into sourcing localized material these types of as tunes, news, recipes, jokes, health ideas, and clinical information that’s specific to distinctive shopper segments’ one of a kind needs and interests.

In addition, platform organizations need to prioritize attaining not only finish buyers, but also the content material creators, streamers, and sellers — or “complementors” — that will populate their platforms. When mature platforms catch the attention of complementors conveniently, new platforms could want to spend sizeable methods in recruiting these associates. YouTube, for illustration, has been reasonably productive in organically attracting both equally people and complementors throughout countries, when TikTok has seeded its system with paid out written content creators in numerous worldwide markets. Other platforms, such as Clash, started out out by having to pay all their complementors. Platforms may possibly also want to think about giving considerable assist to their complementors in trade for special content material in their country’s leading industry groups, as these alliances can assistance create the distinctive market positioning that’s critical to attract and keep people.

Lastly, several system companies try to lead world expansions with homogeneous management groups recruited from their dwelling nations around the world. These leaders usually have restricted familiarity with overseas markets, stymying intercontinental expansion attempts. As the struggle amongst Lazada and Shopee demonstrates, it’s crucial to empower neighborhood administrators who are superior outfitted to comprehend and adapt to region-precise demands. For illustration, Shopee’s nearby administrators deployed tactics this kind of as introducing “gamified” buying encounters that appealed to certain purchaser bases, coming up with campaigns all-around vacations this kind of as Eid, and partnering with locally trending superstars these as BlackPink. Indeed, even purely electronic platforms this sort of as Dropbox and Salesforce (which have no will need for any actual physical infrastructure in their international marketplaces) have begun developing workplaces all over the earth — and empowering nearby talent to guide those offices — to assistance them remain abreast of area customers’ evolving desires.

Organizational Structure

Due to the fact so a lot of a platform’s worth is established by its complementors, many of these companies are able to grow very speedily while protecting a comparatively flat organizational structure. But as system businesses grow across a number of nations, these flat constructions may well turn into inadequate to control the idiosyncrasies of each and every market place. To handle various and fast shifting area calls for, firms may possibly introduce unique functionalities, different interfaces, and even completely separate platforms for various marketplaces (in some conditions, this might be by internal improvement, while in other people, a business may acquire a nearby competitor).

For case in point, the Dutch food stuff shipping platform Just Take in Takeaway operates distinctive platforms with special functions and makes in unique international marketplaces, including Grubhub, SkipTheDishes, Just Eat, and other individuals. Equally, ByteDance retains Douyin and TikTok fully different, with impartial management teams for just about every manufacturer. Coordinating this kind of a dynamic portfolio of platforms with quite a few stakeholders throughout a lot of distinctive nations ordinarily needs a a lot far more sophisticated organizational construction than vital to manage a single-sector enterprise.

To navigate this complexity and stay forward of neighborhood rivals when avoiding damaging interior level of competition and duplicated do the job, some system companies have begun adopting a modular composition. This refers to an architecture that centralizes prevalent solution elements (e.g., research recommendations, payment systems, algorithms, etc.) and operational abilities (e.g., person acquisition, promoting, monetization, shopper insights, etc.) into specialised models, making it possible for global teams to personalize and extend these functionalities for their particular desires.

Alibaba’s “middle system” strategy exemplifies this solution. In the beginning, Alibaba followed a common, two-tier organizational structure, in which individual groups dealt specifically with consumers and created operational capabilities on their personal, whilst headquarters allocated assets and help to each individual team. But as the company started producing different variations of its system to fulfill the requirements of people across multiple international locations, it released a third tier: the middle system. This center platform manages a repertoire of widespread parts and abilities, guaranteeing that groups across the business can entry the elements they want although nonetheless retaining the overall flexibility to adapt these shared resources to meet up with various shopper demands. For example, in markets the place digital payment is not well-known, solution groups can use the existing payment infrastructure accessible on the middle system, but personalize it to make “cash-on-delivery” the default choice. ByteDance has adopted a similar architecture, in which its “shared-service platform” allows global teams and business enterprise units to share insights, operational resources, and crucial belongings, devoid of encroaching on their adaptability.

Company Natural environment

With out the want for high priced bodily infrastructure, digital enterprises are usually able to enter overseas markets a ton a lot quicker than traditional companies. Even so, this can be both of those a blessing and a curse. Launching so speedily can imply that these firms stop up sidestepping neighborhood polices and evading scrutiny from community stakeholders (no matter whether intentionally or usually), disrupting established industries and provoking pushback from regulators, incumbents, and other stakeholders. As Uber’s struggles in Europe and parts of Asia illustrate, business good results is challenging to sustain when local stakeholders are not supportive.

From buyer and details safety issues to geopolitical difficulties, tax guidelines, and old-fashioned levels of competition, there are a variety of ways in which a platform may find a foreign company setting unfriendly — especially if it has taken an “ask forgiveness, not permission” tactic to enlargement. Some of these hurdles may get the type of what we phone “hard legitimacy” challenges: that is, rules and laws that straight limit firms’ marketplace accessibility or render their existing business enterprise models untenable, neutralizing any to start with-mover benefit. For example, lawful limitations on short-expression rentals have significantly constrained Airbnb’s development in some cities, and even solely locked it out from other individuals. In other conditions, platforms could experience “soft legitimacy” challenges: Even though not an fast legal menace, concerns concerning privacy defense, worker rights, environmental and social impacts, and so on., may perhaps undermine the attraction of a platform, pushing users to defect to rival platforms and expanding the probability of regulatory motion in the foreseeable future.

To tackle these dangers, platforms will have to start off by comprehending nearby problems. Though the regular playbook for electronic system growth frequently focuses on prioritizing technological excellence, making certain a first-mover edge, and aggressively attaining consumers, this technique can backfire when navigating a advanced worldwide landscape. When growing globally, platform corporations need to think about borrowing a number of methods from traditional multinationals, these as recruiting experienced regional personnel, creating associations with final decision-makers, offering general public products and services, growing local price-additional, and forming alliances with community gamers throughout industries.

For instance, Singaporean journey-hailing system Get used a blend of these tactics to push for increased acceptance (and at some point formal legalization) of its business enterprise model in Thailand. In addition to lobbying lawmakers ahead of a typical election, the enterprise publicly emphasised its purpose in giving a lot-essential transportation services in more compact cities, contributing tax income to governing administration coffers, and making employment for motorists. Grab also expanded its support choices to incorporate additional benefit to neighborhood people, and shaped acquire-win partnerships with area coverage and banking firms. These strategies had twin positive aspects: They the two improved the platform’s charm in the sector and aided the organization make a network of community supporters and spokespeople with a strong curiosity in preserving the platform’s continued functions.


To be certain, network outcomes will constantly be a crucial driver for globalizing system firms — but our research suggests that they are not sufficient to quickly promise development past a company’s house base. To enjoy the benefits of a digital system organization model in a world-wide setting and stay away from getting overtaken by nearby rivals, firms should adapt their consumer acquisition tactics, make out successful organizational supports, and get a savvy approach to navigating local company environments.

Next Post

Powering the next generation of AI

Ubiquitous computing has brought on an avalanche of details that is past human processing capabilities. AI systems have emerged as the only practical way to turn this knowledge into data. As a lot more computing produces a lot more info, extra computing power is necessary to electric power AI. Subsequent […]

You May Like