The following is a guest post from Christian Arno founder of Lingo24.
What Google can teach companies going international
You know your business has made it when your company name can be used as a verb. From humble origins (it started as a research project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin when the pair were still relatively fresh-faced PhD students, and its first registered office was located in a garage), Google has grown into a household name and a truly worldwide phenomenon.
Not every company can aspire to quite the same level of worldwide domination, but there are lessons to be learned from the Google story for any organisation looking to expand its operations internationally.
Although it remains based in the United States, Google is a truly global company. More than half its users reside outside the US and this figure looks set to continue rising as use of the internet increases in vast emerging markets such as South America. Fittingly, Google now has local offices all over the world. Indeed, from the corporate headquarters, nicknamed the Googleplex, in Mountain View, California to Stockholm, Moscow and Buenos Aires, there are few major territories that don’t boast their own local office.
Google itself says, “We are aggressively inclusive in our hiring. We have offices around the world and dozens of languages are spoken by Google staffers, from Turkish to Telugu. The result is a team that reflects the global audience Google serves.”
Local, cultural and linguistic knowledge is key and it is important for any company thinking of going international to have native employees ‘on the ground’. If resources do not stretch, or the scale of operations do not yet require such full-time employees or international offices, local experts in your field should at least be consulted to ensure that cultural and linguistic issues are properly catered for.
Research target markets
Few companies are as vast and far-reaching as Google, and Google itself, of course, grew by increments – albeit remarkably quickly.
International expansion does not necessarily mean a company should be aiming globally from the off and, while such ambitions can be laudable, over-reaching or aiming for too many targets at once can weaken overall progress and lead to a lack of focus. Research is required to establish in which countries and territories your products or services are likely to find a customer-base, to increase your chance at seeing a quick return on investment. If this provides a solid base or launchpad for further subsequent expansion, then so much the better.
Right from the start Google thrived on being innovative. Early search engines ranked results by counting how many times the search terms appeared on the page, but Page and Brin developed a new system called PageRank that attempted to determine the relevance of listed pages by taking into account indicators such as backlinks. Constant improvements to their search algorithm have kept Google at the forefront of the search engine market, but the development of AdSense was also instrumental in turning users into actual revenue.
Some types of business will naturally be more dependent on technical innovation than others, but original thinking when it comes to marketing and brand/product development can be just as important as having good products or services, when it comes to making your business stand out from the crowd.
Reach for the skies
Don Dodge, a Developer Advocate at Google who helps developers build new applications for Google technologies and platforms, explains the Google mindset on setting goals and measuring success.
“Google sets impossible bodacious goals…and then achieves them,” he says. “The engineering mindset of solving the impossible problem is part of the culture instilled in every group at Google… Every quarter every group at Google sets goals, called OKRs, (Objectives and Key Results) for the next 90 days. Most big companies set annual goals like improving or growing something by x%, and then measure performance once a year. At Google a year is like a decade. Annual goals aren’t good enough. Set quarterly goals, set them at impossible levels, and then figure out how to achieve them. Measure progress every quarter and reward outstanding achievement.”
There are inherent problems in setting high targets, especially in a business culture where failure is not seen as an option. If executives genuinely fear that missing a target will cost them their jobs, they are far more likely to set modest, achievable targets at the expense of innovation and risk-taking.
Dodge argues that Google’s approach to the ‘failure is not an option’ mantra is different, having more to do with perseverance and ‘try, try again’.
“They will try five or 10 or 20 approaches until they find one that works,” he explains. “They won’t stop until they succeed. Google’s culture seems to follow the Thomas Edison approach, which paraphrased is “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found lots of approaches that don’t work, and I am closer to the solution”.
About the author
Christian Arno is the founder of global translation agency Lingo24, experts in foreign language internet marketing. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 150 employees spanning four continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over forty million words for businesses in every industry sector and their turnover for 2010 was $8m. Follow Lingo24 on Twitter: @Lingo24.