In the latest issue of Sprout, a Dutch magazine for entrepreneurs, there is a big piece about 25 entrepreneurs under 25. First, congratulations for Robert and Wouter for making number 1 with Wakoopa. However, beyond Wakoopa I find few of the companies that interesting (Symbaloo did catch my eye). While all the businesses look decent and useful, few struck me as very ambitious. I don’t see them expanding beyond the Netherlands, sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance. On the other hand, I can see Wakoopa and Symbaloo doing well internationally. Perhaps not surprisingly, both Wakoopa and Symbaloo have English-language versions – in fact, Wakoopa is only in English. Robert told me that the choice to use English was a simple one and taken in order to reach the most people most easily.
The question of how to reach an audience beyond the Netherlands (or any small country) is an important challenge both from a business perspective and a web design one. As well-designed web site supports and implements business goals, the two are ultimately intertwined. Put simply, people won’t use a website they cannot understand. At the same time, people usually prefer to read content in their native languages. Therefore the challenge is to maximise breath, using globally popular languages such as English and Spanish, and intimacy, using users’ natives languages. One good solution is supporting multiple languages on a site, even if one language is prioritised. This can be achieved in several ways, though I usually recommend some sort of content management system to manage versions of the same content in multiple languages.
Of course, the inevitable retourt is, ‘Why bother trying to reach clients beyond my home country?’ I answer, ‘Why not?’ The beauty of the internet is its global reach, which means that any business is available through their website to any potential client anywhere in the world (barring legal restrictions, of course). More and more when people are looking for the best business or product, they aren’t looking for the best in their own country. For instance, I own two tshirts by the British cartoonist John Allison. Why should someone in a small town outside of Manchester sell a tshirt to someone across the globe in Silicon Valley? Why not? I was happy to pay for the extra shipping, so there was no extra cost for him, and he’s gained a loyal customer. My Books Rule tshirt has been getting compliments from San Francisco to London to Amsterdam, also surely good for his business. At the same time, competition is also becoming global. I imagine John’s main competition in t-shirt sales are other web cartoonists, wherever they may be, and t-shirt companies such as Threadless, based in Chicago.