Lessons from Etsy: going global from day one

15th February, 2017

Building a business around an app, website or other platform? You should think about going global from day one – because you’ll need to.

If you’re in multiple markets, you have the best possible opportunity of finding a booming market instead of being tied to one.

Apart from being a good idea, it’s likely you’re going to have global business from day one anyhow.

“If you’re selling a digital product, it’s likely that customers from all over the world are going to find your product – whether you like it or not,” said Etsy Chief Operating Officer Linda Kozlowski in Melbourne last week.

She said Etsy had thought of itself as a global company from day one.

“Now we’re a big company it’s easy to think of Etsy as a global company, but the reality is that it started as a global company,” she said.

Luckily, technology has enabled companies big and small to set their sights on international markets like never before.

Kozlowski said there are three key areas to take into consideration if you’re thinking about cracking new markets.

1. Let the data guide expansion

Digital companies now have the data to make expansion easier.

“It used to be that to think about expanding globally you had to sit around and decided ‘based on opportunity, which country do we want to go to next?’,” said Kozlowski.

“It was a huge risk.”

If your product is online, people from overseas can use your product too.

If you’re getting a lot of traffic from Japan, for instance, the data is telling you that there’s a demand spike there.

When Etsy launched in 2005, it already had sellers from Australia and New Zealand connected to the platform. By 2010, the seller base from these two countries was the fourth-largest in the world. It made putting a team into Australia the next year a no-brainer.

“Because we had that data and we could see the data usage patterns from around the world, we knew that this was going to be a strong market for us,” Kozlowski said.

Then you can marry that data with other datasets.

For example, Etsy observed that Australia was highly connected. Each person had three devices on average and 63 percent of the population shopped across borders.

Put those together and expansion into Australia was a slam dunk.

2. To localise, or not to localise?

Localising your product or service to a local market isn’t always the best bet, according to Kozlowski.

“When you think about global expansion and when you’re building a product [many ask] ‘so are you going to change your product for China’?,” she said.

“There’s a myth that you should change the user interface of your product because every country is different.”

Instead, Kozlowski suggested, the best bet is to build a single, consistent user experience that is “best for most people”.

If you get stuck in trying to localise your product for each market, you’ll waste time and money.

“Don’t change each product for each country. Instead, look at the most-requested features in each of your key markets and decide whether you want to implement those in the entire world,” said Kozlowski.

However, Kozlowski said localising language and payments was vital to gain traction in each market.

However, there is one area where it’s super-important to localise…

3. Make marketing personal

Cultural nuances mean that a global campaign won’t resonate with every audience.

“Marketing is the area where you should completely localise,” said Kozlowski.

For example, in Australia Etsy ran a ‘City to Outback’ campaign highlighting the breadth of sellers in the country.

From Sydney to Toowoomba, the campaign appealed to Australians.

Etsy has also run a global campaign, ‘Made Local by Etsy’, in several markets – but it was localised for each market.

Items from local artisans were displayed in a pop-up market . It’s an idea that can be localised for each market.

“It was about taking all the energy from the global campaign and connecting it with the local,” Kozlowski said.