Crossing Borders

Having had the (mostly) pleasurable and certainly varied experiences of working with both American companies trying to expand beyond their domestic market and international firms looking for a slice of the American economy, some of the missteps we have seen would be humorous if they weren’t so costly.  Remarkably, many of these ill-advised efforts could have been avoided with a modicum of insight Understanding the differences in educational systems and requirements from one nation to another as well as the unique cultural characteristics are the start.  Understanding differences in workflow, procurement, and what makes a successful outcome   are just a couple of fundamental considerations that are not always appreciated to the degree they should be. 

Why is this the case?  Company hubris—and its dangerous side effect of believing you can transplant success in one arena to another—can be even more hazardous when you add in the hurdle of crossing national borders.  South Korea consistently ranks in the top echelon of P-12 educational systems worldwide, so clearly there must be a need and latent demand for your next gen educational hardware offering, right?  Unlikely, as the traditional schools are characterized by low-tech teaching and further, they play second fiddle to after school learning centers.  Conversely, why not bring your virtual learning center model that has attracted tens of thousands of Korean students stateside?  Well, the absence of anything like Korea’s capstone exams in the US as well as the preponderance of extracurricular (non-academic) activities engaged in by American youth dramatically reduces your potential audience and your model’s appeal.  You are probably saying that these examples are so crude and basic that nobody would invest any money in making these mistakes, but examples such as these abound every day.  The allure of making the world your market—“just think if we could capture only 0.1% of the Chinese market!”—is incredibly seductive, and it can be accomplished.  But before you set up the office and sign up your pilot programs, be sure that you gather the appropriate insight from your potential customers—either at home or abroad—before you start counting your pounds, euros, and pesos.