3 Tips for Localizing Global Trends in an Emerging Market

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Tablets and e-readers are already established. Net TV is set to explode worldwide. But will cars that drive themselves really take off? As 2012 comes to an end, many media outlets and companies have announced their predictions for next year’s hot technology trends. Although these trends give a sense of where things are headed, the key questions ask when and if they will materialize.

Since timing is everything for start-ups, especially in emerging markets, where short-term thinking is the norm, entrepreneurs need to know how they should read trends and apply them. It’s important to consider who these predictions are for before we determine how seriously to take them. Should we drive trends or be driven by them? The answer is both.

The trends projected by companies such as Gartner, Verizon and Global Trends are mostly for corporations that begin investing in new technology early on so that they can scale and continue to stay ahead. Agile startups can take advantage of this need, however, by quickly developing applications based on these new technologies and selling them to corporations,  serving a B2B market. After all, entrepreneurs who can build faster than corporations become attractive potential acquisitions.

There is no hard and fast rule here, however. Since both working culture and expectations for return on investment can wildly differ between large corporations and small startups, it pays to address trends strategically before building a product. In the Wall Street Journal’s recent article  “Trends for Startups in 2013,” mentors offer advice for choosing your route carefully as an entrepreneur.

“If you are an entrepreneur and are following a trend, you are too late. You want to be creating the trend that other people are following. I don’t think entrepreneurs should be short-term thinkers,” says Brad Feld, a Silicon Valley-based early-stage investor and entrepreneur, in the discussion.

“Create the trends, don’t follow them. Stop reading what trend everyone else is doing and figure out how to pursue your passion,” says serial entrepreneur and academic Steve Blank. Of course if you are an entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley, it should seem easier to lead the pack.

Alexander Osterwalder, an entrepreneur and business-model innovator, agrees with Blank and Feld. In his trend assessment, titled “Don’t be a ‘Wantrapreneur,” he urges entrepreneurs to ask themselves the following questions: What am I really passionate about and really good at? Who are the biggest customers? What are the biggest pains, gains and jobs in that area those are not yet sufficiently addressed? What would a scalable, profitable and sustainable business model that addresses those gaps look like?

But what is the emerging-market perspective?

There are three points that need to be considered in an emerging markets before focusing on global trends.

Understand local investors’ interest. First of all, we should be aware that in emerging markets investors are mostly short-term thinkers, often because of generally riskier macroeconomic conditions. This means entrepreneurs have to be short-term thinkers as well, unless they want to work with investors from developed markets. We need to understand what local investors are looking for. If trends are essentially copycat projects, then check out what Silicon Valley startups are doing, but localize the idea.

Understand gaps in the technology market. Get to know the collective knowledge of the technology you are building in your local market. Even if there are big global players working in your sector, they may not provide a specific technology.

Understand consumer behavior in your local market. What matters are your market’s needs, regardless of whether these trends- like the rise of a sharing economy- are strong in other markets. Awareness of the reasons behind these trends and the differences between consumer behaviors in emerging and developed markets are critical for any business.

It is always good to know what the global trends are, which trends failed globally, and which failed to catch on locally. For instance in the mobile telecom sector where I previously worked, MMS technology was predicted to be the next big thing after SMS. It never was (and WAP wasn’t either).

With awareness of the main trends, we as entrepreneurs have to focus on our local market needs and, more importantly, what we are passionate about. 

“If you don’t [focus on your passion], there is no way you can sustain the hours, stress and disappointment,” says Blank. “There’s no way you’re going to be able to convince investors, customers and, most importantly, recruit a world-class team if you not building something you think is going to change the world.” We should keep this in mind along with the realities of our local market.

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