#Asia “Be strong in your home market first”: That’s not the strategy that made Samsung and Hyundai successful


Heed this advice to take your business global


Have you ever heard the advice: “Be strong in your home market before you look out to the rest of the world?”

In Korea we’ve never taken that advice. Half a century ago, when the Korean economy was still tiny, local startups with names like Samsung and Hyundai started creating products for the global market. My grandparents’ generation developed an export-oriented economy that became the envy of Asia.

Now, as Korea’s economy shifts from being manufacturing based to information based, should we abandon our ambition to reach out to the rest of the world?

Last year my team in Seoul created Fluenty, an AI app that changes the way people communicate. It works with the messenger apps you already have to give you one-touch replies to any message. And we launched it first not in Korean, but in English.

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That’s right. From the beginning, Fluenty has been an English-focused app.

There are a lot of reasons behind that decision.

Some reasons are technical. For example, when you’re trying to teach an app to sound like people, you need lots of data for to train your Natural Language Processing engine.

There are about 77 million native Korean speakers globally and 25 million of them live in North Korea, where the internet is banned. Compare that to nearly 400 million native English speakers and 1.6 billion people who speak English as a second language. That provides a much larger linguistic pool to draw from.

We trained Fluenty on 700 million public conversations on social media, and sources were much easier to come by in English than in Korean.

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Closely related to that very technical reason is a more practical consideration. We wanted to reach the largest market possible. Right now that means working to reach English speakers in more than 160 countries around the world.

And that’s a continuation of the export-oriented strategy pioneered in Korea two generations ago. We did it with Kia cars and LG TVs. We did it with pop culture in the form of Super Junior and Psy, who are much more popular beyond Korea than at home.

Now it’s time for Korea to prove that the global-first model can work for the app ecosystem.

So far, Fluenty has sent more than 319,000 one-touch responses to messages, saving people more than 26,500 minutes.

That’s the result of daring to be strong abroad before being strong in our home market and I believe it’s a strategy that other startups with limited home markets can adopt.

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here .

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