Don't Just Build X For Your Country

Don't Just Build X For Your Country

A few local product launches reminded me of this phrase. Did I write an article about it? Turns out it was still in my drafts years later. But it seems as relevant a topic as ever.

Back in 2015-16 there seemed to be some momentum in Trinidad's startup space. There were tons of events, accelerators, and meetups. It felt like the beginning of something. But then it stopped. Or I stopped participating when I moved on from my first startup, TapTag.

Now there seems to be a resurgence. Not just tech startups but people and companies building the infrastructure-type products we genuinely need in the region. WiPay has done well to make payments easier. Ridesharing apps are common. And food delivery is easy too.

Those types of startups negate the title of this post. They're just taking existing ideas and building them for the local market. But I think they work because they fall into that infrastructure category. These are the types of products that every local market needs and it doesn't need global scale to be successful. It just needs to serve the people of that area and build a foothold before any foreign giants enter the market.

Non-infrastructure type products aren't so lucky. They compete in spaces where there is no advantage to being local. Where scale is more important than targeting a specific region. Think social networks, blogging platforms, messaging apps, etc.

No one picks any of these because it's made locally. People pick the social apps that allow them to access the social sphere they want to and the larger the platform the more likely it does. For tools like blogging platforms or consumer/small business targeted SaaS, there's no advantage to being local and your competitors will offer the same features in a more general package AND have a wider market to make money from. You'll be stuck in a small pond.

So if you're building product X for your local market, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

Am I building an infrastructure type product?
If not, is there any advantage to being local?

If you're answer to both is no then you will likely have a tough route to success. Instead of limiting your product geographically, why not target a specific niche in the global market. Maybe a niche that has a large presence in your local community. If you succeed locally then you're not limited by that market you can expand to wherever else that niche exists.

Being locally made is nice, but when it comes to digital products customers it might not be enough. There's no artisan product market just yet. Maybe there will be in the future. But for now you can give your product a better chance by thinking beyond simply being X for country Y.