“Think global, but act local”, goes the adage. In this day and age, it’s definitely easy to go for global means in addressing local concerns. Startups seem to be very familiar with this kind of practice, with the more established companies taking a sniper’s approach in focusing on specific target countries and cities. Meanwhile, smaller companies are also looking at the bigger picture by adopting best practices from around the globe in solving local problems.
iamschool is a South Korean startup that focuses on the education market. With the tagline “Easier Communication, Better Education,” the startup — run by parent firm iamcompany — believes that learning can be improved with a good communication and feedback mechanism among the students, parents and the educational institution. For this purpose, iamschool has developed a platform that enables these stakeholders in education a means to communicate and collaborate.
The platform’s key features include a portal for news, class announcements, after-school activities, tutorials, and a feedback mechanism for parents. This includes access from both desktop and mobile devices. But going beyond a simple online portal for communication, the platform also enables activities that foster learning, such as online coursework, grading and even guidance counseling. According to Seung-Hyun, schools’ online portals can sometimes lack interactivity, thereby decreasing their value for parents and students. Communication is not efficient enough, and is usually inflexible.
Additionally, because most of these portals are outsourced to third-party developers that do not offer support after they finish building the website, schools are often left in the dark as to how to best utilize these resources. But this presents an opportunity to iamschool, because it plans to disrupt the current model with its online education platform.
Global + local = “Glocal”
Seung-Hyun stresses that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building platforms for educational institutions, though. Given this, there is value in going for a “glocalized” approach — a portmanteau of “global” and “localized.” She admits that the problems the startup is trying to solve are not limited to a certain locale, which signifies the potential demand in global terms. However, “there might be cultural differences in the field of education, such as usage patterns and life patterns,” he admits.
With this in mind, iamschool does not do an omni-directional approach in globalization. Instead, it offers gradual provision of its service as a main strategy. The first step is to “verify the marketability in areas with similar educational environment with Korea.” Market research is key in this regard, to “find if the fundamental problems that we have been solving in Korea exist” in the target market’s environment.
Second, iamschool intends to launch the platform with select schools, such as private schools and specialized schools. Certain aspects of the service will then be modified to fit the local needs. Third is full-scale commercialization, in which the team intends to gain traction by providing the service to a large number of schools as soon as possible.
Hyun shared with e27 the Korean company’s plans to expand its reach through Southeast Asia, with Singapore as the springboard. The team is taking a tiered approach to this expansion, in line with its goals of addressing local needs in order to become more relevant. Back in South Korea, iamschool first launched its services with private schools during its early stages. After gathering enough references, the team then targeted the public school system, and the service was actually provided free, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.
Additionally, iamschool took on a collaborative strategy in marketing its efforts to the educational system. At first, iamschool marketed the service directly to the first 100 schools. Thereafter, they cooperated with local organizations, plus other stakeholders, such as education-oriented organizations and parent organizations. A similar strategy is in the works in line with iamschool’s planned Singapore expansion. But this time, the startup is initially targeting the public school system, and then private institutions.
Big problems, focused solutions
A key takeaway here is that startups are better off focusing on big problems while tackling the locale-specific issues. This can be a big difference between startups that start global — such as those focusing on the Silicon Valley approach — and Southeast Asian startups trying to make a dent in our regional market. Asian countries, after all, each have our own needs, cultural nuances, economic status, and a whole set of differences.
We have perhaps seen interesting stories from around the region. For instance, e-commerce startups in Indonesia offer cash-on-delivery given the low credit card penetration. Startups in South Korea and Hong Kong, meanwhile, leverage the mature technology infrastructure with apps that take advantage of fast broadband speeds and high smartphone penetration. The list goes on. Suffice to say that even localized versions of popular global apps (sometimes considered copycat apps or startups) have their own advantage, given that they supposedly know the local market better.
This echoes Nick Seguin’s sentiments during Startup Weekend in Bangkok this May: “start local but think regional.” But the “glocalization” concept takes this a bit further by ensuring entrepreneurs have a global mindset from day one, thereby ensuring relevance, but without losing focus.