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Tailor-Made

To sell abroad, you'll need to make some alterations.

The word new holds the promise of wonderful things in Brazil, India and the United Arab Emirates--but not in Finland, the Netherlands or Slovenia. There, few people expect new products to improve their lives in the near term, according to the Innovation Confidence Index for 2007 by the Institute for Innovation & Information Productivity. The success of your global venture depends on knowing how consumers abroad will react to your new product--and approaching them accordingly.

Innovators can succeed in mature, low-growth markets by understanding the local culture and knowing what they want to sell to whom, explains John Mariotti, president and CEO of The Enterprise Group and author of The Complexity Crisis. "Focus. Don't create complexity with too many options," he says.

Houston-based Blausen Medical learned to focus when it introduced its high-tech medical atlas to overseas consumers. The company concentrated on the product's basics and then adjusted specifics to fit the levels of technological acceptance in its target countries. Consumers in the Netherlands, for example, preferred to access the atlas through a web portal, while Asia's tech-savvy consumers also wanted access via PDAs and cell phones. President and CEO Bruce Blausen, 47, says he expects revenue to exceed $2.3 million this year. "What works in the U.S. won't work for Europe or the Middle or Far East," he says. "There, the technology isn't as low-cost or pervasive, so they can't afford the high-level animation."

Such considerations also affect service companies. Yao-Hui Huang, 31, is launching The Hatchery, a high-tech incubator in Beijing and London that emerged from her New York City-based company, GigaPixel Creative Inc. Five-year-old GigaPixel Crea-tive has grown more than 80 percent every year since inception and expects triple-digit percentage growth this year.

"China's antiquated business culture lacks much of the infrastructure others take for granted," Huang says. "[But] the bigger hurdle is getting past the negative connotations surrounding incubators and venture capital." Therefore, she's positioning The Hatchery as "a business development platform" or "launching pad" that aims to build an entrepreneurial community. Also, Huang says, "the concept of free help was very different [in China], so we quit talking about it." She instead chose a more acceptable explanation: "The community helps each other."

By catering to consumers' comfort levels, Blausen and Huang are succeeding on the global front. That's key, Mariotti says: "Focus on what makes a difference to [them]."

Gail Dutton is a freelance writer in Montesano, Washington, specializing in business and technology.

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This article was originally published in the September 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Tailor-Made.

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