Last week Greg finished a two-week business trip to Europe to survey the state of e-business in France, Germany, and the U.K. It was his first visit since 1995, that is, since the "Internet revolution."
So with apologies to Alexis de Tocqueville and his "Democracy in America," this week we present "E-Business Democracies in Europe" -- a handful of observations Greg made about globalization during his travels to the Internet New World.
What Internet Recession?
U.S. enthusiasm for Internet start-ups may have worn out faster than Bill Clinton's welcome (even if the British do seem to love him more the naughtier he gets), but that's not so in Europe, where many growing e-businesses are moving full-steam ahead.
Whereas traffic, revenue, and other e-business metrics are projected to flatten over the next year in the U.S., many European nations are still experiencing significant growth. Any e-business with reasonable prospects and international ambitions should therefore seriously evaluate the possibility of globalizing.
Rules for Globalization
In summary, here are a few general rules for globalizing your business:
Before we conclude this article, we'd like to note a few random observations about the e-business climate in the three countries Greg visited.
The United Kingdom
In London enthusiasm for the Internet seems as strong as it was in the U.S. not long before the Nasdaq's April 2000 downturn. Dot-com advertisements cover the sides of nearly every taxi, and television shows and newspapers still regularly report on their favorite Web sites.
That British Telecom (BT) still holds something of a virtual monopoly over the local telecommunications systems makes the level of Internet awareness somewhat surprising. As with much of the rest of Europe, Internet access is achieved overwhelmingly through dial-up accounts, and local phone calls to Internet service providers (ISPs) are still charged with metered rates.
Though BT promises to soon deploy always-on access in the form of DSL, it's difficult to imagine its incentive for doing so. For now, the only real broadband access U.K. consumers have is through an integrated services digital network (ISDN) -- which effectively doubles the metered rates BT collects.
In the wireless arena short message service (SMS) and text messaging between global system for mobile communications (GSM) phones remains very popular among teenagers, as in the rest of Europe. There are plans to soon introduce the BlackBerry to the U.K. business market. It will be interesting to see how much the local culture adopts an alternative mobile text-messaging medium.
One wonders how much tolerance Germans -- as residents of a society so used to things running smoothly and efficiently -- have for the glitches and seat-of-the-pants innovation of the Internet. Whether dealing with beta browsers or beta business models, many Germans -- as employees and as customers of e-businesses -- not only expect things to work but also expect them to work well.
When compared with other European Web sites, many German sites are experiencing huge levels of usage and traffic. Yet, though Germany has the largest economy in Europe, its culture has relatively few businesses that acknowledge a need to advertise. Therefore, costs per thousand impressions (CPMs) and sell-through rates on German Web sites can be disproportionately low.
In France the copyright laws have not been updated for the Internet age. Creators of Internet content -- not the companies for which they work -- retain all rights. Thus, to avoid lawsuits, some e-businesses request that their writers sign waivers allowing the companies to legally keep the posted content after the writer has left the company.
Though Europe presents some unique challenges, some things about e-business are the same no matter what country you're in. One of Greg's favorite French phrases is one regularly used to describe the e-business exec whose ego is just a little too large for the conference room: Literally it translates to "He has the balloon."
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