Design Track of The Goa Project 2016

Gregory DSouza


Design for Culture (Products that thrive on adapting to culture or productizing a local cultural behavior)

Submitted Dec 25, 2015

Before venturing on a global expansion or copying a new startup, it is probably necessary to identify the cultural differences that may exist between one’s home country and the country of business operation. Where the differences exist, one must decide whether and to what extent the home-country practices may be adapted to the foreign environment. Most of the times the differences are not very apparent or tangible. Designing for culture is an art more than science. It is more philosophical and psychological, than merely spending a few days coding up a copy.


There has been a plague over the last decade around the world to create ‘This-for-That’ startups. If you are unfamiliar with this, a good illustration of this plague is seeing the tagline of most companies: ‘Airbnb for this’, ‘Uber for that’ and so on. This new trend represents in most cases a successful product and that represents a whitespace opportunity to clone it in a new market. Typically, this happens when a company (mostly in the US) achieves product-market fit. The typical argument has been to use network effect to defend your product. However, the opportunity cost of allowing a smart team to clone your product in another market clouds the reaction of founders to competition.

As an individual crossing borders, is nonchalantly referred to as culture shock. Crossing borders as a business, could effectively lead to business shock. In some cases, this leads to destruction of value of the core business in the market.

Different cultural groups think, feel, and act differently. There is no scientific standards for considering one group as intrinsically superior or inferior to another. Studying differences in culture among groups and societies presupposes a position of cultural relativism. It does not imply normalcy for oneself, nor for one’s society. It, however, calls for judgment when dealing with groups or societies different from one’s own. Information about the nature of cultural differences between societies, their roots, and their consequences should precede judgment and action.

I believe there is a new trend which is springing up quickly. Designing products for a specific market. What does this mean? For a company like Uber, it would be tweaking their service offering while keeping their core product intact. For a company like Ola, building the Uber for India, it would mean latching on deep cultural trends that would make it difficult for Uber to compete with them. Having a local champion in every market — this could be either a great hire or a home-grown entrepreneur.

Speaker bio

Thinker - Tinkerer - Aspiring Merchant of Moments (DateKnight and Posis Beverages). Recently moved back from Amsterdam (after a visa rejection) to Bombay. I have worked after 4 years of working at Nike in BE, NL and US. Co-founded Fastr and have been helping startups in Amsterdam and India with solving problems in product and culture design.


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