Thinking global: which language should startups choose?

Acting as a global champion from the very beginning and doing business in international markets has never been easier for startups. Translation is a key driver for global success and opens doors to news markets. Language is capable of uniting very different ecosystems and helps startups to do business all around the globe. But which language shall be targeted? How many languages does my business need to know? Which languages are successful unicorns targeting? Today’s blog post answers these questions and guides startups through the language and translation labyrinth.

There’s more to it than English

The majority of content on the Internet (~ 54%) is still written in English. However, English is only ranked 3rd among the most used languages in world by native speakers. Mandarin claims the top rank with almost one billion native speakers, followed by Spanish with around 405 million speakers and English with 360 million speakers.


Breaking these stats down on Internet users by language English, Chinese and Spanish are listed as the most commonly used languages.


Companies tend to believe that English­-only content can address customers around the globe. Nonetheless, less than 50% of the population in most countries throughout the world speaks English. This points out the necessity of translation when aiming for global success.


While in 2015 localization into 25 languages was required to reach 90 percent of the Internet population, Common Sense Advisory (CSA) predicts that translations into 48 languages will be required to reach the same proportion of the worldwide online audience by 2020.

Which language startups and unicorns target

Successful startups and unicorns showed how to boost global success and grow an international user base with translated and localised content. Tech startups address a global audience from the very beginning. Unicorns mastered to go from 100 users to millions of users by entering and occupying new markets. They’re fighting for market shares and global domination with localised products adapted to regional and linguistic conditions.

TechCrunch has analysed the most promising and successful startups and unicorns throughout the U.S. and Asia. The survey pointed out the four most multilingual unicorns all speaking more than 30 languages.

  • Tinder: 33 languages
  • Uber: 32 languages
  • Jawbone and Box: 31 languages
  • Pinterest: 30 languages

The analysis also showed the 10 most popular languages the top U.S. and Asian startups target:

  1. English
  2. French
  3. German
  4. Japanese
  5. Spanish
  6. Portuguese
  7. Russian
  8. Italian
  9. Korean
  10. Chinese (simplified)

Comparing the most popular languages targeted by U.S., Asian and European startups shows a remarkable difference. The main reason for this difference is the linguistically fragmented Europe. While U.S.­ based unicorns can target the entire American market in their native language English, European startups need to cover more languages to target European citizens in their native language. The European Union currently recognises 24 official languages. Among them German (19%), French (13%), English (12%), Italian (11%), Spanish (9%), Polish (9%), Romanian (7%) and Dutch (5%) represent the most natively spoken languages.

Hence, localizations plays a major role for European startups. The following list shows the 10 most popular languages targeted by the 50 most compromising European startups:

  1. English
  2. French
  3. German
  4. Spanish
  5. Italian
  6. Dutch
  7. Portuguese
  8. Russian
  9. Polish
  10. Chinese (simplified)

Top 3 reasons to translate and go global

#1 It boosts your outreach

Let’s assume you start your business exclusively in English­speaking countries. Increasing the number of languages your product or website supports multiplies the number of potential customers you are reaching. If you localise into Japanese a market consisting of more than 115 million Internet users opens up for you. And this is just one example. Considering translating into Portuguese gives you access to a market of over 139 million Brazilian and more than 6.9 million Portuguese Internet users. 66.4% of the Brazilian population are currently online, expected to further rise in the upcoming years. This example only considers translating into two new languages that massively increase your potential outreach. Adding further languages multiplies the number of potential customers alongside.

#2 It puts you ahead of competitors

Operating on multilingual levels puts you ahead of competitors. Especially startups are challenged to set themselves one step ahead of the competition. Localization allows you to enter niche markets before your competitors do.

A multilingual strategy is a stupendous advantage for young companies to increase brand awareness. The Internet population and mobile phone penetration in non­English speaking countries rise steadily and are predicted to further increase. Businesses need to plan how to stay ahead of competitors and keep up with these growth stats. V entureBeat states that it’s only a matter of time before multilingual content and products become standard for companies.

#3 It drives sales and revenue growth

Since the creation of the Internet mainly English content has been published. In line with the continuous growth of the online population, the number of languages spoken by web surfers rises. Common Sense Advisory states that billions of people don’t read English at all or not well enough to make purchase decisions. According to a survey conducted by CSA

  • 55% of online consumers prefer to shop online in their native language.
  • 56% consider content in their native language more important than the product price.
  • 74% of consumers are more likely to purchase a second time if support is provided in their native language.

Wrapping it up

Sooner or later startups start thinking about translating their products and digital content as localization is a rapid driver for revenue growth. Taking your business global and localising products into multiple languages is no small feat, but it’s feasible ­and we know how to make it easier. LingoHub is a partner of Seedstars World and specialised in translating and localising digital products ranging from websites to mobile apps, software and documents. We are extremely happy that we can support all winners of this year’s Seedstars World competition in taking their great ideas global with a special prize.

This article by Anja Obermüller originally appeared on Seedstars World, a Burn Media publishing partner.

Feature image via Seedstars World blog.



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Ventureburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.