Heard of DoCoMo? Probably not, unless you happen to live in Japan. NTT DoCoMo is one of the world's biggest wireless phone companies. It operates in a ferociously competitive market, boasts about 50 million customers and has been known to produce cutting-edge technology. By all rights it ought to be a star performer in the increasingly global business of wireless communications. Yet DoCoMo's brand is still virtually unknown outside its home country. This is one story that could've had a very different ending. At the turn of the century, DoCoMo executives announced they were setting out to conquer the world. Their company's star mobile Internet application, known as i-mode, was leading the pack in its home market, and DoCoMo planned to leverage that success into a bid to dictate wireless Internet standards around the world. The company went on a buying spree, trying to gain footholds by purchasing stakes in overseas companies—stakes that soon made for painful losses, and not much else, when the dot-com bubble popped soon thereafter.
The would-be worldbeater proved tone-deaf. DoCoMo was so enraptured with its state-of-the-art Internet service that it failed to notice that the long, intricate menus favored by Japanese consumers didn't impress foreign customers who were looking for more-intuitive interfaces. One reason for the failure to communicate: not a single person in senior management was non-Japanese. "With the right approach they could have become a Google," says Gerhard Fasol of the Tokyo consultancy Eurotechnology Japan. "They had the chance—but they blew it."
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Christian Caryl writes for NEWSWEEK: