Our second company visit was to Naver, the Google of Korea. Essentially what Naver has created is a search engine platform specifically tailored to the needs of Koreans. While companies like Google maybe bias towards an American audience, Naver’s success comes from the fact that it specifically caters to Koreans: it’s a better tool for finding restaurants, for searching for K-Pop videos, for helping Koreans access the content most relevant to them.
I think one of the reasons this is so successful is that Korea is so homogenous. There are very few foreigners in Korea, and in a lot of ways I think Korea is very inwardly focused. They have a very niche market, and they’re very successful at giving that market exactly what they want: they’re the best tool for this narrowly scoped job. The employees at Naver were very conscious however, that this attitude makes international expansion very difficult. For instance, the launched their search engine in Japan and it flopped. Their error was in assuming that Japanese users wanted exactly what Korean users wanted, and that what they really needed to do was tailor their product to a new type of user. Otherwise, there was no reason to use them over a bigger search engine like Google.
The environment of Naver headquarters is actually very similar to Google headquarters. They’ve put a lot of care into making their facilities a place where employees want to be. They have 6 trainers on call in their fitness facilities, cheap and high quality meals available in their cafeteria (subsidized for employees), green space and special blinds in their library, staircases consciously designed to be inviting, and an in house clinic and convenience store. It’s clear that they’re really interested in the well being of their employees, and that’s really reflected in the enthusiasm employees have towards the company.