Imagine a world where the boundaries between the digital and physical blur, where technology isn't just a tool, but foundational in how a person perceives the world. In 2001, Marc Prensky introduced a concept in a landmark essay that those born into the digital era intuitively understand digital technology in a way earlier generations could not. He named this generation the "digital natives."
Matt and I believe that the corporate world is experiencing an equally monumental and transformative migration. Companies born today won’t merely “go international” when they reach a certain size or IPO, they are global by default from inception.
This may feel like a remarkably abrupt transition, but if we look into the past, both over the centuries and decades leading to the present day, this moment and the future we are entering becomes much clearer. In this essay, we will briefly explore some of the primary drivers precipitating this paradigm shift.
Welcome to the age of the "Globally Native Company."
What exactly are they?
A Global Native is a business born in the digital era where geographical borders are more symbolic than true boundaries. These companies are not merely participants, but sculptors of the global marketplace, defining and redefining what it means to truly be a global business. Early examples include companies like Spotify, Patreon, Shopify, and Airbnb. These Generation One companies enable individuals to listen, support, trade, or stay with anyone, anywhere in the world—all through geographically agnostic platforms and marketplaces. Their ability to transcend geographical boundaries and become ubiquitous throughout the world has been critical to their success.
Global Native companies are most easily defined by their product or market. They either sell a product or service that is engineered from the ground up for a global audience, are built to facilitate or serve other companies who have global audiences, or greatly rely upon global talent, services, or supply-chains for their means of production.
While engaging in some amount of global trade is almost inevitable in the modern era, there are characteristics that make Global Native’s distinct from companies who merely operate within the global economic system. Global Native’s are often founded or led by those who spent foundational years of childhood growing up within an already globalized world.
The native environment of these companies is digital in nature, where a craft maker in Omaha can create finished goods from raw materials imported from Indonesia and then sold on a marketplace platform based in Toronto to customers all around the world. It would almost be more apt to attribute their earnings to the GDP of the internet as a differentiated category, rather than belonging to any one nation’s GDP. But most importantly, these businesses see the world as inherently global; it's one market, not a combination of separate territories.
Global Natives intuitively understand that the digital world they grew up in can actually shape the physical world around them, and their sandbox is now borderless. They intuitively know how to navigate this new borderless world moving past previous markers of separation, such as language or culture. It is this intuition that makes them a native, and the context in which they are born just happens to be global.
Mercantilism to Globalization
How did we get here?
International business has witnessed a remarkable evolution since the mercantilist era of the 1700s. Driven by national interests, European powers set forth on exploration and colonization voyages, fostering the birth of iconic trading behemoths like the British East India Trading Company. These ventures laid the foundation for the robust international trade system we recognize today, facilitating the exchange of myriad goods, services, and resources on an unprecedented scale. The allure of wealth and national power led to the establishment of intricate trading routes, like the Silk Road and the Spice Trade, expanding influence and interconnectedness on a global scale.
Progressing into the 19th century, technological breakthroughs, chief of which is the Industrial Revolution, transformed the face of international trade. Steam engines revolutionized maritime transportation, railways interconnected previously isolated territories. The introduction of telegraph lines dramatically accelerated communication, letting businesses relay messages across continents almost instantaneously. This era also ushered in notable financial advancements. The Gold Standard offered a stable global currency system throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries allowing transatlantic trade to prosper. And eventually fiat currencies enabled governments to exert more control over monetary policies and facilitated dynamic global financial exchanges. Financial instruments, like futures contracts, emerged as a pivotal tool, allowing businesses to manage the financial impact of commodity price fluctuations. And some of the largest global banks we still use today (e.g. HSBC, Citi) expanded their reach, establishing branches in vital trade hubs around the world.
The post-World War II era experienced a remarkable boom in international trade, propelled by international cooperation frameworks such as the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These new frameworks, connectivity, and collaboration in the 20th century set the stage for the rise of Multinational Corporations (MNCs). In order to capitalize on economies of scale and scope, MNCs established footholds in multiple countries, significantly influencing global production, consumption patterns, and cultural dynamics.
The legacy of mercantilism, the scale of industrialization, and the sweeping currents of globalization layered upon one another to form the fabric of an increasingly interconnected economic landscape. Yet, as history has consistently shown us, evolution is unending. By the dawn of the late 20th century, a new revolution was imminent, one that would be the most significant since humans abandoned nomadism in the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago.
The Dawn of the Digital Age & Globalization 2.0
How the world changed in one generation.
The widespread adoption of the internet in the 1990s and 2000s signified a pivotal turning point for international business. As we transitioned into the 21st century, the global business landscape began undergoing significant transformations, primarily catalyzed by the digital revolution. The internet, once a novelty, became a necessity. It changed how we communicate, collaborate and do business with one another. With the advent of e-commerce, businesses could sell to customers halfway across the globe without ever meeting them. A relationship that was so distant in the literal sense, was as localized as if it were done in person. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn reshaped branding, customer relationships, and networking.
Furthermore, the rise of digital marketing meant that businesses were no longer constrained by geographical ad placements. Instead, they targeted audiences based on interests, behaviors, and online interactions. This shift not only changed how companies marketed themselves but also redefined competition. Brick and mortar stores in Paris found themselves competing with online retailers from Seoul, emphasizing the dwindling relevance of physical proximity. Trade has historically always been tied to physical trade routes, banking locations on every corner, but infrastructure is no longer built on the ground with bricks, but in the cloud with code. Companies, no longer tethered to physical infrastructures can reach global audiences and expand their influence at a staggering rate, literally bending the trajectory of international trade.
The 2000s also witnessed the rise of the startup culture, with Silicon Valley at its epicenter. Startups, with their agile structures and innovative solutions, looked to disrupt established business giants. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo democratized fundraising, enabling innovators worldwide to bring their ideas to fruition. Moreover, with tools like Slack, Trello, and Zoom, teams could collaborate seamlessly across time zones, leading to a dispersion of innovation hubs globally, from Tel Aviv to Bangalore, removing physical location as a limiting factor for new, innovative businesses to scale rapidly.
The combined forces of the digital revolution and the rapid dominance in which startups could compete, capture, or even create wholly new markets has left an indelible mark on the business world. Geographical boundaries have become increasingly porous in the realm of commerce. Companies no longer view themselves as local entities serving local markets but as global entities capable of serving any market.
This has not only redefined business strategies, but also altered personal perceptions. The global workforce is now awakening to the possibility of living in one part of the world while working for an organization in another, reshaping the future of both how we work, and how we live, and the intertwining of the two. This brings us to the last point we want to explore that has led to the rise of Global Natives. The changing world is symbiotic in nature, it both changes its inhabitants and is subsequently changed by them.
The Global Generation's Borderless Worldview
How the world changed one generation, and how they will change the world.
In the unfolding narrative of the global economy, a key catalyst behind the rise of Globally Native companies lies not just in technological advancements or market dynamics, but in the visionaries who birth these companies: the founders and entrepreneurs whose life experiences have primed them for global ventures. This generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders possess a unique paradigm of how they see themselves and the world, which we are calling, the borderless worldview.
Global Native founders grew up during a period of rapid globalization, underscored by the emergence of the internet, the ubiquity of mobile devices, and the rise of social media platforms that allowed them to collaborate with peers from every corner of the globe. They were the early users of online multiplayer games with teammates in different continents, they witnessed revolutions in real-time on Twitter, and consumed content from global creators on YouTube. They applied to Universities around the world online rather than mailing in an application completed with a typewriter. This early exposure to a borderless digital world cultivated a consciousness that views globality not as an obstacle, but rather as an interconnected web of opportunities.
Furthermore, as they transitioned into their early careers, they encountered the intricacies of an internet-driven economy. They saw firsthand how traditional business models were upended by digital platforms, how niche products instantly found global audiences, and how businesses could seamlessly be run from a laptop in Bali just as effectively as from a skyscraper in New York. This hands-on experience with an internet-dominated distribution system gave them insights that were more intuitive than learned.
And it wasn’t just the distribution—the financial landscape was changing too. Cryptocurrencies, digital wallets, and fintech platforms began revolutionizing how money was stored, moved, and invested. Startups in San Francisco raised funds from venture capitalists in Singapore. Freelancers in Manila were paid by clients in Munich. These entrepreneurs, in their formative years of travel and online shopping, navigated the complexities of currency conversions and cross-border payments. These experiences taught them about the challenges of a global economy, it gave them the tools to solve problems on a global scale and it prepared them to tackle the intricacies of running a global-first business.
The final punctuation mark on this generation’s coming of age story was the COVID-19 pandemic. The world was slowly adapting to the digital shift, but the pandemic served as an unexpected and forceful catalyst for social and economic change. Where you work and where you live was unequivocally changed in a matter of weeks. Offices turned virtual, and home spaces became workstations, underscoring a truth many had theorized but not universally accepted: most modern jobs can be done with equal effectiveness from anywhere with an internet connection. Companies' physical infrastructure and geographic location quickly turned from an asset to a liability. Global Native companies start here, and by extension can move quickly by tapping into a global talent pool.
Finally, the pandemic also highlighted the importance of digital resilience. Businesses that were slow to adapt to the digital age quickly fell behind or entered into bankruptcy. Whereas companies that had robust digital infrastructures, or were able to pivot to them, thrived. E-commerce, digital entertainment, and online education witnessed exponential growth, while traditional industries faced disruption. The Internet Economy was growing 7 times faster than US GDP growth in the years leading up to 2020, the pandemic just accelerated it.
These founders' unique amalgamation of experiences distinguishes them from predecessors. Their journeys, characterized by both the global expanse of the internet and the intricacies of a digitally-driven economy, have not only equipped them with the tools but also the mindset to lead in the age of Global Natives. For them, thinking globally isn't a strategic pivot, it's just business as usual.
Global Natives & Globalization 3.0
Why Global Native Companies will dominate a borderless future.
Global Natives are emerging as architects of the future. Woven from the fabric of the digital age, they possess the instincts to navigate our borderless world. They don't just comprehend today's dynamics, they foresee tomorrow's shifts. These companies are not uniquely smarter or more capable than their predecessors, it’s simply the context in which they grew up and are growing up. Today, globalization isn’t a distinct choice, it just is. We are global by default. The fact that there is no distinction in their mind between the two is evidence that they see the world for what it really is: borderless.
Their rapid growth will not be a fluke but a result of their innate global perspective. While success isn't guaranteed for all, there are undoubtedly potential game-changers within the class, and we believe they are the ones laying the infrastructure for this new age. In today's landscape, finance is more code than currency, and it's the Global Natives who intuitively understand how that digital infrastructure now shapes the reality for businesses and individuals. This is what places them at the forefront of this tectonic shift.
One example is Stripe, an early category-defining company in this new era. Stripe is not merely a payment gateway, but an embedded financial backbone that supports countless businesses. Yet, as revolutionary as Stripe is, without the credit card infrastructure of Visa and Mastercard, there would be no Stripe. Without banks, there’s no Visa and Mastercard. In the same vein, while Facebook dominates the social sphere today, AOL was the trailblazer that hinted at the potential of digital social connectivity. Web 2.0 could only emerge from the ashes of Web 1.0. The digital evolution is a testament to visionaries like Patrick Collison, the CEO and co-founder of Stripe, who once said they were building for companies that didn't yet exist, but believed fervently that they would.
This is not to say the finance and industry titans leading today don’t have staying power —the largest banks in the world are also the oldest—but they aren’t leading the charge. They will be fueling it with financial capital, acquisitions, incubation and integrations. These “Global Immigrants,” with their deep knowledge, experience, and capital offer a bridge between the old and the new. Their current value is undeniable, but their future value will hinge on their adaptability and willingness to let others lead them through to the other side.
In the ever-evolving narrative of global trade, this new chapter introduces the Global Natives as an entirely new entry in the evolution of businesses, yet the underlying story remains familiar. Every epoch ushers in a new generation of enterprises that both draw from and elevate the legacy of the giants that preceded them. These Global Natives are not just newcomers to the scene, they are the latest torchbearers in a continuous tale of entrepreneurs and new endeavors adding their distinctive mark on history. Yet, at least for this generation, they are the ones lighting the path. If you want to find your way to the future, look to the new trailblazers.
Look to the Global Native’s.
Aeron Sullivan is the founder and CEO of Pangea, a company whose mission is to eliminate currency risk. He has worked across public, private, and non-profit spheres in his career. He served in the Marines for 8 years before departing as a Captain. He led two startups prior to Pangea, one where he was named to Inc. Magazine's 30 entrepreneurs under 30, and the second where he became the visionary behind the #1 Religious education app in the world. Aeron is passionate about solving problems through innovative solutions and driving organizational growth.
Matt Esteve currently manages risk for Stripe’s new products after building out the company’s FX hedging and product capabilities. Prior to Stripe, Matt worked at Citi, with experience in FX market making, risk management, and product and business strategy. He focused his career on working with, and building products for, small to medium sized tech companies when he noticed the emergent trend of Globally Native businesses.