Why Invent When You Can Clone a Business Model

Samwer Brothers

Samwer Brothers - Photograph by Dieter Mayr

As a business school student, I hear talk of new tech startups or app ideas daily, whether it be overheard walking through the halls or from colleagues I chat with. I love the atmosphere and state of mind. I think it’s very conducive to thinking outside the box, staying on your toes and keeping your business edge sharp. However, at the same time, we all know how high the percentage of failed startups is, or at least how few of them really make it as “big” as many hope to make it. Nonetheless, it’s exciting to brainstorm and theorize.

I ran across this article in my web browsing today. How Three Germans Are Cloning the Web. I think it’s both brilliant and…somewhat shameful, though shameful could be a bit strong in my opinion. If you can find a way to make money, even if it means a little copy-cat and then doing it better or applying it somewhere else in the world, I think that’s fair game. But maybe that’s just the ‘stealing jazz licks’ side of me coming out (it’s common practice to copy the style of other jazz artists in the development of your own unique style).

Fab.com HomepageI think what the Samwer brothers are doing is slick because they are taking existing ideas of web startups and building copy-cat companies that steal a potential portion of the international market in some other region. If a startup hasn’t found a way to reach German customers or any other segment yet, I suppose it’s fair game. I’d say it’s a pretty dirty move too, mostly because of how similar these new startups are. More than similar, many are direct imitations. A great deal is copied–the look & feel of websites, the business model, and even the name is reminiscent of the original sometimes. Both the Fab v. Bamarang and Zappos v. Zalando are great examples. Even the discount price on Fab and Bamarang is the same.

Bamarang HomepageNotably, the Samwer brothers have already made millions off this strategy. Zalando has been valued at $1 billion. It’s no surprise that others (the Heilemann brothers–German as well) are in direct competition with this strategy. (Where are we America!? Haha…maybe we are too original?)

Also of import:

Last summer a local startup called 6Wunderkinder called for an anti-copycat revolution. “OK, we respect the fact that you’re really good at execution and copying business models,” says Jessica Erickson, 6Wunderkinder’s communications director. “But we can do better than this.”

And:

In January about 20 Rocket employees, some the Samwers’ closest allies, announced they were leaving to launch a rival startup factory, called Project A Ventures, that will focus on backing original ideas.

If the Samwers are based out of Germany and are copying a lot of the American startups, maybe there are some European originals waiting to be cloned. I wonder…

Would you do it for the money? Or do you think it’s both a shameful sham? Thoughts?

Great read. You should check it out. How Three Germans Are Cloning the Web

2 Comments

  1. Always take the money. That’s my life motto.

    A large portion of business is copying the successful first mover. As much as I like Android and Samsung you can’t help but look at how they have capitalized off Apple’s success (while throwing in their own innovations.

    I mean, Walmart sales goods that mimic the more expensive counter parts, groupon has 8-billion competitors all offering social buying deals, facebook spun off myspace/friendster. I think its a legitimate business strategy to extent if you can take the innovation offered by others and put your own spin on it or take it to the next level. Duplicate sites will only be successful to an extent.

    -Jake Lingwall

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  2. I mostly agree. I’d just say that I take pride in doing some things more original (mostly meaning, add differentiation so that you don’t look the same but look like a legitimate competitor, not a copy-cat). Otherwise, I’d agree. Build off the successful first mover. That’s good business in general.

    Android has done very well in this regard. I wouldn’t consider it a copycat, unlike some of the stuff Samwer Brothers creates. Smartphones and tablets were bound to be redesigned by new competitors, and not something Apple owned. Android is pretty different from iOS while they compete in the same market.

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