We’re taught from a very young age that copying lacks virtue and deserves some form of punishment. You could say it is viewed as a form of stealing.
A start-up (or a business for that matter) is a complex set of interacting ideas and actions. Some of which may be original (your widget, website, service), and some of which will certainly be copied, such as your accounting methodology.
These are simplified examples to make a certain point: nothing is truly original. Every idea has been built upon something someone has already done, thought of or been exposed to, even if subconsciously. Civilisation itself is built upon communities adding value to the ideas of other communities.
We learn from copying. From the moment we are born we commence a life of imitation, from eating to talking to walking to writing, everything is learned. And if everything is learned, we’re simply imitating and adding value at different locations on the copying scale.
If you don’t have an idea for a start up, maybe copying someone else isn’t so bad. Here are three ways to be a ‘Copy Cat’.
· Do the same thing in the same market
· Do a new version in the same market
· Do the same thing in a new market
If it’s the same thing in a new market, it’s a new thing to the people who haven’t seen it. You might just be rewarded by copying in a new geography or copying then adding.
If you have any doubts, here are some high profile examples of the copy cat in action.
The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player – far from it. The iPod was the first simplified version with heightened usability and the sex appeal of simply being Apple. A new version in the same market.
Microsoft Windows wasn’t the first Graphical User Interface. Either was Apple. It actually spawned from a Zerox Photocopier workstation called the Alto. Apple brought the GUI to a new geography, that being personal computers.
Redbull didn’t launch in Austria as many believe. It was founded in Thailand in 1962 and known as Krating Daeng – Red Bull Thai. It was simply repackaged and brought to the Western World by an Austrian Entrepreneur who stumbled upon it while travelling on business. He brought an existing product to a new geography and repositioned it to create an entirely new category.
Boost Juice was a simple adaptation of the juice bar concept that enjoyed fast growth a good 10 years earlier in California. Jamba Juice is now a publicly-traded stock, has over 600 stores and launched in 1990. We didn’t see Boost Juice in Australia until the year 2000, although it now has a turnover greater than $100m per annum.
A website worth checking out is Springwise. They espouse the virtues of the copy cat. You’ll be amazed at what you can copy from this idea pod. Some new start-ups are literally asking for copy cats – otherwise known as distributors. And even if they’re not out looking for distributors, maybe they’ve simply been too busy to think about it. Why not approach a hot product / business or idea from overseas to become their Australian distributor? Remember that the founders of these business were also once in your shoes, looking for a start.
I’m not doubting that a more original concept (relatively speaking) has a higher propensity for huge success – the big win. However, it also works in reverse – you have a much higher chance of absolute failure. A copy cat may not make a billion, but it may get you out of your cubicle. As entrepreneurs, we must constantly remind ourselves that success is an internal and relative concept.
The one thing we need to remember is, with the advent of the net, we haven’t got as much time to get the idea to market. We need to act as soon as we see it, or others will.
Stephen Sammartino escaped his cubicle after 10 years marketing global brands. He has now founded two start-ups, recently launching rentoid – the place to rent anything.