If your business is successful someone is going to copy it. I can guarantee it. When a great idea enters the market everyone takes notice. And like all good things, it must be copied, redesigned and redistributed.
Copy-cat entrepreneurs thrive using this method. They create nearly-identical businesses, closely replicating their competitors. They see a new and emerging business that’s profitable and they act quickly to grab a portion of the market share for themselves. While some may consider it stealing, these entrepreneurs view it as using a proven method.
Don’t direct all your attention to your copy-cats.
Two weeks ago, I swiped another software developer’s client. If you provide poor customer service and aggressively demand payments, you’re making your clients easy pickings for anyone with a pleasant demeanor and cheaper rates.
Last week, this same developer emailed my client threatening to launch her app without her if she stopped using him. I immediately called his bluff. It’s outright theft that he’s admitting to, plus the client legally owns the code. Plus it’s a blatant breach of his Upworks contract and I doubt he’d risk getting banned for an unproven idea.
However, regardless of my advice, she was very concerned.
Her idea wasn’t unique and new, but a well put together spinoff of other productivity apps. I usually see a lot of get-rich-quick app schemes, but she had a full business plan with a financial plan and was consulting me on marketing ideas. Furthermore, she already had a group ready to test the beta version of her app in a few months.
However, after that email, she wanted to take some time off from growing her business to take action against him and seek out patents and trademarks. Don’t get me wrong, trademarks and patents are an important part of your business. But I was quite concerned that she was considering halting her business to deal with this.
I asked her, “I understand that this would be outright theft, but are you prepared to seek legal action and pause your company to battle every copycat that appears? Investing all of your time and effort into putting them out of business. In the end, if your app is profitable copy-cat entrepreneurs will appear. Is it wise to shift all of your investment toward handling them?”
Very few business ideas are completely unique. Any app developer or angel investor can tell you that. Even most bloggers can tell you that they probably aren’t the first ones to write on a specific topic — myself included. It’s all about putting your own creativity and spin on an idea and making it your own.
Don’t take copycatting as a negative. Copying is perfectly normal and being copied is not the worst thing that could happen to your business. Inspiration is a strange thing. Sometimes you’re the one being inspired. Sometimes you’re the one doing it. Nevertheless, if you’re successful you’ll have a few imitators.
Competition won’t kill your business, but getting distracted can. You’re going to encounter very similar businesses down the road, some that may even give you a run for your money. However, coexistence is possible. For instance, Uber and Lyft, Walmart and Target, and Dominos and Pizza Hut all coexist perfectly fine with similar business models.
Competition fosters growth and will force you to constantly evolve. Like the companies I mentioned above, you’ll have to focus on your own business. Differentiate your brand and build trust and loyalty among your customers. In the end, you’ll secure your own separate market share.
Protect your idea, but if you can’t just keep moving forward.
Copycats are going to appear in the market and there isn’t too much you can do about it. The best thing you can do is not dwell on it. Simply protect your idea as much as possible and focus on your own business.
Patents and trademarks are definitely crucial. Even if it’s a provisional patent it is necessary if your idea is unique, but replicable. Get as much protection as you can.
However, this isn’t the early 1900’s, you can’t patent and trademark every single aspect of your business or product(for a reasonable price anyway). And most millennials are creating online businesses with features and processes they’ve pulled from other companies.
In order to patent an idea, your “invention” must meet certain requirements.
- The subject matter must be patentable. ( “new and useful” process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter. )
- The invention must be novel. (Something so new and original that it’s never been seen, used or even thought of before.)
- The invention must have some utility or usefulness.
- The invention must not be obvious.
Lastly, not everyone needs to sign a non-disclosure or non-compete agreement. Only your employees, contractors, developers, investors and anyone that has the resources and knowledge to replicate your idea or that has access to insider information.
Compete don’t complain.
Competition won’t kill your business, but not blocking out the unnecessary noise just might. If you can patent or trademark your business then you’ll have a line of security. However, if you weren’t able to, it’s not the end of the world.
Remember to compete, not complain. When money’s involved people can become quite cutthroat and will latch onto anything that looks profitable. And a few threats and emails might not be enough to change their minds.
In my opinion, there are only two types of entrepreneurs, wolves and vultures. Wolves create or find their own packs. Everyone takes a role and they hunt and grind for everything they get. Vultures follow you from distance and pick off the scraps left behind from other entrepreneurs.
While vultures may seem like a less desirable description, it’s more secure than being a wolf. They’re replicating something that’s proven to yield good results. And purposely created a similar business in order to directly compete with another brand. Grabbing as much market share as they can in the process and turning a more guaranteed profit.
Overall, vultures won’t kill your business and unless you stop innovating and growing your business they won’t beat you either. Furthermore, being a wolf won’t guarantee success either. It’s all about growing your business and staying ahead of your compeition. And you can’t efficiently move forward if you keep looking at what’s behind you.
Don’t lose focus.
No matter which category you fall into, remember to keep your end goal in mind. If you see someone following you, widen the gap rather than going back to knock them off course. Any deviation from your end goal will take time and resources.
While resources can be regained, time can’t. And if you take your eyes off what’s in front of you for too long, you’ll get lost. So always weigh the pros and cons before changing your focus.