As new digital technologies are constantly being introduced at ever-faster rates, there will be more opportunities to capture new markets and unseat incumbents. Startups would be much advantaged by this opportunity as they could generate fresher ideas than big companies do. However, in order to thrive in the fierce business competition, startups often have to compete against the giants. The competition is not only focusing on generating profits, but also producing compelling ideas.
Copycat and stealing ideas are common
Copycat behaviour is common and it could be life-threatening to startups. One of the most popular examples can be learnt from Snapchat.
Back in 2016, Snapchat discovered that social media users wanted something different. They want to display a story that only stays for 24 hours. Thus, Snapchat created stories that disappeared after 24 hours. The idea was welcomed by many internet users, especially teenagers. However, Facebook was aware of this threat brought by Snapchat. Mark Zuckerberg then tried to acquire the business but it was turned down by the founder. This is how the copycat behaviour started.
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Facebook copied Snapchat’s Stories feature and coded it in every Facebook retail app, such as Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Facebook also added impermanent messaging options to Instagram and Messenger. It also began testing face filters that were extremely similar to Snapchat’s lenses. This case, of course, harms Snapchat’s popularity because after that, Snapchat users fell dramatically.
Snapchat is among few examples of startups that are stomped by the giant’s power. However, the practice of acquiring, capturing, or copying startups ideas can be easily found done by giant companies in order to survive the market – and because they have more power than startups in general.
The attempt to acquire or steal startup ideas does not always succeed, however. Many big tech companies are being turned down by startup founders when trying to buy their ideas. HBR Associate Professor, Thales Teixeira wrote that acquisition can sometimes be very costly and increasingly it is not an option. You might want to refer to Facebook company, Teixeira explained. Before the copycat behaviour happened, Facebook tried to acquire Snapchat but Snapchat founder rejected it.
That being said, it is the founder’s choice whether to give up building the business and sell it to a larger company or to keep on working on it. If you choose to keep the business, it is better for you to take precautions of any chances of stealing and copycat behaviours.
To avoid being besieged by copycat behaviour, here are five questions to guide you.
- Does the opponent have a major strength that is predominantly responsible for its success?
- Can you identify a product offering, such as niche, feature, or format, that customers value but can be easily copied?
- Do you have the capability to make the idea of your product or service difficult to be copied?
- Would mimicking the novel offering somehow hurt a larger opponent’s main business?
- If the product offering eventually has traction in the market, would the Big Tech companies necessarily need to give up its strength to copy or compete?
If you answer “yes” to all the above questions, the strategy to protect your ideas from blatant copying will likely succeed. Yet, Teixeira also advised that a single strategy might not tackle all problems, thus, you need to constantly create copy-proof innovation. Acquiring patents for your products, services, or ideas could help in this case.
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