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Curebit (YC W11) Raises $1.2 Million For Online Referral System (techcrunch.com)
143 points by allangrant on Jan 27, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 82 comments

Your new designer will be able to have a crack at an original homepage ;)



So, these guys get YCombinator and other investors to give them $1.2M and they still have to rip off 37 signals' design.

I wonder which startup got rejected in their place.

What if curebit copied highrise's product - not the design mind you, but the core functionality of the product - and used a completely different, original design to dress up the product? Would you throw a similar tantrum?

This is something that's always perplexed me. Companies copy other companies' business models and compete for the same customers all the time, but that's considered fair game. But if a design is copied, shit hits the fan.

Frankly, I'd rather someone copy my design and go after a diff niche of customers than copy my product and come after my customers.

To the guys at Curebit - ignore this noise. The focus should be on creating an awesome product, getting paying customers and generating profits. You guys have an awesome product and deserve the funding. Congrats :)

P.S. You should remove the hotlinks tho. No need to use their bandwidth.

First: it's the law. Copyright covers "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium". It expressly does not cover "procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery". http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/102.html

Second: if curebit used Highrise code verbatim in their product, I bet hell yes there would be tantrum about it.

Wait, so are you saying that we should be more outraged when business models and customers are stolen in a borderline illegal way? This is a valid point and we probably should be more outraged.

Or are you saying that it should be ok to rip off someone's design and hotlink to their assets?

Wait, do you think that there aren't already 10s, maybe even a 100+ products out there with the same basic functionality as Highrise? Because there are. There were before Highrise, and now, after. There are more every year.

The concept of a CRM is not something you can "copy" because it simply exists. And most web-based software works in roughly the same way. So far, most 37signals products have very few truly unique features, because their focus is on simplicity and less software.

Accordingly, 37signals doesn't care if somebody launches a new CRM.

They also don't seem to care when live chat apps like Hipchat have one or two features that 37signals pioneered.

Stealing a design outright, on the other hand, is not growing or improving or adopting a concept (e.g. "contact management that tracks deals", "it should x when you y") but their actual IP.

>Stealing a design outright, on the other hand, is not growing or improving or adopting a concept (e.g. "contact management that tracks deals", "it should x when you y") but their actual IP.

Can you cite legislation within the US, or a successful civil suit?


Hey - I'm one of the founders of Curebit, and yes - it was a boneheaded move..

We had a different homepage, were a/b testing different pages, came across the 37signals post and were like 'wow we should see how that converts!' We are big fans of rails and what 37signals is doing and did not really think through the implications of what we were doing. We just kind of thought about it as a fun test to run.

Clearly it was stupid. It was not meant to offend anyone and we are adding credit where due. (We'll take it down if DHH insists!)

Our new designer will take a crack at more than our homepage... we need all our UI "designed".. not redesigned, but designed - because we're primarily backend guys. Yes, this landing page variation was heavily inspired (read: blatantly ripped off) from Highrise -- because these are the peeps we aspire to, and they've done a lot of testing to figure out what works: http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2991-behind-the-scenes-ab-tes...

We're running a "ghetto test" - this homepage variant does not even share a common CSS file with the rest of the code base. It's been live less than a week.

The idea was to just see how the conversion characteristics were before investing a lot of time into making a "real design" out of the lessons (prominent testimonial, light copy focused on value props). Hence the hot linking, inline styles, etc. It is personally my fault for not including a credit to Highrise for the design.. that credit is well deserved and will be added shortly - a big oversight on my part.. we launch some stuff fast (other things deliberately), and this was one of those fast things.

Lesson to us: add credits, and be more explicit what we're testing... ask permission instead of asking for forgiveness. In the meantime, please forgive us? :)

We'll take it down if DHH insists!

It is personally my fault for not including a credit to Highrise for the design

Lesson to us: add credits

Crediting someone for their property doesn't make stealing it ok. By default, stealing is wrong. Waiting for an objection and/or linking to the owner doesn't change that. This seems like a problematic worldview for a young company.

It's not stealing, it's copying. 37signals still has their original. Let's get an upvote here because I know everyone in this forum agrees.

Actually, since they are hotlinking to some assets directly from the other site, they are indeed stealing.

Also, please don't ask for upvotes or assume that others agree with you.

Oh, trust me, the upvote request and everything about this comment were filled with deeply engrained sarcasm.

Sorry about that! Now I feel quite silly...

I actually needed your comment to understand, so it was useful at least once.

I actually don't care that they copied the design, but that YC actually funded people who thought that was a professional thing to do.

You realize you set your company up for enormous civil penalties here - $200-$150,000.

And, since you've admitted to stealing their site straight up - it might be "willful and deliberate", it could be considered a criminal act.

I'm no lawyer - but one probably wrote this: http://www.lib.purdue.edu/uco/CopyrightBasics/penalties.html

Your response here makes it worse not better. You copied from them blatantly including linking to their assets and then your first lesson learnt is "add credits"... really?

You are still not planning on taking it down, just adding a credit to their site?

I personally would never use a service that has this level of integrity, I wouldn't trust any of my information with it.

Close, but no cigar: http://mee.la/28983

Wow, they copied both of their designs. Ouch.


Looks like you were using the design for a new product as well (http://www.sharebooster.com).


You going to take that down also?

That logo looks an awful lot like the Luanchbit logo as well. http://www.launchbit.com/

By "looks an awful lot like" WadeF actually means "looks exactly like"...

I had to really concentrate to see the difference.

Wow these guys have absolutely no integrity.

Please stop using the term "ghetto testing." Nobody knows what the hell that means and nobody thinks that that's okay.

The proper course is to apologize, take it down, and move on. Not make lame, half-assed excuses which just perpetuate the situation.

You missed this in the 37signals post you referenced.

"Please note: What works for us may not work for you. Please do your own testing. Your conversion rates may suffer if you copy us."

In this case, its certainly would suffer

I don't think credit is really going to cut it in this situation.. and permission is unlikely to have been given had you actually asked.

To be fair, everyone and their mother has ripped off 37 Signals pricing table and this never seemed to bother anyone.

I agree - when it comes to web design, people steal ideas from everywhere. The way I see this as a bit different, is that they actually took the design verbatim and then cross linked the assets...so technically, they stole the bandwidth and images which may have royalty's associated with them.

As for duplicating the layout and taking the concepts, that's fair game in my opinion. The actual graphics should not be stolen and re-used.

They ripped off the concept and idea of the pricing table, yet they didn't flat out take the design and just modify the text. These guys took every single element, changed no style.

Lesson to you: Make your own shit if you want credibility.

Allangrant,  as you stated you are a back end developer.  While that's good to note, it doesn't exclude the outcome that DHH and the community have already commented on.

However, I think something that is missing is a little more guidance.  Other than the issues others have communicated, the web page showed that your company hasn't established, even in very raw form, it's own style that is best for its users.  It's normal to reflect and be inspired by others designs.  I would even recommend that you take screenshots of the design styles that speak to you.  From that point though, the screen shots should be used as "internal" discussion materials that help your company find the essence of its own style.  That style should always be taking what's best for your product/service and user base, into the style characteristics.

Once you've found your core style, express it and iterate over it using each iteration as a piece of more relavent inspiration to your style (37Signals recently released a cool video on their blog that demonstrates this process through their eyes).  The results should make you proud enough to express and share it with your customers.  Only at that point do you finally make it public.  After that keep iterating over it.  If you utilize external inspiration, make sure that you've iterated over it enough that your style doesn't feel like a knockoff.  You should be able to identify this easily and odds are, if you've been going through all this it won't be.  However, if you have concerns just take screen shots of your style and the screen shots of what externally inspired you,...show them to some people who don't work for your company and weren't involved with the design process.  They should be able to 1) pick up on your style and 2) agree that it isn't a knockoff.  Given the situation you are in, I would recommend this heavily to help give piece of mind.

I realize that you wanted to gain from the lessons learned from 37Signals internal design iteration process as well as other companies.  However, if you note what I said above, it means they were focusing "also" on their product and their customers.  Which means if you directly reflect your design from theirs, you weren't focusing enough on your customers.  You might have intended to give your customers a great design experience, but without going through the process above, your website is considered not authentic...and as a result people focus on the their feeling of "this looks oddly familiar" instead of focusing on what your product can do for them.

Many, if not all of the people who have commented have gone through their own artistic design process to build one or more designs.  And at times it can be "hell" (fun, but still) to create something that the designer feels is good enough to share/use.  It is a compliment that someone is inspired by your design.  But when it's closer to a knockoff it can make the designer feel like they sacrificed him/her-self for your free ride.  If they intended for it to be given away, then the benefit you receive gives them whatever good feeling they were looking for.  I'm sure you have, like many people, worked insane hours that took away from family, friends, and even yourself.

I hope humility, honesty, and hard work guide your company to a design that you can be proud of.

Good luck and I hope this all helps.


I do have to say, based on the evidence that DHH keeps unearthing, it does not seem like your company has put forth the immediate effort needed to represent that your company is taking to heart what is being said by DHH and others.  That unfortunately is effectively like a strike 2.  First for the action, and secondly for the inaction.  Yes the inaction is both in relation to PR and actual outcome of change.  

For the future viability of your company, you might consider immediately removing all content and styles even remotely considered to be "borrowed" (by any definition)...even if it means your websites are bland and almost blank.  That however only closes the door on any indiscretions.  Going through the challenges of repentance and acquiring forgiveness, is something only your company's heart can achieve.  Seeking guidance would also probably be a good idea to get you through this current PR issue.

On your twitter pic it shows that you wish to stop sopa.  In a recent case, GoDaddy had their own PR problem that cost them dearly.  Given that your company is a start up, even with $1.2M in funding, appropriately negative PR like this can cost the company it's life.

*PS: 37Signals has 2 good books to read.  I believe "Rework" even has some comments regarding when you screw up as a company.  However, since it is the authors themselves to which your company has afflicted....

I hope your company is able to make the right choices.

The real lesson here is a hidden one for YCombinator startups:

YC gives you money, but they apparently do not provide you with advisors, handlers, lawyers or PR people who will intervene to stop you from making such a boneheaded, potentially explosive move, nor step in and help you figure out how to gracefully recover from a mistake.

Seriously? Credit where credit is due? Ha ha, it was stupid, we stole your design AND your assets, hee, aren't we a trip, funding, something something, TechCrunch, split testing makes it alllll better.

If you need an adviser, handler, lawyer or PR person to tell you "don't blatantly copy/steal other people's shit", you shouldn't be in business, you should go back to kindergarten.

I agree. But the business of companies like YCombinator is to simply bet on lots of inexperienced, green young people and hope some of them pan out.

When they invite you to their program or (better yet) get you more funding, it probably feels like a mandate. Which makes things so much worse without guidance.

> did not really think through the implications of what we were doing

But the part about stealing someone else's work and passing it off as your own obviously had some thought put into it. One could only imagine what other parts of your app were repurposed from third parties.

Thanks for that. Now I am far less sad about stealing Curebit's concept. Their idea is fantastic, but I found it easier to just copy the concept than integrate with their APIs.

Does anyone else find it strange that the article claims they have 1000 customers, and minimum pricing of $50/month, but they raised $1.2M? Why bother raising money if you are already close to a run-rate of $1M? My guess is they have closer to 1000 signups, not active 1000 customers.

I doubt very many people find it strange -- just because you have revenue, or are profitable, does not mean you're "in the clear". Companies typically raise additional capital so they can accelerate their growth. Your assumption that companies only raise because they aren't cash-flow positive is misguided.

That wasn't my assumption. It is the scale that I find strange. If the company is pulling in $100k/month, then having $1M in the bank is not going to significantly change what you can accomplish, but the effort required to raise the money is a substantial distraction.

Revenue is not the same as profit, they could very easily be running at a loss even with that amount of revenue. We have seen this in extremes with companies like Groupon lately.

By their founder's own admission, they have three employees. Not sure what they're doing that would burn through that much cash. Either their business model is severely lacking, or their spending is out of control. Of course it is possible that they aren't making any money.

Thus ensuring we will never do business with Curebit. That's lazy and unprofessional at best, even if you're A/B testing. Use Optimizely and host your own assets.

Heh - wow.

I'd like to hear this story; is it a curebit founder? Or maybe a CL freelancer they hired...

I got a different homepage: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/533753/Screen%20Shot%202012-01-27%20...

It's possible they are experimenting with the 37signals design to see if it has legs, then will release a more original incarnation?

DHH just tweeted that they actually serve some of the assets from the Highrise site. That's bad http://yfrog.com/mm5icqhj

they are asking to get those switched out with something horrible

In re the previous sub-comment about switching out the assets: I think some Ocean Marketing images are in order.

I get the version you see when I use Chrome, I get the other version 100% of the time in Safari.

The choice of A/B test is stored in a cookie.

you can make the smallest viable product even smaller when you pinch designs and externalise the costs of your asset hosting!

LOL. Eric Ries would be proud.

Wow, that's embarrassing.

I like this guy.

Personally, I don't think it's a big deal. The Curebits designer was obviously inspired by the Highrise design, but didn't copy it pixel-by-pixel. If it helps Curebits convert more customers then more power to them--it's not like they're stealing Highrise customers.

Linking to someone else's assets, however, is just wrong.

"Inspired"? Sorry, but are you trolling? It's about as close to an exact copy as you can get.

Probably, he meant that the happy smiling guy was replaced by another.

They could have gone with a headset hottie instead (http://www.headsethotties.com/).

"but it didn't copy it pixel-by-pixel" They used their image assets. How much more pixel-by-pixel can you get?

They didn't copy it pixel-by-pixel because they're either too lazy to do so, too stupid to know how or both. And no, there will be no power to them.

I was super excited to see the data presented and understand its implications for my business and then when I read the comments on YC and TC, all that washed away as I realized that the credibility of the data was probably about as good as the credibility of the designers...

Initially, I was excited to check them out because their referral rates look a lot better than mine. Then as I paused to consider what was really going on, brought on by the design controversy, I realize that there was a strong likelihood that these rates couldn't be all that solid because as an MVP, their sample size is probably immaterially small.

I wouldn't say that I'm writing Curebit off, but it will be a while before I'm excited about them again...

Serving the assets was a big mistake, but isn't this the same forum that overwhelmingly says copying isn't stealing and that no harm is done to the original creator when you duplicate their work? Now, suddenly everyone's a hard ass about IP? In this case more than all the others argued here, if you exclude the assets problem, there was zero detriment caused by using this design. It's not a competing product, and it did nothing to the value of the original work. If you can write off the assets issue as a bad mistake, and it was, I just don't see how 99% of the HN crowd can suddenly take the high road on appropriation of creative work. Have some consistency.

I think there is a difference about being inspired by ideas or concepts in a design and plain ripping it off completely. That for me is the big difference.

As for no harm done, I don't agree with that. A lot of 37signals audience and marketing is through their audience that loves to hear what they say about design amongst other things. Having a cutting edge marketing website and blogging about it helps to generate interest in what they do. For someone that didn't know 37signals is the original designer of that style of site, no credit would go to them. The guy from Curebit even stated that he was planning to write up a blog about how the testing goes... why should they get the credit and pageviews for reviewing the a/b testing on someones elses design?

Go read @allangrant recent twitter posts and see if you still feel sympathetic.

Taking IP for your own personal use is different to taking IP for business use.

You see people on HN saying it's okay to download a tv show; you don't see anyone saying it's okay to burn that show to dvd and sell it many times.

Sure, people argue on the semantics of IP infringement and while many feel that intellectual property laws are woefully one sided, most of what I've seen suggests that at least a fair number of people feel that copying material in contrary to the creator's wishes is wrong. Do some folks do it anyway? No doubt. Regardless, I think much of the hard assedness has been in response to the media companies and lawmaker's approaches in addressing the issue--- poor legislation that overreaches, failure to address the actual issues that leads to piracy, copyright length extension, circumvention provisions & fair use implications, etc. In the end, I can be against efforts like SOPA while also being against ip infringement. Similarly, I would assert that it is not inconsistent to feel that curebit's approach to publicly using another other company's design w/o permission directly in their commercial product is unfortunate while also feeling like IP in the US needs to be retooled.

Ultimately though, this forum compromises many viewpoints. While there will be trends, consistency when dealing with large numbers of folks seems unrealistic (but again, I don't think having issues with contemporary IP law and being against using another site's design in a commercial product demonstrates a consistency issue. It's more of a "dude, not cool" thing to me.).

In regard to the lack of detriment, certainly at least one representative of 37Signals is unhappy with it. If it were my design, I'd prefer that my efforts remain tied solely to my products given the time and money spent on them since I think there is marketing and branding value in developing a reasonably unique look and feel even if the products themselves are not direct competitors. Do I recognize that designs will inspire other designs? Certainly. The line between a copied design and inspired one is blurry. Would I personally give more leeway to someone who was just experimenting for a non-commercial, personal project? Probably. This, however, was a commercial entity that just received a big check for their (and 37signals') efforts. That said, if I were an employee of curebit, I'd probably have felt uncomfortable with the approach they took regardless of any legal implications that may exist. It would just kinda feel wrong, ya know?

Anyway, my initial reaction was along the lines of "well, that was stupid of them" and progressed to "WTF is wrong with this guy?" due to Allan's tweets in response to dhh. Some of his tweets have almost felt like he was trolling for controversy/publicity. Regardless, I really think he should simply stop tweeting at this point and let further public responses come from someone better equipped to NOT dig themselves deeper.

> It's more of a "dude, not cool" thing to me.

I think it's more of an issue that calls into serious question their integrity, motivations and skills. It's pretty hard to start a company out of an incubator with community support when you'e signaled that you've no ethical regard for the very community that supports you.

I can see how the 'dude, not cool' comment likely made it seem like I found it less reprehensible than I really did. For what it's worth, I agree with your comment.

The difference for me is that in our community, people should know better, especially if you're good enough to get into YC.

This is really upsetting for so many reasons. The intent to use these site designs took time and effort to implement. There had to be hours of time that they knew without a doubt they were stealing work they did not produce. To feign ignorance in this case in unacceptable.

Furthermore these guys have raised 1.2 million dollars. To think that someone in this position would raise that amount in capital and pull this kind of bullshit is offensive. This is a black eye for the valley.

It's pretty amazing that you guys would do something so stupid and post it here to HN.

"And it was the same way with design. I was totally psyched to copy a Müller-Brockmann poster, a Designgraphik composition, or an Apple UI. Merely executing the copy was a thrill. But now every design is supposed to be the next great thing. And as days and weeks and months go by, the design level stays the same while the aspiration goes higher and higher.

So maybe it’s time to take one of these Fridays off and just copy something."


Just visited CureBit.. Hmm I think your landing page needs some work. The typography looks a little amateurish (get your customers to refer your friends). The product looks intriguing though. Just fix your landing page because it probably will turn off a lot of customers.

Congrats guys!

Great job guys!

Awesome job to Allan and team. Can't wait to try it for our own software.

Very immature!

go curebit! Nice work


Just subscribed to Curebit $50 / Month plan ... it seems like the product i've been waiting for all ...

Hey, guys i really like your product ... but i think you could spend your newly found venture fund to invest on a good designer.

(PS: Even your email template is exact ripoff from Groupon ... i think you guys can do better than this.)

(Suggestion: Could you please add "Contacts" connector on top of your email widget ... now i have to type in emails one by one for inviting friends)

How lame is that. Jesus it's not hard to come up with your own design. Crackers.

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