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Startup Copycats: You’re Doing it Wrong. (thenextweb.com)
75 points by tomh on June 10, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments

TL;DR: Copy startups that have a significant barrier to entry in a country where you are familiar with ways to overcome said barrier. Use your knowledge of local regulations and how to maneuver them in your advantage. In general: aim to be a country-scoped Stripe versus a country-scoped Pinterest or Twitter.

My take (only slightly off-topic): While I emphatically agree with the author on the types of startup one should aim to clone locally, I see little discussion regarding the inherent difficulties of even starting any kind of business in many countries. Mandatory expensive social insurance, high company formation costs, bureaucracy, all make bootstrapping prohibitive. In other words, maybe the problem isn't getting inspiration for the proper kind of startup to clone; it's finding a way to get the ball rolling.

Yeah for a startup that is kind of true; it depends a bit on what it is, but generally 'doing a startup' is costly. I wouldn't say those mandatory social insurance and other things are very different in different countries (depending on your bootstrapping wallet size). However if you don't go for those typical growths of startups and you just want a few million $ in the end (I guess, according to Wikipedia, that's not a startup), it is not so hard to bootstrap and build + make a good living. I don't particularly need rocket ship money.

As an example; my wife and I started a dating site in one EU country (which was crowded with dating sites) for (in the beginning) around $150/month hosting and 'free' programming (I spent a few weeks on it in my spare time). We spent $250 on marketing and after around 6 months it made more than I made from my other company with almost no work (30-60 min/day). Sold it for very nice money (no mortgage); did a few of those kind of things and invested (part) of the money in 'bigger' things with actually employees. I often like that of model a lot better than stories on HN; simply reasoned; there are only a few Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest like companies; the chance that your millions $ VC company makes it is not that large. It's make or break otherwise the VC multiplier is not large enough.

I think to bootstrap, depending on your company, you need the right group of people and the idea depends on those people. If your wife happens to know all the press in your country, it's far easier to bootstrap a number of companies than when you have to hire PR companies. It's your job as entrepreneur to gather people around you who will help you.

So while I agree with your ; for a typical startup you need a lot of resources to get off the ground, but for any kind of business; nah. It depends on your dreams, but if you just want to supplement or replace your income (or work more or less), it's not that hard.

how did you make money from your dating site if the market is very crowded with competing service and most of them available for free?

The rest was worse at marketing and monetization. So you have the huge players (with millions marketing money) and far after that the old ones which were dying anyway and then us and then the 1000s of sites who couldn't manage over a 1000 members (in total, not per month even). And ours was free as well, we had good free marketing and managed to monetize more than the other free ones.

I disagree, there are plenty of small businesses in any country. These bureaucratic hurdles can be annoying, but I don't think they are ever prohibitive or should be anyone's first concern when starting a company.

Well, yes. But my point mostly was: "If you really need to start a company that is a clone of another successful company with a proven business model, please understand which ones are easier to get started in your own country".

You'll face those problems no matter what company you do, so there is no reason to add even more risk.

There's still a lot of cases where it's very hard for even a consumer-facing US-based web startup to get traction in another country, for language and cultural reasons. Japan is a particularly notable case; it's often said that companies without an office in Japan never succeed there. Some examples:

Pixiv vs. DeviantArt

Mixi vs. Facebook

Nico Nico Douga vs. Youtube

China is an even more extreme case, though that also has problems of corruption, legal wrangling, censorship, and so on.

Facebook began gaining more traction in Japan once they setup a special office in Tokyo and let them make tweaks to the product only for the Japanese market - AFAIK, this was a unique case for them at the time, and they didn't do anything besides basic localization (which they crowdsourced...) for other nations. One of the things they did to show that they understood Japanese culture was to add a blood-type field to user profiles, a superstitious statistic that's nevertheless prevalent there. Before that, it felt too foreign.

Anecdotal but I've had many more of my Japanese and Korean friends abroad join Facebook in the last year or two.

I agree that those helped, but when the people around me started using facebook was right around the time "Social Network" came out in Japan.

I used to be on Mixi, and I and most people I know have pretty much stopped using it. When they started tying in their services to other APIs like Twitter, etc, I think is when they really jumped the shark.

(Also, Mixi is not really a Facebook clone, per say, as they both launched in the same month. I would say they were just another SNS that was more geared towards the Japanese market)

An interesting (albeit smaller scale) approach would be Panic software's Audion application - http://panic.com/extras/audionstory/

At one point they were the highest selling piece of software (mac or pc) in Japan, which they achieved via a Japanese distributor - not sure if that counts as an office in the country or not.

The reverse is also true: Chinese and Japanese web companies have a high language/cultural barrier to entry in Western countries.

So does anyone have any good examples or suggestions? :)

I disagree. Sure, they're the bigger name HERE in the US, but when you clone a startup that hasn't moved overseas yet, the clone becomes the bigger name, e.g. Renren, the facebook clone. Facebook is available in china, but I don't see them gaining "100% of the user market". A clone that gets traction early on can dominate the market.

> Facebook is available in china, but I don't see them gaining "100% of the user market".

Facebook is Public Enemy #1a (Twitter is 1b) to the Chinese government. It's only available via a VPN, and VPN is an expensive proposition to most Chinese - having one means effectively doubling your internet bill. Most Chinese know Facebook, just like they know Twitter and YouTube. They just aren't willing to jump through the hoops required to use them over renren, weibo, or youku.

A much better example of your point (sticking with China) would be tencent (QQ) - they cloned ICQ and are now a massive company WITHOUT protection from the government.

I can see FB [eventually] negotiating its way into China and succeeding as the dominant social network, Twitter on the other hand, I think Sina Weibo has won that space, imo.

For that, Facebook will have to give in to a surveillance backdoor and respond to realtime censorship demands. I just can't see them going there.

Facebook is available in China through VPNs, mostly. Other than that, it's blocked.

The advice about cloning a regulated startup is wise in that meeting a certain set of regulatory requirements can be a great differentiator. That said, the specific experience, network, and skill set required by a team to crack a particularly regulatory regime is if anything tougher to assemble than to crack a particular technical problem.


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