Lately there has been a vivid discussion about the german copycats, a topic that resurfaces every couple of month in our local (meaning Berlin) startup community. This time it has been started by the call for an Anti-Copycat-Revolution by our dear friends at 6Wunderkinder receiving a lot of public attention. This discussion peaked last week when the usually not-very-bloggish Gründerszene felt the need to critize 6Wunderkinder. Their point being that copying has always been part of how creative innovation is achieved from BMW until today. Also pointing out that some the companies promoted in the 6Wunderkinder article are actually copiest, too. Heck, this ToDo-List-App-idea ain’t remarkably new either.
Thought that seems impossible, I agree on both their views. The reason why those articles look contradictory lies in a classic misunderstanding. It roots in a too vage definition of the term copycat. What does it really stand for? That someone else had that idea before? That someone tried to execute this business before? Or that you literally copy-paste their website into yours? Your view on the topic depends highly on what you think copycat means. That’s why I can savely agree with Gründerszene: creativity and innovation have always been based on the basic concept of stealing ideas, improving them and trying again. And if it fails, you start over.
On a side-note: Dear Americans, if you have a great service, product or business idea over there and you are too stubborn, lazy or busy to execute it over here in europe, what are we supposed to do? Wait until you show us soo much mercy that you might extend your business to our place? Guess what, we are developed enough to execute it ourself. So, who are you to blame us, for doing it ourselfes when you just don’t care about this market place? What you are calling the german copycat system, I call “aking a great business one step further by introducing it into a new market place”. At least for most startups.
But some startups over here work different. And that is, where I agree with the 6Wunderkinder. Just the other day I was talking with Mathias Fiedler (CTO at ArtFlakes) about this topic. We realised that as a description for the thing we were talking about, the term copycat is way to cute. After some back and forth we came up with a much better fitting term: the Deutsche Dogge. Some may also know it as the Great Dane, a dog breed known for its huge size and massive figure. Already its impressive size is a big threat to a lot of people, but if it starts barking and aims at you, you should really be scared to the heart and run for your life. I think this terms describes this certain kind of copycat companies much more precise.
Similar to industrial meat, the startups we call Deutsche Doggen are optimized for an industrial manufacturing process. Other than for big breast (as chickens) these Deutsche Doggen Startups are optimized for appearing big and important with aggressiv barking skills. Often achieved by throwing marketing money at it until every kid knows how to spell the brand asleep. So when any competitor tries to enter that market, just looking at them scares the hell out of them. Leaving them with the assumpotion there would be no way of entering the market without paying them the Deutsche Dogge its tribute. Most of the time, this means, buying the hound.
Optimization for the industrial process has some known side-effects though: similar as in meat production, when the huge-breast-chickens are barely able to stand or breath, the Deutschen Dogge seems to be barely sustainable on its own. At least looking at the what happens the day after they got acquired: they get castrating and put into a muzzle and in most cases a major parts of employees are let off. But this biggest disadvantage of this highly optimized proces is: the business loses its personally. Similar to chicken in a breeding farm, those Deutsche Doggen are not allowed to have a real character, not to mention a real life. They are simply not build for it.
A business that is barely able to sustain itself, where every second person is left off as soon as they are acquired, that’s not what I would call a great business. But, hell, trading Deutsche Doggen is a highly profitable business, so I can understand why people would do that. It’s just not so great if you are the Deutsche Dogge to be traded. So, though I respect this type of business model and those executing it, it’s not the way I do business. Because it’s not the kind of business I consider great. I think this is the kind of business the 6Wunderkinder ment when they were talking about copycats. A term that is to vage to describe it.
It all boils down to this simple message, I think the 6Wunderkinder were trying to send: Instead of building something to bark aggressively at other, build something great, something you love and with its own character. And most importantly: do your own thing and don’t be someone else’s pet!
* This said; I would love to see someone bringing threadless.com to europe, germany specially. If you are interested, drop me a line!
** With the additional feature of referring to germany (“Deutsch”), as these are the only startups I know well enough to give such a precise description. I don’t know whether there are similar copycat-systems in india or somewhere else and I wouldn’t try to reach out describing them all with this term.