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23 Comments

How ethical is it to "steal" competitors' ideas?

Note: I posted this question on ProductHunt Discussion forum too. Not a lot of discussion, but it drove traffic. Good for business, but hasn't served the intended purpose :-) I am hoping will find some direction here at IH.


I have been building LightCat.io for Product Teams.

What I have found really amusing is that many competitors, having raised millions of dollars, have features that are not hard to build, and sometimes even improve upon.

For example, LightCat has a Feature Prioritisation scheme which is better than most of the competition out there, BUT is inspired from ProductBoard.

And it's available for $0 or $9 instead of $49 to $199 per user.

This pricing is possible for me because a large company has many overhead costs , and I just have my family.

There is no legal issue here because feature concepts aren't copyrighted. Additionally, all of LightCat is built around Product Documentation (PMs love to write) unlike ANY competition out there.

But I do have an ethical dilemma of sorts. I can sure think up feature UX from scratch - but that takes time.

On the other hand, I can sort of "leech" upon the hard work others have done, even if they are competitors, and likely make it better (read simpler) to use.

Maybe I am nitpicking here - but I have built products for 10 years now, and haven't ever picked up a UI element idea from a competitor (instead, built from scratch or taken inspiration from unrelated products).

What do you think?

  1. 15

    steal everything.

    and raise your prices

    1. 2

      "raise your prices" - you mean that generally or that I should actually raise the prices at Lightcat?

    2. 1

      It's not stealing if you make it better!

      1. 1

        or just 30% different :)

  2. 8

    i think its absolutely ethical. There's nothing new under the sun. Everything is inspired from somehwere.

    i want to hit my backhand volleys like federer.

    1. 1

      Haha. Steal the volleys :-).

      "Nothing new under the sun" is a pretty powerful argument. And does make sense - all of what we see is usually an improvement over what someone else has done.

      There's however, a fine line. Isaac Newton stood on the "shoulders of giants", but he also stomped one of those giants unfavourably (Leibneiz).

      I don't want to say I don't want to be Newton (who would) :-), but I actually don't in this regard.

  3. 4

    Don't steal but borrow. It doesn't mean you do copy-and-paste, just implement good think you believe can improve your product.
    Don't copy styles, functionality, or look. Borrow, do it wisely.
    As for me, I hate when I see a clone and their claim "we just have been inspired" - lie!

    1. 1

      Agreed. I have usually judged applications (and developers) negatively when I see something very similar to a competitor (except when the competitor is me - it's flattering really when someone copies you).

      Whether something is a clone however is subjective. Eg every Kanban board has been inspired by Trello - even the way the expanded cards look with buttons on the right panel. (Lightcat's design is simpler than this - no right panel). But we no longer think of them as clones.

      On the other hand, there was a major noise when Freshdesk had launched because Zendesk believed they were copied blatantly.

      1. 1

        Kanban is an approach whereas Trello is an app. So, they just used the same idea (you can't clone an idea). But if you see an app looking and working as a Trello, it's definitely a clone.

  4. 4

    I think it's just a natural thing to take what works if other people are doing it.

    It's done pretty much everywhere, and especially here in the maker space. Provide that value to your users.

    1. 1

      True true. I do want to pick everything from everywhere that can help users but at the same time, avoid ever be a 'copy-cat' per se. I guess there is merit in saying "great" artists steal.
      Perhaps, when you do steal, you do not copy - you take the essence of it.

  5. 3

    Take their ideas and do it better

  6. 3

    F it, build it better than them.

  7. 2

    Take inspiration, but do it differently.

    Otherwise you're losing differentiation.

    And that's very bad.

    You want to build features for your users, not theirs.

    It's very unlikely that your user base is exactly the same as theirs.

  8. 2

    Steal/inspire/borrow the idea ? Yes!!.

    Steal actual IP, code, files to recreate your own ? No.

  9. 2

    What I have found really amusing is that many competitors, having raised millions of dollars, have features that are not hard to build, and sometimes even improve upon.

    There is a key message here, written in giant blinking letters a hundred feet high :)

    Features by themselves are worth very little.

    Do bakeries worry about the ethics of using flour or sugar, just like their competitors?

    (Of course stealing actual physical sugar is wrong. Just like poaching key employees, or documents, or data from a competitor.)

    1. 2

      That's quite to the point. And crystal clear. Thanks.

      My scenario is a bit more like - tasting competitors' cake and guessing the recipe, then adding some ingredients of my own. Given your analogy, there's really nothing to worry about :-)

  10. 1

    If you know you can do it better it's unethical not to. It will benefit thousands of users.

  11. 1

    In my opinion, you don't need to reinvent the wheel to build a successful product, with that being said, it doesn't matter if you build what your competitors are doing but be sure to improve it and offer something that becomes irresistible to your potential customer.

  12. 1

    Don't be too proud to copy! >=)

  13. 1

    If you are not stealing, then it may be a totally brand new idea.
    Hence there is no market, which is you will spend more effort on it.

    1. 1

      So true, and that's been a pain for me - I have sort of revolved around things that were absolutely brand new - and very hard to find initial traction for.
      The current version however, is more pragmatic - and a growing user base indicates we are onto something.

  14. 1

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