Legal, Tax, & Accounting February 7, 2020

Multi-Million dollar competitor copying my every move

Cam @CamHart

Is there anything that can be done to prevent big competitors from copying your every move?

Features, apps, tools, wording, etc. I even spoke to the owner--he told me he decompiled my app to see how I did things. I've since added wording to my TOS to make that not allowed. Even if he did legally cross a line I couldn't afford to go after them.

Or is this just part of the game? It's a bit flattering--but it's frustrating.

  1. 13

    It seems extreme in your case, but yes, it's part of the game. If you're doing something well, others who have a strong financial incentive to also do well will make an effort to copy you.

    If you're in an industry that's hyper competitive, what you need more than anything are unfair advantages… things that can't be copied. This is stuff like network effects, a marketplace dynamic, absurdly rare expertise that would take years to copy, exclusive access to distribution channels and deals, etc.

    1. 2

      It's become more competitive and it's not hard to compete in the space technically. Capturing market is the difficult part from what I've experienced. Feature differentiation used to help me but they've closed that gap.

  2. 12


    May I ask

    1. what’s your app and what is the app that is copying you
    2. how did you get such candid access to the owner of a multi million dollar company
    3. what were the circumstances where the owner of this multi million dollar company felt that he could openly discuss de-compiling your app and basically ripping you off? It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing an experienced businessperson would do.

    Sorry but I just feel like this story needs a lot more context.

    1. 3

      I'm not looking for someone to validate statements I made. I'm looking for advice/info about moving forward. You seem to be stuck on trying to validate what I've said.

      1. 4

        Yes - because understanding the context would really help give advice.

        My question about the owner of the company is extremely pertinent. Do you know him/her personally; that will determine certain potential actions you could do next.

        The third question is also pertinent; what were the circumstances of that rather odd sounding conversation. Was it in an official meeting capacity? was anyone else there? was it over email?

        All of this background info is critical to offer advice...

        At the very least link us to your app and theirs.

        1. 1

          Are you trying to build a legal argument?

          1. I'd prefer to not share publicly
          2. It was over a phone call I had with him
          3. This may sound ridiculous, but he said he felt bad about it. The application is in a space with a lot of religious involvement. He seems to be fairly religious. Basically asked for forgiveness.
          1. 3

            Why are you being so defensive and aggressive?

            1. 2

              I don't believe I'm being aggressive in anyway. I'd argue you are aggressively pushing for information I'm not wanting to share. Maintaining privacy may qualify me for being defensive.

              I struggle to see how context will help with anything other than a legal battle--which is not want I want or can afford.

              1. 3

                Good luck.

  3. 5

    How much effort or money are you are prepared to put into making them stop? Send an official letter stating they have infringed your copyright and tell them to stop. Tell them they have 10 days after which you will charge them $XXX per day. Each week send them an update of the amount they owe. When the amount is high enough get in touch with a no-win no-fee copyright lawyer and get them to send a letter.

  4. 5

    Looks at Snapchat and Instagram, Insta just straight up copied Snapchat and took all their features. Point is that it happens regardless of your size but the thing is that people who copy, can't innovate on their own so in the long run they are screwed. There is nothing you can do except keep pushing or get the competitor to buy you out and bring your ideas into their company.

    1. 2

      Didn't FB try to buy Snap and get rejected. I bet they regret that...

      I imagine the product this guy making is really small and reproducible, so the buy vs build is in the favor of build, or he could just be feeling a strong dose of that entrepreneurial paranoia.

      I will suffix, it's not unrealistic for a PM (Product Manager) to be following him and just cashing in off his ideas. Without more context and a link to the product, I will side on entrepreneurial paranoia.

    2. 2

      Totally agree. Out-innovate competition or lose.

      1. 3

        Based off my limited experience, I'd argue having the ability to capture the market better than your competitors is actually more important than out-innovating them feature wise. What I'm learning is you need to compete feature wise--but win market wise. As engineers we always like to think the better features will win--but I no longer believe that to be true. The one who can capture the market will win.

        1. 3

          This. "Who can acquire customers" trumps "who has the better features." Most startups are marketing optimization problems, not something we can code our way out of.

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    You have one advantage: they'll do everything you're doing blindly.

    Are there any features that will damage them without damaging you? Are there any changes that would require lots of effort from their side, but little from yours?

    1. 4

      Just announce an incredibly big feature months in advance which will hurt them, and then switch plans.

      Make your own long term plans, and generate a bit of noise around it to distract them from the direction you're going :)

      1. 3

        That'll send the wrong signal to customers who rely on that feature being actually built and released.

  6. 2

    There is nothing stopping folks from copying you. Facebook has ripped off countless features from Twitter or Snapchat. If those tech giants can’t stop people from copying their ideas, you can’t either.

    And honestly, unless he’s hurting your business, I wouldn’t worry about it. You clearly have ideas that he doesn’t have, otherwise he wouldn’t be copying the ideas.

    The only way to succeed is to be better, and faster, and offer something he can’t. Otherwise, an average product will drown in a sea of average competitors.

  7. 2

    Raise more money and innovate faster.

    1. 1

      This has crossed my mind. I haven't really wanted to raise money though. And while it's a multi-million dollar industry, it's not a billion dollar one. At least historically. VC money typically looks for companies with billion dollar potential.

  8. 1

    They'll always be playing catch up and copying your mistakes as well, so just move faster than they do

  9. 1

    What they can’t copy is your relationship with your customers. So reach out to your paying customers, find out what problems they have etc.