Product Development February 12, 2020

My side project has a copycat... should I be flattered? 😂

Ana K @anakravitz

I won't link directly, but today I noticed a guy posting on Quora about a new add-on called Apipheny.

I clicked to his site and it is virtually an exact copy of my API Connector. It's not just the idea that's the same -- he's copied the user interface, the list of upcoming functionality (I don't think he's actually implemented it all yet), my descriptions, even text from the testimonials from my site! 🙄

Competition is fine, but what to do about a wholesale copycat?

  1. 28

    Interesting, I was hearing this happening to people more and more at the end of 2019. For example Reilly Chase from https://hostifi.net he seems to get competitors popping up every week, coinciding with his indie hackers interview. (https://www.indiehackers.com/podcast/109-reilly-chase-of-hostifi)

    And then in December, it happened to my DigitalOcean Backup Service https://snapshooter.io

    I would say it was a direct copy, it even went as far as to directly copy my terms and conditions (they forget to remove my parent company) https://twitter.com/MrSimonBennett/status/1207712795099385856

    They even flattered me by choosing a company name that was only 3 chars different.

    Luckily with the advice of a lawyer, we managed to write them a letter, and they changed their company name/domain and removed my references from the terms.

    So I decided to stop being so open about numbers. If anything it's just got me to double down which has had a positive effect on revenue!

    If I was you I would send them a friendly reminder they have stolen content from your site and broken copyright law, maybe even point customers to the testimonials and ask them to complain.

    1. 4

      Interesting that you mention not being so open about numbers. I wonder about that a ton because as much as I want to be open (I am currently) I feel like in the earlier stages of things, that openness just draws too much attention from folks that are looking to make a quick buck because... "it's just that easy".

      I'm still holding firm on my openness, but as I venture into new products, I don't think I'm going to be as open, and probably will end up pulling back on open metrics as a whole eventually.

      If nothing else, I find that the openness here on IH tends to lead to a ton of spam since people are seeing my success as a opportunity to sell me their stuff.

    2. 3

      That is so crazy they even copied your terms and conditions. Maybe that helped, because the blatant stealing meant you could send them a legal letter. Did they respond to the letter or just quietly change their site?
      And I'm with you...I don't think I will continue publishing numbers.

      1. 3

        They did the typical thing of admitting nothing but changing everything. Your right though the terms defiantly helped the case with the similar name.

        In the beginning, I think numbers helped, for example, I gained a few customers through my updates and this article https://www.indiehackers.com/interview/how-starting-small-helped-me-build-a-server-backup-company-f89c5f29a0

        I even talked about marketing channels which a different competitor used when they entered the market, maybe the market is small, so stepping on toes is going to happen. Still, you can't help feel everything is a coincidence.

      2. 2

        Maybe that helped, because the blatant stealing meant you could send them a legal letter.

        FYI, lawyers send cease-and-desist letters all the time without a strong legal justification.

        My mom started a company where you would go into the store, assemble a bunch of meals using recipes and ingredients that were already prepped and measured, and take them home to put them in your freezer to cook later. She received a cease-and-desist letter from a competitor's lawyer saying her company's name and branding was "causing confusion in the market". Her company's name wasn't even close to theirs, her logo was very different/unique, colors were different. Nobody would ever confuse the two companies. The only similarity is that they were competing in the same market. I think it was just a tactic to try to disrupt their competition. There are no consequences - and costs nothing - to sending letters like these.

        One of my mom's friends is a very well-known/high-profile lawer, so my mom asked her to send a reply letter basically telling them she would be glad to litigate this in court if they wanted to press the issue. ;) Never heard anything from them after that.

      3. 1

        I've read that terms and conditions, privacy policies, etc, that because they are legal documents, they aren't protected by copywrite law, thus and anyone can copy them.

  2. 9

    Ugh, that sucks, but in my experience, copycats aren't free thinkers and they aren't going to get very far. Validates the market though, so that's good.

    Dealt with a ton of that shit over the last year, lifting copy days after I made the change, trying to under cut pricing (the race to the bottom that I will always refuse to run), even down to using my same brand name (which is now trademarked as a result and fortunately has worked itself it out).

    Insult to injury is that they are a "fellow" IHer.

    The thing you have to remember is, if somebody is straight copying you, they are ALWAYS a step behind you. If you are talking to customers, and improving your product and messaging in response to YOUR CUSTOMERS, you're doing the right stuff.

    Stealing what somebody is doing without understanding the customers directly is like say, picking up Slash's guitar and expecting to be able to perform at his level. (insert your own relevant musician analogy if you'd like ;)

    Solid chance this person saw an opportunity to make a quick buck and doesn't actually care about building a great product. Passion goes a long way and a lack of it tends to show pretty quickly (check back in 6 months, solid chance that the copycat hasn't moved the needle in at all in terms of product improvements).

    1. 2

      Wow, you encountered a copycat too. Today I learned how common this is. Sounds like it didn’t affect you much in the end, though. Great comment, @joshtronic.

      1. 6

        Honestly, it completely gutted me for a while. My project in question started as an open source library, and I am pretty certain the competitor's service actually STARTED with my code. Couple that with using my exact branding... it stung.

        It lit a fire though, and that fire and passion will always be the difference.

        1. 1

          Yeah I can imagine, you contribute to open source and then get ripped off by someone on IH. Maybe they’re reading this now 😏

          1. 4

            Yeah, my fault for going the OSS route and then pivoting to a premium offering. Could get into the logistics of licenses and stuff, but the fact remains, I've since taken the code to new heights that I can't imagine they could have done, so yeah, always a step behind ;)

            No idea if they are reading this. I know they log into my service pretty regularly. I don't pay it much mind anymore, have never logged into their stuff or anything.

            I did engage them at one point because they kept posting "service is dead" and well... it was my freaking brand, so I kept commenting just to set the record straight that it wasn't /my service/ that was dead.

            They retaliated by asking "who is stealing from who" and pointing out that we both used the same live chat widget on our sites........ was a pretty good reminder that if you wrestle with pigs, you both get dirty... and the pig likes it.

            Guess I should have mentioned that, I wouldn't do any engagement with your competitor unless you have a leg to stand on legally, and then I'd take proper legal action vs. any sort of public admonishment and such. Otherwise, you run the risk of being called out for being petty and being told to just focus on your product ;)

            Focus on your customers and it'll all work out.

            1. 2

              That is crazy they are so shameless. It does sound like they enjoy it, maybe it’s similar to how internet trolls enjoy stirring things up. Thanks for the advice and all your wisdom, it’s really helped me put this all in perspective and see what to do (ignore and move on).

              1. 2

                Yeah, wouldn't shock me if there are folks out there that get off on it. I know it's easy to position yourself as a new competitor in the space as being a "David vs. Goliath" and that folks justify their actions (reads: blatant theft) as fair game as they've positioned themselves as the underdog.

                NP on the words / perspective. It's a rough one, and like @mrsimonbennett I think it's important that we chime in candidly when we have the experience.

  3. 9

    Eh, that's a bummer! 😠
    I've just found and downvoted his post on Quora.
    Post your solution there and you can count on my upvote. 😎

    1. 3

      Thank you!!! I really appreciate that, this community is the best. I was quite taken aback when I saw it, especially because it's not like this is something with giant earning potential, this is a niche side project...

    2. 2

      Did the same! He is actually very active and have a lot of answers.

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        I guess that’s what I can copy from him, his spammy (but potentially effective) marketing tactics.

  4. 6

    Not to be a super sleuth 😅 but I found he's also posting on UpWork hiring writers to write the same articles I already have on my site, with the same titles and topics.

    1. 2

      Wow... it's clear he believes in your (and only your) judgement!

  5. 5

    Copycats are emotionally draining, but for the most part they aren't anymore of a threat than actual genuine competition, in fact they are less of a threat than genuine competition (ie people who naturally came across the same problem as you).

    Building any product in this world, digital or otherwise, is largely a mental battle in the beginning. You're fighting to keep your motivation up and your momentum going forwards. Since copycats are a drain on your motivation I would say the best thing you can do is to ignore it, and to focus on your customers. Focusing on them won't help with anything, and most of them will give up and start chasing the next shiny thing they see soon enough.

    1. 1

      That’s a very interesting distinction on natural competition vs copycats.

  6. 5

    I think you should be flattered and I wouldn't worry about it. Copy cat projects usually die very quickly, they copy just the form, they can't copy all the aspects and mimic the person/team behind the project.

    1. 1

      I hope so. He can pretty easily copy the interface and features, but I agree he can't copy everything as there were a lot of implementation decisions that aren't obvious from the interface.

  7. 4

    It happened to me as well. Recently, I even posted it here.
    This guy posted on UpWork with a link to my product's website. He was trying to build a team to copy my project. I wrote to him and asked him to be my customer. Then we had a skype call but he wasn't interested in buying my service. He eventually stopped responding to my messages.

    Just ignore. I believe you can just copy a product by looking at its functionality. There are so many design decisions and bug fixes.

    1. 2

      Oh interesting, I just looked back and found your post. How has it turned out since then, did he ever complete the copy of your product and launch?
      I guess this is the business strategy for some people: copy and undercut on price. I wonder how often it's successful.

      1. 1

        He closed the job posting. I'm not sure he found people to build it.

        On our Skype call, he asked me how many customers I had. I'm also not sure he had the intention to be my customer or just get some info from me.

        I put so many hours on the project. With each customer, I improved the backend. So, I'm pretty sure it is less profitable for a business to build it from scratch than just buying a white-label service from me.

  8. 4

    This just isn't right!
    I'm of the view that it's virtually impossible to copyright ideas but I definitely don't like it when people copy both the idea and the implementation thereof.
    This is why I think gaining a loyal following from the very beginning is key. That way, if others come along, the substitution factor will be too high.
    [I'm still working on the execution of this philosophy though... 😊]
    Anyway Ana, your product is already in good standing. Being a fellow Apps Script developer, I know it will be a steep uphill task for him to cause you any trouble.
    Just keep your clients as happy as they already are 👍

    1. 1

      Thanks, Andrew. Ideas are a dime a dozen and implementation is the important bit. In fact I'm sure there are better or at least different ways to implement an add-on like this, but he is just taking a shortcut by copying the whole thing.

      Well, this gets me fired up to keep improving and adding features, so he has to deal with all the complaints from edge cases I already fixed, hahahah.

      1. 2

        Two things you have that he can never have:

        1. The vision. This is what pushes great products, especially in the hard times. This aspect cannot be copied.
        2. User base. Focus on keeping these happy. I see your reviews are already good.
        1. 1

          Yeah, I do a lot of customer support, which is basically what all the reviews comment on. I hope he's ready for that 😈

  9. 3

    Make sure you snapshot their site with internet archive so you can prove easily what they did.

  10. 3

    At the risk of going against the grain and being downvoted...

    Behind every "copycat" is a highly-burned-out entrepreneur who has tried and failed multiple times in starting "original" ideas that simply didn't take off. He has learned that the market doesn't reward innovation per se; it just rewards problem solving, original or not.

    So obviously when people share success stories on ideas that seem trivial to replicate, yet has seen decent traction, it's bound to attract the attention of these jaded, dispirited entrepreneurs who're looking for the next big thing to devote their attention and energy to. It's just as natural as traders chasing a stock that has done well or gamers betting on a horse that has been winning races.

    Disheartening? Maybe. Sleazy? Maybe. Unexpected? No.

    Facebook straight-up copied Foursquare with location check-ins and Snapchat with Stories. Hell, Facebook itself is arguably a copy of MySpace, with a highly-similar UI/UX and color scheme. Huawei started out copying the iPhone quite a bit (who didn't?). And if you believe in "all is fair in war and love," then this comes with the territory.

    I'd draw a distinction between copying code and actual wording/marketing assets, versus copying the "idea." If an idea works, people will copy it. And consumers will decide which iteration of that idea best deserves their money. That's what the free market is all about.

    1. 1

      I've upvoted you! I wrote earlier that I couldn't understand the mindset of these copycats, so I appreciate you illuminating it for me. In this case, he copied my actual words and content and user interface, so it's beyond just copying an idea like your examples. But I do get what you're saying about "all is fair" and will do my best to not take it personally.

  11. 3

    This sucks. Did you use any open source libraries that, they could have downloaded and use the same library to achieve the same thing? If this is something you did mostly on your own, then I would not stress over it too much, you can't stop copycats, use it as a tool to push yourself to work harder. Just, keep working on it and keep adding and improving and launch bunch of features at once, to the point they can't keep up. Don't announce every single improvement you do.

    1. 1

      It’s almost all custom code, didn’t use any libraries except for minor or secondary features like adding tooltips and dealing with time zones. Yeah I’m definitely going to keep things more quiet going forward.

  12. 3

    This problem exists for as long as humanity creates things. The wheel was copied wildly, for example :) File for patents, then send "cease and desist", probably it's better to hire a lawer for all that things.

    1. 1

      damn copycats copying the wheel ;) I’ll look into the legal options.

  13. 3

    This is so annoying! Ultimately he has a lot of ground to catch up and lacks vision, so I wouldn't worry. I guess this does open up the debate on how open we should be!?

    1. 2

      This is a really good point. I have been posting on here about my milestones, which is probably what alerted this guy to this business "opportunity." I really like the feedback and community here, but now I'm not sure it's such a good idea to be so open...

      1. 2

        Yes it is definitely frustrating as the feedback, advice and the ability to help out others is amazing. Hopefully it doesn't put you off as your updates are inspiring!

  14. 2

    Just follow the guy and as soon as he builds something on his own, you copy it as well. Then he knows the feeling and maybe learn from it 😅

  15. 2

    The downside of decrease in development cost due to more advanced and cheaper tools to get things up quickly is that anyone can build a similar service quite fast. This was hard 15 years ago.

    During the years, i saw a big increase in copycats of products that are not complex but decided to be "open" sharing their numbers. I understand that I'm on a forum that promotes this, but I highly doubt the effectiveness of it these days.

    5 years ago when Buffer and Baremetrics shared their numbers it was novelty, everyone talked about it, now, this is so usual that it doesn't even bring the benefit of increasing trust, quite the contrary. When you see a well built product doing $200/month, you think twice... what if gets shut down next month?

    Usually copycats die on their own, but not always. There are places in this world where living costs is low and a few sales a month is enough to pursue the product.

    The worst thing you should do right now is worry about it and affect your mindset. Another thing you should do is launch features that are not on the public roadmap. You can beat them by features, if you work only on what's on the roadmap probably they will too if they are so focused to copy your product.

  16. 2

    Definitely be flattered and take solace in the fact that it will take months for any add-on they produce to be approved by Google (if at all)!

    1. 1

      HA! That's true, the verification process is a real pain. And I do wonder if Google has any policies about obvious copies.

      1. 1

        Definitely worth investigating with Google if you can get in touch with someone there.

  17. 2

    Welcome to Indie Hackers 🤣

    I've also been copied twice by people here, one was even my customer!

    1. 2

      Damn, that's totally shameless. What happened after you got copied? I never knew this side of IH before, I guess the copiers are lurking rather than posting.

      1. 1

        So far, things have just continued as before... I think most copycats give up or find something else to copy pretty quickly.

  18. 2

    All the obvious negatives aside I see this as validation. Somebody thought it was worth the time and effort to copy your business and that must means is valuable to a group of people in the world. To me it says there are customers out there

  19. 2

    Has happened to me as well. Dude even stole my icons, lol. He launched on Product Hunt, exact same wording as me and design. Didn't say anything, I knew he would dissapear after a while.

    For your case, be flattered, and don't do anything. The internet is large enough for the two of you, don't worry.

    Also, more likely than not, they will quit when the going get's tough because they have no context on what they're building or what they're getting into.

    1. 1

      WHAT! I can't believe there are so many of these copycat stories. Money is one of my motivations, but I like making a product because it's satisfying to build something. It wouldn't be satisfying at all to just copy what someone else did, so it's hard for me to understand the mindset of a copycat. Anyway thanks for sharing your experience, that's some really good insight.

  20. 1

    Well that sucks @anakravitz :/ Good luck with taking care of it! I hope the others' suggestions are helping, I'm totally lost as to what to do in this case, just wanted to give some support!

    1. 1

      Thank you :) Actually this thread showed me that it’s super common to be copied and ultimately not really a big deal. So it helped a lot!

      1. 1

        At least that's a plus :)
        The community here is really nice (overwhelmingly), it's great to be able to share and discuss stuff on here! :)

  21. 1

    I'd call that the hidden cost of success. So, somehow, yeah, you could be flattered!
    But i know i'd also feel uncomfortable facing it, finding very unfair. I'd definitely reach out with some sort of warning. Adapting an idea is OK, anybody can beat a project and make it better, and that's fair. But copying as is.. Nahhhh!

    1. 1

      Yeah, that's exactly how I feel.

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