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8 Comments

What's the problem with copying existing profitable startups and improving them?

Hey everybody, I'm running my own startup for building mobile native apps for people without any tech background.

We started this startup with a tech solution. Apps that you could build with similar platforms suck. These apps are really buggy, slow, and don't feel like real apps written with code. We managed to overcome these tech challenges with our solution and our apps are looking really good.

Right now many people from startup communities tell me that is not a good way to start startups, that we should start with the problem at first and not from the solution, and refers to Y Combinator lectures, and other sources.

But from my point of view: Our competitors are already found the problem and the market, and if we can make a great solution to this problem and market then we'll win.

What do you guys think about copying existing startups and improving the solution?

  1. 5

    Nothing wrong with that. In fact I just read @td_evans blog yesterday where he talks about that exact subject.
    It's about how they made Email Octopus by breaking all Y Combinator advice (copied idea, competed on price, didn't raise capital): https://tho.masevans.co.uk/

  2. 4

    you are basically looking for validation from indie hackers when you should be looking for validation from your customers.

    nothing anybody says here with regards to your questions has any value. only what your customers think and sometimes say is meaningful.

    do you customers mind the defects you see in the other apps? do your customers even want an app builder or do they want an app? are you sure your target customer is the same as those bigger companies?

    go out and speak to the people that actually can make or break your business.

  3. 4

    Nothing wrong with that.

    Starting with a problem and build towards a solution is always the standard. This is important for a lot of entrepreneurs because the biggest issue with failed startups is that they created a product or service nobody needs. In other words, there's no real problem.

    But if you notice a product with a certain detail fit for improvement, that already means that you know the problem that the original product is trying to solve quite well.

    Maybe spend some money and time on validating your product, just to be sure there's a demand for it, and you're good to go.

  4. 3

    It's smart in many ways, but the problem with it is that, without an organic genesis moment for your product, chances are you'll create something that's highly similar to what your competitors have, thus bringing nothing new to the table.

    That sort of new entrant creates confusion in the mind of the customers, and they see you as a knock-off brand that can never hold a candle to the original(s).

    And then add to that, you'll also probably end up promoting your product in the same channels as your competitors, channels where they already have an entrenched foothold and where you basically have no chance to compete... unless you truly bring something new to the table that can't be copied.

    It's a tricky business, copying an existing idea.

    I'd say you want to think more about how you can serve very-specific niches that aren't specifically targeted by your competitors. Start from there, get a little traction, and then listen to your customers on what to build.

    Otherwise you end up building features for other people's customers, not your own.

    The word "copying" in your post is very worrying indeed.

  5. 2

    In Zero to One, Peter Thiel says:

    "As a good rule of thumb, proprietary technology must be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute in some important dimension to lead to a real monopolistic advantage. Anything less than an order of magnitude better will probably be perceived as a marginal improvement and will be hard to sell, especially in an already crowded market."

    While this may be an extreme statement, I think it's generally true. For IH business, I think 2x or 3x better is probably enough to create a sustainable business. But if your improvements are 20%, 30%, 40% better, I think you will have a hard time convincing customers to switch from a competitor. JMHO.

  6. 2

    It's 100% a viable solution, think about Uber, it's just a much better version of Taxi's.

    However that is where the issue with copying a solution and improving it comes in. If you are copying an existing solution then your solution has to be more then just marginally better it has to be dramatically better otherwise whats the point of existing customers switching? If uber had just made an app for taxi drivers and you still had to pay in cash, then yeah, it might be slightly more convenient but I doubt there would have been as successful as it was.

  7. 1

    Love this approach but there are pros and cons to all approaches.

    By copying an existing product and making it better, you are shortening the product-market fit stage. You already know there is PM fit because you let someone else validate it.

    So now you have to compete on user acquisition. If you have a particular strength in this area especially with paid media, organic growth, virality, connections, etc, then your chance of success dramatically increases compared to building an idea that has never been done before.

  8. 1

    I've heard those Y Combinator lectures and I agree with what they say, start with the problem and not with the solution, this is the best approach. They also mention that one of the best way to develop a product idea is to look at existing products, analyze the loopholes and develop a better version of that.

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