This post originally appeared as a guest post on The Next Web.
Today I was having brunch with an other italian entrepreneur in San Francisco. He said he was thinking about going back to Italy to create startup copycats, that spurred an interesting conversation and I wanted to share my thoughts on it.
I’m not going to debate on the morality of it, I’ll just assume that someone has decided to clone an american startup in a foreign market and I’ll try to give some advice regarding what type of projects to choose.
Don’t clone consumer internet startups.
Consumer internet is a single winner market, where only one gorilla company emerges. There is no second place.
Please do not clone Pinterest. Do not clone Instagram. It will not work. Not matter what Pinspire and co. want you to believe.
Cloning social startups is extremely hard as you face the same growth problems of the american startup, in a market with less early-adopters and way more monetization challenges.
Let’s assume that you have assets or tools you can leverage to create massive user adoption in a very short period of time in a few hard-to-enter markets and decided to clone Twitter in Germany when it was clear that it was going to become huge. You would have failed miserably for very simple reasons:
- Social software is becoming inherently international. German users on Twitter want to interact with Americans, Chinese and Aliens, and won’t be able to do it on your platform.
- You will have built zero barriers to entry, and Twitter has the resources to acquire the customers you spent a ton of money on, which are now educated about the product and can definitely sustain a product switch.
This is the reason why Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare etc. are not acquiring competitors and are acquiring different kinds of startups instead. They are the best at what they do and are confident they can gain 100% of the user market. You should not gamble against them at their own game. You may counter that Tuenti / Bebo / Studyvz / Xing etc. made it big. My opinion is that the internet changed quite a bit in the recent years and gaining traction is now a matter of months. None of those companies would have been able to achieve the traction they did if they were started today. Also, “exitability” of this type of companies is incredibly low and we will not see another $800m Bebo anytime soon.
If you still really want to create a copycat, which startups should you clone instead?
- Regulated Startups
- Deeply Local Startups
- E-commerce Startups
E-commerce is intrinsically local. You need to source products, handle logistics and shipping, customer support, etc. and all this activities are local. There was space to create Amazon.com in every country before they expanded, and there are countries where it has been done (Russia).
- Business to Business Startups