Google Copycat Startups: Doomed From Day One or Here For a Reason?

Copycat Startups: Doomed From Day One Or A Better Idea Than We Think?

  • By Andreas
  • 28 December, 2019

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When it comes to startups you know the drill: 

Differentiate or die!

How come?

According to the popular maxim, it boils down to just one word: 


And in case you wonder why – the allegation is – that in today’s over-crowded ‘business world’ being a copycat startup

… almost equates to a death penalty because cutting through the noise (and getting peoples’ attention) in the over-communicated society we currently live becomes:


But at this point you probably call bullsh*t. 

After all, if that was the case how companies like Lyft, Blue Apron, Hometogo and 1000s of others that seem to have followed the ‘copycat startup’ path (some are even proud to call it a business model) managed to defy that “law” and live and thrive?

Good question…

So, without further delay let’s dive straight in and answer today’s question: 

Can a copycat startup survive, or even thrive, in today’s hypercompetitive world; or is an inherently lost case? 

Copycat Startups: Yes They Can!

Yes my friends – according to many ‘startup insiders’ adopting a copycat business model is a better idea than most people think…

The reasoning?

Here you go: 

1. You Start With a Proven Model

This does not require much explanation.

When you copy a battle-tested business model you start with many more knows than unknows.

Such as:

– Demonstrable market demand 

– Product/market-fit

– What works and what doesn’t 

Which enables you rather than spending your energy trying to prove that there is a market to focus instead on beating the incumbent companies by:

a) Building something better or,

b) Moving faster and be more responsive to changing customer needs or,

c) Outmarketing them 

2. You Have Strong Reference Points

Yes, unline businesses that start with completely new products, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

In fact, what you have to simply do is study what has worked with them in the past – i.e marketing, distribution channels, product placements – and just emulate them.


3. There is Enough Space for Everyone 

You saw that coming, right?

I know – classic…

So indeed the reason why companies like the ones listed above manage to thrive – despite the fact that have originally started as copycats – is due to the fact…

… that most markets can accommodate multiple players at the same time.

Take ride-hailing apps here in London.

First was Uber. 

Then Gett.

Later on Kabbee. 

Then Taxify/Bold.

Later Kaptain.

Now Ola.

And the list goes on…

So, naturally, the question becomes: 

If companies of the likes of Google, Microsoft & Facebook were comfortable releasing me-too products, what’s stopping us from doing the same?

Copycat Startups: Putting Things Into Balance

So, what’s stopping us?

Well, before answering that question, I want to draw a distinction between copycat startups and copycat products.

And I say this because obviously, they are NOT the same thing. 

How come?


A product as the name suggests is (just) the product.

But the business model includes elements such as:

– Pricing

– Distribution Strategy

– Marketing

– Positioning 

– Revenue Model 


So, what I try to say here is that a company may well have a copycat product but that does not automatically mean that it has a copycat proposition.

In fact, over the years, I’ve seen startups with seemingly me-too products time and time again getting an edge by outmaneuvering the competition with the creation of a superior/stand-out business model.

And with that said it’s time to get back to our earlier question: 

If companies of the likes of Google, Microsoft & Facebook were comfortable releasing me-too products, what’s stopping us from doing the same?

The answer?

Frankly nothing.

However, the reason why I am not a big fan of this model is because unless you have a BIG budget behind you and willing to go down the ‘challenger brand’ pathway it will give you a serious handicap.

And I say this for several reasons:

a) (In Fact) There is NOT Enough Space for Everyone

Yes my friends, if there was enough space for everyone startups’ failure rate wouldn’t be where it is today.

b) Strong Reference Points But Not A Why

Quite simply you may well see what has worked in the past but likely you’ll have 0 insights about what lead them to do X, Z, and Y.

c) Start With a Fully-Fledged Model and Not an MVP

That’s pretty obvious – you try to replicate a model that took years to be developed instead of starting small, testing the waters and do it the lean way.

d) A Better Mousetrap Won’t Be Enough

And yes lastly unless you break through the noise and instantly give customers a compelling answer to this simple question: “why you” you’ll never get them to actually test and experience your ‘better mousetrap’. 

But to answer today’s question: 

Are copycat startups doomed from day one or a better idea than most people think I’d probably say this:

Neither doomed nor better idea – just another biz model entrepreneurs can start with that comes with more cons than pros.

The alternative?

Putting your eggs in verticalised propositions!

And with that said today’s post comes to an end.

Ok guys, that’s all from me for today.

If you enjoyed today’s post, check out my kinde book, The Vertical Startup: A practical guide on how today’s bootstrapped entrepreneurs turn a late market entry into an advantage by going vertical, that is currently available at Amazon.

I hope to see you soon. And btw happy new year!



“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” 

― Clare Boothe Luce


Categories: copycat startups

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