Businesses And Imitators: Too Easy To Copy?

Remember when Groupon was going to be the next big thing?  Now of course everyone seems to be copying their model as we saw last week (

Of course I didn't expect GroupOn to survive anyway – their model seemed to be the kind that'd dilute too easy, and that would have diminishing returns (as near every ad-related internet idea has).  It seems now that before they get a chance to die off naturally, everyone else is going to squeeze them out.

It's not as if GroupOn exactly has a complex idea – it's an advanced coupon system.  There are a lot of companies in similar fields, they just did it big and made it work.

This has me thinking about imitating businesses.

If you can have imitators or many people in a similar field, and your model is simple enough to imitate, someone with money and time can easily horn in on your territory, like . . . well Google, Amazon, and so on.  This seems to be what's happening to GroupOn (at least after their failed sale).

This made me speculate on something – are we at a time where it's easier than ever to ape, imitate, or replace an existing business?

  • There are big companies that can quickly ape some business models.
  • There's so much technology, so many automated setups, so many services, you can set up a business very quickly.
  • We have investors looking for a sure thing.
  • It's a global market, so people can access talent all over – and at any time.
  • There's little piracy for new businesses – "stealth mode" may sound nice, but people also want to use social media and go viral, which means exposure . . .
  • Come to think of it, we also have a lot of people wanting to work . . .

These situations don't mean that your dream business or someone else's won't survive and dominate.  It just means it's a lot easier for people to horn in on you territory – or just destroy you.

If this is true – and I think it is something to consider – it means a few things for your future:

  • If your business model (or that of your employer) can be imitated, you'd better move fast and have an edge over competitors.
  • If your business model involves something unique that's truly hard to duplicate, you may have an edge.  In fact, if businesses and people are being more cautious about risky ventures, a risky venture by you may ironically be safer as you remove the danger of imitation.
  • I'm wondering if this means people will avoid certain businesses and ideas because they may be imitated.  This could, oddly, leave a lot of space for businesses that do "the obvious and easily imitated" because people abandoned the obvious because it was easily imitated – and no one filled the gap.

So what do you think?  Are we in a time where imitation is easy – so easy in fact it may discourage businesses from even coming together?

– Steven Savage

Thoughts On The Apple Store Model

So last column I posted on how the Verizon Stores seem to be following in the Apple Store model.  I also noted that these stores give people what they want, so frankly I expect similar models to pop up all over.  I'll call this model  . . .  OK I'll call it the Apple Store Model.

Now it's time to ask what this means progeek wise.  A few speculations:

  • Set Expectations.  I think the Apple Store model will spread – and soon it will become the norm.  Companies need to keep this in mind in setting their store models – or risk seeming insensitive to consumers and behind the times.  If you work in a consumer electronic company or dealer, you need to follow this.
  • A Better Starting Point.  These stores may be better places for people to launch progeek careers (or idle during tough times in the job market) since they're going to require more technical and customer savvy.  People will learn more – and employees who spent time at these stores will be better regarded.
  • Changes in Footprint.  Some stores aren't going to shift to the new footprint easy.  Renovation, moving, merging . . . all that is possible for individual stores.  Shut downs, delays, and so forth may affect people working there.  Work in architecture or at any of these stores, and it's a factor.
  • Location, Location, Relocation.  With the footprint of these stores, and the requirements for staff, some may just plain relocate to make them more profitable for the investment.  Your job at these stores may go away – or an opportunity may arrive.
  • A Destination Model.  Some of these stores seem to be "destination-like" – the kind you go to for awhile, the kind that have many things to do and many shiny things.  It changes consumer habits.  That's something to follow in general.

So a little speculation on what the Apple Model means progeek wise.

– Steven Savage

Thoughts on future media models, and freeness.

Right now on the internet there's a lot of discussion on the book "Free", a book exploring, well, the impact of freeness (and the internet's way of delivering it) on business models.  I've not read it yet, I probably should, if only to know where I'm going to fall on what appears to be a lot of inevitable arguments.

The discussions have made me speculate on the future of media – because media is a repository of geeky jobs.  Comics, books, reviews, games, etc.  What does free mean to us in such industries – or those of us who want to go into them.  I will attempt to keep my thoughts somewhat above the level of "ramble".

So imagine you're going online to provide some media – a game, a comic, an online novel delivered in snippets, etc.  You're going to do free because Free gets attention and there's a lot of competition.  Here's what I think it means for you, the professional geek

Read more