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Technology & InternetOoops... We’ve Been Copied? Get Used to it, Startups
A startup getting copied by a site from India, is that really news? We (Germans) have a reputation for this kind of thing (anyone remember the Samwer Brothers?), so why should we expect something different? The German startup community is young and we are not yet used to this kind of high-jacking behavior from the other side. But if the amount of innovation and inspiration coming from the German (and especially, the Berlin) tech scene continues, we better get used to it - fast.
Let me give you a very personal view of what happened to us and what we learned.
It was the 31st of July, and what was supposed to be a boring office day was about to turn weird. Something showing up in Google analytics was strange – traffic from India that somehow seemed to take place on another site. Not much, just a visitor from time to time, but after investigating for a couple of minutes, I found the URL to enter into the browser.
Upon opening it in the browser, my stomach turned. I am looking at an almost exact copy of exploreB2B’s landing page. Some of the images were replaced and different experts are presented, but still – unmistakably exploreB2B. Expect it wasn’t exploreB2B.
It was a site called, “The HR Connect.” (Even now, it feels strange linking to them, knowing they have taken our work; I am kind of doing them an SEO favor.)
More investigative action lead to a safer feeling. The copy was sloppy: their site traffic showed up in our analytics software because they left our code within their ‘copy & paste’ approach to web creativity. They did not copy our CSS file; instead, they referenced it directly from our server. Copying our button design seemed to have been too much effort – they made a screenshot and used this as a button. They also took many parts from our text, just entering the letters HR from time to time, making it hard to read and understand.
Their hasty approach made us feel a bit better, but do not get me wrong: it still did not sit nicely. When showing the site to friends we got compliments on making “a deal with India” – a deal we never made. We do have quite a bit few members from India on exploreB2B, so we needed to make sure that we would not be associated with our imitation.
So what did we do? The company responsible for the copycat was an Indian company by the name of “Happy 2 Connect,” so I wrote them a careful email. I never got an answer. I even called up our lawyer. Then we wrote to a press contact asking whether he was interested in the story. Answer was ‘yes’, so a story was published on GigaOM on the 1st of August. David Meyer, the author, wrote an email to the guys running the copycat. Though they never got back to him, the copied landing page was taken down even before he published his story. In essence, we won.
Another article about this event was written by Claire Adamson on Silicon Allee, focusing more on the shamelessness of our copiers. (They actually announced their “new look” on their Facebook fansite.)
So, what did we learn?
Copycats happen. Keep calm and get used to it if you’ve created something great. A few weeks before, another German startup was copied. They discovered a copy from Russia that had stolen their complete concept and design – Rocket Internet style. They even used the same domain http://Tricider.ru. They now have changed their name to Fortox.ru (and have not gone down as easily as our copiers).
For startup hubs around the world that have become increasingly established, these stories may not be surprising. But tech in Germany is young and evolving. We have not yet experienced that innovation leads to true copyists. We have not yet experienced that the Samwer brother’s attitude towards business is actually a pretty common one. If you are as good as you think you are, you will sooner or later discover parts of your work somewhere else.
When this happens to you, try to take it as a compliment. Try to defend yourself with the means available to you.
If actual code is stolen, you have a good chance that they will take down their imitation.
Keep in mind that when someone copies you, he or she is always going to be one step behind. You just have to maintain your level of innovation to stay on top.
Afterall, it could be worse. You might even get some unsolicited press.
I loved your article, it reminded me of the first time I entered Exploreb2b.com. I had created, in my own little world, a website for small companies and home based writers to share, create links and promote their work for free. I Thought I had a very unique idea at the time. I had no clue something was already in place like my company and there it was exploreb2b.com. We are in no way the caliber of your site and company but the model is almost the same. We are trying to help people promote their work. Your site of course is doing a way better job of it and we definitely did not copy your look.
The Writers Social is 30 days old today and we have 50 members, 1200 post and around 980 comments on those post. I do not believe we are doing too badly. Since I love your site I will be twitting out and posting articles from your site as often as possible and just wanted to thank you for creating such an open forum to share my business on.
A very similar thing happened to us last year. A local Website Company thought that we would not notice that they had ripped our entire site, complete with blog posts made elsewhere. I know how you feel/felt, my blood ran cold - then very hot!
A legal warning letter regarding copyright and a word to the owners of the other site, soon sorted this, but it still left me cold. I think it was the blogs more than anything as they often mirror events from my life - so in essence they had stolen part of my life.
I now have keyword phrase detectors on my blog posts and often run a search just to check that we are not being hijacked again. Sad point of affairs when one must resort to this action and don't anyone say it is the sincerest form of flattery, because that is just... (fill in expletives here)
It was a week after we launched the website. The thing is the copied the home page using a screenshot, which meant our name and telephone number were still ours, it was just the URL that was different. We contacted their hosting company and reported them, so the site was taken down very quickly. Maybe because it was so obvious.
Good advice on how to deal with these situations, Jonathan.
Peter, you are so right. In this case, I would not consider it a form of flattery (sincere or not), but plain theft.