Apparently Hollywood is all out of ideas — most new movies are either a remake with better VFX than the original or a sequel with more action. If you do manage to catch something that isn’t a sequel, reboot, adaptation or remake, congrats on helping keep original content alive; your decidedly hipster ways may just keep the dreams of another hipster alive.
About 300 miles north of Hollywood, Silicon Valley has been exhibiting similar inclinations.
Uber, but for….
Within the Valley and outside, there are numerous ventures that are basically a minor twist on an idea validated by a successful startup, with a few million dollars in funding, preferably.
The ‘Successful Startup, but for X’ trope is a tried formula that’s being tested each passing day as more such startups come into existence. The most widely used archetypes have been Uber and AirBnb, which is understandable given they’re among the most successful startups of recent times and have about $10 billion in funding between them. Following are just a few of the many copycats out there. For a more comprehensive list, check out the pages dedicated to Uber for X and AirBnB for X on Product Hunt.
Lugg – Uber for movers and delivery services
Push for Pizza – Uber for pizza deliveries
Wag Walking – Uber for dog walkers
BonAppetour – AirBnB for dining experiences with locals
Antlos – AirBnB for boat holidays
Roost – AirBnb for storage and parking spaces
More recently Tinder began to inspire spinoffs, thanks to the popularity of its swipe-based interface. 3nder (“Thrinder”), a version of Tinder for threesomes, revealed that it had raised a half a million dollars in funding this past week. So as much as some of us like to bag on such startups, some of them are actually coming into investor money as encouragement to build on their imitations.
What warrants consideration is whether this trend is a sign that there isn’t enough real innovation happening, or if the copycats are enriching the ecosystem.
Steal like a Startup Founder
The basic premise of Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist is that creatives should be copying their peers and forerunners. The work of most artists is inspired by the style of other great artists from earlier periods. And as history testifies, not only has this mantra enriched the artist’s abilities, it’s also led to the creation of some really great art.
The equivalent of great art in the startup world is a solution to a widely experienced problem that is also economically viable. As long as a startup solves a problem, it shouldn’t matter whether the idea is a blatant and detectable impersonation or a subtle one.
The real question isn’t whether startups should be emulating successful ones, but which successful startups are worth emulating.
Recently, the now defunct Homejoy was back in the news when its customers began to get emails about a new service called Fly Maids. Homejoy was an ‘Uber for X’ prototype; the on-demand cleaning service even managed to raise $39.7 million in funding. Despite this, the startup was forced to shut shop earlier this year as a consequence of a class action lawsuit over its classification of workers. Homejoy’s piggybacking off a seemingly successful startup in Uber led its eventual demise because it also inherited Uber’s shortcomings.
As in art, imitation is inevitable in business. The defining factor is what you choose to imitate and to what extent. As long as you have a viable solution to a problem, it shouldn’t matter whether similar solutions already exist.
Prateek Jose is a writer and engineering undergrad from India with an unhealthy obsession for obscure historical trivia. Conversations about absurdist fiction and the technological singularity make his day. He’s already uploading parts of his brain to servers by writing for websites such as this one.
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