Monkey Says, Monkey Do: The Era of Copycat Businesses


Have we invented too many things to have any true innovation today?

The way of the (copy) cat

At its worst, the term copycat elicits thoughts of bottom-feeders who lack imagination, drive, work ethic and resourcefulness, stealing what is clearly not theirs. The term is anything but pleasant. At its most pejorative, it describes a uniquely disposable creature of contempt. But what's the origin of the word?

Shakespeare famously used cat in a negative sense in “All's Well That Ends Well." Count Bertram informs his right-hand man that Captain Dumain is increasingly sleazy: “A pox upon him for me, he's more and more a cat." The feline metaphor run amok, is perhaps at best, a misnomer; cats are not imitative creatures. Perhaps monkey says-monkey do and copy parrot are more apt descriptions. However, as former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge once said: “The business of America is business." Copycat businesses often improve the original concepts of their targeted business models-at best, or just mushroom into creativity-lacking clones, at worst.

Five Relentlessly Copycatted Business Models

One cannot help but to wonder if true innovation, in business, is still possible. Is there any creativity left in business creation? What follows are five different types of business models that have been copycatted over and over and over again.

1.Online Food Ordering

Way back in 1994, "PizzaNet" – Pizza Hut's digital ordering hub, launched, and accepted the first-ever online order, a large pepperoni, mushroom and extra cheese pizza. Papa John's didn't get in on the act until 2001, but in 2008, Papa John's International announced that its online sales were growing on average more than 50 percent each year and neared $400 million in 2007 alone.

The years 1996 thru 2001 birthed the rise of the internet, the Dotcom boom and the subsequent crash. Dotcom startups like Webvan, HomeGrocer and Kozmo started online grocery delivery, but closed in 2001 after the dotcom crash. SeamlessWeb, founded in December 1999, another web-based system for ordering food from restaurants and caterers, was made available to individual users (in 2005), and they currently partner with over 12,000 restaurants, serve over 4,000 companies, and have over 2,000,000 members in the United States and the UK. Then on August 9, 2013, Seamless and GrubHub completed their merger and now operate under the name GrubHub, Inc. Then there's Yelp, Eat24 and the list goes on and on.

2.Ride-sharing Platforms

Hailing a taxi seems to have become so yesteryear, and the myriad number of ride-sharing companies offer ample evidence to support that. Uber and Lyft are household names in many cities throughout the United States. But lesser-known Didi Chuxing (Chinese company) completed more than 1.4 billion rides just in 2015. It is the most dominant ride-sharing company in the world. Consider this, it took Uber six years (since its founding in 2009) to reach 1 billion rides. Didi Chuxing, just this summer, purchased Uber (China).

Didi, Lyft and Uber are not the only car-sharing options. Here are several more: Sidecar, Carma, Relay Rides (a peer-to-peer car-sharing marketplace where car owners rent out their own vehicles and set their own prices), Car2Go (a fleet of eco-friendly Smart cars that are accessed with a card), JustShareIt (rent vehicles in your neighborhood when you're going to work or wherever you're traveling-hourly rental service), and Getaround, (one of the more popular peer-to-peer car sharing and rental services with insurance included in the cost). There are others, but you get the idea.

3.Subscription Boxes

Unless you've spent the past 15 years stranded on an island-alone, you've heard of Birchbox. Samples of high end beauty products-for men and women-are sent monthly, which vary from body care to haircare to perfumes. Just like nearly every other subscription box in existence, Bircbox requires that you sign up for a subscription-hence the name subscription boxes. You create a profile, so that only the products that meet your wants and desires are shipped to you.

Unless you've spent the past 15 years stranded on an island-alone, you've heard of Birchbox. Samples of high end beauty products-for men and women-are sent monthly, which vary from body care to haircare to perfumes. Just like nearly every other subscription box in existence, Bircbox requires that you sign up for a subscription-hence the name subscription boxes. You create a profile, so that only the products that meet your wants and desires are shipped to you.

If wine is your passion, there's winc, a personalized wine subscription service. Create your palate profile by answering six questions to help determine a sense of your likes and dislikes, view recommendations based on your input and enjoy your personally selected Malbec or Chardonnay. Still another is Taste Trunk, ideal for foodies, subscribers will receive gourmet food each month. Just choose from four categories-gourmet, sweet, health and BBQ-and you can change themes each month.

Now more than ever, the proliferation of copycat businesses has eviscerated the mere thought of basic creativity, not to mention decreased physical, spiritual and mental fitness. The simple act of walking in to a wine-tasting event or local merchant and engaging in conversation is fast becoming an act of rebellion.

4.Marketing Automation Software Companies

HubSpot, Marketo, Eloqua (Oracle), Pardot (owned by SalesForce), Act-On are but a few marketing automation companies fighting for your business. HubSpot, founded in June 2006, by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, is a developer and marketer of software products for inbound marketing and sales. They have been described as the one-stop-marketing-shop.

HubSpot is affordable with a basic monthly plan starting at $200 per month, whereas Marketo is a great mid-range (expect to spend approximately $800 per month) marketing automation tool for those requiring something that's robust for a 100+ person organization, but who don't want to shell out $2,000/month+ for a tool like Eloqua.

But it's all about niche: HubSpot is great for small (50 or fewer employees), Marketo (more than 50 employees to less than 1,000) and Eloqua focuses on larger businesses (more than 1,000 employees). Again, it's practically splitting hairs on differentiation but another example if of successful businesses getting cloned.

5.Groupon, LivingSocial and ScoutMob

Groupon, an American worldwide e-commerce marketplace, connects subscribers with local merchants by offering activities, travel, goods and services in more than 28 countries. Based in Chicago, it was launched in November 2008. According to an article by Quartz Media Groupon, the fastest company to reach a unicorn billion dollar valuation, in just 16 months. The name Groupon is a blend of “group" and “coupon." The idea that would eventually become Groupon was born out of founder Andrew Mason's frustration trying to cancel a cell phone contract in 2006. He thought that there must be some way to leverage large number of people's collective bargaining power. In 2007 Mason launched The Point, a web platform based on the "tipping point" principle that would utilize social media to get people together to accomplish a goal.

In short, consumers just sign up for their daily deal, sometimes higher than 90% off. The Groupon worked as an assurance contract using ThePoint's platform: as long as a certain number of people signed up for the offer, the “deal of the day" became available to all. If the predetermined minimum was not met, no one got the deal that day.

LivingSocial (Groupon's only true competitor) is a lot like Groupon, in that you decide to purchase a deal and then receive a link to your voucher by next business day. Afterwards, however, you'll also get an assigned link to share with your social network: if three people buy through your link, then your deal is free. Whereas with Scoutmob you're getting a discount that will allow you to spend money at a restaurant of your choice, sometimes up to 50% off. There are hundreds of businesses that have mimicked Groupon, no need to list them all.

Shameless copycats or global business developers?

The Samwer brothers, founders of Rocket Internet, are often denounced as little more than ruthless copycats of Silicon Valley startups. Alexander, Marc, and Oliver Samwer are the three German brothers behind the infamous incubator Rocket Internet. They first found success by investing in startups like StudiVZ, also known as the German Facebook. They are also the minds behind German auction site Alando, sold to eBay in 1999 for $54 million, and mobile content platform Jamba!, which sold to Verisign in 2004 for $273 million. Simply put, they see a new startup doing well, recruit a team to quickly replicate the business model for a currently non-existing market, and then sell it for millions. Copycats cling to the idea that very little of the internet is original.

But on the other hand, the consumer market benefits from more choices and availability, even if it comes from copycats. Not that this realization does anything to soothe the pain for the violated parties: after doing all of the grunt work, a copycat like the Samwer brothers, replicates their innovative ideas more efficiently. However, the Samwer brothers are outstanding at scaling. Companies like Rocket Internet and Fast Lane Ventures build fast and pivot well. For the most part, they are driven toward being acquired and lining their investors' pockets, which spurs the market, encouraging venture capitalism. Think big picture: new market entry, jobs creation, growth of venture capitalism (global), renewed interest in accelerator programs, are but a few of the benefits. Anyone with a conscience decries copycatting, partly because so many people see startups more as creative entities and less like businesses. As frustrating as copycatting may be it's the nature of the beast.


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.