People with original ideas inspire us. However, the originals do not always taste success. Brilliants ideas like Pets.com, Web TV and COLOR were utter failures. On the other hand, business that copied ideas racked million in profits. In some cases, the question of ethics, don’t even crop up.
A classic example would be Sega and Nintendo. The former copied the idea of the latter and amassed 55% market share in U.S video game market. In 2016, both Sega and Nintendo recorded profits of $3 billion and $4.5 billion respectively.
The most recent and massive example would be Xiaomi. Apple openly accuses them of copying their style. Regardless of the criticism, the Chinese company is worth over $45 billion. It is the 5th largest smartphone maker in the world.
More such examples include FedEx following footsteps of UPS. Its interesting, considering UPS has been in operations since 1907. In 2016, FedEx and UPS recorded annual profits of $50 billion and $60 billion respectively.
Copying a business idea isn’t unethical, but rather genius at times.
For instance, Instagram introduced its own version of stories, a feature introduced by its archrival, Snapchat. The move shook the stock prices of both the companies involved.
Copying business ideas can be legal as well as ethical. You just shouldn’t violate the trademarks, copyrights and patents.
Evidently, Google itself wasn’t an original idea. They improved on their predecessors. Ask Jeeves was there in the list of early natural language search engines. Yahoo and MSN were always there in the mix. Google just has better execution than the rest.
In this post, we will discuss whether an idea should be necessarily original. And if it’s necessary to only remodel an already successful business idea. The final section on how to safely steal a business idea, seals the deal.
Does The Business Idea Have To Be Original?
Now the most important question remains is “does the business have to be based on an original idea or can I build a business by modeling and copying what other people/businesses do?”
The simple answer would be – it doesn’t have to be 100% original, and yes you can remodel someone else’s idea and build a unique business around it.
Taking the infamous example of Burger Singh, an idea inspired and based on Burger King or other burger outlets. The founder of Burger Singh, Kabeer Jeet Singh used to work part-time at a burger joint in UK.
Being from Indian origin and used to more spices, he soon got bored with free burgers being offered to him. So, he started to experiment with new flavors and infused Indian flavors.
He received a great feedback from his colleagues and they started calling him Burger Singh, giving him confidence to start his own outlet.
Now in this example, we can say that the idea for both the businesses are same i.e. selling burgers. But we can’t say that Burger Singh has 100% copied the original idea.
What they did is remodel an existing idea (which is already popular), add a solid twist (Indian fusion in this case), target a different audience (people who prefer more spices or Indian food), and execute in their own style.
If your idea and working is 100% similar to original idea, there are good chances that you can receive legal notice and your customers will call it a copy. By making changes and improving the existing idea, you’re giving a new identity to your business.
Another important example worth reading is Apple’s first smartphone. They never invented the smartphone. It was something IBM formulated as Simon personal communicator. This was 15 years before Apple launched its first smartphone.
Again, IBM didn’t really invent smartphone. There was an inventor in Greece who was the first person to patent the technology. Nevertheless, the technology was first proposed backed in 1909, by Nicolas Tesla himself.
However, Apple never was blamed for copying the idea of smartphone. Because their design, style, audience, functions, and execution was different than what was originally proposed.
One key difference to notice between above two examples is – the popularity of existing ideas.
While selling burgers was a popular idea, designing and selling a smartphone wasn’t.
Apple took a gamble here and tried something new which never existed. It could have been a big failure and Apple may have lost a lot of money but they were willing to take the chance.
Similarly, it’s not a compulsion that your business idea needs to be inspired from a successful business model. You can improve/remodel either a failed idea or a business model which doesn’t exist.
Sure, the risks are higher in latter scenario, but the chances of becoming successful are worth taking the risk.
How To Safely Remodel A Business Idea
Even the dragons of the business world are guilty of stealing or remodeling ideas. There were allegations that Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea of social network from another set of creators. That version of events was enough to inspire a hit movie – The Social Network.
The truth is, only a very few ideas are original in the business world. Even if you are stealing ideas, it won’t be a theft if done smartly. We should also look at how to protect our ideas from clever theft.
1. Defining a heist
Even if others are into an idea first, if you are not acquiring it wrongfully, it can’t be called theft. There should be no legal or ethical violation. If the idea is disclosed by idea holder without thinking about protection, then he/she is at fault. It is the duty of idea holder to safeguard his/her idea.
Remember that having an idea is only one step in your entrepreneurial journey. You will still have to find a great strategy and an execution plan.
2. Protecting Your Business Idea
The first step is to apply for patents, if have an original idea. If your brand name has a value, trademark it. Get people to sign non-disclosure agreements before discussing any details about your idea.
Pick only a selected people to discuss the idea. Above all, document everything to create proof of the concept, if it goes to court.
Continue reading: Top 10 Best Business Books for First-Time Entrepreneurs
Starting a business isn’t a rocket science and a great idea alone won’t make you overnight success. You shouldn’t focus on copying a business idea but on how to improve it.
It requires you to closely study the original business, understand their customer base, reach out to them to see if they’re facing any issue or would like to see some improvements.
Doing this will give you solid data which you can use to start a business which although is based on the same idea, it provides different experience, and it is improved in many ways.
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