On “A Defense of the German copycat”

Over on his personal blog, my buddy Peter Bihr has come to the defense of that most reviled breed of start-up — the German copycat. And while the whole thing’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, he’s actually right about some of the benefits that so-called “copycats” offer; they are in a position to make marginal changes and improvements that “original” start-ups might be hesitant about, from small feature improvements to big things like internationalization.

In the last year in Berlin, the tone used to discuss copycats has become too aggressive. I’m all for celebrating creativity and innovation, but it shouldn’t take the form of denigrating the “copycats”. It doesn’t make sense to dismiss a company, or a whole swath of companies, because their influences are showing.

That said, there is a “right way” to incorporate those influences, and there’s a way that people think is sleazy. Peter is one of the founders of Cognitive Cities, a beautifully orchestrated and executed set of events celebrating the emergent intelligence in cities, which recently had its name and logo copied wholesale by an American/Swiss research project.

Acknowledging the ideas of others in the field, incorporating and building upon them, should not be discouraged. But implying an endorsement, or hoping to create and cash in on confusion of users is a different thing. It’s a good idea to recognize that difference.