High Forms of Flattery

Clone Wars: Rise of the Fast Follower Startups

Which came first?

A FEW MONTHS AGO, AN ENTREPRENEUR in the tri-state area was soliciting web development help via Craigslist. “I’m looking for a Meetup.com clone script,” the listing said. “It must have all the social community features that Meetup.com has, including the capability to add new groups, users events, polls, connect to other social communities, shopping cart, sponsors and sub sites.” Meetup, which was founded in 2002 and has about 80 employees, is reportedly valued at more than $50 million. The asking price for a replica was $300 to $600.

Last week, two ads appeared from the other side of the fence: a programmer-for-hire looking for something to build who claimed to have built a Facebook clone in four days, a Flickr clone in three days and a Google clone in two weeks. He noted that he’d also created a Craigslist clone, adding, “but no one visits it so we are posting this ad to Craigslist.”*

When it comes to internet startups, much is made of the entrepreneurs who first bring an idea to market—innovators or “first movers,” in the parlance of market researchers. But vastly more common are “fast followers,” the ones who jump on a hot idea and dash off a carbon copy. After all, the first mover doesn’t always win the race: just look at the Mac, launched in 1984, versus the Windows PC, launched in 1985, or at Facebook, which came after Friendster, Myspace and the Winklevoss social network HarvardConnection. Read More