On Startup Copycats: Glitter is Dead; Long Live Glitter

January 15, 2015

12:34 pm

Yesterday, we reported that Australian entrepreneur and sparkle king, Mathew Carpenter, got buried alive under the very glitter he birthed, and declared quits on Ship Your Enemies Glitter. The service, which anonymously sends your baes glitter-filled letters in the mail, gained mass media attention after getting posted to sites like Product Hunt and Reddit. And, in a fate worse than those of his service’s unwilling recipients, Carpenter ultimately found himself with more orders than he could fill – himself conquered by the very glitter overlord he mocked. But from his glitter ashes, a copy arises – but could such a copy (and other like it that will surely follow) ever amass the same level of popularity as the original Ship Your Enemies Glitter?

This morning I got an email from Glitter Hate Mail a copycat service to Carpenter’s Ship Your Enemies Glitter.  Claiming to have a team of people committed to the glitter shipping business and boasting upcoming video production features (what?) and *~*social media presence*~*, the email from the signed “King of #GlitterHate” reads:

“Thought I would let you know there is a new glitter service on the block. I’m not talking about that rookie kid’s website we saw crash earlier this week and is no longer accepting payments. I’m talking about a full on service that is going to do massive damage globally with glitter.”

While an alternative to the Carpenter’s original service, Glitter Hate Mail’s site makes it seem otherwise, considering that it’s almost exactly identical to that of Ship Your Enemies Glitter’s. From the layout to the copy – with the exception of the $7.99 pricing and custom logo – Glitter Hate Mail’s website is without a doubt a mere shadow of the original glitter concept.

Ship Your Enemies Glitter - Startup Copycat

The original Ship Your Enemies Glitter versus Glitter Hate Mail.

Copycats aren’t unexpected, of course, especially when ideas such as those conceived by Carpenter gain wide notoriety. Throughout the startup economy, copycat companies are created and destroyed every day – each one trying to compete against the original products or services. Opinion on the matter of copycats vary:  from those extolling copycats as points of validation for the original concept, to those claiming that such copycat behavior goes against the culture of innovation for which the likes of Silicon Valley are founded. Each party to the matter make valid points, and there are cases both in which originators of innovative ideas succeed over their copycats (e.g., Facebook versus every Facebook-like competitor) and in which startup copycats make tremendous gains in the market (such as those incubated by Germany’s Rocket Internet).

I’m of the opinion that startup copycats or such replicative behavior generally can’t hurt the overall culture of Silicon Valley or that of the overall economy. I mean, there’s a reason why people copy ideas, especially when they can stand to profit from them: there’s a market of demand for such concepts. And apropos of America’s tradition of competition, ideas will be improved upon to create newer, better businesses until an entirely new idea pops its head on the scene (with a corresponding new market) – a cycle of American industry.

There’s a certain level of ethical integrity that must be upheld, though, in order to allow this life cycle of create-copy-innovate-create to persist. While startup copycats are often generally accepted by the masses, Glitter Hate Mail’s approach leaves little to the imagination and causes one to cringe (if even slightly) at their copycat attempt. Sure, even I can admit that I’m still in the market for a service that ships my enemies glitter (since I failed to place an order prior to Carpenter suspending new orders), but there’s a difference between copying one’s idea and posing your copy as if it were the original. While Carpenter’s tweet from yesterday suggests an immediate exit from this venture, it’s unsure whether he’s actually sold it. As it stands, Ship Your Enemies Glitter and Glitter Hate Mail are two independent websites running on two different models; if Carpenter has sold it (and to this King of #GlitterHate), surely it would have made more sense to keep the same site. What are the legal implications of this tactic – if such even exist in this case? I wouldn’t know – I watch too much Mindy Kaling and read too few (read: zero) legal texts.

What expectations (if any) should we have for Glitter Hate Mail? Should we even expect it to survive? And if it does survive, what implications will that have on the nature of startup copycats? Whatever. Glitter is dead. I’m done with glitter. Maybe consider not sending your friends glitter.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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