The Art of Imitation: Successful M&As in the World of Business Copycats

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Lately, the tech circles have been abuzz with one topic: Meta’s move to “capitalize” on Twitter’s concept and establish its own microblogging network, Threads. The reactions have been diverse: some people have criticized Mark Zuckerberg’s audacity, others have praised the Meta founder’s knack for attracting users, amassing over 10 million users in just a few days, while some are simply enjoying the drama. In the world of business, originality is often lauded as the key to success. However, history has shown us that imitation can sometimes be a more viable strategy. This article explores how companies that have copied other businesses’ ideas or core businesses have successfully sold their businesses to other groups or companies.

The concept of copying another business’s idea is not new. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, once said, “Picasso had a saying — ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ — and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas”. This statement encapsulates the essence of the business world, where imitation often leads to innovation.

One of the most notable examples of successful imitation is the case of Alando and eBay. In 1998, Marc Samwer, living in San Francisco, saw the potential of eBay and wanted to launch a similar platform in Germany. After receiving no response from eBay, he and his brothers created Alando, a German version of eBay. Less than three months later, eBay bought Alando for $43 million. This swift return on investment demonstrates the potential profitability of imitation in the business world.

However, the success of such a strategy often depends on the ability to select the right targets, determine the appropriate price, and integrate the acquired company effectively. This is where the art of imitation becomes crucial. Companies must not only copy a successful business model but also adapt it to their own context and improve upon it.

A recent example of this is the case of Threads and Twitter. Threads, a social media platform, was seen as a copycat of Twitter, replicating its core features and functionalities. However, Threads differentiated itself by focusing on a more niche market, providing a platform for more intimate and focused discussions. This strategy allowed Threads to carve out a unique space in the social media landscape, attracting a dedicated user base and eventually leading to a successful acquisition.

The success of these imitation strategies can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, by copying a proven business model, companies can reduce the risks associated with innovation. They can leverage the existing market demand and established operational processes of the original company, allowing them to focus on execution and improvement.

Secondly, imitation allows companies to learn from the mistakes of the original business. They can identify the weaknesses in the original business model and make necessary adjustments to avoid similar pitfalls. This learning process can lead to the development of a more robust and competitive business model.

Finally, imitation can provide a platform for growth. As noted by the Harvard Business Review, acquisitions that fundamentally change a company’s growth trajectory can pay off spectacularly. By copying a successful business model, companies can position themselves for rapid growth and potentially attract the attention of larger companies looking for strategic acquisitions.

In conclusion, while originality is important, imitation can be a powerful strategy in the business world, particularly in the context of M&As. By copying successful business models and improving upon them, companies can reduce risk, learn from others’ mistakes, and position themselves for rapid growth. As the cases of Alando, eBay, Threads, and Twitter demonstrate, imitation, when done right, can lead to significant business success.


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