Best way to deal with copycats? Don’t

Best way to deal with copycats? Don’t

BY ERIN GRIFFITH 
ON AUGUST 30, 2013

Warby Parker has worked really hard to build up its brand. Like, really, really hard. A-B testing the difference between “collegiate” and “preppy” hard. It has paid off — Warby Parker has a strong brand, and naturally, others in the world want to capitalize on it. The company has dealt numerous copycats as it has grown from a tiny e-commerce operation out of Blumenthal’s apartment to a company with 16 physical retail stores locations and 150 employees. At one point, Bluefly launched an eyewear vertical which even stole images of Warby Parker’s products. “Copycats suck,” co-CEO Neil Blumental said at PandoMonthly New York last night. He couldn’t help from ranting about the most notorious copycatters, the Samwer brothers, and their cloning vehicle, Rocket Internet.“I hate Rocket, I hate the Samwer brothers, I hope they die, but I, right now, I want to stay, like, super quiet so they don’t come after me,” Blumenthal said.

He described the feeling of encountering a clone of your business. “Once you see them you get this terrible pit in your stomach, and you feel like crap, and you feel like somebody stole from you.

“Your team is demoralized. They see what is months of work that somebody else probably just spent a couple of days building or ripping off. As their leader, they’re looking at you to have a pretty strong response,” he said.

When Warby Parker was smaller, the company would sometimes to discredit the copycat through a press article.

But a turning point happened in 2012. By then, Warby Parker had become high-profile enough that the company’s retaliation made it look like a bully. Classic Specs, a Brooklyn-based startup that clearly borrowed a lot of Warby Parker’s text, design, and branding, launched an attack on the company. Classic Specs accused Warby Parker of spreading negative rumors about the company. It escalated into a public back-and-forth between the two companies that made both parties look bad.

After that, Warby Parker the company evaluated whether copycats were actually impacting their sales and concluded that they weren’t. The company’s response to copycats now is it just ignore it, or maybe contact the company if they’re illegally using the Warby brand or intellectual property. “By overreacting, we potentially raise more awareness and invite perhaps an overreaction from the press saying were being defensive,” he said.

“The bigger you get, your abilities to respond get a bit less,” he added. It’s a bit ironic, considering that bigger companies finally have the capital to fight legal battles. He has to emphasize to his team that it’s difficult for copycats to get traction and they have to ignore their initial emotional reaction.

“Our business is much harder to copy because its not a platform business where first mover advantage is so important. It’s about building a brand, and building a brand is so much about authenticity,” he said.

“The Samwer brothers, their M.O. is to try and hire former management consultants and MBAs, and, as much as  love my brethren the vast majority of those don’t know how to build a brand,” he added.

Blumenthal admitted that there will be come battles as Warby expands into other markets where copycats are already operating. The company has filed trademarks and intends to go after companies that have egregiously copied it’s company. This time around, though, Warby Parker might skip the part where they tell the press.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: