Can you copy a business model? Groupon and its clones

Particularly on the web, we see a lot of copies of successful business models. How many clones are there of Groupon? How many competitors and incumbents wanted to copy Amazon in the late 1990s and failed? The core question is: Is it possible to copy a business model? In this post, I will elaborate on this topic.

Business Model Copycats

During a recent interview for a bachelor thesis, I was asked: Under which circumstances is the transfer of a business model e.g. from a different country or from a competitor a useful strategy?

I must admit, I am skeptical about the outright transfer of business models from one firm to another. The reason is very simple. A business model is more than its technical components like your value chain, revenue model, your product etc. The business model also includes soft factors like the value proposition, your values and corporate culture or your core competencies. Remember the definition of core competency: core competencies have to be rare, difficult to copy and valuable.

Many strategists, VCs and purely analytical people think that it is easy to copy a business model. What they forget is that a business model is not just a technocratic combination of components, in fact, humans are involved with their values, cultures and hidden assumptions. You can copy the hard components, but the human aspect of a business model –values, culture, tacit knowledge – is difficult to copy.

Business Model transfer from Start-ups to Start-ups

The case is different for startups where Continue reading Can you copy a business model? Groupon and its clones