This is not the Cold War I remember from my childhood, but as the founder of a SaaS company, it’s starting to feel like one.
And, as you’ll soon discover, Kelly Clarkson is to blame for keeping the war going.
My company resides in the highly competitive niche of reputation management software. Just recently, I was checking out the websites of our top competitors. If I remember right, I was researching their advertised services to make sure we could explain to our prospects how we are different.
One of my competitors, in particular, was displaying a new and recently released version of their software. To my surprise, it looked almost EXACTLY like ours! Take a look for yourself and check out these screenshots:
Nice, huh? And this is just a single screenshot. Although still inferior, the rest of their interface is also modeled after ReviewJump.
Let me just make two things clear:
First, I didn’t copy the competition.
Last Fall, I was at a crossroads. Either I was going to find a superior reputation management software we could resell at a reasonable price, or I was going to dump a lot of money and resources into updating and redeveloping our own software that we built two-years previously.
During this search, and with one exception, I was careful to NOT demo my potential competitors’ softwares. Maybe it’s just the nice guy in me, but I didn’t think seeing the inside workings of my competition would be ethical, especially since we were considering revamping our own if we couldn’t find one to resell. That, and I didn’t want my creativity to be skewed by other people’s ideas.
For the lone competitor software I did demo, I only did so after disclosing my intentions. That being said, their software ended up being more like our old version, and wasn’t worth copying anyway.
Without mentioning the name, I did find a software that I wanted to resell. However, their wholesale pricing was just too high to warrant not redeveloping our own. So, they inherited a new competitor in the form of ReviewJump!
Secondly, I personally designed ReviewJump.
That’s right. I’m a graphic designer by trade, and I personally designed the ReviewJump user interface… including what you see in the screenshot above! And, as I’ve already disclosed, this was WITHOUT ever seeing a competing software or anything like it before.
Simply put, this was my own, original design.
So, either this one competitor was blatantly copying my work, or it was one helluva coincidence!
Software Arms Race
To be fair, I can’t blame them. Up until this point, our competitor’s software was great at generating testimonials, but was sub par at converting those testimonials into real reviews on sites like Yelp and Google.
When we arrived “on the scene” in one of their circles of influence, we obviously threatened them. If they didn’t come up to speed, they would have been seriously hurt. So, they took haste and launched a version almost identical to ours.
At first, I was sick to my stomach. Here we are, a young startup, sucker punched before we’re even able to walk. SaaS… what a cruel world, right?
Fortunately though, Kelly Clarkson was singing just the right tune to me on my way to work that day. Okay, it was on the radio, but Kelly might as well been sitting next to me in my truck singing, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”
Throughout the day, these words kept playing in my head, before and after I came across my copycat competitor.
Yeah, I thought to myself, I’ve come this far and one major bump in the road isn’t going to stop me!
Ironically, I actually have my copycat competitor to thank. As a SaaS, we need to be on our toes and always improving ourselves, and in this case, our software.
I know, Be Like Apple
We’ve all heard this before, but it’s sound advice because Apple didn’t get to be the biggest company in the world by copying it’s competitors. No, it improves upon them. It sets the trends. Its competitors copy them.
True, Apple didn’t invent the telephone, or the cell phone for that matter. However, it did turn the industry on its head with the advent of the iPhone.
Again, Apple didn’t develop the world’s first music player. But it did change how music is sold with the launch of iTunes and its iPods.
Finally, and possibly to your surprise, Apple didn’t invent the tablet computer. It did, however, rejuvenate a concept that spawned a new industry when it came out with the iPad in 2010.
Really, I’m Flattered
As a young startup, this was a great lesson for us to learn early on. Not that we were content before, but resting on our laurels isn’t going to cut it in this cold war of SaaS we’ve chosen to be a part of.
We need to be aggressive and emboldened by our competitors, especially those that copy us.
I should be proud, though. After all, they say imitation is the highest form of flattery!
Thanks for reading,
P.S. I’ve reached out to my copycat competitor to chat and see if we can coexist amicably in our niche. We’ll see how this “Peace Treaty Summit” goes!