International Opportunities – Part II – Copycat Entrepreneurialism

Great artists steal

Picasso said that the good artists borrow and that the great artists steal. A rather bold statement and one the Samwer Brothers in Germany have literally taken to heart. The Brothers simply copy. They don’t even try to invent. If they see a good idea taking off in the US they will will copy it and make a non-US version. Think Groupon. Their copy, Citydeal, was eventually acquired by Groupon.

Why the US? Because it is the single largest mature and unified market in the world (Europe is large and mature but fragmented, Asia is large but not mature). Therefore, when something takes off in the US it can grow quickly and often so quickly as to be beyond the US teams ability to execute internationally at the same speed.

For example, if I have a technology company in the US and it’s growing 100% a month I have to make a choice. I can’t expand to every country in the world, I have to choose my markets.

So, maybe one of your markets is too small for that US company. Well, that presents an opportunity.

The biggest example of this is Baidu, the Chinese search engine. Google, was just too slow to go after the Chinese market and lost it to a me-too competitor.

So, the path goes both ways: you can copy US ideas and take them internationally AND you can take a non-US idea and bring it to the US.

Perhaps, the greatest example of such an opportunity is Vente-Privee, the French flash sale company. It took them ten years before they entered the US market. In that time, many me-too companies entered the US market.

I find that most of the time people are copying US ideas and rolling them out internationally. But, I think opportunities exist in taking international ideas and bringing them to the US. (In particular, I would look at energy ideas). The challenge is not going to be in finding the ideas but executing them in the US. There are simply few people who live outside the US who understand the US from a business point of view and even fewer who understand how to access the Venture Capital market in the US – in short this lack of knowledge is it’s own barrier to entry or an opportunity if you do understand the US market.

So, start looking. Look at what’s hot in the US. Look at what’s hot outside the US. See how you can take one of those ideas and make them florish elsewhere.

Make Picasso proud!

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