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Don't Copy. Steal?
2 min read

Don't Copy. Steal?

Don't Copy. Steal?

I steal ideas. But let me explain.

Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal - Picasso.

It was perhaps the late Steve Jobs, who made this saying  famous - "good artists copy, but great artists steal".

Honestly, I've heard this a number of  times, but never quite understood it. until recently.

First of all, There is a difference between copying and stealing. When you are copying something, you are creating a duplicate - you replicate the original to the best of your ability - but at best it is a replica; an imitation and probably will be cheaper than the perceived value of the original.

When you "steal" something, there is a change in possession. It doesn't exist in any other form anymore. It is yours now. It belongs to you.

This isn't as much as stealing credits as making an idea yours. The deeper meaning behind that saying is that take an idea, and add your magic to it and make it unique. Put your mark on it. It is yours now.

This is such an on-brand modus operandi for a company like Apple where they are known to take something that already exists and getting it done right.

Steve Jobs & his team are said to have been inspired off the Graphical User Interface that was developed by Xerox Parc to build the OS for Newton. But it was Microsoft who capitalized on it, with windows.

Great ideas get stolen, all the time - or more accurately, ideas that are stolen (and built on), become great. There are plenty of ideas that nobody even bothers about. As an entrepreneur and product designer, the goal should be to cultivate a mind that comes up with ideas that others would vie for.

In a sense every time you are reading a great book, and you come across something that changes your world view or alters  your mental model a little, it's happening - the moment where an idea is getting stolen.


With the ban on chinese apps, there are Indian startups that are racing to make clones of the 59 apps, so that they can fill the void. We shouldn't be trying to copy these apps, we should be trying to 'steal' them. And that is the real opportunity.

With a proven demand and market that has been created, the opportunity is to progress the evolution of the idea and concept to the next level. If we do that, then we win.

To do that, we have to go back to the first principles of how a product was designed - and apply our understanding of the indian market and users and reimagine it.

"India is the world's most misunderstood market", said a Chinese Investor on twitter recently, and the fact that Chinese startups have been able to get a foothold into tier 2, tier 3 user bases more than Indian startups says that they perhaps understand that mindset better than us. That's where the correction is needed, I believe.

We shouldn't be trying to clone WeChats and AliPay in India, instead look at what the rather stratified demographic of India would really want. And build for it, from the ground up. There is much forgotten lessons from the stories of Hero, Bajaj and the likes that we need to remind ourselves of.

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts.

PS: Personally I don't believe that regulation driven markets are healthy. This is a short term tactical play - I hope. This could have repercussions for Indian startups trying to cater to the global market otherwise.


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