“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso
Now, this might sound like a sinful advice to the aspiring entrepreneurs. At a time when innovation, at least the word, is been used, overused, misused, and even abused; dismissing innovation for imitation might sound crazy. But before you write me off, just hear out my argument.
Let me start by asking- how many elements are there in the periodic table? Say 118. Now don’t you think that everything around you is made up of the permutation and combination of these basic elements? Everything! Now, zoom into the atom of a single element. The atom comprises of electrons, protons and neutrons, and these elements differ in one of these constituting elements, one more here or less there. Which means that everything around us is made of these basic elements, and this logic could go on to the level of quarks! Should I say, all of creation is nothing more than the combination of the existing, in newer ways. It is not so much about adding new elements as much about forming new combination of the existing.
The same logic applies to the startup. Since creativity is that of new combinations, innovation starts with imitation. Or, as they say, ‘connecting the dots (albeit in newer ways).’ In the pursuit of being entirely new, one often misses out on the virtues of the existing solutions, and while ‘reinventing the wheel’, you lose out on the precious time. Since time is a vital commodity in the startup game, an entrepreneur is better off looking out for the existing and building on the top of it, versus creating something entirely from scratch.
Remember what Newton very famously noted, ‘if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulder of giants’. The same applies to entrepreneurs. You should learn to stand on the shoulders of giants, including your predecessors and competitors. But don’t stop there. Innovation has to follow imitation. If you can imitate somebody, the third person can do the same for you, and so on. Hence, you need to top up your imitation with innovation in, at least, some aspect of your business, such as pricing, processes, and customer outreach, amongst others.
OLA, for the most part, imitated Uber, but didn’t stop there. Through services likes OLA Money, and offerings like auto services, shared taxis, shuttles, and outstation taxis, the firm is clearly chipping along. The same is true for Swiggy over Tinyowl, with the former’s value offerings and reach.
To sum up, let’s lower the bar of starting off by looking outwards, and then inwards, which is to imitate before you innovate.