Here to threaten Berlin’s claim to innovation is yet another Samwer clone. This time it’s Pinspire, an unabashed replicate of the US-based social photo-sharing site Pinterest. On Pinspire, users can “pin” and “repin” images from around the web in groups under personal headings like “Christmas Wish List,” “Recipes I Like,” and “Babies Wearing Bows.” Joining a wider international set of vision board-styled social sites (like Storify and LikedBy), Pinspire takes up a universal cause while borrowing most visibly from industry leader Pinterest (March 2010 beta). Down to the distinctive red site motif, cursive logo and drag-and-drop bookmark pin button, Pinspire is a blatant knock-off. And it’s not shy about it.
Here’s the consequence: A host of disparaging tweets trail behind the site’s inception—aimed not just at Rocket Internet (the incubator launching it) but unfairly at the German start-up ecosystem at large. (“Is this a joke?” “Made in Germany feels like the new Made in China” #shmucks #copycat #wtf). With each new clone, the question is louder: Is Berlin aiming to revolutionize markets or just make financially successful investments?
But as ever, if the Samwer brothers execute right, you may be using Pinspire next month. It’s not hard to become a follower. After scrolling past an adorable cat in beanie and hipster glasses in the “Mein Leben” (My life) section of the site this morning—my resistance began to fade.
In terms of economic promise, Pinspire has reason to be optimistic. In September 2011, Pinterest was valued at $200 million during a $27 million equity injection (up from $40 million in a $10 million May 2011 round). Borrowing nearly every aspect from the original collaborative discovery engine, Pinspire has a good chance of surviving, as long as it can avoid the copyright litigation vortex other models have faced.
The Samwers are business men. They have a history of successfully identifying and replicating winning startup models in the European market. Past clones include StudiVZ (Facebook), CityDeal (acquired by Groupon), Plinga (Zynga), and Wimdu (Airbnb). Whether you call it unimaginative hackery or shrewd business sense, the pattern confirms that there is often significant unserved market need for already-existing business concepts.
Maybe US startups are too slow to globalize. Maybe the key resources of an incubator (analysis, measurement, implementation) are uniquely suited to cloning. Whatever the reason, cloning continues to make profit because good ideas want to be scaled. The future is now, but most of what you see is just the roll-out.
So…Who wants to clone Rocket Internet with me?