Is startup cloning sustainable in the Arab world? The good, the bad and the ugly [Reader Poll]

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To say that replicating globally successful ideas in the Arab world is not a sustainable practice wouldn’t be an accurate statement. To say the exact opposite is not as accurate either. So what’s sustainable?  

Some startups in the Middle East have proved that cloning a successful international startup and adapting it to fit the region’s needs is not a bad business model to start with. Livremoi is one example; this Amazon-style e-commerce site in Morocco knows exactly what its customers need, yet it is still losing money. Like every e-commerce startup in the region, it's faced difficulties getting customers to trust payment online. Although it offers payment by bank transfer, check, cash and credit card through Maroc Télécommerce, it has also tried to gain trust by building an offline presence at bookfairs, an example of copying, pasting and localizing.

Needless to say the region has seen several companies localize successful e-commerce models, ranging from Jumia, a Rocket Internet-led Amazon clone trying to dominate the African market, to Wysada, a One Kings Lane clone launched out of Jordan with an international team, and recently, even a Facebook clone in Yemen called SocialPalz, launched by a college student.

So what does our community think of this? Do they think this model is doomed to fail because it lacks creativity or helps pave the way for others to succeed, and boosts the economy by creating more jobs?

On a recent Facebook question in Arabic, we asked our readers, “Do you think cloning a successful idea and adapting it to the Arab region is a sustainable business model?”

Our audience revealed the good, the bad and the ugly:

The good:

Arab markets are fertile. If an idea is thrown in a market here, it will see the light and succeed. “Once the idea is in the Arab region, it becomes a new one and will achieve sustainability”, said Abeer Bsoul, one of the respondents. Rami Osman agreed with her: “Yes, why not. It works everywhere. Nothing special about this region... It’s complicated but it can work."

The region is capable, the majority tends to think. A cloned idea can succeed in the market if adapted and localized. “A successful company in region X might not be successful in region Y. It all depends on the business model of that company and whether it would work the same or with little changes. A good FAS (Feasibility, acceptability, sustainability) analysis will be required," said Samer Abu Arisheh. But being passionate about your idea and having a team that shares your vision and works as hard to help you achieve success is also a requirement, other respondents declared. 

The bad:

Does it encourage less effort? Copying an idea that’s already well-established abroad, decreases the failure risks when ‘pasting’ it in a different region and saves you the hassle of coming up with an unprecedented idea, but this could be a negative, implied Othman Safarini: “Some people don’t want to waste effort, so all they do is copy an idea and adapt it."

I beg to differ on this one. Most founders put in a lot of effort in when starting a company, whether the idea has already been tested elsewhere or is new. A company’s success is never limited to the idea, and launching a clone doesn’t mean the founder is sitting at a laptop playing games while the company runs itself.

Before I joined Wamda, I worked at a startup called GoNabit, which operated a daily deals model similar to LivingSocial, which later acquired it. Every single person at the company worked incredibly hard; the fact that the idea had been launched elsewhere meant next to nothing when localizing to address the issues an e-commerce site faces in the region. Solving these issues while maintaining steady revenue requires double the effort. So is cloning really an easy option?

The ugly:  

Lack of creativity. Okay, this is not contradictory to the last point discussed, because you can work hard and still not be creative. And I do agree on this point. We need more new ideas generated in the region and cloned abroad. Ali Jawad tends to think likewise, saying that Arabs abroad are excelling and leading innovation, so why should founders have to ‘copy paste’ in the region when they can innovate outside?

There's one element that the discussion didn't touch upon; cloning, localizing and hard work is great, but mentors can really come in handy to help founders execute better and guide them to making good decisions. If you are looking for a mentor, read this article we published previously on how to find a good mentor, and check out our Mix N’ Mentor events date here.    

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