How Not To Freak Out When Someone Copies Your Product

from the monkey-see,-monkii-do dept

One of the things we've talked about for decades at Techdirt is that companies need to not freak out so much when someone copies their product -- whether physical or digital. There are some who believe you need to stop copying at any cost. That always seemed silly for multiple reasons. First, if you have something people want, it's going to get copied. At some point you have to do something of a cost benefit analysis of whether or not it's truly worth it to go crazy stopping every copy. Second, if you truly created the original, then you have a leg up on any copycat, in that you have a much better understanding of just about everything: you understand the customers better, you've built up brand loyalty and you understand the hidden reasons why people like your product. So you'll almost certainly continue to innovate above and beyond any copycats. Third, many efforts to stop copycats end up punishing your actual customers, saddling them with a worse product because you're so overly concerned about copying. This is a story of a company that has gone in the other direction.

For the last year or so, I've been telling a bunch of people about my exercise regime (my coworkers are sick of hearing about it). It began two years ago when I saw a Kickstarter project for Monkii Bars 2 -- a suspension training system not unlike TRX (if you're familiar with that), but a lot more portable. If you spend time on Kickstarter, there are a ton of exercise equipment products there, but nearly all of it looks like most late night infomercial crap (also, I noticed that most of them are based in LA, which perhaps isn't too surprising). Most of them look snazzy, but also are likely to be the kinds of things that no one ever uses for more than a week. The Monkii bars didn't look like that at all, though. First, it was from a Colorado company, and the team who made it seemed more like the kind of people I'd actually hang out with, rather than the folks who pitch most exercise equipment. More importantly, though, something about the way the Monkii Bars worked just seemed like a perfect way to get a workout. For whatever reason, I knew that they wouldn't be a "use it for a week and forget about it" kind of thing (though, I did still at least worry a little bit they would turn out that way).

But what really pushed me over the edge in deciding to back the project was two things. First, they not only had a successful Kickstarter campaign under their belts, but you could see that many backers of the new campaign were returning customers who raved about the original. That's always a good sign. Second, and more importantly, on their own website they had a page on how to make your own monkii bars, with the following:

Our number one goal here at monkii.co isn’t to sell monkii bars – it’s to get people to be more active. So when we started hearing that a small number of people thought monkii bars were too expensive and that they could make them on their own, we decided to help them. We reached out to Cooper over at GarageGymReviews.com who has some experience making DIY versions of products. So whether you buy monkii bars from us, or make your own, it’s time to get wild.

To me, that showed tremendous confidence in what they were building. It made me trust them more, and even though they were showing how to make your own for much, much less than the cost of buying the full product from them, it made me much more willing to pay them for the product.

It seemed many others felt the same way, and the Monkii Bars 2 raised over a million dollars (much more than the ~$100k of their first product). There were some manufacturing delays (ah, Kickstarter...) but they were pretty upfront and transparent about the reasons for the delays, including making the product significantly better between product launch and delivery. I got mine over a year ago, and they were exactly what I hoped they would be. They were a perfect way to get a really good, thorough workout nearly anywhere. I've used them at home, at the office, in hotels, at parks, while camping and more. I take them basically everywhere I go and, somewhat incredibly, I always feel like I want to work out more when I use them (in contrast to other things, or going to the gym, where I tend to want to just get it over with).

And, of course, once the 2nd version was out, the monkii's updated their DIY page, with details on how to make your own of the 2nd version as well. Last fall, the company's founder, Dan Vinson, went on the CNBC show Adventure Capitalists, which is basically a "Shark Tank" for exercise equipment, and what amazed me was that just as one investor is getting really into investing, Dan mentions the DIY page... and the investor initially flips out. He actually threatened to pull the investment because he thought Dan was crazy to tell people how to make their own, and thought that would sink the entire company. Eventually that investor did come around, and you could see a light bulb go off in his head that building trust and a community means you can sell a product even when you're teaching people how to make their own.

That brings us almost up to the present day. A few months back, Monkii launched its third product, called "Pocket Monkii," which is an even smaller and more portable version. I will admit that I was backer number 38 out of over 8,000. Given my experience with the company and the Monkii Bars 2 it was a no brainer.

And then last week, in an update to the Kickstarter, they mentioned that others were knocking off the Pocket Monkii. The update was really notable. I'm so used to seeing companies flip out and freak out about copycats, and get angry and aggressive. But, the Monkii guys seem to find the whole thing fairly amusing. Even the subject line, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" gives you a suggestion of how they see this.

As many of you already know, we’ve been knocked off! What started as a blatant copy of our content (literally pictures of monkii Dan and pocket monkii with the logo removed), has now turned into their own brand and imitation of our product - a cheaply made and low quality one at best.

They do note that they've asked for versions using monkii's own images to be taken down, with mixed levels of success, but they don't seem too bothered by it and literally suggest that everyone have a good laugh about it:

So what now? Well, let’s take a moment to have a good laugh:

1. They keep switching the product name, and it just keeps getting worse and worse… From “Fitness Pocket”, it has now morphed into “Body Pocket” – We don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sound right to us.

2. For some reason, they think that their product looks better upside down.

But then, the real kicker. The update notes of the copycats: "They used our old design that doesn’t work very well." Followed by:

Wait, what? An old design that doesn’t work very well? But that’s the design I see on your Kickstarter page and in the video.

Here’s the thing – we always take beta-monkiis’ feedback into account and improve the design up until the last possible moment.

The problem with the old design was that it was annoyingly difficult to close the case, and if you could actually manage to close it, it looked completely “wonky." Through beta-monkii feedback, we realized that we were stuck in our old ways – trying to apply the existing kit design for MB2 to pocket monkii – when the best path forward was to take a fresh look at our new product and design a case built from scratch specifically for it.

That’s exactly what we did – we’re proud to say it’s a much better design and we know you’ll love it. Don’t worry – it still has the same look, feel, and form-factor. We even stepped up the quality a notch. Oh, if you added the Outdoor Anchor Accessory, you'll be pleased to know it features a sleek way to carry that in the case too.

This is another perfect example of what I discussed at the start. The original creators understand the market better, they understand the customers better and they understand the product better, which lets them innovate faster and better. And, rather than freak out about copycats, they just laugh at them and build a better product. And, really, if you want a "knockoff" I fully expect that the head Monkiis will end up putting up a DIY plan at some point for the new version as well. But it still won't be as nice as getting the real, professionally made version.


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Aug 2018 @ 2:41pm

    Monkey See Monkey Do

    I think the freak out when someone copies you is a learned reaction. They learn it from our intellectual property system where overbearing 'rights' holders rather than creators do everything and then some to protect their cash flow (we cannot say profits because they often do not sell anything, they soak money from others selling things).

    If only those gatekeepers had some concept of actually competing in the marketplace rather than strong arming anyone and everyone, even for fair use. Protect, defend, defy, and attack (let's not forget lying). It's the way they know and others learn the behavior from them. Patent holders display similar acts of disproportionate response. The whole greening old patents for example, and charging organic farmers for 'stealing' their seeds when birds, bees, and the wind did the damage, and the damage was to the organic farmer, not the seed developer.

    I wonder if the gatekeepers should be as upset about others copying their behavior as they are about copies of their IP? It would be a novel suit, and I expect it almost anytime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 2:58pm

    Second, if you truly created the original, then you have a leg up on any copycat, in that you have a much better understanding of just about everything: you understand the customers better, you've built up brand loyalty and you understand the hidden reasons why people like your product.

    Well, how often is it that the person who created the thing is the one determined to stop the copying? The MAFIAA pattern is that the entity doing the freaking out or suing didn't create it; there's ample evidence that they hardly have a clue what people actually want. The recording industry took, what, 20 years before offering DRM-free music? (And they've yet to stop freaking out.) The film/TV/book industries still didn't even get this far.

    As for brand loyalty, these groups exist more as lightning rods for contempt (so people revolt against the groups rather than the bands, authors, etc. they represent).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Max, 30 Aug 2018 @ 3:03pm

    It's kinda hard to stop laughing seeing the super-hyped folks in their ads whose entire existence apparently revolves around working out, especially after taking a look at the asking price (which goes a helluva long way to explain where that "small number of people" was coming from). Nonetheless, their attitude towards copies is absolutely commendable...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    John Smith, 30 Aug 2018 @ 4:41pm

    My family made millions in mail order many decades ago. They told me that knockoffs were expected no later thn six months after they debuted a product. Applied to copyright, the incentive to write topical pieces that are perishable is great because they are almost infringement-proof, while a self-help or how-to book can easily be pirated and destroy years of hard work.

    Interesting here, however, is that the same site that warns of online shills in other areas, is talking abot how it was convinced by online reviews to invest in something. Under Secvtion 230, websites can't be held liable for fake reviews or false advertising, and we know we can never verify anything, so the smart thing to do is to reject all sales pitches no matter how convincing just to be safe.

    A better way to invest in something is to buy stock anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 4:52pm

      Re:

      Wow. A constructive, relevant comment from you and you managed to avoid bring up anything about sect--- oh ffs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:11pm

      Re:

      My family made millions in mail order many decades ago

      Once again... without any proof because you refuse to refer to yourself as anything more than a common pseudonym.

      Next!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        John Smith, 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:45pm

        Re: Re:

        "Without any proof."

        That I'd have to decloak to provide said proof (the actual
        goal of the demand) is ignored. Many in mail order would say the same thing, btw.

        If you choose not to believe me that's fine with me.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 9:32pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Sure brah, we just can’t wait to not give a shit who you really are.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 9:39pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I'm just amused that you consistently scream about how rich you could have been and how much money your non-existent self-help books would rake in... but not only do you provide no means for people to actually support you, you espouse a passive-aggressive approach to the paradigm shift against suing children for your meal ticket, and scream about how it's going to be totally awesome while posting on a website you consider a distraction.

          This is why your credibility is in the shitter.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 31 Aug 2018 @ 7:00am

          Do you WANT to tank your credibility? That'll do it

          Here's the thing though: If you know that you'll just refuse to provide evidence to back up your claims, unless you want to tank any credibility you might have otherwise had, stop making those claims.

          By making claims that you won't substantiate with actual evidence you merely make yourself out to be dishonest, making assertions of claims that you won't back up and then running as soon as someone tries to get you to do so.

          Hitchen's Razor already neatly slices up any unsupported claims you may make, so they don't have any positive benefit for you, but repeatedly making them just leaves the impression of a dishonest braggart, someone who may talk big but who has nothing to back it up, and if you think people give any serious weight to anything said by a person like that you're only fooling yourself.

          If you don't care that people will increasingly dismiss anything you say out of hand however then by all means keep making unsupported claims and refusing to back them up.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Tanner Andrews (profile), 4 Sep 2018 @ 3:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Many in mail order would say the same thing [conceal identities]

          I guess a lot of us did not realize how reprehensible the mail order business was. Admittedly, I buy a lot of my stuff from local merchants, so maybe I just have not been exposed to enough mail order for the full effect to sink in.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    I M Pumped, 30 Aug 2018 @ 5:34pm

    Hey! I'm highly interested in hearing about YOU "exercising"!

    Please tell us more! You imply have much to tell (though state that it's making other people "sick" so perhaps is dully repetitious "virtue" signaling...); anyway, not only would it be more interesting than most of your pieces lately, but it'd give me new data, and quite possibly a sliver of respect.

    That is, IF you actually use this gadget for more than conversation piece. -- But you just leave us to imagine! -- Okay. I'll read again, closely...

    I've used them at home, at the office, in hotels, at parks, while camping and more. I take them basically everywhere I go

    No wonder I missed it. Doesn't sound too strenous, except for all the carrying around:

    and, somewhat incredibly, I always feel like I want to work out more when I use them.

    AH. "somewhat incredibly", indeed! -- A CLEAR NO. Real exercise leaves you sweaty and too weary to even feel virtuous. -- SO nothing but decoration for your "active" lifestyle because a doctor told you (five years ago from the Youtube video) that should lose 50 pounds. I bet you have an outfit too, and count time putting it on and off plus showering, using some little weenie "application" that you show around to hapless "coworkers" to show it's actually okay that are stuffing yourself at table.

    ALSO, please dilate on the previously unmentioned "coworkers", 'cause this is NEWS! I've missed all prior mention that you do anything approaching work anywhere. Thanks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:44pm

    Copying is not theft

    It is a service to the Chinese.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Smith, 30 Aug 2018 @ 6:47pm

    Someone mentioned a price. Just curious: does it end in a 7?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 7:42pm

    Now if only Nintendo could be this cool... *sigh*

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2018 @ 9:02pm

    I’m sure this is the wave of the future and the entire concept of intellectual property will disappear forever.
    I got my degree in economics.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    timlash (profile), 31 Aug 2018 @ 8:08am

    Well, since they copied the idea too...

    It's nice to see a company behave strategically instead of emotionally. They might have been predisposed to this attitude since a similar device was featured on a Seinfeld episode in 1997.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Châu, 31 Aug 2018 @ 3:37pm

    Crowdfund-> public domain

    Public pay for develop this product (volunteer money) no reason for monopoly. All crowd fund product should become public domain because public pay for it and public accept full risk if project fail. Neve support crowd fund project if not free cultural license or CC0.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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