Cloning or copycatting is nothing new in China, but it’s still interesting. For Westerners, especially Americans they loathe cloning. It hurts their pride and is an insult to their creativity and hard work. For Chinese, they love it! It comes as second nature and presents grand opportunity to seize a massive market potential.

For people outside China, they wonder why Chinese love to copy things. After being here a while, most people figure out, it’s the way they were taught to learn. Follow the teacher, recite books, don’t challenge. This mentality grows and sticks with people as they mature. Moreover, I’m sure many start-ups think, “Why shouldn’t I copy?” If the business model has been proven overseas and they know how to adapt it to China, then by not copying, it almost represents a missed opportunity. When I interviewed the co-founder of Match.com, Peng Ong (now a Partner at GSR Ventures) he said “Copying is a form of innovation. The best company’s never just copy, they copy and then localize. It’s like jazz, you have a basic rhythm and structure and you move around that. Is jazz copying? I don’t think there is any original idea. Google is a copy.”

I’ve realized that the term ‘Innovation’ can be interpreted in many ways. In China, I feel it means ‘to adapt and improve’, which is still a valid interpretation. To some degree everyone learns by copying, babies do it, adults do it. But where it becomes a touchy subject, is when Chinese clones don’t just copy the business model, they copy everything except the logo!

Since Chinese are expert copiers from Nike shoes to Italian made furniture to tech start-ups, this skill ought to be commended. We have covered clones in separate posts, but we thought we should compile them and award the best tech clones of companies that were hot in 2011. The winning place is based on having a market leader position in the market perception. Of course all the original start-ups that made it big, originate from America, particularly the Silicon Valley.

Here we go, drum roll please!

1.    Groupon – First and largest group buying site in the world

WinnerMeitun, finished 2011 as number 1 group buying site by revenue

 Honorable mentionLashou, had a good fight with Meituan

2.    AirBnb – First and largest vacation and private room rental site in the world

WinnerAirizu, the earliest clone in China

Honorable mentionMayi, operated by one of China’s largest classified sites Ganji

3.    Tumblr – largest light blogging platform in the world

Winner DianDian, incubated by Innovation Works and raised US$10M

Honorable mentionLofter, spawned out of internet giant, NetEase

4.    Pinterest – the hottest social bookmarking site right now, with fast growth and salivating VC’s

WinnerHuaban, from the makers from the best Flickr clone

Honorable mentionJ.RenRen, from the makers of China’s Facebook, RenRen

5.    Gilt – Exclusive discount luxury goods site

WinnerXiu, to satisfy China’s insatiable demand for luxury and brand names

Honorable mentionVIPstore, last raised a new round from Intel Capital

6.    Flipboard – First and most popular iPad magazine app

WinnerZaker, the earliest Flipboard clone emerged when Flipboard was blocked out of China

Honorable mentionXianguo, from the makers of a popular RSS reader

7.    Kik – One of the most popular mobile messaging apps 

WinnerWeixin, a mobile app that is rolling Kik, Talkbox, Foursquare, Bump into one

Honorable mentionMiliao, from Lei Jun, regarded as China’s Steve Jobs

8.    TechCrunch – One of the best tech blogs about start-ups, tech trends and news

 Winner – TechNode, hey we have heroes too! Sorry Kai.

 Honorable mention Techrice, great insight and analysis of China’s tech landscape

One noticeable trend is that the best clones are often created by very large Chinese tech companies with existing resources and money. This shows how tough the environment is for grassroots start-ups who are trying to compete against the big guys. It is also a criticism of the health of China’s start-up eco-system, that big companies can and will simply crush anyone they see as a threat. Such a dynamic explains why the M&A market is not as active as it is in America.

Now that we are already flying through 2012, what will be the next hot clones to emerge out of China?

Jason Lim

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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5 Comments

  1. Could have added Quora, Turntable and Kickstarter clones to the list 🙂

    In 2012 the obvious and maybe already out there are Codeacademy, Path and… Kinect.

  2. Perhaps calling them “remakes” instead of clones is better, and would allow others to accept it more since they seem to accept Hollywood “cloning” Asian movies 😉

  3. Consider the following before ordering a Chinese product!!!

    1. If you receive the item and it does not work what do you do?
     A. Try to call them, if you can call them get ready for an expensive international call.
     B. If you can get them on the phone do they have anyone to work with you in English?
     C. Do they even have a tech support group or do they drop ship for a larger company?
     D. What happens when the item malfunctions, good luck with a warranty…

    2. Some chinese companies advertise you can return for a refund, yes in some cases you can but here’s the hangup, YOU must pay the return shipping, guess what, that’s expensive.  The cheapest (USPS) carrier to China will charge you an average of $100.00 per 15 lbs of weight.   Also get ready for confusing custom forms and declarations.

    3.  If you just decide you don’t like the item get ready for a large restocking fee (don’t believe me read the small print!)

    4. If you buy a Chinese clone NO ONE in the US will service it, you stuck sending it back to China!

    So if you buy an item and it works flawlessly your good to go, have a problem and that sweet price you paid will quickly be forgotton!  Trust me when I say, been there, done that!

  4. I really appreciate you for sharing informative content. It is easy to just say cloning is not good but creating clones requires skills. Cloning is one of great talent of Chinese people however they are criticized for that but there is a huge market Chinese cloned product. As far as cloned websites are concerned, Clones of AirBNB and groupon is creating milestones and also giving great competition to original popular websites.

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