Do Tech Companies Just Copy Each Other?

Tech Companies Just Copy Each Other

October 1, 2021

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Slack recently released a new feature where you can record a video or audio clip of yourself and your screen and share it with other users or channels in Slack. This is great for sending feedback to a co-worker rather than spending time typing out an email or Slack message.

I also received an email from Dropbox yesterday inviting me to beta test their new product Dropbox Capture.

With both of these new products, my first thought was, "Oh, so they copied Loom." Now, Loom definitely isn't the first product to let user capture screen recordings or screenshots, however, it is one of the first (if not the first) that I know of that made the process of recording and sending the videos to others in such a quick and easy way.

With Loom all you have to do is click record. Then, you can proceed to record your screen, application window, or a specific area of your screen. While doing so, you can have your webcam also record you. This allows your viewers to see both your screen and you at the same time. One of the features I also love is that when you click on your screen, your cursor has a yellow circle around it, helping your users see where your cursor is and where you clicked.

One of the best features, and why I think Loom has taken off over the last couple of years, is that when I am done recording the video, it is already in the cloud and ready for me to send someone the link. I don't need to wait for the video to process. I don't need to upload it somewhere or try to figure out how to send it in an email or Slack message. All I have to do is click on the 'share link' button on Loom's website which copies that link to my computer's clipboard and then simply paste it into an email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Notion, or wherever! Immediately others can view my video, all without ever needing to create a Loom account or logging into anything. The whole process is very slick!

I work with developers and clients designing and building software, websites, and apps. I also do some QA testing from time-to-time. On an average day, I probably record anywhere from 5-20 Loom videos for my developers and clients. I cannot begin to tell you how much time this saves me by showing them something versus trying to explain something in writing.

Now, why did I start off this post by talking about Slack and Dropbox's new products that are very similar to Loom? It's because I feel like many times tech companies just copy one another instead of being innovative and creating a whole new product. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand the reason why many of these companies create very similar products — it's because those products work and they work well!

Let's look at another example real quick. Clubhouse. For those who don't know, Clubhouse is a social media platform that started in early 2020. It is all about audio conversations. When you jump into the app you can see Rooms, or conversations, people are having. You can jump into a room and start listening. If you have something to say you can "raise your hand" and one of the moderators can bring you up to the "stage" where you can speak. Last year Clubhouse exploded in popularity! Even though it started in early 2020, by the end of 2020 the company was already valued at $1 Billion dollars! And by April 2021 it had been valued at $4 Billion dollars!

Well, companies like Facebook and Twitter wanted in on the action. Rumor has it that Mark Zuckerberg wanted to buy Clubhouse and add it to his other collection of companies Facebook has bought. Instead of Clubhouse selling out, Facebook decided to copy Clubhouse and make their own. In April, Facebook announced their new feature called Rooms. When you look at it, it is almost an exact clone of Clubhouse. Now, Twitter, LinkedIn, Spotify, and Slack are all working on their Clubhouse clones as well.

We could also look at Stories. Snapchat was the first to create Stories on their platform. Now, just about every social media platform does stories...

So, what is my beef with tech companies copying each other like this?

Well, first, it isn't innovative to just copy someone. Sure, copying someone else's idea might bring in lots of cash for that company, but where's the creativity? Where's the innovation? As a product designer, I wouldn't want to be assigned to a 'new' product that is simply copying another and being asked to come up with a different word to call something or a different way to add a border to a profile picture so that it looks 'different enough' from the competitor. That's boring.

Second, what about the 'little guys' in the game? (Yes, it's a game and 'last man standing wins'...) But seriously, if all of these companies that are already tech giants come in and spend their existing billions of dollars just to copy another new innovative product, what does that mean for some of these startups? Does Facebook just squash them like a bug and then move on to the next company they can copy and kill? (Many times the answer there is yes...) After all, isn't that what Capitalism is about?

Okay, let's make our way back to Loom and why I thought about writing this post. According to LinkedIn, Loom has 190 employees (as of Oct 1, 2021). Now let's look at Dropbox and Slack. Dropbox has 3,893 employees and Slack has 3,360 employees (as of Oct 1, 2021). Both Dropbox and Slack have the tools, resources, and money to build a product like Loom; especially when you consider that Slack is now owned by Salesforce... If those companies wanted, they could create a product much faster than Loom and have 10x the number of people working on it. At the end of the day, what could happen to Loom?

Now, I'm not saying that because Slack and Dropbox have created copy cats of Loom that Loom is going to go belly-up or anything... I think Loom has built such a great product and has so many dedicated customers that Loom is here to stay — for how long, who knows. They may be around for years, or they could be bought-out by another tech giant today for all I know.

All of my clients are small businesses. After I left corporate in January 2021 I spend my time and efforts working with small businesses and helping them grow, optimize efficiencies, and deliver amazing design, websites, and systems for them. I love getting a new client and seeing their possibilities and potential. I love seeing what they provide to their customers and the community they foster, both for customers and their employees. Although I am a technology geek and I love seeing what many of the tech giants are creating, I also love the relationships I build with small businesses which can't be done at the same level with companies that don't truly know even 1% of their customers.

Rather than seeing companies like Dropbox and Slack copy products of other companies, I'd love for them to fix and improve their existing products or innovate with new ideas that can help their customers do their best work.

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