Copycats or Innovation: What drives Startups in India?

Take the names of the top 5 Indian startups that come to your mind. Most of your choices would overlap with the following names.

  • Flipkart
  • PayTm
  • Byjus
  • Zomato
  • Swiggy
  • Oyo
  • Ola

And you might have heard that all of them either have copied their Western counterparts or are at least somewhat influenced by them. Before we move forward, make sure you have signed up on Pepcorns. We would love to have your review.


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Flipkart is similar to Amazon, Byjus is influenced by Khan Academy, PayTm by PayPal, Zomato, and Swiggy have copied GrubHub and Seamless, Oyo’s initial model was like Airbnb, and Ola has tried to imitate the success of Uber.

You can call them copy-paste businesses but that would be undermining the innovation they have carried out to successfully serve an Indian consumer. There were a lot of other startups that tried to copy the US businesses but failed miserably, one such example is Snapdeal. Snapdeal was founded three years after Flipkart and was once even valued at $6.5 B but soon enough the stars changed their position and there were talks that Snapdeal would be acquired by Flipkart for only $800 M. The deal didn’t go through and more surprising is the reason for that. Reports suggested that Snapdeal founder and investors expected $100 M more than the quoted price, which means Snapdeal was ready to be acquired for just less than $1 B. A year and a couple of months apart $5.5 B just vanished in thin air.

The story of Snapdeal is a clear indication that copy-paste does not guarantee success. Flipkart and Snapdeal both tried to walk on the path of Amazon but Flipkart reached clouds whereas Snapdeal fell to the bottom.

Also, look at Ola, it started with the inspiration of Uber. But when Uber launched in India in 2014, it not only had to face a dummy Uber but Ola which was way ahead of Uber in terms of innovation specifically for Indian consumers. Ola had already launched its Rickshaw services in October 2014, it took time for Uber to understand the rickshaw economics and then enter into the rickshaw space in April 2015. If not for the kind of money Uber had in its pockets, it would have been a nightmare for Uber to compete with Ola in India.

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Similarly, Oyo started with a concept similar to Airbnb but when Ritesh Agarwal, founder of Oyo, received Theil fellowship and returned he tweaked the model which would suit the Indian consumer economics. Earlier Oyo, then Oravel Stays, was similar to Airbnb listing and renting for hotel rooms but later Oyo got more involved with Hotels to improve the consumer experience. Branded the hotels with Oyo logos and created a name for itself in India.

And for PayTm-PayPal and Byju-Khan Academy, there isn’t a common thing between them apart from being a FinTech and EdTech companies respectively. PayTm started with a recharge platform and then started its PayTm wallet but now has transformed itself into an online services platform with UPI integration too. Similarly, Byjus is nothing similar to Khan Academy in terms of its Business Model.

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So it is time, we understand that innovation is at the heart of every business, and the copy-paste model is far from being true for any business that has proven itself in different geography, demography, or other situations.