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Summary:

The team behind design sales site Fab.com was outraged to discover a U.K.-based rival that seems to mimic not only their business but also their look. But outrage may not be enough to stop Germany’s Samwer brothers from going big with their latest clone.

samwers-tall

For startups looking to build a significant European presence, Germany’s Samwer brothers are like three horsemen of the apocalypse. The trio behind Rocket Internet have become a terrifying force across the continent, making millions from their ruthless cloning of big services like eBay, Facebook and Groupon.

The latest business in their sights appears to be New York flash sales site Fab.com, which specializes in daily discounted sales of design products. Tuesday, Fab CEO Jason Goldberg was alerted to a Rocket site called Bamarang.co.uk, which appears to be copying Fab wholesale.

Here are screenshots of Fab (on the left) and Bamarang (on the right).

There’s a small irony in that the victim is a copy of sorts itself; Fab started out as a social network for the gay community, but pivoted last year to become what is effectively a niche version of Groupon.

But it’s not just the business model and idea of Fab that Bamarang is copying: it’s the entire design, look and feel.

In fact, the similarities irked Goldberg so much that he called the site a “complete rip-off” and went on the offensive in blog form:

Let me put bamarang [sic] and the other copycats on notice. Ripping someone off is not going to work in this space. Knock-offs are just bad design. Users will see right through it. Such tactics may work in some industries, but not in design.

You can understand his frustration. However, if he thinks that the Samwer brothers’ tactics will fail, he may be underestimating what’s actually happening here.

True, Bamarang.co.uk appears to be a relatively small operation at the moment. It was incorporated in Britain’s second city, Birmingham, is hiring staff based in London, and has directors including Arnt Jeschke and Christian Cornelius-Weis, who have both held senior roles at Rocket alongside the Samwers (although according to TechCrunch Europe, Cornelius-Weis quit Rocket shortly before Christmas.)

But Bamarang isn’t just a single clone site for a single local market that borrows heavily from Fab’s design: it’s a whole network.

Looking around, it’s obvious Rocket plans to go seriously big with Bamarang. It’s already running the service in Germany and France, and individuals with links to Rocket appear to have registered the name in countries including Italy and Poland too. Also troubling: it has also registered Bamarang.com — although there’s nothing there so far.

If that isn’t enough to get Fab worried, here’s another reason.

Bamarang UK’s domain name was registered through another Rocket subsidiary, the interiors sale site Westwing. Essentially, it’s a very similar operation to Fab but slightly less focused on the same high design credentials. This connection could be an important sign of things to come, because Westwing is a great example of the Samwers’ copy-and-expand strategy in action: It launched just a few months ago and is already in an estimated 20 European countries, including Britain (under the brand name Dalani) and the increasingly hot Turkish market.

In the past, the Samwers were content to stay in Germany, but they are now taking a bigger, broader — and altogether meaner — approach. It’s something Oliver Samwer referred to in an email as a “blitzkrieg.”

Fab may not be facing a small challenge here: It may be facing a knock-off prepared to go much bigger and much faster than it’s willing to.

I contacted both Rocket and Westwing to inquire about their plans for Bamarang, but they did not respond.

In the meantime, while Bamarang’s visual identity and business model may be near-identical copies of Fab, I’m not sure a small protest from Goldberg and an appeal to the design community is going to be enough to stop Bamarang from growing like a weed.

After all, claims of copying didn’t stop the Samwers when they copied eBay to build Alando (a clone they later sold to eBay), or StudiVZ (a Facebook clone), or Citydeal (a Groupon clone, later sold to Groupon), or Zalando (Zappos clone) or Wimdu (Airbnb clone) — or any of the other companies they’ve built.

Clones are a depressing reality all around the world. But Fab may soon learn that you can’t simply rely on ethics to help you overcome them. Faced with a clone, you have to execute better, maintain your vision and — crucially — be prepared to compete globally.

  1. It was a very stupid move from FAB, to send out a Mail short before x-mas with the notice, that account credits will expire at the end of the year. Because they still don’t ship outside the U.S., they pissed off a lot of Europeans and Asians.

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  2. Bamarang is not the only one. See http://monoqi.de/

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  3. Compete globally, Silicon Valley is the best message here.

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  4. While the Samwers are without question ruthless, innovation-hating douchbags, the Valley is to blame for their success by feeding the copycat industry. It’s not like the Samwers are building successful businesses. The just build local placeholders for the Valley firms to buy! (Alando -> eBay, CityDeals -> Groupon). If the Valley doesn’t want to be copied abroad, the shouldn’t pay billions to the copycats!

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  5. is Gigaom a Copy of Techcrunch or Informationweek or Mashable or CNET?

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  6. @Michael Kaiser Don’t forget about Pinspire.com and the Samwer Project Pinterest.com (Design and even the name are pretty similar )These guys make a real good reputation for Germany and their entrepreneurs ;) ?

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    1. Your post is misleading. Pinterest.com is the original. Pinspire is the Samwer rip-off!

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  7. Really? It’s a real shame that they didn’t even create a unique design. I bet it was a few bucks cheaper to just rip off the whole look.

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  8. From a consumer’s point of view, it’s always good to see new products & brands at new sites. I love it. It’s a free playing field on Ecommerce. Fab.com should not monopolize the market. What solid company is scared of competition?

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  9. studiVZ was not created by them, but by Team Europe

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  10. http://www.better-n-better.com also does a good work in Europe

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    1. TX U Nina.

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