The startup world is rife with clones and copycats, fueled by the ease of opening up shop on the web. You can find ads on Craigslist shopping for scripts to rip off entire sites. But typically it’s the small fry who are aping the success of their larger, more established rivals.
So the folks at New York based Paperless Post were a little taken aback when they saw Postmark, a new offering from Evite, which looked to them like a total clone of their product.
To make their case, Paperless Post laid out for Betabeat the nitty gritty details of the overlap between Postmark and their service. To them, it copied the user experience and design assets, right down to individual cards. Everything had an eerie familiarity, from the pricing scheme to the name.
“We kind of stumbled on it while redesigning our logo,” said Alexa Hirschfeld, who founded the site with her brother James. “We were checking out the competitors and when we got to Evite’s postmark we had one of those moments, it was actually confusing, looking at it and then at our site, realizing we had been cloned.”
Take a minute to watch this video the pair created to highlight the similarities they found.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Mr. Hirschfeld did say that at first, “We did feel that it was a sign of success, a validation of the direction we are going. People at the beginning thought were foolish, to build something so formal and enriched when everyone was talking about Facebook and the democratization of content.”
But the deeper they dug, the more angry the pair became. The found the pricing schemes for Evite’s service to be almost identical, but slightly cheaper than theirs. And they discovered that back in 2007, Evite threatened to sue a Socializr, another online invitation company,for allegedly copying some of its work. In a letter from its attorneys, Evite accused Socializr of “posting designs and page layouts…that are identical, or strikingly, substantially, or confusingly similar.”
It seemed to the Hirshfelds that Evite was now the one making things confusing. “The name, Postmark, is much closer to our brand than to Evite. And on top of this shocking lack of creativity, Evite says this is a hallmark of their innovative spirit.”
The founder say they are exploring their options and considering legal action, but it’s a tough road to take on a copycat. That’s why VCs are prone to ask, What if Google Does It?, when startups are pitching their business plan. Patents are a good weapon, but tough to get on them on startup time, since the approval process typically takes years. “We plan to just keep evolving the product,” said Mr. Hirschfeld. “They are a lot bigger than us, but for now our plan is to just keep beating them on execution.”
Evite sent along this statement from President Hans Woolley: “Evite, the categorical leader in online invitations and social planning, has been preparing and executing the launch of Evite Postmark since 2009. We have done so by deploying our very best talent to create a service that evolves the ad-free premium invitation space beyond where it is now. Currently, Evite Postmark is in Beta mode and has not been officially launched; it is evolving and we have been thrilled with the response it has received from users (who are mostly from the Evite family) so far. We are excited to continue to incorporate many new features we are currently developing in anticipation of our official launch in early 2012.”
Disclosure: Paperless Post has received funding from Thrive Capital.