Tag Archives: Lotus 1-2-3

Did They Copy Your Idea? Deal With It.

This troubles me. App Developer Says Facebook Stole Idea for “Find Friends Nearby”.

I don’t know the app, haven’t used it, and I’m not a lawyer, but I hate it when people complain about some big company stealing their ideas. Ideas get copied all the time. Have you seen the web? Have you seen books, movies, or TV?

Good ideas get copied. I don’t mean software piracy or plagiarism, which I hate, isn’t legal, but is also inevitable. I do mean reverse engineering and just plain copying good idea. Like movie and fiction formulas that work.  Selling points, tag lines, icons, apps, functionality, features, packaging, design … copycats get around them easily without strictly violating the law.  It’s a fact of life.

Think of the history of high tech in the last generation or so. DOS copied and improved CP/M which copied something else. The original Mac copied and improved Xerox and Windows copied Mac. Lotus 1-2-3 copied and improved Visicalc and Microsoft Excel copied and improved Lotus 1-2-3.

As a writer, I hate it when people just copy my work and pretend they wrote it. But it does happen constantly.

As a software developer and publisher, I hate it when people copy my product’s tag lines and positioning but it happens all the time.

Ethical? You be the judge. Legal? I’m not an attorney, I can’t say. But I will say this: It happens all the time.

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Pricing is Magic. Stranger Every Day

Pricing is magic. There are no good algorithms. No best practices. Grab a theory — competitive pricing, value-based pricing, scientific wild-assed guess pricing, you name it — and stick with it. If it works, stick longer. If it doesn’t change it. 

Some reflections on pricing: 

  1. Yesterday I bought a short story,  off of Amazon.com for $0.99. I bought it and read it while waiting for lunch at a sandwich shop. We used to have to buy an album for $10-$15. Now I buy tunes on a whim all the time. 
  2. I regularly buy tunes off of amazon.com for $0.99. Choose, click, and done. I just bought Bonnie Raitt’s new album for $5.99 because the album was cheaper than buying half of its songs. Nowadays I get sample chapters free, read them, and half the time buy the book. I’m not reading more now, but I’m sure buying more. 
  3. I paid $695 for Lotus 1-2-3 in 1983. Wordstar was $295, and dBaseII $495. They were all mainstays of early PC software (and those last two started on CP/M, before the IBM PC and DOS. 
  4. How much did the DrawSomething people make with a simple app? Zynga bought the company for $250 million (or so). The app had a free version, and cost $0.99. I saw somewhere that they’d had 350 million downloads. But that was a couple of months ago. 
  5. Back in the 1990s we almost acquired full rights to a software product (name omitted on purpose) from a company that had been selling a few hundred copies a year at $1,000 per copy. We didn’t because that software did less for its users than our own Business Plan Pro, which we were selling to tens of thousands of people at $100 a copy. 
  6. Is it not strange? Everybody thinks $2.99 is really expensive for an app now. Reviews often dock the good apps because they expect much more as such a high ($2.99) price. Wait, what? 


Whatever else is going on with pricing, it’s microeconomics turned on its head: low price doesn’t cause high volume. High volume causes low price. 

Corollary: the optimal price is inversely proportional to the size of the market. 

Second corollary: whoops! There I go trying to make order out of chaos. Pricing is magic. If it works, hooray, and if not, experiment.

(Image: bigstockphoto.com

The Curious Paradox of Copying and Creativity

A couple of months ago I picked up this post on TechCrunch, which sort of accuses Apple of copying its iBooks application for the new iPad.

clonesI hate business copycats. Drives me crazy. As Palo Alto Software’s Business Plan Pro grew up, others copied our tag lines, our packaging, and the software. I hated that.

In the retail business you have some companies who live on copying packaging. They put imitation products inside imitation packages to fool people, so they get the wrong thing. I hate that. How do they live with themselves?

But it’s not illegal.

And it’s also the history of innovation. From VisiCalc to SuperCalc to Lotus 1-2-3 to Quattro Pro to Microsoft Excel, copying makes things better. From CP/M to DOS to Windows, copying makes things better. The original Macintosh operating system borrowed from an earlier mouse and window system developed by Xerox. The iPod was not the first MP3 player, nor is the iPad the first tablet computer. These were not new ideas, but they were improvements.

And all the cool new phones now are copying the iPhone.

Do we hate the people who copy ideas? We all do it. Kids learn their moves in sports by copying other kids. We learn to write better by copying writing we like. We learn to get along with people by copying people.

The entire history of human creativity is built on copying. What, if not copying, is the cause of those identifiable periods in music and art and writing, like the Baroque or Renaissance? What except copying makes Gothic cathedrals? Try to name a good movie that didn’t borrow from some earlier movie. Even Shakespeare was often redoing older classical themes.

And yet, when I look at all the stuff in the market that’s copying something else, it makes me mad. Do your own thing. Be original. Make it better. Don’t just copy my thing. Even if it’s barely legal, it’s still sleazy.

A lot of great art starts with copying, borrowing themes, ideas, and so on. But business, starting with one idea and adding to it, making it better, creating new things based on old things, that’s progress. Business copying, looking like somebody else just to steal some respect, is just bad business.

I’m glad cool new innovations based on existing stuff succeed. I hope all sleazy business copies fail.

(Images: galtiero boffi, Konstantin L/Shutterstock)