What do you do when company X (or Z) copies your app?

It's the first question you'll be asked whenever you ask an investor for money, or if you're just doing SWOT analysis of your own product. It's also the first question you should ask yourself when you have that first great stroke of inspiration. The usual question is, "What would you do if Google copied your app?".

The answer is usually, "Panic!!". In the words of Douglas Adams, "Don't Panic". If you're building something cool, and someone copies you, it means you're on to a good thing. Stick with it!

We've had a lot of people ask us about Verify App and more specifically Clue app. They ask how cheesed we are that it looks to be a "direct copy of fivesecondtest.com". Plenty of people have even mentioned to us that their entire suite of "verify" apps are in one way or another "inspired" by our work. We've kept quiet about it for the past few months, because...well...frankly I don't care what they're doing. 

People keep asking me...so now I'm answering.

I wouldn't say they've stolen our apps. I don't believe it's possible to "steal" an idea, or a concept, or even an implementation. Sure their memory test runs exactly like our five second test, and sure they ask what 5 things you remember exactly like ours (and it's displayed the same way), and yes they display test results in exactly the same way with exactly the same bar chart with exactly the same grouping of keywords. The big difference is that their test is 5 and half seconds! Got to have something to differentiate I guess? Ideas are free, and they can take what they like and implement it how they like. I'm not going to get my nose out of joint about it (except when press call them innovative...that really pisses me off).

And about Verify App? Yes their label test works exactly like ours (which we ditched), and their click test works exactly like ours, and their preference test is exactly the same as our preference test (which we also ditched) and their multi-page click test is a (poor) copy of our Navflow app. I think they only app they've built that isn't like one we'd already built is the one that is based on their own Notable app (which is a great app I might add).  I've heard it all before, yes we know...yes it's annoying. But it's not like we invented any of those things. There are dozens of them around, and most of them in isolation are better than either Zurb's or ours, particularly those that do live web site testing.

Here's the thing though, none of it matters. Yes Zurb suck. Yes I hate them as much as I would hate anyone who sees something they like and pays wads of cash to get it. But it doesn't matter. They've already lost and they don't even know it. I laugh at them and their silly hats. I may sound like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but you can't say the guy didn't have balls.

The thing is, we've been in this space for well over 2 years now. We practically invented crowd sourced usability testing. We know this space better than anyone. We've spent 2 years learning the absolute best way to crowd source and deliver fast but useful usability testing. Zurb think they've got something over us, but in reality they don't. It amazes me the number of users on ClueApp that get ZERO responses. Yes, ZERO. And they want people to pay for that? Wow. The tests they've only just finished implementing, we've already ditched. They have a nicer interface than us, I'll give them that...but otherwise, they're way behind.

The real problem is that ClueApp.com is useless. Just as useless as our original five second test was. It's a gimmick, nothing more. Something you tweet about and people fill it in and you realise you've not learned a damned thing. We never intended it to be anything more, and I doubt Zurb do either. As a usability test, it's meaningless. We ditched our "label" test for the same reason. It was ineffective at communicating what could be done easier with Fivesecondtest or with our existing click test. We ditched the preference test because people invariably just clicked "the image on the left". We ditched the little bar chart in five second test results because it was hopeless at conveying widely varying responses. We ditched the simple "what do you remember" question because without context, any usability test is useless. If there is one thing you take away from this post, it's that you know your product better than anyone. Don't worry what the other guy is doing when you already know better.

Zurb don't even realise that before they've even started, half of their apps are completely and utterly worthless as real usability tests. (Sorry to break it to you guys!) I'm not saying that because I'm pissed that they "copied us". I'm saying that because we had these apps and made the decision to cull them from our tools. The ones that remained; we changed how they work over and over until we hit the magic spot. Zurb will do the same once they realise they got it wrong. Wait and see how long it takes them to move away from the bar graph to a tag cloud (thanks to DannyB for that suggestion).

We first saw VerifyApp a few months ago when Navflow.com was coming out of beta. I haven't looked at it since. I know Zurb are watching us. While they're watching, they're not innovating. As a startup, that's the thing you always need to keep in mind. The only interest we show in what they're doing is in the Press.We do what we can to hitch a ride on their press dollars. We got a good mentioned in a New York Times article about ClueApp without us spending a cent on marketing. They're doing it for us. That netted us a big bag of new customers. Whenever their marketing hounds push their way into TechCrunch or any other site we make sure we're there. Whenever one of their customers complain on Twitter about having no results, we're there to offer them an alternative. Best of all, we have our fans out their telling their stories and how they've enjoyed our apps, and to them we owe a great many thanks.

Yes, Zurb have got a bigger marketing team than us (we don't have one), they have more developers (we only have me), they have more designers (we just have Matt) and THAT is precisely the main reason they'll fail long before us. We know the market, and we know we can support a small team on what UsabilityHub and Fivesecondtest.com bring in. We're not making truckloads of cash, but we don't need to make truckloads. Zurb...well...they have to. We're in a highly competitive, low-priced, throw-away testing market. If they invested as much as it look like they invested....well...ouch! I'd hate to be at that meeting....

Matt and I both do consulting work as our main vocation, and run UsabilityHub because it's something we're passionate about. Zurb, on the other hand, are doing it to make money. Our knowledge of the market, and our knowledge of our users tells us where we need to be, and that is the only competitive edge we need over Zurb or anyone else.

So the moral of this story is, if you have a good idea someone will copy it, it's just a matter of when. If you're small, like us, you can listen to your users and change direction, you can spin on a dime, provide 1 on 1 service, and use your knowledge of your market to beat all newcomers. Be small, be fast, keep your product focused and most of all concentrate on what you're doing and not what your competitors are doing.