Why it’s Better to Be an Imitator than an Innovator

There is a problem that business owners have to face when they start a new business, and the problem is that they have to decide if it is worthwhile to introduce a brand new product to the market.

We all want to be the innovator, but that carries with it some serious disadvantages which are not immediately apparent. You’re probably better off imitating an already established product, and we’ll explore the reasons for that in this post.

Innovators don’t usually reap the real benefits.

There is kind of cruel irony about creating an original product and selling it. Due to a variety of factors, selling something that has never been thought of before, brilliant as it may be, tends to consume more of the originator’s resources than it returns.

The imitators who take the original idea and make their own version of it, after the heavy lifting has already been done, are many times far more successful than the clever entrepreneur who originated it.

Why does this happen?

Someone has to educate the market.

One of the primary challenges that startups or anyone with a new product must face is the burden of teaching their market what the product is, why they need it, how to use it, etc.

Educating the market is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. This is one of the most compelling reasons that it’s better to be an imitator because you can let someone else do it, and that’s the whole point—imitators let the innovator exhaust their resources while they collect the dividends.

People need time to catch on and accept the product.

You always hear about the stories where someone invents an awesome product, and it’s an instant, smash success; however, that’s not usually the case. In fact, even something like the invisible dog leash, for example, which was indeed an instant hit, paid a far greater return to the copycats who came after the original inventor.

Most of you who are reading this are not inventors creating novelty items; you’re business owners who might have a more standard product or service that you need to get off the ground. The fact is that it takes a good bit of time for the market to understand that what you’re selling is a good thing and that they want it, even if they don’t realize it right away.

Innovating requires an arduous development process.

Let’s not forget that you also have to develop the thing from scratch. As an innovator of an original product, you’re starting with nothing more than an idea, not knowing for sure if it will even sell.

The innovator has to start with raw materials or components and keep working it and molding it until it is just right, which brings us to another important step.

You might go through many different versions.

As there is no precedent for what you’re making, it may take a good while and a lot of effort to arrive at the finished product. It’s not easy to build a product or service from scratch, piece by piece, revising and rethinking it along the way until you even have a working version. Then, of course, there will be a period of time after you launch when your product may go through several different versions.

This is an oversimplification of the initial process, but the point is that it takes an incredible amount of work and time and money to create and sell something that has never existed before.

The dilemma with this is that, first of all, you’re not likely to abandon a pursuit if you have an idea for a great product that you know can work. Secondly, the innovator has to exist for commerce and technology to move forward.

So the moral of the story is that although the value of innovators and creators cannot be overstated, you will make your life in business a lot easier to copy and build upon what the original creator has already done.


Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.

Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.

StephanieWhy it’s Better to Be an Imitator than an Innovator