The rise of copycats

National 5 minutes, 1 second


WHEN it comes to business, success breeds imitators and these clones more often than not spell trouble for the model business concept.

However, pioneers should not take this threat lightly as business experts urged them to innovate to keep ahead of the competition.

Darussalam Enterprise (DARE) board member Keeran Janin has recently sounded the alarm as he cautioned entrepreneurs to “stop being copycats” and to look at other ways to do business as the lack of innovative ideas would hurt the industry.

“Imitation is the best form of flattery, as the saying goes, so when businesses copy another that is a form of recognition of the particular values that the business has,” Dr Hjh Mona Yati DSLI Hj Mohd Kassim, the adjunct senior assistant professor at the Universiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali (UNISSA) said in a phone interview.

However, the rapid increase of copycats can result to the lost of novelty of a trailblazing business such as the case of the ubiquitous nasi katok stalls, t-shirt stores and cube shops to name a few.

Rise of the clones

Copycat culture is not a new phenomenon and not exclusive in the sultanate, according to DARE chief executive officer (CEO) Soon Loo. “The bubble tea phenomenon happened even in Singapore where the market is compact,” he said.

He said in a recent interview that the lack of diversity in new businesses and the prevalence of copycat sometimes arose from not enough thought being put to start a new business. “Entrepreneurs need to really research what goes into making a good business and that process cannot be skipped. Seeing what kinds of businesses others have been running is one way to decide but a better way would be to think long and hard about what type of businesses would succeed in Brunei, taking into account the economy and their own capabilities,” he said.

Diana Choo, a café owner, said she feels that Bruneians tend to want to keep it safe when going into business thus a tried and tested business concept will always be a model ideal to be emulated.

“Speaking for ourselves, I think it is hard to try something new (in Brunei) as people might not know how to open a new type of business. For example, if I wanted to open a laser tag centre, I would not know who to go to for approvals, how to procure the equipment or what sort of regulations are needed to be met,” she said.

“People want to be safe, which is good so it would be cheaper to open the type of stores which are known to be in demand, so there is this fear of trying new businesses. The first cube store owner here must have been worried if it would work but it did and now so many have followed suit,” she said.

“Bruneians seemed to adopt a ‘wait-and-see’ approach when it comes to business. They like to mostly stick to the tried and tested business models which is why copycat businesses typically arise after the pioneer business is seen to be successful and for some, this could be as short as within three to four months,” said Dr Mona, who is also an entrepreneur.

She added that merely copying other business models would stifle creativity and innovation in the long-term.

How to survive the competition

The Minister of Energy and Industry at the Prime Minister’s Office Pehin Datu Singamanteri Colonel (Rtd) Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Hj Mohammad Yasmin Hj Umar, who also heads DARe as its chairman, said earlier this year that discussions will be held on whether the Ministry of Education would incorporate entrepreneurship into the education system.

“We must have entrepreneurship in the education system and even insert it as a subject. Imagine how entrepreneurship can contribute to the country’s income in the future if there happens to be no income from oil and gas,” the minister said.

The DARE CEO, however, believes that real-life exposure outside of classrooms is needed in addition to teaching entrepreneurship skills.

“The journey of an entrepreneur is not just about learning from a textbook, it is also about learning from exposure to a wide variety of businesses in Brunei and overseas,” he said.

Instead, in order to help diversify businesses in Brunei, the business owners themselves must expand their horizons, he added.

“Broadening the mindset of the entrepreneur is important because the broader his or her perspective, the broader the scope he or she will have for creativity in thinking up new innovative business ideas that would work which can only be done through training and continuous learning to grow on the part of the business owners,” he said.

DARE’s CEO believes that in the future, many of the copycat businesses will eventually fall by the wayside as the current levels will not be sustainable in the long-term. “I think the market is already saturated so some of them will fall away as it is a survival of the fittest, as is the case with most business fads,” he said.

“The one that is able to stay competitive will survive and that will eventually be only a few of them. However, the ones that will survive may turn into completely different businesses than the one we see today due to the need to innovate to survive,” he said.

Dr Mona said that in the long-term, the key to success would be to innovate as the copycat phenomenon can saturate the market very quickly.

“Businesses must look at themselves first on how they can improve themselves to make sure that they stay relevant as the needs and wants of consumers dictates the demands of a product or service in business,” she said.

“Entrepreneurs need to take advantage of all the data and analytic tools which they can use to help them understand their customers more and meet their changing demands or tastes while also invest more heavily in research and development to innovate in the future,” she said.

The Brunei Times