If you want to know how to get rich in tech on the strength of other people's ideas, look no further than Jason Calacanis, the web entrepreneur taking the not-so-delicate art of copycatting to its logical, but increasingly bitter, extreme.
Calacanis has just announced a venture called Launch, which will attempt to be just like the influential Silicon Valley blog and events business TechCrunch — except better. Now owned by AOL, TechCrunch is still run by founder Mike Arrington, with whom Calacanis split in a bitter clash over a joint conference. Launch, then, is Calacanis' revenge; "a direct challenge to TechCrunch," in the words of the Guardian's Jemima Kiss, "aiming to beat TechCrunch at its own game."
Well, of course it is. Calacanis is famous for filching ideas and trying to add a profitable twist.
His last knock off came just a few months ago, when the Los Angeles-based entrepreneur made it clear he was going to borrow the name and idea of longtime podcaster Leo Laporte's "This Week In..." series. Calacanis has been a regular guest on Laporte's This Week in Tech and apparently admired Laporte's franchise, which includes similarly-named shows like This Week in Google, This Week in Law and This Week in Fun. Laporte, a hardworking webcaster who seems to be perpetually in front of a live camera recording one show or another, said he was unhappy with Calacanis lifting his branding. Calacanis replied that he was "shocked" and "hurt" at that response.
Calacanis may have been surprised because his tactics had been less controversial in the past. He tried to duplicate the social news website Digg on Netscape.com, a move that was criticized more for its lack of effectiveness than lack of originality.
And of course Calacanis' one big business success, Weblogs Inc., was supposed to be just like Gawker Media, which preceded it, but with better compensation for writers. Given that his scheme made one former Gawker Media employee a millionaire, it's model we readily endorse.
In fact, Calacanis-style copying isn't morally objectionable per se; there's some truth to the prevailing conventional wisdom in tech that execution trumps ideas. If anything, Calacanis' $25 million sale of Weblogs Inc. stands as a lesson on how profitable it can be to adopt and build on the ideas of others rather than arrogantly rejecting them.
And yet, for all his fervent Xeroxing, Calacanis has yet to come up with a sequel smash hit on the scale of his blogging cash-out. What he's developed instead, with his most recent two ventures, is a reputation for trying to clone the work of his former partners. For a sort of copying that carries the whiff of revenge and betrayal. For Calacanis, or anyone else whose work fundamentally revolves around connections and communications, that's a dangerous reputation to have.
[Photo of Calacanis, by Eirik Solheim/Flickr]