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This week: Evan Spiegel and the imitator's dilemma
Samantha Lee / Business Insider
If there's one constant in the consumer internet business, it's that today's innovators are tomorrow's imitators.
Just a couple years ago, in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg was shamelessly copying Snapchat's hottest product features. The cloning was so bad that even Snap founder Evan Spiegel's then-fiancee, Miranda Kerr, weighed in, chiding Facebook for stealing "all of my partner's ideas." How do they sleep at night, she wondered.
If Kerr is still curious, she can now just ask her husband. The latest Snapchat feature, unveiled this week, is basically TikTok for Snapchat. Spotlight, the name of the new Snapchat feature, serves up the hottest dance moves, amusing antics, and other short video clips. You don't need to follow anyone either: Snap's algorithm, like TikTok's, will show you what it thinks you'll like.
Snap's business is doing just fine — users and revenue both increased at a healthy pace in the third quarter, and the stock is up 171% this year.
But... the writing is on the wall. Kids are gaga for TikTok. And Spiegel (like Zuck, who rolled out his own TikTok clone — Instagram Reels — in the US in August) knows how important it is to pay attention to shifting user habits.
There's one twist to Snap's TikTok envy: Benjamins! Snapchat will offer a daily $1 million rewards pot to entice creators to make videos for Spotlight.
Spiegel may not realize it, but this, too, is an imitation of another web company's gimmick — albeit a much less auspicious example. Cash rewards were part of a desperate growth gambit by Yahoo in 2015 when it launched Yahoo Daily Fantasy Sports. The product, which let users win cash by playing fantasy sports, was Yahoo's attempt to copy the success of DraftKings and FanDuel. (It didn't work.)
Speaking of look-alike products, remember Parler, the Twitter alternative for free-speech absolutists?
Business Insider's Paige Leskin and Rachel Greenspan took a look at the mysterious history of the social media app that burst on the scene in the aftermath of the US election.
- The Nevada-based company, which is bankrolled by conservative donor Rebekah Mercer, is not fond of pesky reporters asking questions about its ties to the right wing — which date back to its earliest days in 2018.
- Parler COO Jeffrey Wernick told BI the app is not a mere Twitter clone. "We're trying to engage in another way of intermediating trust on the internet."
After rocketing to the No.1 spot in Apple's App Store downloads chart in the wake of the election, Parler's hockey stick growth curve has flattened a bit. Parler is still in the App Store's top 100, but it's now ranked 81, behind apps such as Chick-fil-A, Tinder, and MeowTalk Cat Translator, an app that uses "machine learning to interpret an individual cat's meows."
The startup class of the annus horribilis
For most of us, 2020 will not be on our list of favorite years.
But for some tech entrepreneurs, 2020 will be memorable for more positive reasons. Business Insider rounded up the 100 startups that broke apart from the pack this year. Some of these startups were founded in 2020, others already existed but managed to make important achievements amid the challenges of the pandemic. All showed uncommon grit and adaptability.The 100 top startups of 2020, according to VCs
Quote of the week:
"The grand bargain business has struck with society isn't to remain neutral and sell popcorn as the world burns; it's to do more than merely build shareholder value."
— David Barrett, CEO of Expensify, in an exclusive op-ed for Business Insider explaining his controversial decision to email 10 million of his customers urging them to vote for Joe Biden.
Snapshot: The 'Star Wars' hotel is almost ready for lift-off
The "Star Wars" hotel is not scheduled to open its blast doors until sometime in 2021, but Disney gave Insider a few mock-ups of what the accommodations would look like. The hotel at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is modeled after a galactic starship and guests will check in for a two-day, two-night immersive space cruise.
The hotel itself never leaves the Earth, but the experience is designed to feel like you're travelling through space, with "windows" in the cabins providing ever-changing views of the surrounding cosmos and a cast of on-board Star Wars characters affecting what happens during the cruise.
The Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, as its known, won't open until sometime 2021. according to Disney.
Not necessarily in tech:
We asked the creator of the first pure-play space ETF, who highlighted the stocks and sectors that could benefit from Democratic policy — and rebound with the coming economic recovery.
OK then, that'll do it for this week. Thanks for reading, and if you like this newsletter, tell your friends and colleagues they can sign up here to receive it.
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- 100 top startups of 2020, according to VCs
- Andreessen Horowitz just raised $4.5 billion in two new mega funds, helping 2020 become a record-breaking year
- Big Tech salaries revealed: From $1.00 to $280 million, here's how much the executives of Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft made in 2019.