The People that Ruin Blogging for Me

A few weeks back Nev wrote a post asking for feedback from his readers about his blog and himself in general.  In the comments someone mentioned that they wished he would post more about his e-commerce site, House of Rave. He responded:

I sincerely wish I could post more about House Of Rave since I love writing about it. I’ve refrained quite a lot to reveal less to competitors and avoid copycats. There is a DIRECT correlation between how much I write about my business and how many people immediately try to emulate it.

His next post was about how he was copied and then sued! Since Nev runs a dropshipping business, it’s (slightly) easier to copy compared to a lot of the stuff we do. Still, it’s clearly a real fear. I increasingly am holding back on my post topics. There are probably 5 people (that I know of) that read my blog that could use the information against us. I don’t post revenue numbers, I don’t post anything that tips them off about big things we’re doing in the future. That sucks to me. Ideally, I want to run an “open source business”. Think – a cross between a public company and an open source software project. And I hope I will be able to some day in some capacity. But knowing and understanding our competitive advantages and disadvantages, there are a good number of times when the advantage of sharing information with the world is overridden by the disadvantage of explaining what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and why we’re doing it to our competitors. I’ll continue to do my best to walk that fine line and post as much as I can. It’s just a lot harder than it was a few years ago when less was at stake.

15 comments on The People that Ruin Blogging for Me

  1. Amber says:

    First of all, that post was way way way more of a “How to” than “Let me share a few useful tips for other business owners”. I’m not sure how he could expect NOT to get copied (isn’t that the whole point of a “How to” post?). Obviously the sued thing is pretty ridiculous.

    Maybe I’m naive, but if what you’re offering is truly unique, compelling, -worthwhile- then it won’t be that easy to copy. Even if they have the money, the skills and the balls to start, they need the follow through, which is the reason why most startups fail anyways.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Amber -

      Fair enough. I’ll let Nev respond as to his intent on the posts about HoR. My guess though, is that he was hoping people would take his lessons and apply them to other industries…as opposed to contacting his supplier and duplicating what he was doing exactly.

      I agree that most business aren’t easy to copy. In general, it’s a recipe for disaster to try and copy a business. If that’s your motivation I don’t think you’ll get very far.

      In our situation, I was referring more to people already in our industry that are a little smaller than us or a little bigger than us. If I hint at some crazy holiday shopping promo we’ll be doing, I’m giving them the opportunity to plan for it. The unexpectedness, the element of surprise is something we use to our advantage. It sucks though because I’d love to give that idea away to thousands of other people in other industries in the hopes that it might help them.

      I try to post as much as I can that I know they can’t/won’t copy, or that will frustrate them if they try to think about how hard it would be to emulate. Personally, I don’t follow our competitors much. My focus is on our customers and improving their experience with us. If you focus on that, the rest takes care of itself.

      Unfortunately I know they monitor me/us a bit more closely than that.

      Adam

    • nethy says:

      “Maybe I’m naive, but if what you’re offering is truly unique, compelling, -worthwhile- then it won’t be that easy to copy. Even if they have the money, the skills and the balls to start, they need the follow through, which is the reason why most startups fail anyways.”

      I completely disagree. Both in the context of Adam’s business & in general. Huge ideas are often trivial to copy. Those are the truly unique, compelling, worthwhile ideas. They can be big or small. Camera phones, just in time inventory, pagerank. The ideas with the main value is contained within the idea itself need to be protected by patents, network effects or secrecy to have any value to their originators. Great customer service is not a novel idea. Implementation is all that matters, so it’s hard to copy. Paracetemol is an idea. It can be copied exactly, easily. There is almost a reverse correlation between how brilliant an idea is and how easy it is to keep it to yourself.

      Ideas & information are often what gives brilliant people & companies their edge. On the flip side, having good ideas is not a novel idea. Implementation is all that matters, so it’s hard to copy.

  2. Jay Lin says:

    Hey Adam,

    Has the reversed ever happened to you? Meaning that because of a post, you’ve collaborated with someone or a company and it worked for both your benefits?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Jay -

      Definitely, it’s happened a lot of times. I can’t even tell you how much I’ve benefited and our business has benefited from blogging. The positives far outweigh the negatives, which is why I’ll continue to blog and be as open as I think I can be. A lot of our best ideas have been sparked from emails or comments or phone calls with people I met blogging. Hopefully it works both ways and I’ve given them a little help as well. Back when we did client work, we got referrals through this blog a lot – probably more than any other source. You could tie it more directly to our bottom line. Now it’s more of an idea sharing or code sharing that goes on, which is equally as beneficial but harder to measure. I’m always open to hearing opportunities for collaboration/partnership so long as both parties benefit. I think blogging puts the face of a real person on top of a business. It makes me/us more approachable and in turn builds a lot of great relationships.

      Adam

  3. Dale says:

    Hey Adam, I sometimes wonder about that too… But I think you bring something unique to your business that will be hard to copy, your “brand equity” so to speak. The fact that you blog about stuff makes you more in touch with your customer, which may give you the competitive advantage anyway.

  4. Neville says:

    I love looking at your blog and finding myself in a post :-)

    Anyhow, the post about getting copied and sued was merely a quote Dr. Butler told me which I’ve observed as very true for pretty much every successful company I’ve seen. Although lately it’s been a little close to home.

    HouseOfRave has definitely been copied, sometimes so blatantly it’s ridiculous, and I have been threatened with lawsuits such as:
    http://www.nevblog.com/2005/08/burning-man-vs-nev.html

    ….I would LOVE to share a fun Burning Man story but can’t because of competitors.

    I’ll say this:
    Of my niche, I am by far now the largest….and even if competition tries copying something they won’t get as far….however I’m still hesitant to write too much anymore.

    Every time I write a post saying some big number like, “I’m trying to get House Of Rave to hit $1,000,000 year” or something similar, I always find out two days later someone is trying to setup an agreement with my supplier, or a competitor “all of a sudden” is running a promotion just like mine.

    I admit I put up a guide which essentially shows you step by step how I built House Of Rave….however it’s meant as a LEARNING tool, not as a “How to copy me” series. The VAST majority of people who email me about that love the post because it inspired them, and they went on to create similar MODEL businesses, but in totally different industries. That’s FANTASTIC that a small series of posts I did helped someone start a new chapter of their entrpreneurial life.

    This info is mainly beneficial for people to try a different business, but there’s always some uncreative person who will just want to copy something in hopes they’ll create a similar amount of success (they rarely succeed).

    The FacebookProfile.com site I created was ripped off….content and all by SO many people after I posted how the traffic was so quickly building. I was glad to have sold it:
    http://www.nevblog.com/2007/08/selling-facebookprofilecom.html

    I’ve actually MADE MONEY directly from posts Adam has done on his blog. He’ll write about a promotion DI did that was successful, and I’ll take the CONCEPT and apply it to my own business. Do I go on his site, swipe his text/images and copy his process? Absolutely not. I take an idea and implement it using my own creative process.

    I’m sure Adam loves that people use those ideas in their own way, and so do I. It’s when you worry this information will help your competition or encourage them to work harder that discourages writing about sensitive information…no matter how entertaining it may be.

    I also have the luxury of being 100% owner of my business, so any bad decisions are purely my problem. Adam has partners, and when one partner is “giving away company secrets to competitors” for free, that’s probably not too cool.

    I personally enjoy AND gain a tremendous amount of ideas by reading “behind the scenes” posts of a real business like Adam does….and it sucks that a few eagle-eyed readers put a stifle on those.

    MY SUGGESTION ADAM: Write whatever you want on the blog, but if it’s sensitive use the WordPress “Hide Post” feature. It allows only readers who know the password to access the content (I get dibbs)!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Awesome reply Nev.

      I was almost certain that’s how you’d feel. We both share concepts so people can hopefully learn and apply the idea to their situation…not so they can literally rip the idea off and do exactly what we’re doing.

      The partner point is also valid. I don’t want to hinder my partners ability to make a living because I have a blabber mouth. That’s not fair to them. If I was 100% owner I might be a little more liberal because I’d be making my own bed if I said something that hurt us.

      To your suggestion about private posting – I’ve actually had the idea for a while to create a private, invite-only community (probably a forum) for things like this. I think that there is a whole other level of information sharing that could go on in such a community. It could be super beneficial to everyone. What do you guys think? You in Nev?

      • nethy says:

        I definitely want in. In a way, its different though. Isn’t it?

        Anyway, I want to say to Nev that I have read that series he mentions. I was blown away by the transparency. I still check in on the blog because of that series.

        • Adam McFarland says:

          Nethy you’re right, it is different. I think if I’m going to share more private info I want it to be in a setting where everyone is doing the same to mutually benefit the group (as opposed to just me posting and other people replying).

  5. Rob says:

    You raise a few really good points here, and there are certainly lots of perspectives…

    Let’s say a competitor blogged something that had the potential to give away their competitive advantage, would you use the information to better your own business to the detriment of theirs? That, surely is the nature of a winning competitive business (but not the only way you could become the best)

    Do you treat business as a war against your competitors?

    You mentioned the desire for an open-source type company, which sounds a really interesting format. The thing is, I think there’d always be people out there wanting to use the information for their own personal gain – it’s only natural, so whilst I agree that Nev’s intentions were good and honorable, it’s not unreasonable to expect someone could have used the information against him in a competitive business environment.

    A certain amount of paranoia is healthy for your business – once you put the information out there you can’t really control what’s done with it and you definitley can’t un-share it.

    Regarding a forum for sharing insight in a more private way – that sounds like an excellent idea.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      I agree with your perspective Rob. To an extent, we do treat business as a war against our competitors. However, I think there are things that we could do but don’t because we think they are morally wrong.

      The thing that makes business different than say sports is that the rules aren’t really defined. One person might just want to share information for the betterment of the world of knowledge (think of an open source contributor or Wikipedia editor). Those people have “competition” but they don’t really care. Others might want to make some weekend cash. Others want to take over the world, making the most revenue and biggest profit without regard for anything.

      I think we’re somewhere in the middle. Personally, I want to be able to sleep with myself at night. If we put someone out of business I want it to be because the customers dictated it – they chose us over the competition. I also think that a for-profit business can still make an impact in other positive ways – sharing information, giving back to the community, etc.

      However, I’m not mad when a competitor doesn’t feel the same way. So long as they are abiding by the law, they can do whatever they want to compete with us.

      The uneven playing field is what makes business so fun to me.

  6. [...] really wanted to write a post about all of this at the time, but we decided this was one of those things we’d rather not draw attention to since none of our competitors were part of the program. This unfortunately has been happening more [...]

  7. [...] combination of being a little ballsy from having to blog everyday, and re-reading a fantastic post Adam McFarland wrote.  <– Go read that and the [...]

  8. [...] In any job, the majority of the important work you do will go unseen to the outside world. When it comes to the programming work I do for our company, many of the projects that have been the most beneficial to us will never see the light of day. Some of the stuff I can blog about, like our inventory zone system, and other stuff is unfortunately better off kept private. [...]

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