Things have been hard in Zimbabwe for quite some time now, the smallest sign of success means the idea is likely to be replicated by many who are unemployed, technically unemployed (employed with very low incomes) or those looking for an additional income stream. Copy cat business, in this case, are businesses based on a desire to replicate someone else’s success and are distinct from fast follower businesses which you can read about here. While the idea of replicating success you have seen in conditions similar to yours seems easy enough there are some things that you need to be aware of before choosing this course of action.

Understand why

Perhaps your friend started a social media management business and has been doing very well in the process. While the money may be attractive understanding why they arrived at that point is very important. Perhaps they are already involved in managing the social media accounts of their employer or other organisations such as a church or other civic organisations. They have what is called strategic capability because of their experience. You may not possess this and this will make your entry into the field unpleasant.

Secret ingredients

KFC has its secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices. There’s a strong rumour that the recipe has 17 herbs and spices as opposed to 11. I’m not trying to question the validity of the number of ingredients but rather just trying to make a point. Businesses and industries for that matter have trade secrets that make them tick and contribute greatly to their success. This knowledge while essential to the business may not be documented and therefore someone could share the ideas of the business with you without giving you the secret. A great example is how the best fresh chips are made with used oil as opposed to virgin oil. I’ve seen a few cases of copycat businesses which have been started without a full understanding of the secrets that make the business tick.


While some may unknowingly withhold success secrets of their businesses it’s not hard to imagine that some may hold back intentionally. Not because they do not want to share information but sometimes because they cannot. Imagine a scenario where a business is successful because of one huge client who the owner attained because of a personal relationship. These are the kind of details that people would not like to share but pop up in a lot of success stories. It is very difficult to know if this is the case with a business from the outside because this information is not apparent.

Survivor bias

I suppose this ties somewhat into the idea of the last paragraph but survivors bias may be at play with some success stories. Survivor bias is the idea that we tend to glorify success stories despite how rare they are and therefore improbable. A great example is a lottery winner. While a winner used as a beacon to extol the virtues of playing the lottery, however, the one winner’s experience is far outweighed by the thousands or millions of experiences of losers. The losers put in just as much effort as the winner but simply were unlucky. While the example is drawn from a game of chance many will remember mapotato emusaga (sack potatoes). One success story set the whole nation into action but achieving the results proved really difficult and perhaps impossible.

Do your research

We cannot hold others responsible for our experiences whether they withheld or omitted critical information. Ultimately responsibility rests on your shoulders if you choose to invest in a copy cat business. So do your research into the business and its viability. How does the market behave? How does the product behave? What are your intended customers currently doing to solve the problem your business will solve? Why would they be willing to switch from the current solution to you? By doing your due diligence you can avoid or mitigate some of the problems mentioned above. This is not to say that your independent findings will always match the business you are trying to copy. For example, an average (whether mean, median or mode) represents some form of middle ground so it is plausible for some individual cases to perform better or worse. What’s important is the ability to attach the right cause to the difference.

There’s more to it

The Shona saying “chakafukidza dzimba matenga” roughly means all that glitters is not gold. When you’re looking at a business or anything from the outside you do not have a full view of the detail. A business has many moving parts and as such, you may not be privy to some of the inner workings of the business you admire. It is important to approach a copy cat business with caution and testing. A business can still be a business if it lacks any of its elements except customers. So if you are going to wade into the waters make sure there are customers for your business and paying ones at that. Some things can only be experienced from the inside and even then mileage may vary individually.

This is in no way meant to discourage anyone out there who wants to carry out a copy cat business. There’s nothing wrong with a cop cat business. If you are going to go ahead and copy a business you might want to do so with a solid business plan to help make you aware of important elements.