You know what they say about imitation being the most sincere form of flattery? Well sometimes, like in the case of Groupon and its many imitators competitors, this type of flattery is also a huge business risk. The latest victim to get bombarded by an "attack of the clones"? Billion dollar darling Airbnb. Obviously feeling threatened by its recent crop of competitors, the company sent out an email yesterday to its over 100K hosts, warning them about “impostor websites” like 9flats, Wimdu and Airizu. The email, titled "Airbnb Community News," starts out with the usual PR milestones (in 181 countries and 13,000 cities!) and then it gets down to business: You’ve Informed Us about Imposter Websites A new type of scam has been brought to our attention: Airbnb clones posing as competition. We’ve discovered that these scam artists have a history of copying a website, aggressively poaching from their community, then attempting to sell the company back to the original. After receiving emails from many of you who are upset with these tactics, it’s time to address this issue as a community. Hosts are reporting these issues about the clone sites so far: They falsely claim to be affiliated with Airbnb, or be the “international version” of Airbnb. They claim that they are part of Ebay and/or Groupon. We’ve confirmed that this is not the case. Their employees pretend to be Airbnb travelers in order to give you a sales pitch in your home. They are duplicating personal profiles, descriptions, and photos of your Airbnb listing without your permission. Help us protect our community by joining other hosts in alerting us whenever you see questionable activity from users. Use the new flagging feature next to each message to report questionable behavior Notify us directly of clone activity at firstname.lastname@example.org While the fact that the co-founders point the hosts to a "email@example.com" email address is cute, don’t let that distract you from the grave point here. The biggest competitive threat to Airbnb currently is the Samwer-backed Wimdu (and its Chinese sister Airizu), clones that use the classy "Concept featured on CNN and the New York Times" on their splash pages. Why is Wimdu and its Chinese subsidiary such a threat? Well Wimdu and Airizu were created by the German Samwer brothers, prior Facebook investors whose modus operandi is creating European clones of popular American Internet services. The Samwers most profitably sold their eBay clone Alando.de to eBay in 1999 and their Groupon clone CityDeal to Groupon itself for around €100 million in 2010. The Airbnb email does everything but call out the Samwer brothers by name for their questionable cut and paste innovation tactics, "these scam artists have a history of copying a website, aggressively poaching from their community, then attempting to sell the company back to the original" and "they claim that they are part of Ebay and/or Groupon." The site runner at the bottom of Wimdu brags, "Will be featured soon on Groupon." Heh. While I haven’t heard anything about a Groupon/Wimdu partnership, the two services still have a connection post-CityDeal acquisition. Because they got in so early, the Samwers currently own around 10% of Groupon’s voting shares and have a cushy international "consulting arrangement" with the daily deals site (and, we're hearing, a mixed track record.) Airbnb has even more reason to be threatened: It just acquired German clone Acceleo (with its recent $100 million windfall perhaps?) signaling its first serious move towards international expansion. It’s no surprise that Airbnb acquired a clone, and then one week later sent out a mass email warning its community about other clones. With a big funding round ready to close and "now we have to take this seriously" valuation, Airbnb is following Groupon's lead and investing for growth oversees. Hopefully it'll have a better time of it than Groupon, who lost $170.6 million internationally last year (versus $10.4 million in the US) -- Proving that the clone wars have more significant casualties then terrible blog headlines. Update: Airbnb representative Christopher Lukezic responds, in an email ... "At Airbnb, we take our community's safety and privacy extremely seriously - it is and always will be our first priority. We feel it is our responsibility to alert our community of these types of practices, especially after being contacted by numerous Airbnb hosts who expressed distress after employees of these clones booked reservations under false pretenses and made them extremely uncomfortable. We’ve had 572 reported cases of these competitors’ employees soliciting Airbnb hosts in their homes and, in many cases, going so far as to scrape host’s personal profiles and listing their homes to populate their site without the hosts' knowledge or consent. We embrace competition in the marketplace, and will - as always - use our creative approach to problem solving and innovation as our competitive advantages."
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