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The Observer's candid "Clone Collector" chats with VentureVillage Written by Marguerite Imbert on 25. April 2012


After we spotted “Clone Collector, New York Superangel, and Master of Digital Knockoffs” Fabrice Grinda on the cover of The New York Observer’s April 23rd issue dishing about his serial copycats and late night bashes, we decided to catch him for a couple questions and reactions. Here’s how the conversation went.


VV. The Observer article includes a thorough rundown of your many clones, including not only Aucland but a for Russia, a for Germany, a Jetsetter for Turkey, a Stubhub and Eventbrite for Spain and Latin America, a Warby Parker for France, and a Shoedazzle, an Expedia, a Gilt and a PayPal for Brazil. It also suggests you’ve cloned the extroversion of others. Is this true?
Grinda. I have personally observed how our personalities are plastic and can be molded. I essentially forced myself to go from being an introvert to an extrovert. I’ve written the full back story of the transformation on my blog, which could prove useful to anyone trying to do the same.
VV. In the article, you say, “Humans all have the same basic needs…they want to be entertained, they want to communicate and they want their lives to have a semblance of meaning. If a company fulfills one or more of these needs… it will be successful anywhere in the world.” What three companies can you think of that serves each need best, but not the others?
Grinda. Most of the best companies do all three: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, OLX…
VV. Your first company, Aucland, was an eBay for France. You’re French. What did you know about French people ahead of time that you took into account when building the company?
Grinda. I was born in Paris and grew up in Nice. I realized that French people had the same need to sell things they no longer used and buy used goods or collectibles as Americans. The details varied relative to the United States: French people traded wine and collectible Asterix comics rather than pez dispensers, but the underlying principle remained the same.
VV. “I like him a lot…Very smart guy,” Gilt CEO Kevin Ryan wrote about you in an email to the Observer journalist, ostensibly “without a trace of annoyance, despite the fact that [you] invested in ripoffs of two of his companies. What did you think of that?
Grinda. I think he realizes that the real value lies in execution rather than the idea. As Edison once said: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. Besides Gilt is itself a copy of the French company Vente Privee. Our entire society is essentially built by resting on the shoulders of the improvements that came before. Even Apple which is seen as a paragon of innovation copies and improves the ideas of others. Steve Jobs often quoted Picasso who said that: “Smart people plagiarize, but geniuses plunder and steal”. Picasso himself was copying Matisse regularly and vice versa. Besides the quote is not particularly original given that Oscar Wilde essentially said the same thing.

VV. Any strange feedback to The Observer article?
Grinda. I thought people would ask for my autograph, girls would proposition me in the streets, and extraordinary entrepreneurs would line up for me to invest in their companies. Unfortunately, it was pretty much life as usual. Reading the article did make me extremely grateful to my friends. They said such nice things, I was yet again reminded how lucky I am to have them as friends!
VV. Your former McKinsey colleague and current member of the Isreali Knesset Einat Wilf said of you: “He wants to run the world…He has the notion that he could be an enlightened ruler.” Who is the world’s most enlightened ruler, currently, according to your analytical mind?
Grinda. It’s a difficult question to answer given the political constraints most rulers operate under. Right now, Mario Monti, the current prime minister of Italy, gets my vote. He has had the courage to tell the truth to the electorate about how dire the situation really is, to implement difficult reforms and to face down populist opposition.
For our article on Fabrice’s favorite tech gadgets, check here.
For a related rising clone collector, recall Maximilian Bittner, the McKinsey grad cloning Amazon
Image credit: flickr user LeWeb12