That’s awkward: Just as it was announcing a $1.2 million round of funding, online referral startup Curebit was caught lifting designs and code from 37Signals, the company behind popular collaboration tools Basecamp, Highrise, and others.
The copying was called out on Twitter by 37Signals partner David Heinemeier Hansson, who, after an exchange with Curebit co-founder Allan Grant, called the Curebit team “fucking scumbags.” It probably didn’t help that Grant’s initial responses didn’t seem particularly contrite — he defended the copying as a “quick test” and at one point told Heinemeier Hansson, “Chill dude ” (VentureBeat has a good blow-by-blow account of the initial controversy.)
Recently we launched a site with several pages copied from 37signals’ Highrise. We did more than take inspiration from their design – we actually used html & css code, and hotlinked to images on their site. We apologize to David and 37signals for ripping off their work. It was stupid, lazy, and disrespectful of their creative efforts. It’s particularly painful for us to have done this to 37signals because they are big heroes of ours. We just hope they will accept our apologies.
Grant sent me an email emphasizing his admiration for 37Signals, admitting that he “crossed the line,” and concluding, “I would caution other startups from making such mistakes in an effort to ‘be lean.’”
The controversy attracted particular attention because Curebit was incubated by Y Combinator and raised money from 500 Startups (among others), something that Heinemeier Hansson didn’t hesitate to point out.
It looks like a reader at Hacker News (which is run by Y Combinator) created a post asking for YC co-founder Paul Graham’s opinion. Graham killed the thread, saying that it violated the site’s guideline to “not use posts to ask us questions,” but he also wrote, “I think they shouldn’t have done it, and that they compounded the problem by not taking the initial complaints seriously enough.”
Meanwhile, back on Twitter, 500 Startups founder Dave McClure said he spoke to the Curebit team and “strongly asked them 2 re-evaluate thr policy on design & content; hope they take that 2 heart” and later added, “new founders aren’t children, just inexperienced. furthermore investors aren’t parents, just uncles & aunts. and we all make mistakes.”
Curebit helps online stores increase revenue through referrals by turning existing customers into marketers. When customers check out from a Curebit-enabled store, they are presented personalized deals that they can gift to their friends by posting to Facebook or forwarding a link. The deals give both the the original customer and their referred friends a rebate on their purchase at this store.
37signals develops simple web-based software products with individuals and small businesses in mind. Their main products include project management and collaboration tools, simple CRM, group chat and calendars. 37signals also have smaller products like to-do lists, group writing tools and job boards. Their main competitors include Salesforce, Netsuite and Zoho.