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The startup FB uses to crush competitors

Last summer, at a Facebook all-hands meeting, the Zuck told his team not to be timid about ripping off up-and-coming tech entrants. Or, as employees have since folklore-ized, “Don’t be too proud to copy.”

It’s a mantra the company has taken pretty seriously: they have a reputation for replicating hot, new competing apps. And turns out, FB has a secret weapon to detect them early on.

It’s called Onavo

In 2013, FB plopped down a reported $120m for Onavo — a Tel Aviv upstart that offers users greater privacy by routing traffic through its own private servers.

Since then, Onavo has become the cornerstone of FB’s “internal database to track rivals.” They use this data to identify popular apps when they’re still young — kind of like the NBA recruiting 7th graders, except instead of “recruiting” promising new apps, FB steals the best parts of them, creates their own version, and take all the credit.

It’s a strategy they frequently use

Earlier this year, Snapchat had the pleasure of FB copying its popular “Stories” feature — and it hurt them in Q2.

Onavo tech has also helped FB identify Houseparty — an increasingly popular group video chat app — as a potential success. Now, they’re in the midst of rolling out their own, very similar competing service.

Just in case it wasn’t already hard enough to launch a startup…