German serial entrepreneur and tech investor Oliver Samwer has, alongside brothers Marc and Alexander Samwer, amassed an impressive array of stakes and exits. Companies they have built have sold to media and Internet heavyweights like eBay and News Corporation. They have invested in successful start-ups like Facebook and LinkedIn. Most importantly, their Internet business incubator, Rocket Internet, has launched high-growth technology businesses around the world, including fashion e-commerce websites Zalando and Dafiti, among others.
The notoriously media-shy brothers have also courted controversy in the tech community; many have accused them of copying successful business models, like AirBNB and Pinterest, and aggressively growing them in foreign markets like Germany or Brazil in order to sell them off – often to the very companies whose business models they have ‘cloned’.
"We are builders of companies, we are not innovators," Samwer told Wired in 2013. "Someone else is the architect and we are the builders." Their earliest venture was Alando, an online auction house that they launched in the German marketplace that was borne from Marc Samwer’s observation about eBay. After a few months, they sold the company to eBay for $35 million. They later made a series of investments in both American and non-US technology start-ups before launching Rocket Internet in 2007, which detractors have called a ‘clone factory’.
Now, the incubator has helped grow no less than 70 start-ups in over 100 countries, in a multitude of industries from payments processing to takeaway food delivery. Major fashion e-commerce companies that are part of its portfolio include Zalando in Germany, Zalora in southeast Asia, and Lamoda in Russia. Oliver Samwer is poised to become chief executive of Rocket Internet when it launches its IPO in Frankfurt in late 2014, a move that insiders believe will value the company at €3 to €5 billion.