German serial entrepreneur and tech investor Oliver Samwer has, alongside brothers Marc and Alexander Samwer, brokered an impressive trail of deals. 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. These business ventures have posited him on Forbes’ list of billionaires in 2018.
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’. In defence of the media panning, Samwer has issued a statement defending his company's' building strategy in that it is not grounded in architecturing plans.
Their earliest venture was Alando, an online auction house that they launched in the German marketplace, borne from Marc Samwer’s observations of 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 over 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.
In late 2014, Rocket Internet launched its IPO in Frankfurt, initially listed in the Entry Standard and valued at over €4 billion at the time. The move saw Samwer taking up the chief executive officer post. After it was uplisted to Prime Standard in 2016, the company incurred some losses regarding its main start-ups amounting to as much as €642 million by the final months of the year.
Following budget trimmings, the company reported positive fiscal results in 2019, after a period of regeneration in 2018. The strategy revision saw companies such as HelloFresh, a meal delivery business and the Global Fashion Group, an online retailer drive up profits for Rocket Internet. Following the former chief financial officer, Peter Kimpel’s defection from the post, Samwer temporarily assumed the position alongside his chief executive officer duties.