“I love Berlin,” Marc Samwer said, on stage, facing the crowd at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe. “This is where everything started for my brothers and me 15 years ago.”
Like it or not, Marc, Oliver and Alexander Samwer continue to play a defining role in establishing Berlin as an internet business hub. Their track record runs from Jamba! (where Wooga CEO Jens Begemann once worked) to Rocket Internet – launchpad for at least 50 online businesses across 50 countries since 2007. The latest to leave the company builder’s assembly line, Carmudi, an online vehicle marketplace in Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, officially launched today.
The brothers work interchangeably, Marc said today. “I can’t imagine not working with my brothers. There’s so much trust,” he said. “We always decide the most important things together.” Of course, “like any good brothers we fight and most of these fights are very fruitful”, he added. “Because we’re brothers and there’s nothing thicker than blood we have this will to always come to agreement.”
Younger brother Oliver tends to catch most of the media’s attention, especially after an email leaked to TechCrunch in 2011 in which he described himself as the “most aggressive guy on internet” and used the term blitzkrieg. Rocket Internet is also known for a lack of concern about cloning others’ ideas. Too ruthless, perhaps?
Marc started with the obvious retort. “Like any entrepreneur, we like to learn about new business models and ideas everyday and we like to combine the best of what we see to build new businesses across the world,” he said.
“We also innovate, we improve the ideas and make the business models in many cases better – we localise them… We take them to Asia, Latin America, Africa.”
He regrets the blitzkrieg email – “I think, as a German, it’s obvious that this is totally wrong wording and I apologise again for it” – but said it wouldn’t have contributed to any reported break-off in talks about a potential acquisition with Airbnb. (He declined to confirm whether those talks in fact took place.)
The brothers are quick to cut off resources for companies in their portfolio that don’t perform. In August 2012, Rocket Internet shut down its operations in Turkey, affecting about 400 employees. “The market was different to what we anticipated,” Marc explained.
“Let’s put it into perspective. I think over the last 15 years we’ve created up to 15,000 jobs globally. Yes, unfortunately we had to let go of people in Turkey, but most of them we try to re-employ in other ventures. Some of them started businesses in the Middle East. Some moved to Germany, some to Asia. We’re actually very caring about our people.”
Ex-employees who’ve left disgruntled anonymous reviews on Glassdoor might disagree. Yet many also speak highly, sometimes in the same review, about unprecedented opportunities, freedom and responsibility.
Marc’s clearly still got the entrepreneurship bug. “You work with people building businesses in the craziest parts of the world and just go every day and say let’s try and do it.”
He’d like to see more state-enabled funding for young companies, something that – in his opinion – with the right people could be a “very profitable business for the government”.
And any political aspirations himself? “Maybe one day,” he hedged. “But today I enjoy building companies too much.”
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