16. January 2012–
Oliver Samwer is the ruthless prince of Europe’s startup scene, characterized by his irascible temper, reckless ambition, and boundless energy for prowl and pillage. Evidenced by a recently leaked email and insider reports from ex-Rocket employees, Oli’s autocratic management style and expansion strategy has been the subject of intense discussion as of late.
In arguably history’s most influential political text, Niccolò Machiavelli asserts the control of one’s own power as the only certain ethical goal. He advises princes to undertake great projects to enhance their reputation, and identifies naturally-born leaders by their ability to take decisive action, irregardless of cost.
The parallel between The Prince and the self-proclaimed “most aggressive guy on internet on the planet” is significant. The slander of the Samwer name continues to resound through the streets of Berlin, amplifying with each egregious act.
Machiavelli advised, “it is impossible for the new prince to avoid the imputation of cruelty, owing to new states being full of dangers.” Rocket’s achieved success has thus far justified its means. But how much longer will the principality thrive?
1. “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”
The recent exodus of Rocket’s core staff surfaced insider reports of the Samwers’ use of fear tactics. One trusted source and ex-Rocket employee states, “What you’ve heard is just the tip of the iceberg.” In a well-circulated email leaked by TechCrunch in December, Oli threatens:
“If i see that you are wasting my money, that you are not german detail oriented, that you are not fast, that you are not aggressive, that you are not data driven, that you are not doing logistics well, upload inventory fast, buying wrong inventory, then i get angry and do like in russia, where no people leading the company now and i lost a ton of money and the founders lost 50% of their equity and no salary for 6 months.”
2. “A prince who does not understand the art of war cannot be respected by his soldiers, nor can he rely on them.”
The Samwer way relies on a tribal mentality in which war metaphors are communicated to the staff as intended motivators. According to several Rocket insiders, Oliver’s demands are often unreasonable, unprofessional, and intimidating. The email entitled “when is it time for blitzkrieg” reads like a call to war:
“The only thing is that the time for the blitzkrieg must be chosen wisely, so each country tells me with blood when it is time. i am ready – anytime!”
It is also dramatic and extreme, encouraging his troops to sacrifice their lives in market conquest. “Now it is time to either decide we will die to win or to give up,” he says.
3. “He ought above all things to keep his men well organized and drilled, to follow incessantly the chase…and learn something of the nature of localities.”
The most renowned aspect of the Samwer way is execution, to the point where normative objections to workload limitation and intellectual thievery are outrightly ignored. As Rocket enters new markets and territories, the transparent principle is conquest, the content is cloned. The general tone of the leaked email is one of keeping his troops well organized and drilled:
“I want you to change strategy and become the fastes, most aggressive and most succcessful company we ever built. You both face the same situation of coming late into market but sitting in the most interesting markets of the world and therefore I want you both to follow the same strategy. And do not tell me that you are following the strategy already, today from india to turkey, you have implemented 20% of this.”
A trusted source and ex-Rocket employee reports: “When Rocket extends to a new market and territory, the management assigned has often been insensitive enough to outright offend the locals.”
4. “No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.”
Oli’s upcoming plan to take 100% of the online furniture market is expressed by email as an obsessive function of time. “We must be number one latest in the last month of next season,” he states, declaring that “the time for the blitzkrieg must be chosen wisely.”
The nature of the blitzkrieg is its coordination and timing across every market. To strategically adjust his men to the delay, he calls for further aggression.
“We are coming late, so we need to be the most aggressive, so aggressive that every competitor is surprised because he cannot imagine that we are SOO aggressive.”
Concealment from the enemy is compulsory. “Everything done behind Rocket doors is extremely private,” reported one ex-Rocket employee. “If Oli feels he doesn’t have your trust, he’ll fire you on the spot.”
5. “To exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former.”
In the motivational email to his staff, Oli provoked the recipients to recall and harness the lessons of Rocket’s recent past, contrasting its success in Brazil with its failure in Russia:
“You need to ask much more brazil, russia and germany for their lessons, mistakes, improvements. russia did not do reports like germany and so they screwed up.”
A final warning from Machiavelli…
As an apparent final warning to Oliver Samwer, Machiavelli issues the following advice: The prince “ought to be slow to believe and to act, nor should he himself show fear, but proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and too much distrust render him intolerable.” Failure to heed this warning will result in international expulsion.
Let it be heard: The Samwer principality is hereby crumbling.