23. March 2012–
Heading up Rocket's latest venture Lazada, according to TechBerlin is Maximilian Bittner, whose pedigree couldn't be more mouthwatering for Oli Samwer (who, we confirm, is currently rubbing his hands together in excitement). This new Rocket protégé started off with a BA in Economics and History at top-British university UCL, followed by an analyst position at Morgan Stanley, an MBA at the prestigious Kellog Business School in the US, and five years at McKinsey. Who else could be better suited to clone the hell out of Amazon?
Bittner, the McKinsey grad chillin' in the SEA
Bittner is well-equipped with executing the wishes of demanding partners. Now these partners will be threefold, and likely "calling him every two hours, sometimes just for 30 seconds," as one Rocket CEO recalls wistfully. In his position as 'engagement manager' at McKinsey, Bittner served five formative years meanwhile working on secondment for the 3i Group plc, an investment firm with over 12 billion pounds under management. He definitely has the training to build a first-class company.
But does he have what it takes to build the Amazon of the emerging world?
"I don't know anything about this guy, but if he's able to pull it off, the opportunity for an Amazon in the emerging Asian markets is huge," said NYC-based investor and entrepreneur Fabrice Grinda when we asked him about Bittner. (TechBerlin's source specified Lazada's reach as "counties like Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan") "Lazada could easily be a $5-10 billion company in a few years."
And will the Samwers be "the richest guys in the world in 10 years?"
That's the precise prediction of one prominent Samwer competitor, who for complicated socio-psychological explanations (more simply known as 'fear') preferred to remain unnamed. "They are building 20 retail companies (eCommerce) each in 40 countries over the next few years. That's 800 companies," he told VentureVillage over Facebook chat, hours after meeting us in person. "Look at the richest people of the world today. They are all retail. Aldi, Walmart, Ikea..." (We love this guy.)
"The Samwers will be this in internet in 10 years but they will be Aldi + Walmart + Ikea + many others. and they will have this in 40 countries. this could be bigger than everything before. This is why I believe this."
But why isn't Amazon entering emerging markets itself?
Amazon is a global company with an $88 billion market capitalization and, as Caroline Winter of BusinessWeek points out, "plenty of lawyers around the world." Why are they neglecting to enter huge available markets? That's what we're asking.
"They should, but I am sure they are focused on bigger opportunities," Grinda said. "Transitioning from traditional media to online in music, movies, books (Kindle), bigger emerging markets than those, etc. Also, it's going to take a lot capital so it makes sense for aggressive, well-funded guys like the Samwers to go after the opportunity. Nailing logistics, supply chain, etc. is not going to be easy."
"You couldnt even shop Amazon in Spain until about a year or so, so imagine how long it would take Amazon to go to SEA," said one Berlin-based founder.
Consumers around the world have similar needs. As such, ideas that work in one country have a tendency to work in another. There are no high quality, low price, one stop stores like Amazon in many emerging markets, yet there is real and latent demand for them.
The Samwers never really built a company to be sustainable but always to flip it back to the bigger, original innovator. Lazada could be the first Rocket company acquiring an American one.
Whilst Amazon defends its hegemony in current markets, Lazada has the opportunity now to take this idea into virgin territories and execute the American vision with German handiwork. From Amazon's point of view, this may prove useful as a means of avoiding risk while testing how easily penetrated these markets prove.
Will Amazon end up acquiring Lazada, or vice versa?
Neither seems unlikely.
Image credit: Amazon Kindle – flickr user CarbonNYC