22. August 2012–
Trouble in Turkey – but not, apparently, in China, with a Rocket Internet spokesperson today rejecting reports the Berlin-based incubator's operations in China may be closed if a new investor is not found quickly.
According to a source in contact with The Next Web, Rocket Internet is urgently looking for new investors and will pull out of the market if it cannot find any. The China operation is believed to have a headcount of around 60 people, according to that source, all of whose jobs would presumably be on the line.
Rocket Internet head of PR Andreas Winiarski told VentureVillage the reports aren't quite on the money. "We are still staying in China", with no plans to close existing ventures, Winiarski said. "What we have done over the last two weeks is move our PHP development centre from China to Portugal – it makes sense to concentrate on a big development hub in Portugal, which is closer to Europe. We never had an operational office in China."
That still implies job losses – likely the genesis of The Next Web's tip-off - but not because Rocket Internet is strapped for cash or uninterested in China as a market. That said, Winiarski did add that "China has never been a focus market for Rocket Internet from a company-building perspective", with only Airizu (an "Airbnb" for China) and international subscription commerce offering Glossybox listed as active in China.
Rocket Internet, based in Berlin and founded in 2007 by Oliver, Marc and Alexander Samwer, is best-known for rolling out copies of successful US companies – and the occasional Swedish startup – in previously untapped markets, and is now active in 40 countries. Its investors include Kinnevik, Holtzbrinck Ventures and Access Industries, the investment vehicle of US billionaire Len Blavatnik.
WTF is going on at Rocket Internet?
What today's news appears to show is a continued consolidation of operations, following the closure of operations in Turkey and the signing of a €340 million deal in Africa and Latin America with telecoms group Millicom, which includes the option of a full exit out of at least eight companies to Millicom.
It's unlikely – though not impossible – that Rocket Internet is strapped for cash, given regular injections of funding from Swedish investment bank Kinnevik and two funding rounds with JP Morgan for Zalando and Dafiti announced this month. Could we be about to see a push into a new market, possibly the US, or a redirection of resources away from e-commerce towards mobile commerce? We'll be watching.