The three Samwer brothers (Oliver, Marc and Alexander) founders of the Rocket Internet incubator in Berlin, are a phenomenon. They are far and away the most successful Internet entrepreneurs in Germany. They have launched and exited at least six major startups since the late 1990s, from ebay clone Alando (€48m to eBay), Jamba (€228m), StudiVZ (€85m), MyVideo (€27m), BigPoint (€100m), and the latest, Groupon clone CityDeal to Groupon for an estimated €750m in cash and shares. And yet they remain famously publicity shy. I personally have asked for an interview since at least 2009. So when I was offered the chance to interview Oliver Samwer – considered by many to be the heart of the operation – I jumped at it. Once a year he or one of his brothers journey to the annual business school conference IdeaLab, aimed at budding entrepreneurs. It’s there that Rocket Internet famously recruits its next generation of startup CEOs for their startups – often companies which greatly resemble the business models of US startups, like Wimdu, which mirrors AirBnB.
The young student organisers of IdeaLab faithfully checked and re-checked that Oliver would do an interview. Today I got up at 5am in London to get the flight over to Frankfurt, then drove 100 miles to the small management school, WHU where IdeaLab is held.
But when it came to it I had a 5 minutes 14 seconds with the Rocket Internet guru, much of it walking after him out the building as he repeatedly refused to conduct an actual interview.