Media & Entertainment

Berlusconi Outed As Investor In Square Clone Payleven While Rocket Internet’s Zappos Clone Zalando Hits Breakeven


A double-dose of details today about the normally secretive e-commerce startups incubated by the Samwer bothers-backed Rocket Internet. Silvio Berlusconi was outed as one of the key investors in Square clone Payleven; and Zalando, inspired by Zappos in the U.S., is reporting 2012 net sales of €1.15 billion and reaching breakeven in its core markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The two items are significant because Rocket Internet — the German-based e-commerce incubator and investment vehicle from the Samwer brothers that has created a range of businesses effectively recreating ideas first developed elsewhere — is known for being somewhat oblique when it comes to giving out certain facts about its portfolio companies, whether it’s the size of funding rounds, how many users they have, or who is backing them.

TechCrunch understands that Berlusconi and his family invest in Payleven through their B Cinque vehicle — “cinque” meaning five in Italian, and referring to his five children. Furthermore, this was the identity behind last month’s news that Payleven had received an additional “high single digit million dollar” investment from a mystery backer, in addition to named backers New Enterprise Associates, Holtzbrinck Ventures, ru-Net and the Samwer brothers’ Rocket Internet. That news was first published in the German press yesterday.

But TechCrunch also understands that B Cinque may be investing already or plans to invest in further Rocket enterprises: its €40 million investment fund was first made public in December 2012, and our source described it as a “very potent investor.”

Berlusconi, in addition to having been prime minister of Italy three separate times, is also the controlling shareholder of Italian media giant Mediaset, as well as owner of the A.C. Milan football club. He has also been in court for tax evasion and in the press over alleged sex scandals.

Putting all that color aside, though, making an investment in Payleven could pave the way for the mobile payments company to make a move into Italy, and even strike deals for usage through one of Berlusconi’s other operations (for example, selling goods at A.C. Milan games). Italy is a mobile-crazy country, and like other economies in southern Europe, it has a high concentration of small merchants who are not enabled to accept credit cards — meaning there is a natural audience there. One of Rocket’s competitors, SumUp, already offers services in Italy as well as Spain.

You say Zappos, I say Zalando

Perhaps hoping to get Rocket’s name out in a more positive light, today Rocket also put out some numbers on how Zalando, its online shoe/fashion site with some 150,000 styles from 1,500 brands, is doing. Given that Rocket doesn’t generally release these kinds of numbers, it’s worth taking a look:

Its net sales of €1.15 billion, Zalando says, are just over double what the company made a year ago (€510 million). Zalando claims that this makes it the first company in Europe to reach €1 billion in net sales annually within four years of opening for business. It also puts Zalando into breakeven (earnings before interest and taxes) in its core markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

That growth works out to a rate of 125% over the last couple of years across the 14 markets where it operates, as you can see in this chart:

zalando net sales 2010-2012

“By launching shops in several new countries we have now established a broad footprint. This will be the basis for Zalando’s growth for the years to come,” Robert Gentz, Zalando MD and co-founder, said in a statement.

In addition to its three core markets, Zalando is also active in Netherlands, France, Italy, UK, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Finland, Poland and Norway. As with Rocket’s most successful exits — most recently with its daily deals operation CityDeal going to Groupon — the operation continues to complement the work done by Zappos in the U.S., a fact that has not gone unnoticed by investors, who have pumped hundreds of millions into the operation.

Backers of Zalando include Yuri Milner’s DST Global, J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Quadrant Capital, and AB Kinnevik, which is the company’s largest shareholder, in October taking a further 10% stake in the company for €287 million. Zalando also has debt financing of €40.7 million with he Commerzbank and the Sparkasse Mittelthüringen.

More TechCrunch

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back