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This article was published on September 16, 2014

Ahead of IPO, Rocket Internet CEO tells staff to conquer ‘all four corners’ of the world

Ahead of IPO, Rocket Internet CEO tells staff to conquer ‘all four corners’ of the world
Jon Russell
Story by

Jon Russell

Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on T Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on Twitter, Angel List, LinkedIn.

Rocket Internet is out to bring its e-commerce empire to all four corners of the world. That’s according to founder and CEO Oliver Samwer, who relayed his ambitious global goals in an internal email to staff after the Germany-based incubator last week confirmed its intention to list on the Frankfurt stock exchange this year.

The email, which was obtained by The Next Web and is enclosed in full at the bottom of this post, tells of the determination of Samwer and his brothers (who also co-founded the organization) to build “one of the world’s greatest Internet companies.”

Samwer says that he saw the worldwide potential of the internet in the 1990s. Now he believes that the growth of access via smartphones in emerging markets has created “a once in a generation opportunity” to change how people live their lives.

Oliver Samwer

Rocket Internet has long prided itself on its international reach. Alongside investment partners, it has poured significant amounts of capital into businesses in parts of the world where its more established competitors are not present. For example, it has ploughed nearly half a billion dollars into two e-commerce ventures in Southeast Asia, where Amazon has a skeletal presence.

In addition to an eclectic geographical spread, Rocket Internet also has over 20 primary businesses (and countless other fledgling companies) which span home loans, e-commerce, retail advertising, payments and more.

As I wrote earlier this year, that focus on building nascent companies is very different to the ‘clone it quick and sell it’ approach that many people still associate the company, after it made quick bucks selling City Deal to Groupon, eDarling to eHarmony and other deals.

These days, Rocket Internet is focused on green field opportunities in emerging markets like Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Screenshot 2014-09-16 17.16.59

Samwer told staff that the way that its different businesses and teams work together gives Rocket Internet “a platform like no other in the world” which he believes can be used to build and scale its companies using the lessons that this network of companies learns together.

We saw an example of its aggressive intentions earlier this month, when Rocket Internet brought five e-commerce ventures from across the world together under one roof: creating a $3.5 billion global giant in the process. That move seems like the blueprint for the organization’s efforts going forward.

Rocket Internet is far from perfect, of course. Many of the verticals and locations that it has invested in are still nascent consumer segments. While they have the potential to grow, none of its emerging market businesses are turning in a profit at this point — though a number predict that they will from next year.

Another well-documented issue Rocket Internet has is keeping hold of staff. Many join from consulting companies to get startup experience, but frustrations with the system, a lack of equity, poor pay and the chance to strike it out often lead them to head off to form their own companies or join other ventures.

Screenshot 2014-09-16 17.16.37

Yet, despite its issues, there’s a lot to be admired about Samwer’s global vision and the sheer scale of the investment.

TNW has heard many founders and rivals lament the aggressive tactics of Rocket Internet companies, yet the same people typically acknowledge that the company’s presence, scale of investment and recruiting drive creates consumer awareness for new verticals and provides additional credibility to local startup scenes, not to mention hiring opportunities.

Here’s Samwer’s email in full:

Dear Rockets,

This is a historic time for Rocket Internet.

As you will have seen, yesterday we announced our intention to float our company on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

This is a defining moment in our journey to build what, we all believe, will be one of the world’s greatest Internet companies. I want to take this moment to reflect on what we are all trying to achieve together, and the opportunity we have ahead.

We are lucky to live at an amazing time, when the Internet is revolutionizing the world around us. We have a once in a generation opportunity to be part of something that changes the way everyone lives. I am very proud that at Rocket we are seizing it with both hands.

Our company is built on three profound beliefs, which unite everything we do. We must never forget these when we set our ambitious goals, and decide in which direction to travel:

1. The Internet will be everywhere

When we first saw the commercial Internet in the 1990s, and the possibilities it brought, very quickly we knew it was going to go everywhere. The home of the Internet is the U.S.A., that is where the pioneers are found. But straight away we thought – why not the rest of the world? Why not Europe? Why not the people of Africa? Why not Asia, Latin America, Russia?

That is why we have built Rocket to reach all those places, and we are active in over 100 countries today.

These markets would never be the first to develop, and would for sure be harder to build, but we have always believed that people everywhere have the same basic needs, and the Internet is for everyone. And now, smartphones are delivering that vision ever faster, growing exponentially in emerging markets. Consumers in these markets are leapfrogging the development of the physical infrastructure and this provides a huge opportunity for us.

This is why we go to the frontier, and beyond it. For Rocket, being global is the big prize.

2. Innovation never stops

The Internet has kick-started one of the most incredible waves of innovation we will ever see. The first wave of this innovation is in the business model – online marketplaces, digital publishing, e-commerce, peer to peer lending etc. These are completely new ways of doing business, created by true visionaries. But as these industries mature, like any industry, innovation doesn’t stop, it just moves down the chain into execution, operations and delivery. How do you do it better, faster, deliver better service for the customers, provide more product inventory, more choice, recommendations, delivery and fulfilment?

This is where we play, and where we must win. To lead in our industries we have to innovate every day in providing the best services for our customers. I often talk about the car industry: pioneers like Karl Benz invented the modern motor car, but it was professional operators like Toyota who developed it, industrialised it and brought it to the masses. They are the ones forever moving forward on efficiency, cost, distribution, comfort and convenience.

We are like that. At Rocket we work every day to make things better.

3. The power is in the platform

We are a global business that operates many companies in over 100 countries. But our strength is not in any single company or country. Our unique power is being the platform that brings it all together, and makes all the individual businesses possible.

We founded Rocket and built it this way because we have always believed that, in a global market, you have to create the winning platform. We have created a platform like no other in the world to build and scale online businesses. It is because we work together, because we share ideas and lessons globally, and foster competition amongst ourselves, that we can enjoy the network benefits and scale efficiencies that our platform can bring.

This is how we take all these diverse emerging markets and transform them into one big market.

And the power of this platform is just getting started. Your first business in a new country, or a new industry, is hard. But your fifth is not so hard, even less so your tenth, and by your twentieth you have a significant competitive advantage. We have the people on the ground all over the world, the processes and systems, our own technology, and local infrastructure all in place and running at full speed. From there we can launch a new business in an existing country, or go to multiple countries with a new business, very quickly.

Our expertise also gives us a head start in managing the huge complexity in many of our markets. Between us all we know online marketing, we know complex tax systems, we know local payments, we know last mile distribution. We are never starting from scratch. Because of our platform we can leverage each of your skills on a world stage. We are bringing a new level of professionalization to the Internet in parts of the world where few have ventured.

If we all keep working together, to keep launching, building and scaling companies from our incredibly powerful platform, then we will continue to succeed. This is why I am so excited today. On these beliefs we have already built a fantastic company, but we have the opportunity to do so much more. This is why going public is such an important starting point for the next stage in our life as a company. By listing Rocket we will be able to fund our future ambitions. We will have access to the capital that will let us build even more new companies in existing and new places, invest in them ourselves, and take Internet services to all corners of the world.

We play to win every day. We all work unbelievably hard to make this happen, and we all expect that of each other. It is your dedication and teamwork that has got Rocket where it is today. We can build the most exciting internet company on the planet. It’s up to all of us to be ambitious and seize this opportunity.

Now, let’s go and shape our future.


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