In 2011, Oliver Samwer — head of startup incubator Rocket Internet — sent a now-notorious email to his employees. Using aggressive language, the CEO called for a “Blitzkrieg” in the online furniture space.
“There are only 3 areas in ecommerce to build billion dollar business: amazon, zappos and furniture,” he wrote in the email obtained by TechCrunch. “The only thing is that the time for the blitzkrieg must be chosen wisely, so each country tells me with blood when it is time. i am ready — anytime!”
Rocket Internet is a German company, Samwer (and his two brother co-founders) is German. Many thought the charged term “Blitzkrieg” was inappropriate, and he subsequently apologised for his choice of words. And four years later, he’s keen to distance himself from the incident.
The entrepreneur was speaking on-stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in London on Monday afternoon when interviewer Mike Butcher brought up the email — prompting a chill in the room.
“Didn’t you say this would be a nice interview, Mike?” Samwer awkwardly joked.
He continued: “So if you ask about that, I think as I said I worked in this industry [since] 1998. I think I wrote this email in 2010, 11. So since then I’ve grown up.”
Has he matured, Butcher asked. “You shouldn’t mature too much, but I matured yes.”
The 2011 email signed off with Samwer saying: “I am the most aggressive guy on internet on the planet. I will die to win and i expect the same from you!” He denied to Butcher on Monday that the company has a militaristic culture, despite his continued use of terms like “battlefield” to describe the competitive landscape.
Rocket Internet is a startup incubator that has produced numerous success stories — notably Zalando, a fashion ecommerce site with a market cap of nearly €9 billion (£6.4 billion). But it has also been criticised for “cloning” proven models developed by others and porting them to new markets.
Samwer shoots back that in entrepeneurship, “one piece is the idea. But to get it done and to get it done in a sustainable way I think is a very different one.” If it were as easy as some detractors suggest, “then I think a lot of people would have done it.”
In Europe, he argued, “there’s very few firms who has helped to create as many millionaires as our firm.”
Elsewhere in the on-stage interview, the CEO defended the state of Rocket, which went public in 2014, and is currently trading at around 30% below its IPO price. He argued that Rocket is highly complex, which needs to be taken into account. “The only way to understand Rocket is if you look deep into every single one of our companies, and so on average it probably takes three times as much time for an average analyst to understand.”
Is he, in effect, telling investors to be more patient? “No,” he says, he’s just “telling [them] the management team is very patient.”
He also argued that going public had its benefits — allowing the company to continue to profit from successful investments. Rocket invested $10 million (£6.6 million) in Facebook in 2008 and subsequently sold its stake for $50 million (£33.1 million) — significantly less than it would be worth now if it had held onto it. Samwer described that as “probably our biggest mistake in many, many years.”
But now Rocket is public, “we have the means to own more of our winners and we keep them longer. And I think if you look at the first 16 years of our life we sometimes had to sell too early to find the next company.”
Here’s the entire 2011 email, via TechCrunch, which signs off “I am the most aggressive guy on internet on the planet”:
From: Oliver Samwer
Subject: when is it time for blitzkrieg
Date: October, 2011
[Name], [Name] and the other founders globally in furniture, i need to know from you, when it is time to do the same in furniture, that means when it is time to take 100% of the market, full scale investment attack etc — as see below.
there are only 3 areas in ecommerce to build billion dollar business: amazon, zappos and furniture. the only thing is that the time for the blitzkrieg must be chosen wisely, so each country tells me with blood when it is time. i am ready — anytime!
Team in India, Turkey, Australia, South Africa, South East Asia,
I want you to change strategy and become the fastes, most aggressive and most succcessful company we ever built. You both face the same situation of coming late into market but sitting in the most interesting markets of the world and therefore I want you both to follow the same strategy. And do not tell me that you are following the strategy already, today from india to turkey, you have implemented 20% of this. Now it is time to either decide we will die to win or to give up.
So here is the important stuff for our strategy
1. We must be number one latest in the last month of next season. Full month, not a discount sales month.
Why ? Because only number one can raise unbelievable money at unbelievable valuations. I cannot raise money for number 2 etc and I have seen it how easy it is for me in Brazil and how difficult in Russia, because our team fucked up.
So to be clear, I will provide you with the money for the most aggressive plan of history. You must provide a plan and assume the following:
1. You achieve number 1. And you must achieve number in the categories that your competitors are active. So if your comeptitors are only in shoes, you must be number one in shoes. And then have clothes etc on top. But it will not that by not being number one in shoes you make up by selling in clothes. Leader in EVERY country that you have.
2. You must be in 2 seasons from now have at least 50% marketshare of the total online market in all your categories. A scenario where you have 35%, next 25%, next 20% will not give you the valuation that we need. we need an amazon valuation: seen as the 80% leader in the market.
3. You must assume that your competitors will raise huge amounts of money and will have revenues of 3x compared to this season.
4. i want all competitors with forecasts in your plan, so that it is clear what our position is.
5. i only care for net revenues, after returns and number of orders to prove that you are number one and have the required market share. no other currency. pls provide a business plan for 2012, not longer, not less.
6. in the last season month you need to be 100% bigger than biggest competitor in net revnues and order (both metrics)
7. assume that your competition will do crazy things: tv, groupons, selling below cogs, … you must assume eveything in your plan so that there are no surprises. i do not accept surprises. i want this planned confirmed by all three of you: you must sign it with your blood.
What you need and do not have (this is not criticism, this is oberservation):
1. You have not enough top buyers: you need to be number one in shoes, apparel, sports, jewelerey, whatever category makes sense. we can only get to 80% marketshare if we beat our competitors by aggressiveneess in each category, it must be a blitz-krieg-invasion. i think you should have 25 top buyers, top in each category, start looking now. you must OWN each category. australia mistake, not enough focus on shoes, instead apparel
and so they are losing out in shoes. the strategy is: own every country and if you have to sacrifice, focus on shoes as priority. best is if you can master all.
2. you need more top people. more mckinseys, goldman. find young talent, aggressive talent, smart detailed.
3. you need to ask much more brazil, russia and germany for their lessons, mistakes, improvements. russia did not do reports like germany and so they screwed up.
4. spend your money wisely. grow buying now, but it makes no sense to have 200 logistics people for 10 orders a day. so grow early, but wiseley.
5. control marketing, the key is in measurement. there is tons of lessons in russia mistakes and brazil there.
6. 2 of you should come some time for 2 days over one weekday and one weekend day to germany to get complete download.
7. find a top cto wizzard, build up a 30 people it team of top talent. amazon is it company, zalando 30% of value in it. it is always bottleneck.
Summary: i give you all the money to win, i give all the trust, but you come back with unmatched success. If i see that you are wasting my money, that you are not german detail oriented, that you are not fast, that you are not aggressive, that you are not data driven, that you are not doing logistics well, upload inventory fast, buying wrong inventory, then i get angry and do like in russia, where no people leading the company now and i lost a ton of money and the founders lost 50% of their equity and no salary for 6 months. we are in the same boat, everyone has to do his mission.
We are coming late, so we need to be the most aggressive, so aggressive that every competitor is surprised because he cannot imagine that we are SOO aggressive. to give you an example in brazil in groupon my competitor did 3m a month and had 80 sales people. i assumed in 4 months he would go to 300 salespeople and 6m so i told the team to have 500 salespeople in 4 months and 10m monthly revenues. we won. yes, there was some collateral damaage (it could have been done cheaper wiht more time), but i won and this it was matters so i could raise money and optimise all the missing parts.
Provide a plan over this weekend that includes all your recommendations, thinking because i can give you the money, the knowhow, the strategy, but i will only do a plan that you 100% believe in and that is signed with blood. this is not olis plan, this must be your plan, our plan.
Never forget there are only 2 big areas in ecommerce: amazon and zappos. this is the last chance in your life! the chance for another billion dollar ecommerce company will never come again. This is over, after amazon there came only zappos, so we cannot lose this, because your grand children will ask why you why you did not become it.
Surprise me with your aggressiveness, but smart and thought through aggressiveness — learn from the russian and japanese mistakes and the german and brazilian successes !
This is our last chance in ecommerce to build an Amazon company. After us, you can build an online games company, but no more in ecommerce. this is the LAST frontier in your life for ecommerce and I want you to rule this frontier. not 20%, not 30%, but 80% marketshare which is still possible in your countries.
I am the most aggressive guy on internet on the planet. I will die to win and i expect the same from you! =
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