15 American Companies That Germany's 'Clone Factory' Rocket Internet Copied

Samwer brothers

Rocket Internet is one of the most successful — and controversial — startup incubators in the world.
Since its founding in 2007 by Oliver Samwer, and his two younger brothers, Marc and Alex, Rocket Internet has helped launch over 70 companies across 50 countries, generating a combined revenue of $US4 billion.

Just last week, the Berlin-based startup accelerator raised $US445 million at a $US4.5 billion valuation. And it’s reported to be shooting for an IPO soon, with hopes of reaching a valuation as high as $US6.7 billion.

But as successful as it’s been, Rocket Internet has also received a lot of flak for its strategy to copy ideas that work in certain markets and build the same exact business model in regions that haven’t yet been explored — earning such nicknames as “copycat,” “clone factory,” and “scam artist,” along the way.

But there’s no question that Rocket Internet has built a massive business empire. Here are 15 of the biggest U.S. tech companies it “imitated” to get to where it is now.

Amazon

Rocket Internet has a few Amazon clones. Lazada targets the South East Asian market, and has branched out to Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Linio is focused in Latin American countries, while Jumia mainly operates in Africa. They have all been quite successful as Lazada raised $US250 million at the end of last year, and Linio raised an additional $US79 million just last month.

PayPal

There's a 'PayPal of Germany,' and it's called BillPay. As of 2013, BillPay had 2 million users and 3,500 e-commerce partners, mostly in German-speaking countries, like Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It was acquired by U.K.-based online payment startup Wonga in 2013.

eHarmony

Rocket Internet launched eDarling in 2008, an online dating site that now operates in 20-plus countries. The U.S. company eHarmony was a 30% shareholder until 2013 but isn't part of the business anymore. eDarling focused on mostly non-English-speaking countries, but have announced plans to expand to the U.K. and Ireland recently.

Uber

Rocket Internet backs EasyTaxi, an Uber-like taxi-booking app, which mostly operates in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Just last month it raised $US40 million, for a total of $US77 million in total investment. It's added about 185,000 drivers since its launch in 2011, and operates in 160 cities across 30 countries.

Facebook

The Samwer brothers launched StudiVZ, a German version of Facebook in 2005. Two years later they sold it to German VC Holtzbrinck Ventures for $US85 million. And shortly after the deal, Rocket Internet was born.

Pinterest

Pinspire is Rocket Internet's own version of Pinterest, the popular social bookmarking site. The two sites look and sound very similar, and by 2012, it attracted 11 million visitors. While Pinspire seemed to be successful early on, its domain no longer works.

Square

Payleven is Rocket Internet's answer to Sqaure, the mobile payment startup. Payleven operates in the U.K., Brazil, Netherlands, Poland, and Italy. One interesting fact is that it recently dropped former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from its key investor group.

Airbnb

Wimdu was inspired by Airbnb and continues to grow globally. At one point, it had 400 employees in 15 different offices, and was almost bought by Airbnb. Another Airbnb clone called Airizu launched in China in 2011, but Rocket Internet shut it down recently.

Groupon

CityDeal was a German clone of Groupon that was backed by Rocket Internet. The Samwer brothers invested nearly 20 million euros in CityDeal. It continued to grow rapidly, reaching 80 cities in 16 countries, and in 2010, was acquired by Groupon for somewhere in the ballpark of $US100 million.

Birchbox

Rocket Internet is an investor of Glossybox, the subscription beauty commerce site that works pretty similar to how Birchbox does. It operates in 15 countries and has over 200,000 subscribers, according to reports from 2013. More than 50 million euros have been invested in Glossybox, but it's been rumoured to be shutting down some of its operations in Brazil, Italy, and Poland.

GrubHub

Online food delivery service is in demand globally, so Rocket Internet launched FoodPanda, a GrubHub clone, that runs in 43 countries today. It's mostly focused on emerging markets in Asia and Europe. Rocket Internet also runs Hellofood, which is basically the same service focused on countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Zynga

Plinga is a social gaming platform that was inspired by -- you guessed it -- Zynga. Its website says it has more than 48 million players every month. You can play games like Family Barn, Campo Kickers, and Dream Fields on Plinga.

Expedia

Last year, Rocket Internet launched its first hotel booking site in Africa, called Jovago. It was launched through its joint venture arm Africa Internet Holding. A year later, Jovago expanded to Pakistan as well.

Now that you've seen Germany's startup empire ...

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