The insanely successful career of Rocket Internet cofounder Oliver Samwer

Rocket Internet is one of the most successful startup incubators in the world. It started off by creating versions of some of the biggest tech firms and most innovative startups, scaling them incredibly quickly in markets the originals weren’t serving.

Its three founders, brothers Marc, Oliver and Alexander Samwer, wanted to found a company from a young age. They certainly succeeded. Rocket Internet’s IPO last year saw their own company valued at €6.5 billion (around £4.6 billion, $US8.2 billion)

Despite his insistence to the contrary, Oliver Samwer is seen as the driving force behind Rocket. Famously elusive, Samwer rarely speaks to the press, and has even walked out of interviews in the past.

Both of Samwer's parents were lawyers. Their father, Sigmar-Jürgen Cologne Samwer, was fairly well-known in Cologne, having represented literature Nobel Prize Winner and Karl Carstens, who later became President of Germany.

German President Karl Carstens with JFK in 1963.

Marc, Oliver and Alexander aren't the only founders in the Samwer family. Their great-grandfather Karl Samwer created German insurance company Gothaer Versicherung.

Gothaer Versicherung

So Samwer decided to study Business Administration at the WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management, which is near Koblenz in Germany. Afterwards, he worked as a trainee for investment bank Sal Oppenheim.


In 1998, the three brothers were living in San Francisco and studying many of the companies emerging from Silicon Valley at the time. Inspired, Oliver co-authored a study called America's Most Successful Startups. It was at that point that the brothers noticed that a lot of Americans were starting to buy and sell things using a marketplace called eBay.

Jaimie Trueblood/HBO
We like to imagine the time was something like the TV show 'Silicon Valley.'

Even though Samwer names the quick sale as one of the biggest mistakes of his career, it turned out to be a blueprint for the next few years. In 2000, the Samwer brothers founded Jamba!, which let people buy extra content like games and ringtones for mobile phones. They sold it to Verisign for $273 million (£174 million) in 2004.


Rocket Internet has come up against criticism for helping clone existing companies, rather than coming up with new ideas. But Samwer argues the technology industry has romanticized innovation. He sees Rocket as a 'platform' that makes it more likely that new startups will succeed.

Clone Troopers from 'Star Wars.'

Since then, Rocket Internet has held on to most of the companies it has backed, often launching them less than 100 days after their inception. Most of them are active in markets that are under-served by the American firms that inspire them, from the Philippines to Brazil.

Rocket Internet

Rocket Internet has helped launch 70 companies, including Jumia, Foodpanda and Home24. But that's not enough for the company's CEO. Now 42, Samwer told Wired in a rare interview that he intends to keep his nose to the grindstone for the next 25 years.


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