Marc, Oliver, and Alexander Samwer are near-legendary in Europe as entrepreneurs and investors.What do they do?
They clone American startups.
They do it fast, they do it well, and they cash out.
Among the companies they’ve cloned are eBay, Facebook and Groupon — and they’ve had successful exits for all of those.
And they don’t just build European copycats of US startups anymore — they also invest in US startups that want to expand in Europe, like LinkedIn and Facebook.
They moved to Silicon Valley right out of college. This was in 1998. They used the senior thesis they were writing on entrepreneurship to meet and interview as many Silicon Valley bigwigs as they could. Later, they returned to Germany and started their own companies.
After going back home, they built the first German eBay clone, Alando.de, and sold it 4 months later
They started it in February 1999, or at the top of the dotcom bubble. Four months later -- FOUR MONTHS LATER -- eBay bought it for $50 million in stock plus an earnout.
Jamba did mobile content. They started out with stock quotes and news -- and realised nobody cared about getting that stuff on their phone, at least in 2002. So they switched to ringtones and hit the jackpot.
If you're doing a copycat, we guess the Samwer Brothers are good people to have on your side. StudiVZ was a German clone of Facebook that they invested in early on. And when we say clone, we mean clone. The site copied Facebook to the t, just switching Facebook's blue colour scheme out for red.
StudiVZ was acquired by German media company Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH in 2007. Probably a nice exit for a clone whose days are inevitably numbered as smaller local social networks get steamrolled by Facebook's network effects.
They don't just invest in European copycats -- they also invest in US companies that want to expand to Europe. In 2006, they founded the venture firm, European Founders.
Some of their US investments? Facebook and LinkedIn -- two companies widely copied in Europe.
So they get paid on both ends of the European copycat business: building European copycats and investing in US companies that want to fend off copycats.
Of course, investing in Facebook at a $15 billion valuation (now it's $50 billion) must do wonders for a venture portfolio.
But they're also investors in Nasza-Klasa, a Polish social network that a Polish friend tells us is extremely popular, and in Oanda, a currency trading site we ranked as the world's 10th most valuable startup back in 2008.
On top of their venture firm, the Samwer Brothers started an incubator in 2008 called Rocket Internet. The incubator is mostly focused on e-commerce and, wait for it, clones.
Plinga is their clone of Zynga and they even had Frazr -- a short-lived Twitter clone.
The Samwer Brothers know a great opportunity when it comes along. When the Groupon phenomenon first surfaced, they got back to work and launched CityDeal, the first European Groupon clone. They went very big, very fast, launching in several countries with TV ads.
The company launched in January 2010 and was acquired by Groupon in May. The reported amount was somewhere around $100 million. Not bad for someone else's idea and 5 months worth of work.