Meet the world’s most successful website copycat

Imagine you’ve built a multi-million dollar web business, and it’s taking off. Millions of customers are using it, and the money is pouring in. Your valuations are exceeding hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now imagine someone copied your idea and is becoming just as successful.

It sounds like something out of a movie, but it happens. And not just by rogue entrepreneurs looking to get rich off the ideas of others – this is an established business.

Olver Samwer is the head of Rocket Internet, a Berlin-based incubator that specialises in taking the ideas of Silicon Valley and then turning them into websites of his own. And as this piece at Inc explains, he’s becoming very successful at it – and earning plenty of hatred too.

So much so that a group of internet pirates burned a “copycat guy” effigy at a conference last year – a clear slur directed at Samwer.

“It’s almost impossible to compete with him,” Moritz Delbrück, the founder of management consulting firm Concern and leader of the effigy burning, told Inc.

“He is more disciplined, he works harder, and he doesn’t stop until he wins. Whatever is somehow legally possible, he’ll do it.”

As the piece points out, if you can think of a start-up, Samwer and his two brothers have probably cloned it – and they’ve probably sold it back to the original company for a huge profit.

Their group buying site, CityDeal, was handed off to Groupon for a stake worth $700 million, while their Zappos clone, Zalando, is said to be worth more than $US1 billion.

The practice has earned the ire of hard-working tech start-ups in Silicon Valley. But as Samwer himself explains, “I’m on drugs for growth”.

“Most innovations come on top of other innovations, if you really look at it,” he says. “There’s always competition…We win because we take our work very seriously.”

He’s an easy-going guy, doesn’t use an assistant and answers his own phone, rarely taking appointments more than a day away. He’s also extremely aggressive.

“In a 1,297-word email sent last October and widely reprinted and commented on, Samwer demanded a ‘full-scale investment attack’ in the online furniture industry.”

“‘The time for the blitzkrieg must be chosen wisely,’ he wrote, giving managers in Turkey, India, Australia, South Africa, and Southeast Asia the weekend to produce a plan for success—‘signed with your blood.’”

Samwer is also ruthlessly researched. As part of a business school project, Samwer interviewed entrepreneurs who had been listed as part of the “hottest private companies” in Upside magazine – he’s intrigued by the American culture of the entrepreneur, something lacking in his native Germany.

Whether or not you agree with what Samwer is doing, there’s no question he’s doing it well – and has no intention of stopping.

Tim Cook talks on Facebook and Apple TV

Tim Cook has only been in the top job at Apple for less than a year, and he’s already made his first public appearance at the All Things Digital D10 conference.

He’s definitely a different leader to Steve Jobs, but just as sharp. Among his revelations include the fact he believes Apple TV is still an experiment, the company still needs to remain social – even if Ping was a failure – and that Facebook integration may be coming to iOS.

The clips over at All Things Digital provide a good view of Cook and what kind of person he is, even if he remains quiet and picks his words carefully. If you’re any kind of Apple fan, or at least interested in what the company is doing, this is well worth your time.

Facebook’s disastrous IPO against other tech giants

Facebook had a horrible IPO by any standards – it started at $US38 and has plummeted to under $US30 in just a couple of weeks.

But how does Facebook compare against some other tech giants, such as Amazon, which trades at a 174 P/E ratio?

Over at Monday Note, there’s an interesting explanation as to what’s happening with Amazon’s shares, with Apple’s shares, and with Facebook’s as well – although he warns it may be a little too early to make a definitive statement about where the company is heading.

I’ll wait for the dust of this botched IPO to settle before I try to figure out what Facebook’s share price reflects,” Jean-Louis Gassée writes.

The start-ups picking New York over LA

Silicon Valley is the hub for most tech companies in the United States, especially ambitious start-ups, but as this New York Times piece says, there are a growing number of companies picking New York over the west coast.

Qwiki, for example, an interactive video company, chose to be located in New York in order to stay close to large media organisations.

“We went to Silicon Valley because they understood how big we wanted to get,” founder Doug Imbruce said, “and we moved back to fulfill that promise.”

Part of the change is that tech companies are now offering services and products, rather than tech infrastructure. Much more of the media and advertising market is situated in New York, which can provide a great strength for new entrepreneurs.

“In New York, no one’s ever heard of Quora,” Branch founder Josh Miller said. “It’s very easy to get a lot of tech press on blogs and think that you’re on the top of the world. In New York, it keeps you humble that you walk out and there’s the CNN building.”

This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

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