New mobile payment contender looms as Rocket and PLDT team up

A few months before its lukewarm IPO late last year, Germany’s Rocket Internet took a $446 million investment from the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), the largest telecoms operator in the Philippines. At the time, Rocket and PLDT said they were going to work together on mobile and online payment technologies – and now we know more about that arrangement.

On Tuesday, the companies said they will set up a payment services joint venture, with a 50-50 split and a focus on emerging markets. This is already a big area for Rocket, which now touts itself as “the leading internet platform outside the U.S. and China.” The firm made its name as a uniquely aggressive clone factory, rapidly copying established business models from the U.S. and elsewhere and rolling them out in new markets before the original companies had a chance to blink. That’s not to say that the clones don’t sometimes go on to follow their own path, though, and Rocket chief executive Oliver Samwer is these days talking about China’s rapidly growing web services company Alibaba as being the model.

Apart from providing its sprawling network of web firms across 100 countries, Rocket will contribute its “participations” in two of the payment operations it helped set up: Stripe clone Paymill, for giving e-commerce developers a simple way to integrate payments functionality, and Square clone Payleven, which provides mobile point-of-sale terminals. For its part, PLDT will throw in the operations and intellectual property of its Smart e-Money mobile banking and mobile wallet platform, which already has five million active customers and represents the largest “branchless banking” network in the Philippines.

Once the joint venture is created this quarter, subject to regulatory approval, Rocket and PLDT say it will be in a unique position to tackle mobile-first payment services worldwide, and particularly in emerging markets. I would take that as a plausible threat.

The genius of Rocket’s operation has always been the way in which it established operations in various spots around the world, then constantly rolled out new business models in them, seeing what stuck and quickly abandoning what didn’t. By doing so, it became the ultimate internationalization company – a field where rivals from developed markets typically struggle, and where Chinese companies such as Alibaba and Tencent (each of which has a budding payment service of its own) are only starting to dabble.

The combined financial services portfolio of Rocket and PLDT sounds fairly comprehensive, and PLDT has been in the mobile payment game for 14 years – long enough to develop a good understanding of how to use mobile to pull in people without traditional bank accounts (see the Smart Money service pictured above.) If this joint venture scales at typical Rocket speed, it will be formidable.

Rocket IPO will reportedly value German e-commerce giant at $8B

Rocket Internet’s upcoming IPO looks to be a barnstormer. As reported by Reuters on Wednesday, the flotation on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange next month is already fully subscribed, and the German e-commerce giant expects to raise twice the €750 million ($970 million) target originally set. This would value the clone factory at around $8 billion rather than $5 billion. The Berlin-based company, which specializes in copying and rapidly internationalizing successful startup business models, made $1 billion in revenue last year. Fashion retailer Zalando, a Rocket spinoff, will also make its stock market debut in October – and that IPO is reportedly oversubscribed.

Revealed: the full extent of the Rocket clone empire

Germany’s Samwer brothers are notorious as Europe’s chief cloners of web companies through their Rocket Internet vehicle. But we discovered their empire of e-commerce copycats is increasingly global, with companies operating in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Now Samwer brothers look set to clone Square

German clone factory Rocket Internet, the incubator run by the controversy-courting Samwer brothers, has reportedly chosen its next target: white hot payment service Square.

Exclusive: Wrapp CEO goes toe to toe with Samwer bros.

Social gifts startup Wrapp says it is massively speeding up its expansion plans as a direct response to a copycat funded by the notorious German Samwer brothers — and the company’s CEO is warning retailers that doing business with the clone could prove costly.

The Samwer brothers suddenly lose their shyness

It’s become almost cliche to say that the Samwer brothers, Europe’s most successful — and notorious — internet entrepreneurs are publicity shy. A series of exits to the likes of eBay and Groupon have made them millions, but they have tended to keep away from the press, avoid much in the way of public speaking, and even apparently walk out of interviews from time to time. Why? Presumably it is in part because the awkward questions about their copycat ideas just keep on coming.

But is it now time to retire the idea that they just won’t talk?

Two major pieces in the last few days suggest that the three brothers — Marc, Oliver and Alexander — have decided to go on something of a press offensive.

First came Bloomberg Businessweek‘s “How Three Germans Are Cloning The Web”, a piece that hangs itself on the recent copycatting of Fab.com to give an overview of the Samwer’s main company-building vehicle, Rocket Internet. In it, Oliver Samwer goes on the record through a mixture of email and interview.

“There are pioneering entrepreneurs and execution entrepreneurs, and maybe we belong more to the execution entrepreneurs,” says Oliver, who speaks at a rapid clip, frequently punctuating thoughts with a rhetorical “ja?”

“I think the most admirable entrepreneurs are those with original ideas, ja? It’s a unique gift that you either have or you don’t. Just as we might have a very good gift of execution, others have a unique gift for the purest form of innovation.”

Meanwhile, a piece in the new edition of Wired UK, called Inside The Clone Factory, treads similar ground with a little more flourish. Written by Reuters journalist Matt Cowan, it’s obviously been several months in the making (it opens with an interview in Munich last September) and also tries to get to the bottom of what keeps them going.

“If I was motivated by money alone, I would have stopped a long time ago,” he [Oliver] insists. Rather, he suggests that what galvanises them is winning: “To prove over and over again that we’re the best,” he explains.

Both stories are good reads that give some insight into the brothers and into Rocket, and more or less go over the same ideas.

Both stories get to visit the offices of Rocket and discuss the company’s position in the fast-growing Berlin startup scene. And, ultimately, both stories manage to get the brothers (actually, mainly Oliver) to go on the record, even if it’s largely to share the same anecdotes or make the same points.

How much they add to your understanding of the Samwer brothers probably depends on how closely you follow Rocket’s movements.

The meta question is not about what these articles themselves say, or even what the Samwers say about themselves. It’s why they are appearing now. What do they hope to get from these interviews? Is it understanding? Legitimacy? Better press in general?

Whatever the case, the trio are obviously taking on a slightly new approach — and this feels like a watershed of sorts. After all, even though they really end up saying very little, well… at least they’re talking.

Now Samwer Bros clone Fab and target European rollout

The team behind design sales site Fab.com was outraged to discover a U.K.-based rival that seems to mimic not only their business but also their look. But outrage may not be enough to stop Germany’s Samwer brothers from going big with their latest clone.