Empire of Startup Knockoffs Wins Backing From the World Bank

Oliver Samwer in Berlin on July 8, 2013 Photograph by Andreas Chudowski/Redux

Germany’s clone kings, the Samwer brothers, have long drawn criticism for rolling out international copycat versions of American e-commerce businesses such as eBay, Groupon, and Fab. Now their Berlin-based startup factory, Rocket Internet, has received praise and funding from a surprising source: the World Bank’s International Finance Corp. The alleged copycat brothers and their e-clones, it turns, are helping to create jobs.

The International Finance Corp., a global development institution focused on the private sector, is giving $34 million to Rocket properties Lamoda and Dafiti, both of which are international versions of the Samwer’s Zappos knockoff dubbed Zalando. Lamoda employs more than 2,000 people in Russia and Kazakhstan, according to a Rocket press release while Dafiti operates in Latin America and has more than 1,500 people on staff in Brazil alone.

The IFC explained its investment in terms of how Internet companies such as Rocket boost economic growth. “Their investments in logistics, information technology, and marketing are rapidly generating employment, especially for women and young people,” said Atul Mehta, IFC’s director of manufacturing, agribusiness, and services, said in the press release.

The investment, though modest, will help the Samwers expand their empire, which at last count included some 27,000 people working across a portfolio of mainly e-commerce businesses in 43 countries. It will also help them in their bid to corner foreign markets before their American counterparts. “It’s not necessarily in the blood of every American to go abroad,” Oliver Samwer told me in 2012. “But it’s in the blood of every European to go abroad.”

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