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.