Brief - The Hustle

This German internet company copied itself to success. Now, its biz model is in question.

Written by Trung T. Phan | Sep 10, 2020 8:04:33 AM

I have 2 salient memories of living in Ho Chi Minh City in 2012.

First, my expat friends inexplicably called me the “Saigon Don.” Second, I remember the arrival of Zalora, a startup that aggressively entered Vietnam’s market with an offering of fashionable footwear.

Billed as the “Zappos of Southeast Asia,” Zalora was the brainchild of Rocket Internet… which itself was the brainchild of 3 German brothers (Oliver, Marc, and Alexander Samwer).

Silicon Valley has long blasted Rocket’s model

No wonder: It cloned Western internet companies for non-US markets. Many have also questioned the firm’s business ethics and its suspect valuation techniques, which inflated startup prices.

Despite its bad rap, a recent Fortune article notes that Rocket has ripped out some wins:

  • Zalando, another Zappos clone, is a leading European e-tailer valued at $19B
  • Delivery Hero, a food delivery clone, is valued at $18B
  • CityDeal, a Groupon clone, was acquired by… Groupon
  • Lazada, “Southeast Asia’s Amazon,” has received $1B+ in funding from Alibaba

But the incubator and cloning model is losing steam 

Once the toast of the European tech scene — which underwhelms relative to its economic heft — Rocket was valued at $8B+, but now trades below $3B as many of its cloned ventures have failed.

Per Fortune, the firm plans to delist from the Frankfurt and Luxembourg stock exchanges.

Zalora was shuttered in 2016 but, thankfully, the “Saigon Don” moniker is alive and well (def @ me).