“God has given you the Internet” & other great quotes from Oliver Samwer

Oct 11, 2013
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Here at the WHU Otto Beisheim School of Business today, the annual IdeaLab! Founders’ Conference has kicked off. The event, organized by WHU students, has brought out a plethora of founders & executives – a mix of WHU alumni  – including, notably, the CEO of Deutsche Telekom & Axel Springer, as well as Rocket Internet co-founder Oliver Samwer, who opened up the conference with a polarizing & engaging talk.

Be Brave.

Armed with a few stock slides and a whiteboard & marker, “Oli” took the stage and started with what he called “the rose slide,” that is, all the promising things about the internet. He discussed the low barrier to entry, as well as the fact that Millenials (age 18-30) are the generation that are most familiar with the Internet, because they have grown up with it

“Go to McKinsey when you’ve failed. Why before? You’re now young.” – Oliver Samwer

Intermingling humor with hard facts, Oliver spent little time talking about the well-known success of Rocket Internet, but instead spoke about where he thinks potential entrepreneurs are going for a ‘safe’ life. “I’ve never seen McKinsey on Forbes’ list,” Samwer announced to the auditorium packed with an invite-only group of students & entrepreneurs; Samwer criticized entrepreneurs who claim that they want to work for consulting companies like McKinsey or financial firms like JP Morgan in order to learn from them.

He drew parallels to Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart, stating that people who are truly brave aren’t afraid to live in the dirt: “the losers in the film lived in big tents. People in big offices lose in the end.”

Be Smart.

It’s not enough to be brave, Samwer continued in his talk, you have to be smart. Speaking to one of Germany’s renowned business schools, Samwer may have been pitching Rocket Internet to potential future employees, but he was also sharing the Rocket philosophy. He talked about the leaders in industries like Samsung in Mobile/consumer hardware & Exxon in oil drilling, saying “Do you think Samsung invented their business model? Do you think Exxon invented oil drilling?”

An Idea… oh, and capital.

Interestingly enough, Samwer talked about the importance of an idea. Not necessarily a new idea, but having a proven idea and an opportunity.

“We accept that we’re not Einstein, we’re Bob the Builder. But we don’t accept that we can’t build big companies, not just in Germany but all over the world. We don’t accept that we can’t win.”

Samwer pointed out that an idea, intelligence & bravery mean nothing if you don’t have the capital to back it up – this is perhaps one of the founding principles of Rocket Internet, and has driven its success. Its companies have raised billions of dollars in capital, employing 20,000+ people including over 6,000 people in Brazil.

Be Confident?

What ultimately seems to set Samwer apart from other entrepreneurs in Germany isn’t his success or his great business decisions, but his confidence and determination. During the Q&A, I asked him what he thought would come next that would make the Internet look like Mobile (he had shown a chart of how the Internet market cap was larger than the Mobile Phone market cap), and he quickly came back that he didn’t care about other industries, that he was focused on the next 10 years: “I want to own the Internet” he calmly proclaimed, underlining the fact that Oliver Samwer isn’t chasing the next big thing, and he isn’t chasing inventions, he’s chasing Market Growth.

Below is a video from Oliver Samwer’s talk, which starts with a discussion about Rocket Internet’s expansion into India then goes through his thoughts on being “safe” vs. getting dirty.

Idealab! Founders’ Conference will be going on today & tomorrow and will feature speakers from Facebook, Ballou BR, Connected Ventures as well as the aforementioned companies.