Is Rocket Internet letting go 125 staff in Turkey?

Charmaine Li 2012-08-15 4

Istanbul
In this guest piece, Gründerszene editor-in-chief Joel Kaczmarek relays strange talk about the German internet giant’s operations in the east. 

The worldwide growth of the Samwers incubator Rocket Internet seems to be limitless. But information from Rocket Internet in Turkey, where Oliver Samwer has apparently just let go of 125 staff, might call this into question.

Rocket Internet

Trainees and full time workers apparently given marching orders

Rocket Internet is working hard to cover all corners of the globe, expanding to South America, Africa, the Middle East, Portugal and Southeast Asia. Yet their undertakings in Turkey seem to be a blip on the theme of world domination.

Vertical Media (Gründerszene and VentureVillage) has obtained information that Oliver Samwer (right) travelled to the land of the Bosphorus to let go of a number of staff from Rocket Internet. One source told me that, within just 18 hours, four business in Turkey had been shut down with about 200 staff let go. Another expert from the scene gave me different, but equally high, numbers.

Other trustworthy sources are telling me a different story. They say no businesses were shut down, but that many staff were given walking orders despite this. One hundred out of 200 trainees were told to leave, along with 25 full-time staff, this source tells me. That’s a large cut from the 400 or so staff that Rocket Internet has apparently accumulated in Turkey.

What’s the problem with Turkey?

It’s hard to tell if these accusations are true. Rocket Internet is, naturally, denying that there have been mass sackings in Turkey. They do admit to about 30 people being told to leave when the Bamarang workplace was shut down. But these small numbers are disputed by Vertical Media’s two Turkish contacts, leading to our speculation the truth lies somewhere in between.

If the mass sackings turn out to be correct, they could be a sign of Oliver Samwer’s wish to invest in the countries that will reap the highest returns. If this is the case, Turkey obviously isn’t one of them.

Istanbul

Is Rocket Internet in Turkey a massive waste of money?

Though Turkey is, geopolitically speaking, no longer a “developing” nation, it is still far from being a “first world” country. Turkey still hasn’t been able to achieve large economic successes and innovative ideas, focusing more on cloning giants from western countries including Amazon, LinkedIn and Facebook.

If you believe our Turkish experts, something Rocket Internet did do in Turkey was pay staff high wages. Rocket’s recruitment techniques in Turkey is apparently focused on hiring staff who had attended the ‘right’ management universities, meaning they also demanded weighty wages.

But the benefits their education gave the incubator were apparently outweighed by their lack of local market knowledge, leading to Rocket Internet being viewed as an expensive startup school in the Turkish scene, according to our contact.

Putting this much effort into the Turkish internet market, which is still a rather small marketplace by all accounts, hasn’t seemed to bother Rocket – until now, perhaps.

All this raises the question of what Rocket’s chances of success are under their current strategy, which, if the reports of supposed firings are correct, apparently means setting Bosphorus under a Samwer blitzkrieg once again.

Rocket Internet’s far from the only Berlin-headquartered internet company active in Turkey – Gidsy’s now active in Istanbul and Madvertise this year acquired Turkish mobile advertising company Mobilike.

Istanbul image credits: thanks to Flickr user Greenwich Photography

For more related reading, check out:

Rocket sets its sights on Middle East and Turkey

Rocket Internet to sell Latin America and Africa stake to Millicom in €340 million deal

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