What is the biggest malfunction in history

Perhaps the five biggest wrong decisions in the history of the German online industry

Bad timing, missed internationalization and insufficient foresight - a (subjective) compilation


Online marketing is still an enormous growth market in Germany - this is not only shown by the record numbers of the latest dmexco. But the way there was not always linear. In the roughly 15-year history of the industry, legendary wrong decisions have been made and many companies have failed - be it due to poor timing or impatience on the part of investors. We took a look back and tried to put together five of the biggest mistakes and missed opportunities in the industry.

1999/2000: Gruner + Jahr is too short of breath with Fireball, Firemail and Andsold.de

In March 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst, Gruner + Jahr sold the publisher's own search engine Fireball to Lycos - its market share this year is said to have been 22 percent. The Firemail freemail service is also part of the deal. In April 2000, Google launched the German version of its search engine. The US company now has a 90 percent market share in this country and makes an estimated 60 percent of the entire German online advertising budget with search engine advertising. In the freemail sector, United Internet now earns good money with advertising on the website of its e-mail service GMX and Web.de. The online auction house Andsold.de, in which Gruner + Jahr is involved with Bertelsmann and RTL, closes in November 2000. Andsold.de is brought into a "strategic partnership" with Ebay without the US auction house taking over shares in Andsold.de. In the summer of 1999, Ebay bought the Samwer brothers' Alando auction house for $ 43 million.

From 2002: German SEO experts invent the visibility index, but miss out on global business with their tools

There are a variety of German software tools for search engine optimization. Johannes Beus is an absolute pioneer with Sistrix in 2002, and other providers will soon follow suit. Almost all of them, however, miss the opportunity to benefit from their pioneering role on the world market through early internationalization. Only Searchmetrics is an exception here. Today there are strong international competitors such as SEMRush, SEOmoz and Majestic SEO.

From 2009: Rocket Internet supports Sociomantic's success story, but does not secure any company shares

In 2009, Thomas Brandhoff, Lars Kirchhoff and Thomas Nicolai founded the real-time bidding provider Sociomantic with just 3,000 euros in start-up capital. Zalando is one of the first customers, and many more companies from Samwer’s start-up forge Rocket Internet will soon be using the startup’s technology. Florian Heinemann, at that time managing director of the incubator, was building Sociomantic at Rocket as an alternative to Criteo. Even today, Sociomantic is represented in the tech stack of many Rocket Internet ventures in Asia and Africa. Rocket Internet is thus one of the most important factors for Sociomantic's global expansion. In 2013, Sociomantic claims to have 200 employees in 16 countries and an annual turnover of more than 100 million US dollars. But Rocket never tries to get shares in the advertising service provider. In spring 2014, Dunnhumby, a subsidiary of the British supermarket chain Tesco’s, took over Sociomantic for a rumored 200 million US dollars.

From 2010: The German targeting specialists are missing out on the big business with retargeting

Marco Klimkeit, now the managing director of Yieldlab, showed a good nose in the mid-00s and offered retargeting in the German market with Newtention (founded in 1999 as an ad serving provider) under the product name "newtention Follow-up"; With the holding company Neuhaus Partners in the back, the necessary financial resources are available. However, newtention is evidently dealing with the topic too early - in 2008 the Hamburg agency Sinner Schrader first took over the marketing business of newtention and in 2009 the company completely. Wunderloop, another targeting service provider of German origin who would also have had the technology and the potential to establish retargeting, will be wound up in April 2010. In May 2010, Criteo enters the German market. In the months and years that followed, the French company grew to the Boom company in the retargeting sector. In 2013, Criteo had sales of 272 million euros.

And, out of sequence, our personal "highlight":

2007: Gruner + Jahr misses a potential cooperation with Facebook

Rockstars founder Philipp Westermeyer still contacts Facebook as an employee in the investment division of Gruner + Jahr and would like to work out a deal. Net Jacobsson, at the time Director International Business Development at Facebook, is interested and proposes a meeting at the DLD in Munich (see screenshot). Unfortunately, Gruner + Jahr is not prepared to pay a ticket for the event. Philipp left the publishing house shortly afterwards ...

In your opinion, what have been the biggest wrong decisions in the German industry? And what are the positive examples for you - where did someone have exactly the right nose or was in the right place at the right time? We look forward to your feedback in the comments!