To someone like myself in the US startup community, the idea of the Samwer brothers sounds terrifying. Imagine you're a startup founder and your new company is just taking off. Suddenly, a Samwer clone comes along and gobbles up your European market way before you can get there - you'll end up having to buy it later for a lot of money. This has happened to Groupon with CityDeal, and it looks like it's happening to Airbnb and Zappos.
Why does their approach work?
Let's say your Silicon Valley based startup just became successful and proved out their business model. Now you has to deal with fundraising, hiring, and scaling to new users. International expansion gets put off until you have more time to breathe. Meanwhile, the Samwer brothers activate the clone machine. While you're struggling to recruit engineers in the talent jungle of Silicon Valley, the Samwer brothers redeploy existing resources and follow the models they've learned from other startups.
Another key factor is that it's easy for US founders to overlook opportunities in other developed countries. I'm not sure if this is because of the psychological draw of American exceptionalism or a genuine lack of awareness of the Internet landscape in other countries, but it's a clear blind spot. Germany, the Samwer brothers' home base, is a great country to target: High purchasing power, high-speed Internet widely available[*], and a large target market of people who all speak the same language and are technophile.
Finally, Germany has a great talent pool of technical people and a comparative dearth of interesting tech companies to work for: If you're a talented engineer, you can't go work for Airbnb or Zappos, so why not go work for the respective Samwer clone?
I've always believed that great entrepreneurs find and exploit the shortcuts to success in a system. It turns out that taking established business ideas from the US to Germany is one of these shortcuts, and you have to respect the Samwers for finding it.
[*] To illustrate, my brother lives in a small town in Germany and his Internet connection is substantially faster than what I can get from Comcast near downtown San Francisco.