Personalities

The Clone Collector: Meet New York Superangel Fabrice Grinda, Master of Digital Knockoffs

Mr. Grinda speaking at LeWeb 2011. (flickr.com/leweb)

Fabrice Grinda, the French-born Internet mogul best known for duplicating American companies across the globe, is taller—6’3″—and handsomer than he looks in his hundreds of pictures online, with thick eyebrows a few shades darker than his hair. He speaks rapidly and pronounces almost every word, including “entrepreneur,” in a near perfect American accent. “Ultimately, I was not a super creative guy,” he said, resting his arms behind his head and propping one smooth leather loafer on the edge of the coffee table in his sparse Chelsea office.

In 1996, Mr. Grinda was a 21-year-old analyst at McKinsey & Company, where he watched the Internet bubble inflate from his small, windowless office and worried that he might miss his chance to strike it rich. Problem was, he didn’t have any ideas. That’s when he decided innovation was overrated.

“Screw creativity and originality,” he recalled telling himself. “I’m going to take a U.S. idea and bring it to Europe.”

As an entrepreneur, Mr. Grinda copied eBay for France. Then he copied a European business selling cellphone ringtones for the U.S. He now runs OLX, a Craigslist knockoff he founded that is now bigger than Craigslist itself. By night—and in sporadic meetings throughout the week—he’s a so-called superangel, with 96 investments.

The majority of his portfolio? Clones. “Copies of established ideas,” he clarified. “‘Established,’ meaning $100 million in sales for the original model, and profitable or on a clear path to profitability.” Among his investments are a Diapers.com for Russia, a Grubhub for China, a Diapers.com for Germany, a Jetsetter for Turkey, a Stubhub and Eventbrite for Spain and Latin America, a Warby Parker for France, and an Airbnb, an Expedia, a Gilt and a PayPal for Brazil. Read More