Tag Archives: Facebook

The Man Behind DST

Image representing Yuri Milner as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

It has been seven months since we wrote about the Moscow Facebook connection. So, what actually happened before that, you may ask.

The famous Facebook investment deals were done by a fund named Digital Sky Technologies (DST), headed by one Yuri Milner, hailing from Russia and now residing in a $100 million home sitting on seven acres of Silicon Valley’s posh neighborhood of Los Altos Hills.

The man is no slouch, having studied theoretical Physics at the prestigious Moscow University and completing in the early 1990s an MBA at Wharton. After a little talked about stint at the World Bank he headed back to Russia, where the whole country was being ‘privatized.’ There he headed Menatep, an investment banking arm of an oil-and-gas empire controlled by  Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

A decade went by, Mikhail had been convicted of tax fraud and stripped of tens of billions of natural resources holdings by Putin’s regime, and had  been doing hard time in Russian labor camps since 2005. Meanwhile Yuri, who will turn 50 in November, moved on to become the major investor in Internet companies in Russia, with a particularly astute eye for Social Networking properties. His holdings were aggregated under the umbrella of Mail.ru, the largest email provider there. Mail.ru owns Russia’s number two social networking site Odnoklassniki (Classmates) and number three Moi Mir (My World). Also, it controls a third of Russia’s top social networking site, Vkontakte (In Contact). The famous Facebook seriously lags homegrown competitors in Russia, a distant fourth, with well under 10 million subscribers. Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki each have three to four times the audience.


Vkontakte via Wikipedia

At the end of 2010 Yuri took Mail.ru public in London, at a valuation reaching $5 billion and raising well over a billion in cash in the process. A third of that valuation was based on bundling with the offering a fraction of the 10% stake  in Facebook that DST holds. This cash is perhaps twice what DST ponnied-up over last couple of years for their foreign investments, and after the deal they still own 75% of Mail.ru, plus two-thirds of their original Facebook shares. Purely brilliant.

Fellows in Time

Machine of the Year

Machine of the Year

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was inducted into perhaps the most exclusive club in the world, thanks to Time Magazine. This group includes present day political biggies Obama and Putin, both Bushes and Clinton. But also the list has the Pope and the Queen, FDR and JFK, Hitler and Stalin, Churchill and Gandhi. 

It’s an interesting historic arc, from the aviation pioneer Charles ‘Lucky’ Lindberg, who in 1927 was the first, and at 25 still the youngest person selected by Time, to the awkward billionaire Zuckerberg, picked in 2010 at 26 years of age. What does that say about what we value and who we admire?

Another arc leading to Facebook started in 1982, when Time picked The Computer for the annual distinction, followed by Andy Grove of Intel in 1997 and Jeff Bezos of Amazon in 1999. Apple marketing magician Steve Jobs did not make The List, though he was on the cover of Time a bunch of times, first in 1982 and most recently in April 2010. Microsoft’s chief nerd Bill Gates only squeezed in through his charitable work, in 2005, together with wife Melinda and singer Bono.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Zuck made it.  We have still have ways to go.

Nerd of the Year

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg

Zuck, a quintessential nerd, was named 2010 Time Magazine Person of the Year.  He beat out some cool cats, like Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, a dude who’s bipolar, two-faced, and can look more stylish wearing a hat made of lamb fur (Karakul) than Brezhnev ever did.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg edged out WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, more hated in Washington than Osama and Kim Jong-il combined, while being wanted in Sweden for sex crimes. Too sexy for Sweden, wow!

However, I want to clarify that Zuck is a nerd, not a geek.  To me the distinction is clear – geeks crave to show off their prowess with gadgets while nerds need to know how those are put together. A geek can hold an iPhone 4 just right to avoid the antenna issue and without touching Home and Sleep causing Soft Reset. A nerd may not know which button adjusts iPhone volume, but can tell you that it sports an ARM Cortex-A8 processor manufactured by Samsung in 45mn, even though the nerd carries a Google Android G2 phone running Linux, in case he needs to fire-up LAMP stack while waiting for a bus.

Say a geek reaches for a razor-sharp Japanese katana sword. With exaggerated reverence he takes it by the long handle, careful not to leave unsightly fingerprints. The sword is raised high over his head, the swing starts with a deep guttural cry that peaks, as the blade slices off his toes.

Katana Sword

Katana Sword

A nerd grabs the sword by the blade, eager to examine the Tsuka handle for maker’s mark, and leaves bloody prints of fingers nicked to the bone. Easy to tell the two apart, though neither is Ninja material.

Still not clear? A nerd digs Star Trek, while a geek adores Star Wars.

Kremlin Owns Facebook

Kremlim Facebook

Kremlim Facebook

Not exactly Kremlin, but some smart guys from Russia.  Not exactly own Facebook, but have a 10% stake in it.

Even my mom heard on the news two weeks ago that Goldman Sachs piled almost half a billion into Facebook and in the process made the Social Network company worth $50 billion.  Not as prominent was the Russian angle.  Turns out that DST (Digital Sky Technologies), an investment company with heavy roots in the land of borscht and honey, had been all over Facebook for a couple of years now. It also has its fingers in all the darlings of the current ‘social networking’ version of the .com bubble: Groupon, Zinga, and now trying for Twitter.

Russians were getting a better deal for their money in 2009, having paid in a couple of installments roughly as much as Goldman Sachs just did, but ending-up with ten times the shares.  The deal for Goldman sucks, and to make it seem better, DST kicked-in another $50 million, at this crazy new valuation.

Digital Sky Technologies

Digital Sky Technologies

My apologies to non-MBA readers. Financial types say that Facebook has a ‘valuation’ of $50 billion because Goldman Sachs paid $500 million and got 1% of the shares.

Feed Me, Feed Me

Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors via Wikipedia

My dear readers, I need your feedback. I know you are there, a couple here, a small flurry there. I need to hear from you, find out if any of this strikes a chord, piques your curiosity or entertains. Leave comments or ratings, send me a Facebook message or an email.

Thumper told Bambi, “If you cannot say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Don’t worry about it, say something, anything. I’ll forgive you in the end.

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