Investor Profile: Yuri Milner

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Yuri Milner recently announced through a corporate press release that he has stepped down from the Board of Directors for Mail.ru. IntelligentHQ has choosen him to be the first in new series of articles on successful Investor Profiles.

Yuri Milner, is not your average investor or conventional US Silicon Valley typical venture capital Entrepreneur. Yuri Milner #1153 Forbes Billionaires #90 position in Russia, worth at the moment 1 USD Billion, is a Russian entrepreneur, venture capitalist, controversial personality and a recent billionaire (thanks to the growing value of his tech and social media holdings, especially Facebook, Zynga and Groupon) . Milner is considered to be one the world’s most successful and savvy investors in the social media tech venture companies.

Born into a Jewish family on 11 November 1961 in Moscow, Milner was the second child of Russian intellectuals. With a high education: that comprehends a Bachelor of Arts / Science, in Moscow State University; a Master of Business Administration in the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, Milner is a highly intellectual investor that makes his investment decisions based on research.

Having studied theoretical physics and Business Administration on the US  Milner spent the former half of the 1990’s at the World Bank as a Russian banking specialist focused on the development of private sector banking. After that he had a series of powerful jobs in the Russian investment (with links to politics) arena where he became described by the market makers as “a well-known professional, who will bring the bank valuable experience in international financial institutions and transactions in the Russian investment market.”

1999 was a key year for Milner that with other investors created a new company, that would become the genesis of his investment empire NetBridge. This company was, in the words of Milner “… created as an Internet incubator and investment fund.” Netbridge succeeded in transferring a variety of US-pioneered internet business models to Russia, creating companies including the portal List.ru, online auction site Molotok.ru using eBay as a model and other important online vehicles for the large Russian market. 2001 was a key year for Milner when netBridge and Port.ru (which owned Mail.ru) announced a merger and Milner became CEO of the then new company named Mail.ru.

Having started investing in 1999 Yuri Milner became a global well known player in western media when in 2005, he founded Digital Sky Technologies Ltd (DST), based in Mail.ru Group, which focuses on Internet investments in the Russian speaking world. Mail.ru Group is now the largest Internet company in the Russian-speaking world and the leading Internet company in Russia, based on global monthly unique users. It operates Russia’s leading e-mail service (http://mail.mail.ru/) and the two largest IM (instant messaging) networks in Russia – Mail.Ru Agent and ICQ.

Under Milner’s leadership, DST Global made some key and controversial investments that have showed a key vision and strategical capacities to predict future successful consumer movements and web and tech trends. His investment in Facebook, Zynga (a leading social gaming company) and in Groupon (a leading social e-commerce company) showed a spot on investment capacity to see opportunity where many saw risk, and these investments on these valuable web social media properties highlighted his visionary capacity to look into the future. In 2011, Milner bought also stakes in Twitter, Spotify, Airbnb and Chinese online retailers: 360buy.com and Alibaba Group.

After the incredible success of his previous investments in social media (especially after the overwhelming success of Facebook), in January 2011 Milner announced that he will continue to invest in every startup that comes out of the Silicon Valley-based incubator Y Combinator. Milner made a surprising announcement of his intention to lend $150,000 to each and every YCombinator start-up company, reportedly without reading the business plan first. That loan will turn into equity only if the start-up can reach a publicly unspecified milestone.

This Russian tycoon is a savvy internet investor that now most of the tech investors want to emulate. His success has brought him a great deal of exposure, controversy, and has generated a great deal of interest, partially due to his unconventional style and his unusual (yet highly successful) approach to investment.

Yuri Milner’s disruptive way of investment and looking at companies to invest has made him a unique player with a capacity to predict the new wannabe successful startups, companies. His way of operating goes through an investment choice that prefers to look and research mostly how consumers operate and the way people look at their lives and choose companies that have services or products with relevant solutions. This makes him a kind of unique investor focused on social behavior, curating trends and using algorithm selection of ideas and looking how to deal with concepts such as age behavior, fragmented ways of acting, looking and managing tech, multimedia approach, attention spam challenges.

His profile and work brought him a huge number of Awards and Recognitions. Bellow is a list of the most relevant awards according to Wikipedia:

  • The Silicon Valley 100 – Business Insider, February 2012
  • Top 50 Digital Power Players – Hollywood Reporter, January 2012
  • Businessperson of the Year – Top 50 – Fortune, November 2011
  • Man of the Year’ – GQ (Russian Edition), October 2011
  • Vanity Fair’s New Establishment List 2011 – Vanity Fair, September 2011
  • Kommersant of the Year – Kommersant, June 2011
  • The 100 Most Creative People – Fast Company, May 2011
  • The Midas List of Tech’s Top Investors – Forbes, April 2011
  • World’s Billionaires – Forbes, March 2011
  • Owners of Virtual Reality List – Forbes (Russian Edition), February 2011
  • Businessman of the Year – Vedomosti, December 2010
  • The Smartest People in Tech – Fortune, July 2010

A former particle physicist Milner was influenced by Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. An intellectual and not the average Russian stereotype Tycoon Milner plays chess for fun and is not interested in Footbal. His wife, Julia Milner, is a contemporary artist.

To finish one of the few available video interviews with Yuri Milner from Abu Dhabi Media Summit 2011. This is an rare opportunity to listen to some of his ideas, to know his personality and to learn the ways of investing.