Alisher Usmanov

Facebook's friend in Russia

October 4, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

DST's Yuri Milner makes big bets on social media companies and brings new clout -- along with a mysterious oligarch backer -- to Silicon Valley.

In 16 months, Milner, 48, has invested $1.3 billion in U.S. Internet companies.

Yuri Milner has 50 friends on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is one of them. They met a couple of years ago when Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder and CEO, was trying to learn more about a Russian social network that Milner partly owned. Then, in the spring of 2009, Zuckerberg sold Milner 2% of Facebook for $200 million.

At the time, more than one Silicon Valley insider wrote the investment off as dumb money. Zuckerberg knew better. Milner and his partner, Gregory Finger, had built Digital Sky Technologies from a small Russian investment venture to a holding company that controlled the businesses behind 75% of the pages served on the Russian-speaking web. And because the online-advertising market is far less robust in Russia than in the U.S., DST's companies had already found ways to make money that U.S. companies hadn't tried. "I talked to a bunch of different [venture] firms and I spent time with [Milner] and I was like, this guy is clearly smarter and more insightful and has more experience in what we are doing," Zuckerberg tells Fortune. It helped that Milner, 48, offered great deal terms: His investment valued Facebook at $10 billion, an eyebrow-raising amount at the time, and he didn't ask for a board seat or any other special privileges.

A mere 16 months later, Milner has invested nearly $1.3 billion in American Internet companies. He has increased his Facebook stake to just more than $800 million for roughly 10% of the company, which makes him the second-largest outside investor after Accel Partners. He followed this with mega-investments in Silicon Valley's hot social-gaming company Zynga and group-buying site Groupon, and he paid $188 million to buy the chat service ICQ outright. The investments have attracted the attention of international media companies like Chinese Internet behemoth Tencent and South African media giant Naspers, which have both taken stakes in DST. Now valued at $4 billion, DST is preparing for an initial public offering in London as early as November. More

  • Who is Alisher Usmanov?

    By Bill Powell and Jessi Hempel

    Alisher Usmanov is one of Vladimir Putin's "oligarchs," as the businessmen in Moscow with deep ties to the Kremlin have come to be called. That he is one of Putin's oligarchs is to say that he was not one of Boris Yeltsin's. In the early 1990s, Yeltsin's disciples got hugely rich buying formerly state-owned enterprises in Russia on the cheap. Usmanov was virtually unknown at MORE

    - Oct 4, 2010 3:00 AM ET
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