Yuri Milner

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Yuri Milner
Yuri Milner.jpg
Yuri Milner in 2011.
Born (1961-11-11) 11 November 1961 (age 54)
Moscow, Russian SFSR,
Soviet Union
Residence Moscow, Russia
Nationality Russian
Alma mater Moscow State University
Wharton School of Business
Occupation Businessman (venture capitalist, Founder of Digital Sky Technologies (DST Global)
Net worth Increase US$ 3.1 billion (2015)[1]
Spouse(s) Julia Milner (née) Bochkova (m. 2004)
Children 3 daughters

Yuri Borisovich (Bentsionovich) Milner[2] (Russian: Ю́рий Бори́сович (Бенцио́нович) Ми́льнер; born 11 November 1961[3]) is a Russian entrepreneur, venture capitalist and physicist. He founded investment firms Digital Sky Technologies (DST),[4] now called Mail.ru Group and DST Global. Through DST Global, Milner is an investor in Facebook, Zynga, Twitter, Flipkart, Spotify, ZocDoc, Groupon, JD.com, Planet Labs, Xiaomi, OlaCabs, Alibaba, Wish and many others. Milner's personal investments also include a stake in 23andMe [5] and Beepi.[6]

Fortune magazine's list of the world's fifty most prominent business people in 2010 placed Milner at 46th place, making him the only Russian on the list.[7] In 2010 Milner was recognized by Russian business magazine Vedomosti as "Businessman of the Year". In 2012 he was included in the 50 Most Influential list of Bloomberg Markets Magazine. The Foreign Policy magazine included Milner to its "Power List" - an inaugural list of 500 most powerful people on the planet released in May, 2013.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Born into a Jewish family[9][10] on 11 November 1961 in Moscow, Yuri Milner was the second child of Russian intellectuals.[11] His father, Bentsion Zakharovitch Milner (Бенцион Захарович Мильнер), was a distinguished expert in the sphere of management and organization. He was Chief Deputy Director at the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.[12] Betty Iosifovna Milner, Yuri's mother, worked at the capital's state-run virological laboratory for disease control. He has a sister, eight years his senior, who is an architect.

Milner studied theoretical physics at Moscow State University, graduating in 1985. He went on to work at Lebedev Physical Institute, one of the institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in the same department as the future Nobel Prize winner Vitaly Ginzburg. As a doctoral candidate in particle physics, Milner befriended Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. Sakharov's forward thinking would later influence Milner's venture investment strategy.[13]

In 1990, Milner became the first non-émigré from the Soviet Union to go to the United States to receive an MBA at the Wharton School of Business.[11][14] The press quoted him as saying that he made this decision after "being disappointed in myself as a physicist".

Business career[edit]

Milner started his business career selling illegal DOS computers in the Soviet Union,[15] which displeased his father. When the national government collapsed, he stopped selling computers and tapped family connections[citation needed] to enroll at Wharton School of Business to earn an MBA.

After graduating, Milner spent the first half of the 1990s at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., as a Russian banking specialist focused on the development of private sector banking. He has described his time at the World Bank as his "lost years", due to watching from afar the privatization of government holdings during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin.[11] In the spring of 1995, Milner was appointed CEO of Alliance-Menatep, an investment brokerage company belonging to then oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In December 1996 Milner worked as Vice President and Head of Investment Management of Menatep Bank. From February 1997 to December 2009, Milner was the deputy chairman and the head of the investment division of Menatep Bank. At the time, the market makers described him as "a well-known professional, who will bring the bank valuable experience in international financial institutions and transactions in the Russian investment market".

From 1997 to 2000, Milner was Director General of the investment fund New Trinity Investments. During this period, after reading a review by Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker on the prospects for online businesses, Milner decided to create an internet company. He sought funding from his friend from Menatep days Gregory Finger, who at the time led the Russian branch of the US investment fund New Century Holding. The fund agreed to invest $4.5 million with the proviso that Milner and Finger each personally invest $750,000.

Russian Internet investor[edit]

In 1999 Milner, Finger, and NCH created a new company, NetBridge. In 2000, Milner became the president Netbridzh Services Ltd (netBridge) - the company that "created as an Internet incubator and investment fund". Netbridge succeeded in transferring a variety of U.S.-pioneered internet business models to Russia, creating companies including the portal List.ru, online auction site Molotok.ru (based on eBay), free web-hosting Boom.ru (based on GeoCities), and online shop 24x7 (using the formula of Amazon.com).

In February 2001, netBridge and Port.ru (which owned Mail.ru) announced a merger. Milner became CEO of the new company named Mail.ru (though the legal name Port.ru was also retained).

From January 2003 to December 2004, Milner was the CEO of "Neftyanoi", (owned by Igor Linshits).

In 2005, NCH shifted its focus from the Russian Internet projects and Milner founded the investment fund Digital Sky Technologies (DST), becoming its chairman in 2006. A meeting through mutual friends resulted in Alisher Usmanov becoming a shareholder of Mail.ru Group in 2008.

In 2010 Mail.ru Group completed successful initial public offering on London Stock Exchange with market valuation of $5.6 billion.[16]

In March 2012, Yuri Milner stepped down from the role of Chairman of Mail.ru and from the Board of Directors.[17] Dmitry Grishin was elected to the Board of Directors and appointed as Chairman of the Board while retaining his CEO position. There were no other changes to management or to the Board.

Post Mail.ru Group’s IPO, DST is the sole vehicle for further international investments. The company is now fully independent of Mail.ru Group.[18]

From May 2009 to January 2012 Milner was a member of the Commission on Modernization established by Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President from 2008-2012.[19]

International Internet investor[edit]

In January 2009, while in Palo Alto, Milner became acquainted with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The meeting led to an agreement on 26 May 2009 under which DST bought a 1.96% stake in Facebook for $200 million.[20]

On 16 September 2010, Digital Sky Technologies (DST) changed its name to "Mail.ru Group". The group's portfolio included Mail.ru, Odnoklassniki.ru, ICQ, a minority stake in the social network VKontakte (Russian Facebook equivalent), online payments service OSMP.ru, e‑Port, as well as some other Russian assets. Milner's commercial interests in Facebook, Zynga, and Groupon were transferred to DST Global. Milner became the CEO of DST Global and the chairman of the board of directors of Mail.ru Group. In November 2010, Mail.ru Group held its offering on the London Stock Exchange.[21]

On 29 January 2011, Milner announced that he would invest $150,000 into each of the start‑up program participants selected by the incubator Y Combinator.[22]

On 2 August 2011, DST Global invested $800 million in Twitter.

DST Global invested 125 million in WhatsApp.[23]

In February 2014, it was announced that Milner had led a round of funding for cloud-graphics company, Otoy.[24]

In May 2014, Flipkart raised $210 Million in financing round Led by DST Global.[25]

In March 2015, British online luxury fashion company Farfetch said it raised $86 million from investment firm DST Global and existing shareholders, valuing the company at $1 billion.[26]

According to press reports in April 2015 OlaCabs raised $315M from DST Global and some existing investors.[27]

Breakthrough Prize[edit]

Main article: Breakthrough Prize

In July 2012, Milner established The Breakthrough Prize - a set of international awards recognize three fields of endeavor: Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics. Laureates receive $3 million each in prize money, making the Breakthrough Prizes the largest scientific awards in the world.[28]

The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences honors advances in understanding living systems and extending human life. Each year, one of the six prizes recognizes work leading to progress against parkinson’s disease & neurodegenerative disorders. The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics is given annually for accomplishments in fundamental physics broadly defined, including advances in closely related fields with deep connections to physics and can be shared by any number of winners. The Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics is given annually to an individual making significant accomplishments in mathematics. The New Horizons in Physics prizes reward younger researchers who have already produced significant work. Nominees are put forward by a public online vote. From the pool of nominees, the winners in each category are then chosen by their peers in three corresponding Selection Committees composed of previous winners of the Prize. New laureates then join the Selection Committee for their field to select future winners.[29] As of January 2015, $168.1m in prize-money has been awarded to 70 individual scientists and 4 large research teams.[30]

These prizes are funded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Yuri Milner and Julia Milner, and Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang. Committees of previous laureates choose the winners from candidates nominated in a process that’s online and open to the public.[31]

The Prizes are presented annually at a major gala ceremony featuring celebrity presentations, films, comedy and live music from major artists. The last two ceremonies took place at NASA’s Hangar 1 in Mountain View, California. They were hosted by Seth MacFarlane[32] and Kevin Spacey.[33] Presenters and performers include Hollywood stars, leaders from Silicon Valley, and world-famous scientists such as Stephen Hawking. Recent events have been co-hosted by Vanity Fair and broadcast on Discovery Science and the BBC.[34]

The annual celebrations also include full-day symposiums in the three recognized fields. Each year’s symposium is held under the auspices of UC Berkeley, UCSF and Stanford University (with the physical venue alternating between them each year). The program of events includes lectures by Breakthrough laureates and other renowned scientists, as well as moderated discussion panels aimed at the general public. The program is broadcast live on the web.[35]

Breakthrough Initiatives[edit]

In July 2015, Milner launched the Breakthrough Initiatives, a major new scientific program investigating the question of life in the Universe. He announced the initiatives at the Royal Society in London, alongside Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, Geoff Marcy and Ann Druyan.[36]

Two initiatives have been announced so far. The first, Breakthrough Listen, will invest $100 million over 10 years in the most comprehensive and sensitive search ever undertaken for evidence of civilizations beyond Earth.[37] The Green Bank, Parkes and Lick observatories[38] will search for radio and laser signals from the nearest million stars, the nearest 100 galaxies, and the plane and center of the Milky Way.[39] All data produced (approximately 10GB per second) will be open to the public, and all software developed for the project will be open source. The initiative will also use the SETI@home distributed computing project, which Milner described as “Collectively… one of the world’s biggest supercomputers”.[40] The second initiative, Breakthrough Message is a $1 million annual prize for digital messages representing Earth and humanity, that could be decoded by another civilization. The messages will not, however, be sent into space until a global discussion on the ethics of such a move has taken place[41]

Long-term vision[edit]

Milner believes that the internet will develop into a "global brain"—which is often described as an intelligent network of individuals and machines—functioning as a nervous system for the planet Earth. He also envisages that the advent of the Internet of things and ever increasing use of social media and participatory systems such as Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia will increase our collective intelligence.[42][43]

Personal life[edit]

In an interview with Vedomosti in 2010, Yuri Milner said of himself:

"In the past few years I simply do not have time for hobbies. I am even starting to forget what I was fond of. Such as in the past it was reading of literature not related to work".[44]

Yuri is married to former high fashion model and contemporary artist Julia Milner. Mrs. Milner has achieved recognition for her photography. During the 52nd Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art Julia Milner received acclamation for her contribution entitled, Click I Hope.[45] The Milners live and work predominantly in Moscow with their two children. Milner attends synagogue, but says that he is only minimally religiously observant.[9]

In 2011 Yuri Milner bought a $100 million home in Los Altos Hills.[46] The compound spans three plots totaling 7 hectares and includes a roughly 25,500-square-foot (2,370 m2) main house and a 5,500-square-foot (510 m2) guest house. The current tax bill is about $304,000 a year. The Wall Street Journal reported the price as $100 million, saying it was the most ever paid for a single-family home in the United States. The property is appraised by the Santa Clara County assessor at only $50 million.[47]

Awards and recognitions[edit]

  • "New Establishment List 2015-" Vanity Fair, September 2015.[48]
  • "Wired 100 -" Wired, August 2015.[49]
  • "The Midas List 2014-" Forbes, April 2015.[50]
  • "New Establishment List 2014-" Vanity Fair, September 2014.[51]
  • "The Midas List 2013-" Forbes, May 2013.[52]
  • "Power Map - 500 most powerful people on the planet" - Foreign Policy, May 2013.[53]
  • Most Influential 50 - BloombergMarkets, September 2012.[54]
  • The Silicon Valley 100 - Business Insider, February 2012.[55]
  • Top 50 Digital Power Players - Hollywood Reporter, January 2012.[56]
  • Businessperson of the Year – Top 50 - Fortune, November 2011.[57]
  • "Man of the Year" - GQ (Russian Edition), October 2011.[58]
  • "Vanity Fair’s New Establishment List 2011" - Vanity Fair, September 2011.[59]
  • "Kommersant of the Year" - Kommersant, June 2011.[60]
  • "The 100 Most Creative People" - Fast Company, May 2011.[61]
  • "The Midas List of Tech's Top Investors" - Forbes, April 2011.[62]
  • "World's Billionaires" - Forbes, March 2011.[63]
  • "Owners of Virtual Reality List" - Forbes (Russian Edition), February 2011.[64]
  • "Businessman of the Year" - Vedomosti, December 2010.[65]
  • "The Smartest People in Tech" - Fortune, July 2010.[66]


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