Yuri Borisovich (Bentsionovich) Milner (Ю́рий Ми́льнер) is one of the top venture capitalists in the world. Making it onto the Forbes Midas List is both an achievement and accolade; Yuri Milner is a worthy entry and seems to turn everything he touches into gold. Ranked 35th on the exclusive list, this Russian venture capitalist has a net worth of $3.2 billion and a fortune built on investing in tech startups like Facebook, Groupon, Airbnb and more recently China’s answer to eBay, Alibaba.
Education and Early Career
Milner was born in Moscow in 1961, to a father who was the Chief Deputy Director of the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a mother who worked at the Moscow laboratory for disease control. His intellectual Jewish parents encouraged his studies in theoretical physics at Moscow State University. Milner graduated in 1985, went to work for the Lebedev Physical Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and began work on his Ph.D in particle physics. During this time he met Andrei Sakharov, noted Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist. In an abrupt about face, Milner switched his field of study from physics to business and in 1990, received his MBA from the Wharton School of Business.
His business degree earned him a position as a Russian banking specialist at the World Bank in Washington DC. Milner is wont to describe these years as his “lost years”. In 1995, however, he met Russian oligarch Mikhail Khordorkovsky and was appointed CEO of Alliance-Menatep, an investment firm owned by Khodorkovsky. In 1996 he was appointed as Vice President and Head of Investment Management at Menatep Bank and from 1997 until 2009, he was Deputy Chairman of the bank.
Russian Investor in the West
During the late 1990s Milner became interested in the future of online business and investment in internet companies. Deciding to start his own company, Milner enlisted the help of Gregory Finger who was head of the investment fund New Century Holding. The fund agreed to back Milner to the tune of $4.5 million, with another $750,000 coming from Milner and Finger respectively.
In 1999, the successful trio started an internet incubator and investment fund called netBridge (Netbridzh Services Ltd) and began creating companies in Russia that followed the successful business models of similar companies in the US and Europe. Companies included Molotok.ru, Boom.ru and Mail.ru, which went on to become the group’s company name.
Partnership with Alisher Usmanov
In 2005, Milner founded the internet investment company Digital Sky Technologies (DST), becoming Chairman of the Board in 1996. Alisher Usmanov became an investor of DST in 2008 and the company listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2010, with a market valuation of $5,6 billion.
One of DST’s early investment decisions was to invest in social media companies in the West. In 2009, it bought 1.96% of Facebook for a reported $200 million. Other investments include Zynga, Groupon, Spotify, Airbnb and as recently as 2011, an $800 million investment in Twitter.
It’s not just the big names of social media that Yuri Milner invests in: his incubators and investment funds have been showing excellent returns from early stage and seed funding rounds for 23andMe and Corsera.
Yuri Milner Turns to the East
While Mail.ru manages the group’s Russian investments, like Vkontakte and OSMP.ru, it is DST Global that manages the groups investments in Europe, the US, and ever increasingly in China and Hong Kong. Milner moved DST Global’s headquarters to Hong Kong in 2013, to be closer to mainland China, and has made significant investments into Alibaba and Xiaomi, a Chinese mobile phone manufacturer.
Personal Life: Silicon Valley’s Most Expensive Home
Though Yuri and his wife Julia, along with their two children, live mostly in Moscow, the couple bought a home in Los Altos Hills, California, which was reported to have cost over $100 million, making it the most expensive single-family home in the United States.