Yesterday, Facebook confirmed Digital Sky Technologies, a Russian based investment company, had invested $200 million into the social network in exchange for 1.96%.
The investment values the company at a measly (sarcasm) $10 billion, $7 billion MORE than its previous valuation in April.
So who is DST and more importantly, who are the individuals behind the company?
Digital Sky Technologies has up until focused primarily on Russian-speaking markets. Its holdings reportedly hold over 70% of all pageviews in the Russian speaking internet, with a potential audience of over 300 million people. Its companies hold the #1 and often also the #2 and #3 positions in all CIS states, including Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Armenia.
Formed in 2005, DST was founded by Yuri Milner and Gregory Finger, both of whom are majority owners of Russia’s Mail.ru, Russia’s most popular free email service and second most visited website and . DST is also sole investor in vKontakte, Russia’s most popular social network. Facebook is No. 59 in Russia and has roughly 200,000 users in the country, but it has 200 million users worldwide.
Yuri Milner is CEO and Founding Partner of DST. He was a Russian physicist who graduated from Moscow’s state university, and subsequently conducted research at the Institute of physics in the Russian Academy of Sciences between 1985 and 1989. In 1990, he left to study for an MBA at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Back in Moscow, Milner joined Menatep, followed by the World Bank where he was involved in the development of the financial sector in Russia.
In 1996, he was responsible for the first tender offer for a public company in post Soviet times. Yuri subsequently started investing in the Internet sector in 1999.
Yuri has held various management positions in Russia since, including the CEO of Mail.ru between 2001 and 2003, Currently, Yuri serves on the board of directors of Mail.ru, vKontakte and Forticom.
Gregory Finger graduated from the Moscow Institute of Chemical Engineering in 1988 with a specialization in automated control systems. Between 1992 and 2005 Gregory was the head of the Moscow office of New Century Holdings (NCH), the largest Western financial investor in the Russian speaking and Eastern Europe markets.
At NCH, Gregory worked with over 15 investment funds with his latest fund having $3bn in assets under management. Gregory also made the first Internet investments on behalf of NCH, which was an early investor in Mail.ru, where Finger and Milner eventually joined forces.
Alexander Tamas holds a BA form the Catholic University of Eichstaett and a MA in Business, Finance and Accounting from the Goethe University, Frankfurt.
Initially making a name for himself by co-founding Arma Partners, a London / San Francisco corporate finance advisory services to technology companies. Tamas then went on to work for Goldman Sachs in London where he was responsible for numerous technology and Internet IPOs in Europe and Russia, mergers and acquisitions in the Internet and software sectors and fundraisings for high-growth companies across Europe.
Tamas joined DST as a Partner in 2008 and established a presence for DST in London from where he is spearheading some of DST’s international efforts.
GST does include a number of backers, the most prominent being Alisher Usmanov, this is where things get a bit more ‘colorful’, shall we say. Usmanov is a Russian metals magnate and billionaire who also has owns a 25 per cent stake in Arsenal football club. Born in 1953 in Chust, Uzbekistan. His father was a state prosecutor in the Soviet republic’s capital, Tashkent. He studied International Law at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations MGIMO from 1976.
Usmanov was arrested and imprisoned in 1980. The website centrasia.ru reports that he and a friend – the son of the deputy head of the Uzbek KGB – were convicted in August 1980 by the Military Tribunal of the Turkestan Military District for “complicity in an official’s receiving bribes and extortion”. Usmanov received an 8 year labor camp sentence and was freed early in 1986.
Herein lies the much debated controversy. On 2 September 2007, Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, referred to Usmanov’s conviction and made numerous accusations. He stated that Usmanov was NOT in fact a political prisoner pardoned after Mikhail Gorbachev but rather “a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail”. Murray claims the pardon was actually the work of Uzbekistan President Islom Karimov on the instructions of Uzbekistani power broker and alleged drug trafficker Gafur Rakhimov. The article was subsequently removed by Murray’s web host under pressure from Usmanov’s legal team – but can still be found online.
Usmanov owns diverse interests including stakes in precious metals, iron ore, steel, natural gas and media companies. In August 2006 however, Usmanov began to invest in media. On the encouragement of the Russian government, he bought Kommersant, one of Russia’s more prominent newspapers.
Usmanov is understood to have joined DST in 2008 when he bought a stake in the fund, and since then he has increased his shareholding. Earlier this week the Russian daily Kommersant reported that he had upped his holding in Digital Sky to 32%, from 30%, by buying half of Renaissance Partners’ 4% stake.
More recently, Usmanov has not had the greatest success with his investments recently. The 5% stake in Norilsk Nickel that he bought last year for $2.5 billion plummeted in value to around half a billion dollars earlier this year.