Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Russia and Web 2.0


When I was in Moscow last, a lot of the talk was centered around attracting foreign capital to tech investments in Russia. The pitch is - or should be - familiar: lower costs, big market, super-bright engineers and scientists. The downside is lack of transparency and a very unique business environment that is difficult (or impossible) to navigate as an outsider. Today's announcement that Facebook has taken $200 million at first looks like a kind of a reversal in this trend: tech oriented Russians still have capital to deploy and may be choosing to spend it on bargain opportunities in the US market, which remains preeminent in technology development.

A closer look, though, suggests this is a part of a trend that has been gaining steam. Russians have been developing and investing in Web technology for a long while. Yes, Google was co-founded by a Russian, but there has been a number of interesting developments based in Russia itself. The Russian firm Yandex is often described as the "Russian Google" and has picked up small Russian social networking companies like Moi Krug on the cheap (someday there long awaited IPO will happen). SUP, run by American-in-Moscow Andrew Paulson, picked up LiveJournal to support their Russian users, and now Yuri Milner's fund takes a position in Facebook. Milner is the founder of mail.ru, a former physicist, and Wharton alumn.

Watch carefully: the Russians are coming to Silicon Valley and it's been a largely under-noted trend. I've met some of these folks and they are very capable businessmen.

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