Digital Sky Technologies is the new owner of just less than 2% of Facebook, paying a whopping $200 million for the privilege. But it’s still a bargain compared to what Microsoft and others paid – this current round values Facebook at a third less than the $15 billion valuation they accepted in October 2007. We live blogged the press call on the announcement earlier today.
The full transcript of the video is below. One thing that isn’t clear is why Facebook took the money. Late last year Zuckerberg said he’d be willing to raise more, but only at the $15 billion valuation. Now they’ve raised money at $10 billion, even though they still say they’re approaching profitability and don’t really need it. We discuss that in the interview, but the answer still eludes us.
Milner is a colorful character. He was the first Russian to get an American MBA – he graduated from Wharton Business School in 1992. Instead of taking a U.S. investment banking job he returned to Russia “to take advantage of the developing free markets,” he said, adding “My idea is to be in the most useful place in the proper time.”
Milner’s DST has made investments in Mail.ru, the “Yahoo of Russia,” and Vkontakte.ru, the largest Russian social network with 34 million users. Vktontakte, by the way, looks a lot like Facebook.
It hasn’t been all roses and champagne for Milner. He was an executive at Bank Menatep, the company that had an indirect controlling interest in Yukos Oil Company and was involved in the $4.8 billion diversion of International Monetary Fund funds. That entity was accused of having ties to organized crime, and some of Milner’s colleagues are still in prison (there have never been any accusations against Milner at all). His time at Bank Menatap is not mentioned on his DST bio.
One thing Milner doesn’t seem bothered by is the lack of a board seat at Facebook, a sticking point for the company.
Michael Arrington: I’m here with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of Facebook and new investor Yuri Millner from Digital Sky technologies. Hey guys. First of all congratulations to both of you, you’ve got some more money Mark, and Yuri, you’ve got a piece of facebook. How much do you own?
Yuri Milner: 1.96%
MA: 1.96% Plus there will be more when you buy common stock in a couple of months
YM: Yes, depends, you know, we’ll see how much.
MA: Why did you invest in Facebook?
YM: Because it’s a great business
MA: You’re comfortable with the $10B valuation?
YM: Absolutely. And, you know, I can repeat the reasons why. Basically, I think they have a very unique perspective on social network monetization, that other investors don’t necessarily see. You see how social networks have been monetized in our part of the world, and we’re just doing our math and coming up with numbers that we feel very comfortable with going forward. We don’t really value this business on (fee?) basis 2009 but rather on a longer term, based again on our experience, and we’re very confident that, you know, those numbers can be achieved.
MA: And what revenue numbers are you looking at for 2009
YM: Well we…you know, it’s a question for Mark. We’ve done our due diligence but I’m not sure I can disclose that.
MA: Is it $550M Mark, is that what you’re telling investors?
Mark Zuckerberg: You know, I mean like anyone who’s doing diligence on the company gets to see the forecast, and we’ve said three things, (I’m so confused about whether to look into the camera…)
MA: Camera’s best
MZ: We’ve said three things publicly about our finances for this year. And one is that we’ve been cash flow positive for 5 quarters. Another is that revenue is growing 70% year over year at least and that you know, we’re really happy with just given the economic climate. And the third is that we expect that on our forecast we’ll be cash flow positive in 2010, along the cash level that we had before doing this investment.
So, that really made it so that when we were thinking about doing this we had a lot of optionality as to pick the partner that would be best for us and find the terms that would make the most sense for us and a lot of the investments in the portfolio that Yuri and DST have were really attractive for us in terms of the insight and understanding that they have in this space, so you were just talking about this a bit, but it’s really interesting how all of the different Russian social networks, and he has stakes in all of them, monetize in different ways, but all very effectively. Right so, we’re not looking at that and saying we want to do any of those specific models right now, but it is a very directional, it is an interesting directional indicator of how far we can expect things to scale and I think when coming up with valuation analysis, that’s why it was so simple for you to do, and that’s kind of how we were thinking.
MA: Would you have paid a higher valuation? What was your top price?
MZ: So that’s the question that you never ask after it’s done. I don’t want to know the answer to that.
MA: But I’d love to know the answer .
MA: Yuri, are you a FB user?
MA: When did you create your account?
YM: It was not an extremely active account but it will be more active now
MA: You’re going to be clicking those ads. And, do you have many friends?
YM: I’ve been using more local networks in Russia
MA: You’re going to stop doing that as much.
YM: I will just use more.
MA: You’re going to social network a lot more.
YM: Yes, I’m just a big fan of social networks
MA: How popular is FB in Russia, just on the streets talking to people. Is FB THE thing?
YM: You know among people who kind of travel a lot and have exposure to the United States and some other countries, they do have accounts, but you know, Russia is not exactly the place with multiple language skills so local networks kind of have an edge. But I mean, going forward, it’s not inconceivable that people would be members of two social networks. I mean, that’s what we see in Russia, I mean, between our properties I think about 30% of people have multiple accounts. And they’re not really migrating, which is interesting.
MA: How do you feel about that? People on two different social networks? Does that work for you?
MZ: It’s interesting and it’s evolving pretty quickly but (sorry gotta look at the camera now) .
MA: Just do whatever’s comfortable.
MZ: A lot of times people ask us about, this comes up a lot when we’re talking about our platform strategy, right because, people ask us how we see the system evolving to become more open and the way that I think about is that in the early days of an industry, take for example Apple with the PC, it really makes sense to have one company doing the whole thing to kind of birth the concept and bring it out to the market, but over time if it’s a really important industry, then what will happen is people will specialize and people will do different aspects of it. Just like what happened with the pc and you get companies that focused on chips, companies that focused on other parts of hardware, companies that focused on software applications, operating systems, etc. I think we’re going to see more and more of that with social networking as well. So what started off as one monolithic thing will end up becoming a more decentralized model, and that’s a lot of what we’re trying to do with FB connect. Now, I think a big implication of that is that people will use different services.
MA: FB connect, is that the intel, the Microsoft, or the Dell in your analogy?
MZ: That’s taking analogies too far.
MA: So we’ll stick with the Apple analogy to start
MZ: There are any number of examples of the start of industries starting off centralized and becoming more decentralized and I think that one of the natural implications of that is that people will use multiple services and that the services will interoperate, and I think that’s kind of the world that we’re moving towards.
MA: Yeah, and FB will be the plumbing.
MZ: Hopefully we’ll provide a lot of utility in being people’s, in helping people share their identity and communicating with friends and the people around them.
MA: So kind of a combined Microsoft, Intel. (MZ laughs) I don’t expect an answer. I do have one question that’s sort have been on the top of my mind. We met late last year November, December and we talked about funding at that time, and you had said, look, we’re open to investing more, the $15 B valuation, we’re not really actively looking, we’re talking to some people, I don’t want to misquote you but basically what you said was: open to raising more at that valuation. Now clearly things have changes, and there’s no reason things wouldn’t change, but can you just talk me through the difference between now and then because you talk about If anything, your financial situation has gotten significantly stronger. You almost didn’t need to raise this money based on what you’re saying.
MZ: We did this to increase our option value for the future. We have no plans to use this money immediately and we may never use it. We may use it to make an acquisition or to open up data centers, if some strategic option makes itself avail and now we might be able to do it whereas otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to , that’s the option value that we gain through this investment. Just to clarify where we were before, what I was trying to kind of explain was our approach to the follow-ons after Microsoft. Right so there was the Microsoft investment of the $15 B valuation and then there were a series of other investments that we did afterwards at the same terms. And that was basically an analogous approach to us where we weren’t going out saying ok we need this money, we want to find money on whatever terms it comes on we’ll get it. We kind of said, if people want to invest at these terms that we think are good terms, and we’re really comfortable with the people, then we’ll go ahead do that. And that’s really similar to where we are now. And obviously the market is at a lower position so the terms aren’t exactly the same but fundamentally, this wasn’t a financing where we said we need to go out and raise the money to make our operating plan work, it was more one where people started approaching us and these conversations have been going on for a while, right. I don’t remember the last time that we talked about this but basically we’ve been talking to folks for a while. Recently it kind of got to the stage where we realized we have good caliber of people that we’re talking to the terms are in a good range, let’s actually go do this thing and we kind of finalized that we wanted to work with Yuri and DST and then we nailed it all down.
MA: How close did you get with General Atlantic and Silverlake?
MZ: We talked to a number of firms earlier in the process, as I was just saying, and just because things are going really well and growing quickly. I think a number of different firms…
MA: Things are definitely growing. How many, 30m users a month you’re adding, is that right? It’s about 30.
MZ: It’s growing quickly.
MA: Comscore’s over 300 million now. It’s the whole internet, there’s no one left.
MZ: Our internal numbers are lower than Comscore’s because Comscore is tracking all the unique visitors but we’re focusing on active users. But it’s growing really quickly.
so a bunch of folks just approached us to do different things and as time went on we kind of zeroed in on where we wanted to be and that’s when we really started talking seriously about what the final terms would be, and that’s where we are now.
MA: How many acquisitions will you make this year, if you just had to guess. I mean, you’re clearly going to get more active in that.
MZ: So unless I’m missing something, we’ve made one acquisition and it was this talent acquisition which in my mind was one of the coolest things that we’ve done. We got two exceptionally bright guys. Blake Ross, who is now one of the key folks on the product side at FB and Joe Hewitt, who has single handedly built out much of our mobile stuff including the iphone app by himself and just really cool. Our track record I guess you could say is we’re one for one. Might make us want to explore more of that. Honestly, to me, being cash flow positive is also really important. So I’m not looking to take this money and go do a bunch of things with it immediately. We will continue looking at talent acquisition just as we had over the last period of time and if any make a lot of sense, then we’ll surely go ahead and do it , and this money might make it more possible for that to happen, but the plan isn’t to use it for that.
MA: Yuri, more investments to come in the US?
YM: Well I have Stage 2 coming. So let’s complete this one and then have a look.
MA: Ok great, thanks very much for your time guys.