Germany's Facebook cloner made €10m – but isn't happy

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StudiVZ founder Ehssan Dariani, who got booted from his own company shortly after acquisition, has finally unleashed what appears to be a tsunami of pent-up anger at the event, in an interview with German quality newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. He tries to compare his genius to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, but the interview leaves mostly the impression of someone with plenty of cash but rather too much time to brood. Dariani sounds bitter and disappointed in what the “paperboys from Stuttgart” made of his once successful German Facebook clone with 6 million registered members.

Being booted from StudiVZ “was extremely rude and without any contractual base” he says. It happened after a week-long fight. Holtzbrincks managers made comments in meetings that he decided to correct, er, sharply. “They were such corporate careerists in their forties who didn’t like to be rebuked in public by a tween”, Dariani says. But he also had some bad press during that time with some embarassing Youtube videos

…generally in nightclubs

… and inviting people to his birthday party with a website that looked like Hitler’s Nazi propaganda paper, Völkischer Beobachter. Oh yes.

Last year StudiVZ lost €13 million. The buyer, German newspaper publisher Holtzbrinck, more or less killed all innovation at the company since the acquisition in 2007 and made StudiVZ a boring administrative unit of their corporation. Moreover, they are fighting about the terms of the acquisition: Holtzbrinck alledgedly doesn’t want to be successful with StudiVZ because then it would have to pay bigger earnout payments to Dariani and other ex-managers. Thus Dariani accuses them of laying off good people in favour of worse, cheaper hires. While he managed the site successfully, his successor didn’t even use StudiVZ for a long time. “That’s like promoting a BMW boss who doesn’t even have a driving license.”

The 29 years old Dariani now sits on €10 million and has no real plans for the future. He talks to different people and plays around with some ideas, but it appears, not much else. He says he’d find being an investor boring. Also he cannot imagine getting a normal job where his salary would be dwarfed by his fortune. Süddeutsche Zeitung calculates that he makes €300,000 per year after taxes from his money’s returns alone and Dariani admits that the number “isn’t entirely wrong”.

Earning €10 milion was “less exciting than people assume” because early talks were about much bigger sums. Yahoo, Facebook and newspaper publisher Springer were also interested. Yahoo even wanted to pay a three-digit million sum but Holtzbrinck finally got StudiVZ for €85 million, although TechCrunch firstly reported €100 million. Dariani’s mum was proud and cried when she saw his bank statement, but nevertheless he isn’t happy.

Maybe it would have been best to merge with Facebook, he muses, because users would have profited from the most innovative product. He admits that StudiVZ is just a clone but insists that he doesn’t like to see his personality compared with such a derogatory term. “I am too vain for that, I like to be standing in the center of the solar system.”

  • kayoone

    Well, studivz lost to facebook already, they will be gone in 2 years i guess.
    Dariani is a strange guy but he definatly made good money from this deal.

    • http://uk.techcrunch.com/author/milo-yiannopoulos/ Milo Yiannopoulos

      He sounds… charming.

      • http:faler.wordpress.com Wille

        He certainly sounds.. “charming”, but I wonder if this piece could be categorized as objective reporting or thinly veiled jealousy towards a guy who made it big but lacks some interpersonal skills?
        Sentences written like “The 29 years old Dariani now sits on €10 million and has no real plans for the future. He talks to different people and plays around with some ideas, but it appears, not much else” would suggest the latter.
        Dude, he just made €10 million, can you blame him for taking some time on the sidelines? :D

      • http://uk.techcrunch.com Mike Butcher

        Then why bitch about the company that made you rich? Start something new and can the crap.

      • http://www.goebel.net/ Markus Göbel

        And why does he say it himself in these words during the interview?

  • http://- Chris

    Markus, you should have done just some more research before writing this article. have you ever talked to mr dariani at all?

    1) VZ has about 15 mio. users now
    2) do you know the exit contract of mr dariani? holtzbrinck has not paid him the money for almost 50% of his shares – 3 years after buying the company. would you be happy?
    3) 2 out of 4 team members are suing holtzbrinck for breach of contract today. it is not only dariani but also dario suter. 2 others were given a “secret” deal. why secret? some say those 2 were taken “bribes” and shares (investment opportinities) to stay calm.
    4) those videos were viral videos on studiVZ’s chief entertaining blog from early days and show his friends! everybody from the company including investors were fine with them. Katja and Christin (subway video) are good friends and Dewaki (girl from restroom video) makes compliments about dariani in the video and only complaints about the other snobs on the party. what s the problem?
    5) bday invitation clearly was a persiflage. charlie chaplin, helge schneider, the musical “the producers”, titanic magazine… do all similar things. no reason for criticism.

  • http://- Chris

    Dariani also clearly does not compare himself with zuckerberg or anybody else. i wonder why you can say this. Paid by Holtzbrinck?

  • http://- Chris

    Oh, now I see thanks to http://www.goebel.net:
    Mr Markus Göbel is very close to and often paid by Holtzbrinck’s “Wirtschaftswoche” and “eBusiness Wirtschaftswoche”. Now Mr Göbel’s talking bad and “bad interpreting” of Mr Dariani’s interview makes much more sense, Mr. Göbel…

  • http://- Chris

    Dear Mike
    you should not allow techcrunch to be used for such an obvious PR campaign from Holtzbrinck against Mr Dariani. This is not a good standard of journalism.

  • http://- Chris

    the so called bad press (videos & bday invitation) was many months BEFORE the exit in january 2007. and even before holtzbrinck ventures decided to invest in studiVZ in august 2006. it was NOT WHILE mr dariani had an – how you call it – “week-long fight” with holtzbrinck’s incompetent managers. mr dariani’s criticism is about the revenues of studiVZ that were heavily manipulated. e.g. holtzbrinck let dozens of its 100% companies and startups (it was invested in by holtzbrinck ventures) get reach by studivz but: they did not paid the “market price”, got significant discounts, did not competitors in…etc.
    After all, this techcrunch article that was delivered by a de facto holtzbrinck author seems to be full of… let s call it “untruths” or at least is very poorly investigated. this is certainly not what one could call journalism.

  • kayoone

    @Chris
    What are you ? Dariani Fanboy or some person involved ? I guess the latter…
    stop spamming comments on how everything is wrong in this article, because it isnt.

    When you want to bitch about the content of this article, you should turn to SZ as they did the interview and thats what dariani said, Markus Göbel is not stating false facts here.

    He did alot of questionable things, and the public views it just like this article does…bitching about that now is lame, if dariani acted more mature back then he wouldnt be such a controversial person.
    Now you might say things like “studivz wouldnt have succeeded without darianis behavior”, but id call BS for that as 99.9% of studivz users dont even know where he is.

  • kayoone

    ahm, who he is of course ;)

  • http://www.goebel.net/ Markus Göbel

    1) Dariani says: “Normally I don’t compare myself to anyone. I am too vain for that, I like to be standing in the center of the solar system. But others [Zuckerberg] also can be standing there. The Facebook management said back then that I had a certain similarity to Zuckerberg.” He is clearly alluding to Zuckerberg and points to this comparation that others made. This is also a comparation, he could have just shut up.

    2) VZ has about 15 mio. users now? Well, their official press page says that StudiVZ has nearly 6 mio. members. I didn’t write about the other networks.

    3) Your internal information about the exit deal is juicy. Too bad that Dariani didn’t mention them in his interview, it would have interested me.

    4) An obvious PR campaign from Holtzbrinck against Mr Dariani? I am not their stealth weapon, you are overstating me. I just worked as freelancer for Holtzbrinck writing technology articles. BTW: “Who pays this guy?” is one of Michael Arrington’s “Ten Comments You Think Are Cool And Insightful But Aren’t” (http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/10/28/ten-comments-you-think-are-cool-and-insightful-but-arent/).

    5) Dariani should never have given such a harsh interview. It really harmed himself. Next time you better tell him before.

    • http://- Chris

      Dear Kayoone, are you a holtzbrinck fanboy?
      the buyer, stefan von holtzbrinck, is a billionaire. that cheated at him and others. no matter if it s about 10 mio or 100mio or just 50 dollar. you pay the price and get the product. you dont take the product that is worth more and dont pay the seller(s). the latter is called theft. it is theft no matter if the seller is poor, a millionaire or bill gates. think about it.

  • http://- Chris

    advice to markus: next time better talk to him directly and investigate…
    and focus on really relavant facts: i.e.: a big corp buys a company and does not pay for 50% of the shares of the main share holder and founder that was really not experienced with this kind of mergers – 3 years later he still has to fight for his money. this is the real scandal. and definitely not his young and perhaps immature sense of humour years ago.

    • kayoone

      yeah, like 10M EUR (15M USD) are a bad deal for a 26 year old working on a facebook ripoff for 1 1/2 years…
      he isnt even a coder, hes just a smack talker.
      He has absolutly nothing to be angry about.

      • http://- Chris

        Dear Kayoone, are you a holtzbrinck fanboy?
        the buyer, stefan von holtzbrinck, is a billionaire. that cheated at him and others. no matter if it s about 10 mio or 100mio or just 50 dollar. you pay the price and get the product. you dont take the product that is worth more and dont pay the seller(s). the latter is called theft. it is theft no matter if the seller is poor, a millionaire or bill gates. think about it.

      • kayoone

        holtzbrink fanboy ? absolutly not. I just cant stand Dariani, as he is an arrogant prick who was lucky.
        StudiVZ price was already overrated as it was clear that they would sometime lose to facebook…
        so 10M is more than he deserved anyway, he should be happy, really happy.

  • Hendrik Roeschke

    After having read Dariani’s interview and this article, I come to the conclusion that the author Markus Goebel obviously wanted to please his Holzbrink bosses with this article with or without direct orders! Shame on you!!

    This is a serious damage to the brand of techcrunch and should not be tolerated.

  • a full-time nerd

    I know Dariani — he might be a little over-creative at times, but he is looking for challenges and veritable talent out there. Communication skills are probably not his sharpest tool — however, I read his interview carefully, and all he states is that his management philosophy for studiVZ did not go hand in hand with what typical VC guys want. What do we learn from this? Not much, just that Dariani has his very own ways of transforming a company from some fancy idea to stages of growth (copying something as obvious as Facebook at the right time requires courage and the right timing — it is certainly not the greatest intellectual achievement on earth, nor is it innovative, but it works!).

    Leave him alone, period.

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