It was a seemingly tasteless stunt that caught headlines around the globe for Pavel Durov, the founder of Russia’s biggest social network, VKontakte.
Cameras caught him throwing paper planes made out of 5,000 Russian ruble notes (worth about $157 each in U.S. dollars) from his office windows high above St. Petersburg streets last year. Eventually, a fight broke out as he and another colleague watched below. They stopped as the brawl turned ugly.
So what the hell was he thinking?
Durov explained the backstory behind the bizarre incident onstage today in a surprise interview at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe in Berlin.
“This is one of the funniest moments in the history of our company,” he said.
They were bestowing a big bonus on a friend and vice president at the company. “We began to congratulate him: ‘You’re a rich guy now.'” Durov said.
Durov said the vice president replied, “I don’t work for money. Money is completely not important to me. The idea is what’s important to me.”
Durov responded, “Look, if it’s only the idea that’s important, why don’t you throw away the money? Get rid of it.”
The vice president started to throw the bonus cash out the window, when Durov stopped him. “Don’t throw your money from the window like that. You have to do it in a creative way,” he said.
Durov started showing him how to fold paper planes out of the bills, and they began tossing them out on the street. It ended up being about $4,000 to $5,000 in ruble bills.
“Unfortunately, people at some point started to fight for the money and we stopped our actions, of course,” he said.
Co-editor Alexia Tsotsis asked him what it taught him about human nature.
“Not everybody’s actions are based on ideas. Some people’s actions are based on profit,” he said. “These people on the street clearly showed us that we are pretty much different from the guys downstairs.”
Coincidentally, the paper plane is now the new logo of Durov’s next project, a super-encrypted messaging app called Telegram. The connection between the two was just incidental at first, he says.
“I think it was a couple months ago when we came up with it. It came unintentionally. We just loved the idea of paper planes,” he said. “At first, it wasn’t really related to the paper plane event. But then we realized there was a connection. It’s something that flies fast and free.”