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Going, going, nearly gone... Pavel Durov sells up

0 28 January 2014

Pavel Durov has, at last, sold his 12% stake in leading Russian social network VKontakte. 

In a post on his VK page he explained that 

"The things you own, sooner or later, end up owning you.

For the last few years I have actively tried to rid myself of possessions - selling them or giving them away - whether they be furniture, stuff, property or companies. However, to achieve my goal I still needed to free myself from my biggest possession - my 12% stake in VKontakte. I am pleased that not long ago I managed to do this, by selling my stake to my friend Ivan Tavrin.

These changes will hardly affect the management of VKontakte - the board of directors listens to my opinion not because I do or don’t hold a stake in the company, but because I created the network and I understand how it works. I am not going anywhere and I intend to continue to monitor the quality of VKontakte. At the end of the day VKontakte is the best thing in the Russian communication sector, and it is my responsibility to look after and defend it.”

Although Durov’s post has received over 137,000 likes (and counting), not everyone believes that he took the decision so willingly or independently. It is surely no coincidence that Tavrin, who bought the shares, is an ally of Alisher Usmanov, Russia’s richest man and owner of Mail.ru Group, whose 40% stake in VK is (or was?) managed by Durov.

Durov’s claim that the changes won’t affect the management of VK also seem somewhat farfetched. Just last week individuals close to Usmanov were installed as vice-president, chief financial officer and head of investor relations, tightening the oligarch’s grip on the company. 

Exactly what this means for the future of Russia’s most popular social network, which last week recorded over 60 million hits in a day for the first time, is unclear. Anna Lepetukhina, an analyst at Sberbank CIB, thinks that Durov's exit might make the company more profit oriented:

“He created a mix of a social network and a video-site where people don’t just chat, but spend a lot of time watching movies and listening to music. However, he cared about audience, not monetization.” 

Nikolay Kononov, the author of “The Durov Code” and chief editor of business news site Hopes and Fears, is pessimistic

“speculating about VKontakte’s future is a pretty depressing task. It’s likely that Sherbovich   will sell his 48% stake (which he bought in May last year) - mission accomplished… Usmanov will probably buy it - he’s happy working with Tavrin.

There is a risk that VK’s new management will be more pliant than Durov to requests from the security services to shut down opposition groups or hand over info about them.”

As for Durov’s future, Kononov suggests that 

"Once he’s handed over the running of VKontakte to a new CEO, Durov will probably get to work on a new project, only not in Russia, but in a more ‘developed’ country.”
Top image via Shutterstock

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