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Going, going, gone - Pavel Durov quits VK

0 2 April 2014

UPDATE: It turns out that we, along with everyone else, were fooled. On 3rd April Durov confirmed that he would not be stepping down as general director of the social network after all. Whether he was joking all along or simply changed his mind is still unclear, after he sent a note to shareholders saying 

“Since it came to my knowledge that my resignation at this moment can create unnecessary risks for our company, I intend to remain and serve as the CEO.”

The saga goes on...


Pavel Durov has officially resigned as general director of VKontakte (VK.com), Russia’s most popular social network. True to form, the maverick entrepreneur chose to make his announcement, which he accompanied with a picture of jumping dolphins and the comment “so long, and thanks for all the fish”, on April Fools Day, leading to frantic speculation as to whether he was joking or being serious. 

It turns out that his resignation is real, and that the decision was taken a few days ago, according to Vedomosti. Dmitry Sergeev is now the acting CEO, while an announcement about the next head of the network is expected later this week.

The move is far from unexpected - a seemingly unresolvable conflict has raged between Durov and the investment fund UCP since it bought 48% of the company in April last year. In January Durov sold his 12% stake to Ivan Tavrin but stayed on as general director, apparently with the support of Mail.ru, which increased its stake in the network to 52% in March with the purchase of Tavrin’s shares

At the same time, Durov has been actively developing a new messenger service, Telegram, which has grown rapidly in the past few months and now has more than 35 million monthly users

Durov’s commitment to Telegram further fuelled the conflict with UCP, who also accused him of blocking moves to monetize VK. However, it seems that the final straw was only indirectly related to this feud. TechCrunch claims that the tipping point came when Durov was put under strong pressure to shut down VK.com pages connected with prominent Russian opposition activist Alexey Navalny, and to give up private data about leaders of the Ukrainian protest movement. They cite a source close to the matter, who described the standoff as “a dead end” for Durov.

In his statement, Durov didn’t mention any specifics, but he did admit that he felt that the principles on which the network was based had come under attack. He wrote that 

“As a result of events following on from the change of shareholders in April 2013, my freedom to run the company as general director has been significantly curtailed. It has become more and more difficult to uphold the principles on which our network has been based from the start. 

Like my brother, who left his role as technical director of VK in the middle of last year, I am stepping down from the position of general director. I want to thank all the users who have supported and inspired me these past 7 years. I will continue to be involved in the life of VK as founder, but an official post in the current circumstances doesn’t interest me.”

Exactly how Durov will remain involved with the project remains to be seen. Alisher Usmanov, Russia’s richest man and the co-owner of Mail.ru Group, commented that 

“Just as I have supported Pavel Durov, so I will continue to support him. I consider him a talented person and I will do everything I can to ensure that his connection with VK isn’t broken.”

Dmitry Grishin, the founder and co-owner of Mail.ru, added that 

“The vision of the founder is very important to us, and we hope to be able to continue to cooperative productively, as we have been doing.” 

UCP are yet to comment on Durov’s departure, but it’s highly unlikely that they share Mail.ru’s desire to keep the founder on board. With or without him, this conflict is far from over. 

Top image via Shutterstock

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