A New Style of Russian Roulette


In the tech world there was of course Sergey and that little pet project of his (and Larry’s) at Stanford we came to know as Google. Then there was Max and his partners- unfurling the behemoth of PayPal and then Slide.

In the fight game Andrei Arlovski appeared suddenly out of nowhere, shaking-up the heavyweight division in the UFC with some magnificent wins. But then came the ascent of the legendary fighter Fedor Emilianenko, also known as “The Last Emperor”, who may be the greatest mixed martial artist the world has ever seen.

In boxing the amazing Klitschko brothers, Vladimir and Vitali, wear practically all the world’s heavyweight championship belts between the two of them. Vitali also happens to hold a PhD and I am told both play a mean game of chess.

In high stakes poker Ivan Demidov exploded on the scene in 2008 making the final table at both the World Series of Poker and World Series of Poker Europe.

In chess the Russians have of course been absolutely dominant for almost a century. Kasparov went out on top as the world’s #1 a few years ago, is running his own political movement, and now is throwing his support to his old nemisis, Karpov, in the latter’s bid to become the new President of FIDE, the world chess federation.

Here in the US, the NBA has now cleared mega-billionaire Mikhail “The Giraffe” Prokhorov’s purchase of the New Jersey Nets (not to mention the major stake in the Brooklyn arena in which they’ll be playing). Any whiff of oligarchism is off the rose- this guy is 6’7″, likes to jet-ski (check this out) and was wrongfully arrested a while ago in France for traveling with too many attractive women. They erroneously thought he was pimping. He was just living his life.

That brings us to the VC game where Yuri Milner and the boys at Digital Sky Technologies have made a huge splash. They swaggered in with some Goldman Sachs polish, rolled up in limos and started laying massive bets all over the table. Valuations were suddenly off the charts. Liquidation preferences? They thought you meant Stolichnaya. “No thanks, we’ll just take common shares.” Some players in the VC and PE community looked up bleary-eyed from the dingy tables they’d been playing all night and said, “what the f@#$ just happened?”.  Meanwhile, entrepreneurs like the CEO of Groupon were quoted as saying:

“DST is just cool….. I think they’re disrupting the entire late-stage investment business. They are good at identifying exceptional companies and getting behind them in a way that entrepreneurs want them to. They don’t get all caught up in terms. They are very accommodating.” (Source: Business Insider, SAI)

In startups there is of course the phenomenon of high-school drop-out Andrey Ternovskiy, who rolled-out Chatroulette from the cramped confines of a Soviet-era apartment in the outskirts of Moscow after being inspired by the movie Deer Hunter! He is young and raw and not into the usual niceties. Word on the street is that Fred Wilson pulled some strings with immigration to get him over here with a special Visa. Milner too sent a limo to pick the kid up, but the lad wasn’t impressed. I hear he’s been making the rounds in Cali and is speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt this week. Something tells me this is one savvy kid and he’s here to stay.

It also seems to me that much like so many of his erstwhile countrymen, he’s having the time of his life playing this new game- and playing it his own way

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Dave is a New York-based Serial Entrepreneur, Angel Investor and Board Member of New York Tech Meetup. He is also the Director of the Venture Lab at Columbia University Tech Ventures where he has spun-off 50+ start-ups based on university intellectual property.
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