When a SWAT staff appeared at Pavel Durov’s door in St. Petersburg, he began fascinated with his future in Russia.
He was once residence by myself, and he peered at them via a screen.
“They had weapons and so they appeared very critical,” mentioned Durov, as soon as Russia’s largest superstar entrepreneur. “They looked as if it would need to break the door.”
Now not long ago, Durov, 30, used to be viewed as Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg. He founded a social network, vkontakte, which is more standard in Russia than fb, and made a splash with the aid of publicly providing Edward Snowden a job.
Then the Kremlin tightened its grip over the internet and President Vladimir Putin’s allies took regulate of vkontakte. Durov sooner or later offered his closing stake for thousands and thousands and fled Russia in April, after resisting govt pressure to release the information of Ukrainian protest leaders.
Durov, known for his subversive wit and an all-black cloth wardrobe that inspires Neo from the “Matrix” motion pictures, is now a bit-seen nomad, moving from u . S . To united states each few weeks with a small band of pc programmers. One day he’s in Paris, some other in Singapore.
“Me myself, i am not a huge fan of the idea of countries,” Durov mentioned, wearing a custom-made pass between a hoodie and a game coat.
When he arrived with little warning in London for his 1st interview outdoor our on-line world because leaving Russia, he used to be en route to San Francisco, where he regarded at a know-how convention on Tuesday. He’s surfacing to showcase his new messaging app, Telegram, for people craving privacy and safety.
His odyssey displays the changing nature of the web in Russia.
The web was as soon as viewed so that you can diversify Russia’s economy beyond oil. When vkontakte began in 2006, Durov says, he expected his use of a as a tax-free and libertarian utopia for technologists.
“The perfect thing about Russia at that time was once the web sphere used to be totally not regulated,” he stated. “In many ways, it used to be more liberal than the us.”
Now the internet is seen with suspicion by way of Putin, who has called it a “CIA venture” and has taken steps to insulate Russia from the rest of the digital world. One leading Russian activist recently mentioned the government was once on a “campaign to shut down the web.”
“On the grounds that i am clearly a believer in free markets,” Durov said, “it’s exhausting for me to take into account the current route of the u . S ..”
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Russia’s economic system can also be an increasing number of remote, with its forex plummeting amid Western sanctions. The federal government is now predicting a recession for subsequent 12 months. Putin’s big challenge is falling oil prices, which Durov calls “the one chance” for economic and political reform.
“When the petrol prices are high, there is not any incentive for these reforms,” he stated. “it might keep like this ceaselessly; no one actually cares.”
As the tensions in Russia play out, Durov says he’s all in favor of Telegram, which he started final year.
There will likely be no out of doors traders, he says, no commercials and no advertising, and it’s on hand free, although he’s more likely to in the end cost for additional products and services. He says he has about 50 million customers, almost solely outdoor Russia.
While he is smooth-spoken, his rebellious humor has gotten him in hassle, as he would be the 1st to confess.
In 2011, the federal government demanded he shut down the pages of opposition politicians after controversial parliamentary elections. He answered with the aid of posting to Twitter an image of a dog with its tongue out and carrying a hoodie. All the way through the standoff with the SWAT group, which passed off soon after, he wouldn’t answer the door. They went residence after an hour.
Then there was once Victory Day in 2012, when Russia celebrates the defeat of the Nazis. He posted on Twitter that “67 years ago Stalin defended from Hitler his right to suppress Soviet folks.”
It created an outcry at a time of rising nationalism.
Durov grinned.”It was once a catastrophe.”
A few weeks later, he and different vkontakte executives folded 5,000-ruble notes – price about $155 on the time – into paper airplanes and threw them out an place of job window, sparking a combat in the street under.
He stated that from his vantage point he couldn’t see what was taking place on the road and stopped when he was once instructed folks were combating.
Durov has additionally described himself, with tongue in cheek, as a Pastafarian, a quirky atheistic ‘faith’ that may involve wearing a colander to your head.
“I wish to make enjoyable of great matters,” he says, including that he is nearer to a Taoist or Buddhist. “i am a peaceful creature; i am vegetarian. I don’t like wars.”
With the aid of 2013, the government was once bearing down. He used to be aggressively prosecuted for a disputed hit-and-run involving a visitors officer, which Durov says by no means came about. At the comparable time, he learned 48 % of vkontakte had been offered to allies of Putin, despite a contractual requirement to give him right of 1st refusal.
Durov realized programming from his brother, Nikolai, a mathematician and Durov’s right-hand man at vkontakte and Telegram. Via eleven, the youthful Durov used to be coding his personal variations of video games like “Tetris.” the two developed a method recreation set in historic China, which they called “Lao Unit.”
At St. Petersburg State college, Durov studied linguistics. In lieu of defense force service, he skilled in propaganda, studying solar Tzu, Genghis Khan and Napoleon, and he discovered to make posters aimed toward influencing foreign infantrymen.
The posters mentioned issues like “you’re surrounded, give up, there isn’t any hope,” or they’d counsel to international squad dies that “every other man is wonderful himself with your wife,” he recalled.
His major passion was creating a social network. A pal who studied in the usa showed him facebook, then in its infancy, and he discovered from it.
“Some things like the format of the early vkontakte was very influenced through fb,” Durov stated. “in any other case it could possibly take a while for me to construct, and i was once not a certified clothier.”
He also recruited fellow linguistics college students to construct a database catering to the submit-Soviet college system, a step he stated gave vkontakte “an enormous aggressive benefit.”
In 2007, he made up our minds to permit users to upload audio and video files, without regard to copy right. Such insurance policies have drawn criticism from the U.S. change consultant and complaints from major document labels.
“Some folks informed me once I was implementing it that i would go to reformatory tomorrow,” he said. “I used to be very careless.”
Demonstrations in 2011 over parliamentary elections resulted in a govt showdown. During the SWAT standoff at his residence that adopted, he referred to as his brother.
“I realized I do not have a safe manner of communications with him,” he said, including, “that is how Telegram began.”
Telegram is competing in a crowded box of messaging apps that promise varying levels of safety. Telegram has its fans and detractors, however it was once rated respectably in a contemporary evaluation via the electronic Frontier foundation. The Telegram firm, based in Berlin, has a deliberately advanced structure of scattered international shell corporations designed to keep it a step in advance of subpoenas from anyone government.
“This is very extraordinary for Russian entrepreneurs, to be triumphant outdoor of Russia,” said Sergei Guriev, a distinguished economist who fled Russia last 12 months. “He might not be a ordinary individual in some ways, but he’s certainly an awfully proficient entrepreneur.”
When Durov bought his stake in vkontakte closing December, there was speculation it was price a few hundred million bucks. Durov would not provide a specific determine, citing a nondisclosure settlement.
“In my days in Russia, I visited some very wealthy guys,” he said. “I visited large ships, personal airplanes, houses – and i know needless to say I don’t need this for myself.”
“I’m more than happy right now without any property anyplace,” he delivered. “I believe myself a criminal citizen of the world.”