“It is hard not to read the obvious: Who would be more gobsmacked by the implications of social media—the prospect of everyone constantly talking to one another without an arbiter, mediator, or censor—than a citizen of the former Soviet Union? Likewise, who would see it as more revolutionary and valuable?
That is the singular insight that transformed Milner and through which he is transforming technology finance: It seemed worth more to him than to anybody else (at least anybody else with money).
In a way, he is to social media what Michael Milken in the mid-’80s was to many non-credit-worthy companies. Like Milken, Milner, in part through the lens of his own life’s experience, saw another level of value entirely—if the world was being transformed by social media, it was more valuable than anyone thought. And, too, if technology companies had reached a certain level of value, that was a pretty good indication of their permanence.
Accordingly, he upped the ante and put social media and himself at the center of technological development.
Indeed, there is a different or further mission. He’s more beholden, he’s more in awe, than the Silicon Valley establishment—blasè9 or cynical as any other establishment—is of its geniuses. There is always something vaguely oppositional about the relationship VCs have with the companies they invest in. They are trying to maximize their positions, to pay as little as possible and cash out for as much as possible. Milner—now the singular link between the major players of social media, Zuckerberg at Facebook, Mark Pincus at Zynga, Andrew Mason at Groupon, Jack Dorsey at Twitter, Daniel Ek at Spotify—is not thinking about individual deals but is aligning himself financially and strategically with the founders and reaping the benefits. Already, he competes with the topmost VCs in terms of personal wealth, and he is arguably now more important—Milner is setting the price.
Next year, in Scotland, Milner tells me, he will host a gathering of all the Internet companies in the world that have a valuation of more than $1 billion—he is setting the agenda, reordering the power structure.
In a sense, the elites of Silicon Valley have a good reason to be suspicious of Milner. He has stolen, or at least moved, the center of their world.”