Mr Milner’s story, like his growing portfolio, combines American ideas with Russian opportunities. The son of an economist and a doctor, he studied particle physics at Moscow State University and worked as a researcher at the Soviet Union’s prestigious Academy of Sciences.
As the transformation of the country accelerated in 1990, “instead of sticking around and doing useful stuff like privatising oil companies, I went to the US to study,” Mr Milner jokes. He became the first Russian graduate of the Wharton School of Business, after which he spent three years at the World Bank working on Russia’s emerging financial sector. He then joined Menatep, the bank founded and formerly owned by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oil tycoon arrested in 2003. Mr Milner set up a brokerage and an investment banking arm at Menatep before leaving in 1997.
After two years working in private equity – buying and selling Extra M, the largest Russian maker of macaroni – he read some internet research by Mary Meeker, the Morgan Stanley analyst, and fixed upon the idea of starting Russian analogues of Yahoo, Ebay and Amazon. Mr Milner makes no apologies for his copycat approach: “I’m not that creative,” he says. He and partner Gregory Finger both put in $700,000 and took in $4m from a New York fund to get going. “We had a very good 12 months. Then everything stopped,” Mr Milner says, with the end of the dotcom bubble.