This is my first trip to Moscow, and Yuri Milner, the world’s most successful investor in social media, is taking me to his parents’ apartment, which he bills as a typical middle-class Moscow dwelling. It’s drab Soviet brick outside. The none-too-reliable-looking elevator is encircled by a crumbling staircase. But inside, the apartment is genteel and highly recognizable to me. It’s like many you would find on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a cramped and comfortable set of rooms without a recent paint job, filled with too many tchotchkes and way too many books. Milner’s father, Boris, is an 81-year-old former professor—a specialist, during the Soviet era, in American management practices no less—who has written or edited more than 50 books and is eager to show me all of them. Do I know, surely I do, Professor So-and-So at Ohio State or Professor So-and-So at Georgia Tech? His less garrulous mother, Betti, who lays out a table of tea and copious sweets, is a physician who practiced at the Moscow Department for Disease Prevention for almost 40 years.
The message seems clear: Milner may have invested in virtually every social media powerhouse, from Facebook to Twitter to Spotify. He might be the vanguard of an entirely new financial philosophy. He might be the most controversial money guy in Silicon Valley—sought after, feared, and derided in more or less equal measure. But at heart he is just a nice Jewish boy.