Tag Archives: WhatsApp

Jew of the Week: Yuri Milner

Yuri Bentsionovich Milner (b. 1961) was born in Moscow. He studied theoretical physics at Moscow State University before working at the prestigious Lebedev Physical Institute. He found that his abilities in physics were not the best (especially because he was placed on a lower track due to his being Jewish), and decided to switch to business. He first tried selling computers, then went to do an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania, becoming the first person from the Soviet Union to officially study in the US. Upon graduation, he got a job at the World Bank, and in 1995 was made CEO of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s investment company. In 1999, Milner read an article and decided it was a good idea to start an online business. He began a series of ventures that brought American-style sites to Russia, including Molotok.ru (the Russian eBay), Boom.ru (free webhosting), and 24×7 (Russia’s Amazon). In 2005, Milner established his own investment fund, Digital Sky Technologies. Five years later, his Mail.ru went public on the London Stock Exchange with a valuation of $5.6 billion. That same year, Milner bought pioneering Israeli instant messaging company ICQ, and has since invested an additional $150 million in Israeli startups. Milner’s venture capital fund has become one of the world’s greatest. He was among the first to invest in Facebook, with an initial $200 million, and plenty more since. He also invested $800 million in Twitter, $125 million in WhatsApp, and $1.6 billion in Alibaba, in addition to Groupon, Snapchat, Airbnb, and Spotify. In 2012, Milner established the Breakthrough Prize, awarding $3 million to great achievements in Physics, Life Sciences, and Mathematics. This is now the largest scientific award in the world, trumping even the Nobel Prize. In 2015, Milner founded the Breakthrough Initiatives to investigate life on other planets. Its first project is a $100 million, 10-year endeavour called “Listen”, searching for radio and laser signals from distant stars with the most sensitive equipment in the world. The most recent Breakthrough Initiative is “Starshot”, investing $100 million to develop a spacecraft that will be accelerated to 20% of the speed of light and take a 20 year journey to our nearest star. Milner also awards (together with Mark Zuckerberg) a $250,000 scholarship to the winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, in addition to $50,000 for that student’s science teacher, and $100,000 for the student’s school science lab. Milner has been on Fortune‘s list of 50 Greatest World Leaders, and TIME’s 100 Most Influential People. He was voted Russia’s Businessman of the Year in 2010, and Man of the Year in 2011, and has been described as “the most interesting man in the world”. Milner recently purchased a house in Los Altos for $100 million, the most ever paid for a single-family home in US history (which the modest Milner was quite embarrassed about). He regularly attends the local synagogue. Milner made the news once again a couple of weeks ago when his Breakthrough Listen project discovered mysterious radio bursts from a distant galaxy, sparking whispers of the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.

Words of the Week

An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions, atheism is very stupid.
– Carl Sagan

Jew of the Week: Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Elliot Zuckerberg (b. 1984) was born in White Plains, New York to a Jewish family with German, Austrian, and Polish ancestry. He excelled in high school, won multiple awards, and by the time he was ready to go to college, knew Hebrew, French, Latin, and Greek. Zuckerberg was first taught programming by his father, and later had a private tutor, who called him a “prodigy”. In his youth, he created an instant messaging app for his father’s dentistry (a year before AOL’s Instant Messenger came out), as well as a music player that learned its user’s listening preferences. Not surprisingly, Zuckerberg went to Harvard to study computer science and psychology. He was a member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi. During this time, he made a number of programs, including one to coordinate with friends to choose the same classes, and another to rank people’s appearance (called Facemash) which was so popular it quickly crashed Harvard’s servers. In early 2004, Zuckerberg launched “Thefacebook”, and soon dropped out of school to work on it. After recruiting some friends, he moved his team to Silicon Valley. It wasn’t long before he had offers to buy out Facebook, which was now sweeping college campuses across the country. Zuckerberg refused, not wanting to have people’s information controlled by “media corporations owned by conglomerates”. The company went public in 2012, valued at a record-setting $104 billion. Today, Facebook boasts 2 billion active users, and nearly $30 billion in revenue. The company also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has become a noted philanthropist. He donated over $100 million in 2010, before becoming America’s biggest charity donor in 2013 when, in a single act, he donated Facebook shares worth nearly $1 billion, making it the largest charitable gift ever. He has since pledged to donate 99% of his wealth. One of his main projects is to bring internet access to the billions of people that still do not have it. Zuckerberg has been ranked first in a list of the “Top 100 most influential people of the Information Age”. In recent years, he has taken a greater interest in both politics and religion. Last December, someone asked “Aren’t you an atheist?” to which he responded: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.” In May, he gave a commencement speech at Harvard (which finally awarded him an honourary degree years after he dropped out) and concluded with a traditional Hebrew Mi Sheberach blessing, stating that he always recited it when faced with challenges. Zuckerberg is still the CEO of Facebook, with a salary of $1. There have been rumours that he is planning to run for president in 2020.

Words of the Week

Just as wisdom is not something you can feel with your hands, Godliness is not something you can grasp with your mind.
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi