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Pavel Durov, Posting On Facebook, Seeks Civil Rights-Friendly Nation To Build A New Startup

TechCrunch TechCrunch 24/04/2014 Ingrid Lunden

This has to be one of more captivating startup pitches of the year. Pavel Durov, the founder of popular Russian social network VKontakte.com, was fired this week from his role as CEO amid claims that the government leaned on him to censor political content on the site. And now, in a (pointedly not on VK.com…), Durov has spoken up again. He says he has set up a temporary headquarters in Central Europe with a group of 12 engineers, and he’s making an open call for people to suggest where they should settle permanently to build new projects “with privacy and freedom of speech in mind.”

“What country or city do you think would suit us best? Please feel free to comment below,” Durov writes. “To give you an idea of our preferences, we dislike bureaucracy, police states, big governments, wars, socialism and excessive regulation. We like freedoms, strong judicial systems, small governments, free markets, neutrality and civil rights.”

As of right now, Durov — who has become a cult figure with his flashing eyes, quirky humor, but serious, defiant attitude – has had dozens of replies, with suggestions ranging from Estonia to Spain, Switzerland and Singapore.

The full text of the note is below.

The developments come after Durov to TechCrunch earlier this week that he had fled Russia and was planning to develop a mobile social network.

Durov notes that the engineers he has brought with him are the same team that worked on — the messaging app that was Durov’s first privacy-focused mobile effort. (One line of argument against Durov by shareholders, in fact, has been that projects like this one have been distracting his attention from VK.com.)

That app, Durov noted in his post, has now seen 40 million downloads in the space of eight months. It’s success has been down to a couple of forces: it taps into the wave of interest in apps that offer more security against the prying eyes of , as well as commercial big data trackers. And it taps into a feeling among some to find alternatives to WhatsApp now that Facebook has acquired it.

Even if 40 million sounds impressive, though, there is still a lot of space between Telegram and the top messaging apps. As a point of comparison, WhatsApp has now . Facebook’s own Messenger app has .

There is a bigger story here about how Durov is going about starting his new venture. He notes that the engineers that have come with him have a strong track record beyond Telegram, with several of them “crucial” in the development of VK.com. In itself that is not great news for VK.com and its owners, as it implies that a strong part of the technical talent behind VK.com has been ripped out.

That kind of destabilization is exactly what VK.com does not need now. “At the current stage it’s important o have good operations, and important to have a full team and make a product for users,” Dmitri Grishin, the CEO of VK.com shareholder Mail.ru, told me yesterday in an interview. More of that interview later.

Durov’s full note below:

As you probably know, I am out of Russia. Me and my team of 12 engineers have a temporary HQ in Central Europe, and we are now looking for a permanent base to work from. We are choosing a new home, a country that will allow us to develop our projects with privacy and freedom of speech in mind.

Our team includes 6 ACM champions and 6 winners of other programming contests. These guys made it possible for Telegram Messenger to gather 40 million registered users worldwide just within 8 months after its launch. Several members of this team, including my brother, were crucial in making VKontakte what it is today — the only social network that defeated Facebook in an open local market. We are now going to build our next project, a mobile social network.

What country or city do you think would suit us best? Please feel free to comment below. To give you an idea of our preferences, we dislike bureaucracy, police states, big governments, wars, socialism and excessive regulation. We like freedoms, strong judicial systems, small governments, free markets, neutrality and civil rights.

P.S. If you happen to represent a government that meets our criteria, you are welcome to share ideas with me at durov2016@gmail.com.

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