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Business Leader of the Week: Meet Telegram founder Pavel Durov, UAE’s richest expat

IFM_Telegram CEO Pavel Durov
Pavel Durov was listed on the Forbes Billionaires List in 2022, with a net worth of USD 15.1 billion dollars

Telegram is a global freemium, cross-platform, encrypted, cloud-based, and centralised instant messaging (IM) service. The application provides optional video calling, VoIP, file sharing, end-to-end encrypted chats, also known as secret chat, as well as other features. It was launched on iOS in August 2013, and on Android in October that year.

The operating centre of Telegram is located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with five data centres in different parts of the world. Telegram provides various client apps, including official ones for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, and Linux. It also provides services for smart TV, desktop, and mobile platforms. In order to use these services a registration with an active phone number is required for iOS/Android devices.

Telegram’s server is the only official component which is a closed-source, proprietary product. The application’s end-to-end encrypted chats are an optional feature. ISPs and other network outsiders cannot access data because cloud chats and groups are encrypted between the client and the server. Users have unrestricted access to text and voice messages, phone and video calls, documents (2 GB per file), animated stickers, contacts, and audio files. A user can subscribe to any number of channels/groups in Telegram.

The number of active monthly users on Telegram topped 500 million in January 2022, with one billion downloads worldwide as of late December 2022. Telegram was the most downloaded app internationally in 2022, research suggests that it was driven partly by the de-platforming of another social networking site Parler by big-tech firms

As of January 2023, the number of active monthly users on Telegram was at 700 million. The messaging app also launched Telegram Premium, an add-on paid subscription with a number of added features. Telegram is the most widely used instant messaging service in Belarus, Moldova, Jordan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Russia, and Ukraine, which has surpassed WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger in popularity.

The brain behind this successful venture is a 38-year-old Russian-born French-Emirati entrepreneur Pavel Durov, who is the founder and CEO of Telegram. He is currently recognized as the richest person and the most powerful entrepreneur in the United Arab Emirates, according to Forbes and Arabian Business.

    Who is Pavel Durov?

  • Pavel Durov was born in Leningrad, a Russian port city but spent most of his childhood in Turin, Italy, where his father was employed
  • He completed his engineering degree from the Philology Department of the Saint Petersburg State University in 2006
  • After his graduation, Pavel Durov developed a social networking site VKontakte, also known as VK, with Ilya Perekopsky, Russian entrepreneur, which was initially influenced by Facebook.
  • As he and his brother Nikolai built up the VKontakte website, the company’s value grew to USD 3 billion
  • In 2013, Pavel Durov launched another messaging app named Telegram
  • In 2014, he was dismissed as CEO of VK, suggesting his refusal to hand over the personal details of users, mainly Ukrainian protesters, to the Russian government as the reason.
  • Pavel Durov was involved in a standoff with the police in Saint Petersburg when the Russian government demanded the removal of opposition politicians’ pages after the 2011 election to the Duma, apart from refusing to block the country’s prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s page on VK
  • He left Russia and shifted to Saint Kitts and Nevis, an island city in 2014 and stated that he had “no plans to come back to the country”
  • In January 2018, in a bid to monetize the growing success of Telegram, Pavel Durov reportedly planned to launch the “Gram” cryptocurrency and the TON platform
  • Despite investors backing the projects with capital worth USD 1.7 billion, these ventures were halted by American regulators
  • In 2018, the Russian government attempted to block Telegram, after the company refused to cooperate with Russian security services
  • Pavel Durov was listed on the Forbes Billionaires List in 2022, with a net worth of USD 15.1 billion dollars
  • According to Forbes, in April 2021, he received United Arab Emirates citizenship, and now lives in Dubai
  • Pavel Durov was named the most promising Northern European leader under 30 and he was chosen to join the WEF Young Global Leaders, representing Finland
  • The Fortune Magazine included Pavel Durov in their “40 Under 40” list, an annual ranking of the most influential young people in business and he was also named the most powerful entrepreneur in Dubai by Arabian Business

Pavel Durov on making a successful venture

In an interview given to the news website Junto, Pavel Durov talks about what one needs to do to be happy.

Pavel Durov said, “People give too much attention to social status. For example, what difference does it make whether you live in London or in a small village? With the Internet, it doesn’t make a difference. It is actually healthier to live in a village. Better air and it is much cheaper. People choose to live in expensive cities and then they pay enormous amounts of rent. The only reason they stay there is so that they get a job that will provide them enough money to pay for rent and pay for expensive stuff. It is a vicious circle.”

When asked about what important steps he took to make his company successful, he said, “Some people have this trait building things. They are curious what will happen after they build things. For me, it even goes beyond that. The most exciting moment is when you build something, which could be used by other people to build something else. When I first discovered the Internet, I was amazed by how you could build a website and other people would come and post their own content. I started my first project VKontakte with that in mind.”

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