Digital Sky Chief: Zuckerberg's 'Genius' Drew My Investment

Yuri Milner
Mary Catherine Wellons | CNBC
Yuri Milner

Which tech companies will be around in 100 years?

According to Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia make the list of contenders. He attributed his choices to their overall "network effect"—the services they provide are so deeply embedded in our lives that we can't imagine living without them.

Milner was responding to a tweet at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, during a conversation with Bethany McLean, Vanity Fair contributing editor and a CNBC contributor.

When it comes to Google, Milner added, "I don't think we can function" if Google is shut off, even for a short time.

Milner's Digital Sky Technologies invests in later stage, founder-run companies. Facebook is, of course, one of them.

"I saw someone who was clearly a genius," said Milner of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. "It didn't take me a lot of time to recognize that."

Milner quipped that DST's first investment in Facebook created 30 millionaires in one day. By investing in later-stage companies, DST allows firms to stay private longer and gives liquidity to employees, Milner said.

While Milner has invested in highly successful, innovative companies, he bemoaned the fact that society's focus has shifted away from understanding the big questions about the universe, and instead on more short-term things.

"I think we have a destiny as human beings to ask those big questions," Milner said.

That's where the Fundamental Physics Prize comes in. The Milner Foundation awards prizes, some for as much as $3 million, for scientific breakthroughs.

"A trader on Wall Street should not be making 10 times more than the best scientist in the world," Milner said.

Contact SXSW

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.

  • Cadie Thompson is a tech reporter for the Enterprise Team for CNBC.com.


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