The Zuckerberg of Russia Gets a Boost From the Real Facebook CEO's WhatsApp Deal

Photographer: TechCrunch

Pavel Durov at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe: Berlin 2013 on Oct. 28, 2013. Close

Pavel Durov at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe: Berlin 2013 on Oct. 28, 2013.

Photographer: TechCrunch

Pavel Durov at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe: Berlin 2013 on Oct. 28, 2013.

After Facebook announced last week that it's buying WhatsApp for $19 billion, a competing messaging application backed by Pavel Durov, creator of Russia's largest social network, saw the number of people signing up to use the service skyrocket.

Durov's Telegram app is seeing as many as 4.95 million people signing up each day since Facebook made its move for WhatsApp. By comparison, WhatsApp is growing by about 1 million a day.

Facebook's deal and Rakuten's purchase of Viber this month have put the spotlight on the mobile-messaging industry, but there may be more to Telegram's sudden rise. WhatsApp fans are airing their concerns across the Web that Facebook will somehow compromise the messaging service. Those worries are so far unfounded — Mark Zuckerberg has publicly promised autonomy for WhatsApp — but when it comes to private conversations, any concern can help a competitor. Even before the sale, Durov cultivated Telegram's reputation as a safe and secure place to converse.

"People should have a tool that will never sell them out," Durov wrote in a Telegram message. "The world needs more projects that are not money-driven. No investors, no sellouts, no IPOs. We need more projects like Wikipedia."

Telegram's momentum accelerated over the weekend. It added 1.8 million new users on Saturday and 4.95 million on Sunday, according to the app's Twitter account. Durov said Telegram is seeing huge growth in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and throughout Latin America — regions Zuckerberg touted as being among WhatsApp's strongest. The increased attention resulted in brief outages during the weekend, not unlike those experienced by WhatsApp after the Facebook news.

Telegram is adding users faster than WhatsApp in some countries and was the most-downloaded social networking software in the iPhone App Store in 56 countries today, according to research firm App Annie. In the days following the Facebook tie-up, Telegram surpassed WhatsApp as the top-downloaded app in Austria, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Germany, Ghana, Mexico and the Netherlands, data from App Annie show. Telegram has more than 20 million registered users, 15 million of whom open the app daily, Durov said today. Still, WhatsApp is much larger, with 450 million monthly and 320 million daily active users.

The frenzy around the WhatsApp deal hasn't helped every messaging app in the same way as Telegram or even BlackBerry, which saw its shares rise on optimism for the value of its BBM messaging service. Sam Min, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, wrote in a note that Facebook's acquisition reduces Japan-based Line's possible overseas user growth, especially in the U.S. Tencent's stock fell 2.5 percent in Hong Kong after the WhatsApp acquisition as investors worried about the value of its WeChat messaging service.

Durov isn't focused on a possible sale for Telegram. The app is run by a nonprofit entity he helped set up in Berlin, where Durov is currently spending his time. The VKontakte social network founder said Telegram won't "ever" be for sale because he doesn't need the money, and neither do his employees.

"They have mighty salaries, but they are driven by the idea behind the project," Durov wrote. "With my current lifestyle, I can live a thousand lives without earning another cent."

—With assistance from Elco van Groningen in Amsterdam and Sarah Gill in Sydney

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