Russia's Richest Man Wants to Be Your E-Mail Provider
(An earlier version of this article incorrectly said My.com users would get an email address, rather than an app.)
Mail.ru Group has practically conquered the Russian market. The Internet portal runs some of the most popular e-mail, messaging and social networking services in the country. It also has a sizable stake in VKontakte, Russia's largest social network, and Qiwi, a digital-payments provider that went public earlier this year.
American Internet companies, beware: The Russians are coming. Today, Mail.ru plans to launch My.com, a suite of communication and entertainment applications designed for mobile devices. Users will get an app that collects emails from their existing email accounts.
For its expansion into the U.S., Mail.ru is trying to replicate the formula that helped it amass 100 million users in Russia. The company — controlled by Russia's richest man, Alisher Usmanov — will offer apps that run on Apple's iOS and Google's Android devices, allowing users of the top smartphone platforms to easily communicate with each other.
"My.com will compete with them by bypassing those platforms' exclusivity," Dmitry Grishin, Mail.ru's chairman and CEO, said in an interview.
My.com's games have already found some success. "Jungle Heat," a combat-strategy game featuring adorable cartoon infantry with flamethrowers and machetes, has been downloaded 6 million times on Android and almost 1.5 million on iOS.
Mail.ru could use a big hit outside of Russia. Last year, the company recorded revenue growth of 32 percent, down from 85 percent in 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
"With a decade and a half of proven success in Internet and mobile services, it's time to introduce our new products to the competitive American technology market," Grishin said. "We will use all the skills and experience we've earned to compete with the best players. I believe this is the only way to grow."
The U.S. is a tough market to crack, and Mail.ru is taking a cautious approach. My.com has just five people working out of an office in Mountain View, California. That's a far cry from that other Silicon Valley portal. At last count, Yahoo! had more than 11,000 employees.