If you work in the online space, it’s hard to avoid the Russian influence… and it’s not typically good. Much of the fraud comes from our friends in Russia; indeed the word “hacker” has almost become synonymous with “Russian.” Back in the late middle ages, when I worked for one of the major search engines which specialized in non US search traffic, we took a serious look at doing a Russian search. It was an extraordinarily complicated and challenging project that was further complicated by our inability to figure out who we should be selling the product to or how we’d get paid for our efforts. At the time, the leader in the still very early Russian market was Yandex… and it has pretty much stayed that way since then. Yandex has pulled off a feat that very few companies can boast… they kept Google to a minority market share. They remain clear leaders at 62%, with Google lagging a distant 37% behind Yandex.
The reason I bring this up is that the search world just marked the passing of one of its founders. Ilya Segalovich, CTO and one of the co-founders of Yandex, died in London last Thursday (or Friday…there was apparently some confusion) at just age 48 from meningitis; which was a complication from the stomach cancer he has been battling for some time. In Russia the average male life expectancy even now is only 64.3 years, so dead at 48 isn’t quite as shockingly young as it would be in the US, but it’s still somewhat shocking to see one of our own dead at such an early age.
Yandex (a name created by Ilya from “Yet Another Index” in a homage to Yahoo “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”) has become a Russian success story worth in the region of $10Bn today having raised over $1Bn a few years back through that rarest of things… a successful Russian IPO. For them to conquer the linguistic craziness of Russian, a language so complicated that the past tense of “truck” is “Yellow” (or some such madness), and make it a commercial success with Google breathing down your neck is very impressive. How Yandex will fare without the technical genius of Segalovich is anybody’s guess. How would Google Fare without Brin? We know how Apple is doing without Jobs and it’s less than perfect, we will see how Yandex gets over this sad loss.