Germany’s Facebook cloner made €10m – but isn’t happy
Posted Sep 7, 2009 by Markus Goebel
StudiVZ founder Ehssan Dariani, who got booted from his own company shortly after acquisition, has finally unleashed what appears to be a tsunami of pent-up anger at the event, in an interview with German quality newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. He tries to compare his genius to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, but the interview leaves mostly the impression of someone with plenty of cash but rather too much time to brood. Dariani sounds bitter and disappointed in what the “paperboys from Stuttgart” made of his once successful German Facebook clone with 6 million registered members.
Being booted from StudiVZ “was extremely rude and without any contractual base” he says. It happened after a week-long fight. Holtzbrincks managers made comments in meetings that he decided to correct, er, sharply. “They were such corporate careerists in their forties who didn’t like to be rebuked in public by a tween”, Dariani says. But he also had some bad press during that time with some embarassing Youtube videos generally in nightclubs and inviting people to his birthday party with a website that looked like Hitler’s Nazi propaganda paper, Völkischer Beobachter. Oh yes.
Last year StudiVZ lost €13 million. The buyer, German newspaper publisher Holtzbrinck, more or less killed all innovation at the company since the acquisition in 2007 and made StudiVZ a boring administrative unit of their corporation. Moreover, they are fighting about the terms of the acquisition: Holtzbrinck alledgedly doesn’t want to be successful with StudiVZ because then it would have to pay bigger earnout payments to Dariani and other ex-managers. Thus Dariani accuses them of laying off good people in favour of worse, cheaper hires. While he managed the site successfully, his successor didn’t even use StudiVZ for a long time. “That’s like promoting a BMW boss who doesn’t even have a driving license.”
The 29 years old Dariani now sits on €10 million and has no real plans for the future. He talks to different people and plays around with some ideas, but it appears, not much else. He says he’d find being an investor boring. Also he cannot imagine getting a normal job where his salary would be dwarfed by his fortune. Süddeutsche Zeitung calculates that he makes €300,000 per year after taxes from his money’s returns alone and Dariani admits that the number “isn’t entirely wrong”.
Earning €10 milion was “less exciting than people assume” because early talks were about much bigger sums. Yahoo, Facebook and newspaper publisher Springer were also interested. Yahoo even wanted to pay a three-digit million sum but Holtzbrinck finally got StudiVZ for €85 million, although TechCrunch firstly reported €100 million. Dariani’s mum was proud and cried when she saw his bank statement, but nevertheless he isn’t happy.
Maybe it would have been best to merge with Facebook, he muses, because users would have profited from the most innovative product. He admits that StudiVZ is just a clone but insists that he doesn’t like to see his personality compared with such a derogatory term. “I am too vain for that, I like to be standing in the center of the solar system.”