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How Outsider Yuri Milner Built an Inside Track

In early December, the founders of several fast-growing Asian startups drove up a steep hill to a stately mansion in Los Altos Hills, California. For hours, they dined in a lavish room with round banquet tables and mingled with executives from JD.com, Huawei, Google, Airbnb, Box and their host—Yuri Milner.

Years after the Russian physicist-turned-investor shook the Valley by betting big on Facebook, he is playing a unique role in the technology industry and its epicenter, Silicon Valley.

While other investors endeavor to build institutions that will last for decades, Mr. Milner runs what is essentially a one-man show with a rolodex that’s decidedly global. His firm, DST Global, is staffed primarily by a small team of ex-Goldman Sachs bankers based mostly in Asia who help with due diligence and fundraising.

And in an industry of consummate networkers, he has taken it to the next level, hosting lavish parties for an eclectic network across various geographies and industries. He hasn’t financed most of the entrepreneurs he spends time with. To him, they’re a research group that helps him spot the next $100 billion breakout.

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Art credit. Graphic by Jeff Greco. Photos: Yuri Milner: Rodrigo Sepúlveda Schulz/Flickr, Ron Conway: Joi Ito/Flickr, Mark Zuckerberg: jolieodell/Flickr, Jack Ma: Natalie Behring/Wikimedia, Matt Cohler: Eirik Solheim/Wikimedia.

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“If one day everything gets destroyed by a huge meteorite, we can only rebuild if we have science,” says Mr. Milner.