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Telegram hits 900 million users and nears profitability as founder mulls IPO

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Pavel Durov

Pavel Durov, the owner of Telegram, has said that the secretive messaging app has reached 900 million users and is rapidly approaching profitability as it nears a potential blockbuster stock market listing.

Durov noted that the app is solidifying its position as one of the world’s leading social media apps.

According to Financial Times report, Durov noted Telegram’s significant revenue growth, attributing it to the introduction of advertising and premium subscription services two years ago. He stated that the company has generated “hundreds of millions of dollars” in revenues since implementing these monetization strategies.

He added that the platform has 900 million monthly active users, up from 500 million at the beginning of 2021.

Durov, who fully owns Telegram, said the company had “been offered $30 billion-plus valuations” from potential investors including “global late-stage tech funds”, but has ruled out selling the platform while it explores a future initial public offering.

Once largely home to the freewheeling cryptocurrency community, the company, which only has about 50 full-time employees, has exploded in popularity over the past few years to become a vital communication tool for governments and officials globally, as well as a lifeline to citizens in conflict zones.

Researchers warn that the lightly moderated platform remains a hotbed for criminal activity, as well as extremist or terrorist content and misinformation. Critics have suggested that the Kremlin may have links to or leverage over Telegram, a claim that Durov dismissed as “inaccurate”.

Durov was hailed the “Mark Zuckerberg of Russia” after co-founding the country’s most popular social media network, VKontakte, in his native St Petersburg in 2007.

A free speech advocate, he founded Telegram in 2013 with his brother. According to Durov, he fled Russia a year later after refusing to share the data of certain Ukrainian users of VK with Russia’s security agency.

Durov has said he sold his shares in VK to Kremlin-friendly oligarchs for $300 million under duress.

Two people close to the matter said Telegram would probably aim for a US listing once the company had reached profitability and market conditions were favourable.

Durov declined to comment on a timeline or a possible venue but said Telegram had “studied several options”.

Telegram has raised about $2 billion in debt financing, from a $1 billion bond offering in 2021, as well as further issues of $750 million and $270 million conducted last year.

Those bondholders will be able to convert the senior unsecured debt into equity at between a 10 and 20% discount to Telegram’s IPO price if a float takes place before the end of March 2026 — an incentive for the company to list before that date.

In an IPO, Durov said Telegram would consider selling an allocation of stock to loyal users, following Reddit which recently announced that it would allocate a portion of its shares to retail investors ahead of a New York listing as early as March.

Durov said he had been receiving interest in carrying out a smaller equity raise. “That remains a possibility if we wanted to raise funds, for example, to fuel our [artificial intelligence] related ambitions,” he said, adding that the company was exploring introducing an AI-powered chatbot.

Messaging rival WhatsApp, owned by Meta, has 1.8 billion monthly active users, while encrypted communications app Signal has 30 million as of February 2024, according to analysis by Sensor Tower, though this data only covers mobile app use.

Yearly expenses stood at less than 70 cents for each monthly user, Durov said. As part of its effort to generate revenues, Telegram has been testing advertising in certain regions, mandating a minimum spend of between €1 million and €10 million per marketer or agency.

This year, it plans to expand the offering globally and to smaller advertisers using automated systems.

The company this month will introduce revenue sharing with the creators that run its channels, promising them a 50% cut of marketing dollars.

In addition, it is also introducing business accounts and a “social discovery” feature, which will help users to meet or date people near them, Durov said.

Telegram’s bid for advertising dollars is at odds with its reputation as a renegade platform with a hands-off approach to moderation, which recently drew scrutiny for allowing some Hamas-related content to remain on the platform.

Durov said Telegram planned to improve its moderation processes this year as multiple global elections unfold and “deploy AI-related mechanisms to address potential issues”.

 

 

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