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Russian Internet Giant Mail.ru Looks to Maps and Games for Global Expansion

In an interview, Mail.ru CEO Dmitry Grishin handicaps the opportunities where he thinks he can make a play.

The Russian Internet giant Mail.ru wants to go global. It already counts 100 million users across Russian-speaking markets, and it paid $2 billion to acquire the leading Russian social network VKontakte this year.

Last year, the publicly traded company opened an office in Mountain View, Calif., and released a mobile email app whose most notable feature is that it keeps users logged in from their phones without passwords. Called MyMail, it has been downloaded millions of times and has a strong 4.5-star rating on both Android and iOS.

Now, Mail.ru CEO Dmitry Grishin is looking to expand further, and in a recent interview, he shared how he handicaps the world of opportunities for global Internet companies — or at least the ones Mail.ru can try to compete on.

Grishin is particularly interested in maps, and last month his company bought Maps.me, a mobile app that helps travelers save maps and navigate offline, for more than $10 million. Some 2.2 million people have paid $5 for it. Now, Mail.ru is making Maps.me free and plans to make it open source in order to better compete against Google Maps.

“Google invests billions of dollars in data, but the problem is, it’s data owned by them,” Grishin said. “There’s no chance to compete directly with them, but if you do something fundamentally different, it makes sense.”

His idea is for Mail.ru to become a big corporate sponsor of OpenStreetMap, the global volunteer-built map that Maps.me is based on, and help funnel mobile users to its community, currently about 1 million contributors.

Of course, the world’s last big crowdsourced mapping push — Waze — got gobbled up by Google in 2013 for $1 billion.

Grishin was willing to concede that point, but he said the opportunity for an independent alternative is growing by the day. “One billion devices with GPS is potential for 1 billion contributors,” he argued.

Beyond maps, Mail.ru is also investing in desktop games, where it’s working with U.S. partners to bring three big titles in the first half of next year, including a racing game called World of Speed. Grishin said he is convinced that the freemium gaming model that’s so familiar on phones will soon become the norm on the desktop as well. Mail.ru currently gets about a third of its revenue from games.

However, one big category that doesn’t translate from desktop to mobile, at least according to Grishin, is search. Certainly, that’s an area where Mail.ru has historically not been particularly strong, but now he has a good excuse for the lack of focus.

“Maps, mail, social and games are mobile winners,” Grishin said. “But search is less important on mobile. Search is good for the Web, but less good for apps.”

Will Mail.ru extend itself offline to compete in some of the hottest emerging categories, like package delivery and ride hailing? Nope.

“We are completely digital — this is what we understand,” Grishin explained. “Our competitive advantage is Russian engineers. It’s very difficult to make offline products global.”

To narrow its focus, Mail.ru is also selling off some of its businesses that don’t translate as well globally. Last month, it sold its HeadHunter job recruiting site to private investors for $210 million.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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