December 3, 1979 |
|Education||Oakton High School, Chantilly High School|
|Known for||Managing Partner at The Founders Fund
Co-founder of Plaxo, Napster, Airtime, and Causes
Founding President of Facebook
|Net worth||US$ 3.1 billion (2014)|
Board member of
|Spouse(s)||Alexandra Lenas (m. 2013)|
Sean Parker (born December 3, 1979) is an American entrepreneur who cofounded the file-sharing computer service Napster and served as the first president of the social networking website Facebook. He also cofounded Plaxo, Causes, and Airtime. As of September 2014, Parker's net worth was estimated to be US$3.1 billion.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Education
- 3 Ventures
- 4 The Founders Fund
- 5 Philanthropy, political donations and activism
- 6 In popular culture
- 7 Personal life
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Parker was born in Herndon, Virginia, to Diane Parker, a TV advertising broker, and Bruce Parker, a U.S. government oceanographer. When Parker was seven, his father taught him how to program on an Atari 800. Parker’s father, who put his family over his entrepreneurial dreams, told Parker "if you are going to take risks, take them early before you have a family." As a teenager, Parker’s hobbies were hacking and programming. One night, while hacking into the network of a Fortune 500 company, Parker was unable to log out after his father unplugged and confiscated his computer keyboard. Because his IP address was exposed, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents tracked down the 16-year-old. Since Parker was under 18, he was sentenced to community service.
Parker attended Oakton High School in Fairfax County, Virginia for two years before transferring to Chantilly High School in 1996 for his junior and senior years. While there, Parker wrote a letter to the school administration and persuaded them to count the time he spent coding in the computer lab as a foreign language class. As a result, towards the end of Parker’s senior year at Chantilly, he was mostly writing code and starting companies. He graduated in 1998. While still in high school, he interned for Mark Pincus (the former CEO of Zynga) at Pincus's Washington D.C. startup FreeLoader. He won the Virginia state computer science fair for developing a Web crawler, and was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. By his senior year of high school, Parker was earning more than $80,000 a year through various projects, enough to convince his parents to allow him to skip college and pursue a career as an entrepreneur.
As a child, Parker was an avid reader, which was the beginning of his lifelong autodidacticism. Several media profiles refer to Parker as a genius. He considers his time at Napster to be his college education, calling it "Napster University," since he became well-versed in intellectual property law, corporate finance, and entrepreneurship.
When Parker was 15, he met 14 year-old Shawn Fanning over the Internet, where the two bonded over topics like theoretical physics and hacking. A few years later Fanning and Parker cofounded Napster, a free file-sharing service for music. Parker raised the initial $50,000, and they launched Napster in June 1999. Within a year, the service had tens of millions of users. Napster was opposed by recording labels, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the heavy metal band Metallica, among others. Lawsuits by various industry associations eventually shut down the service. Napster has been called the fastest growing business of all time, is credited with revolutionizing the music industry, and is considered by some to be a precursor to iTunes.
In November 2002, Parker launched Plaxo, an online address book and social networking service that integrated with Microsoft Outlook. Plaxo was one of the first products to build virality into its launch, and that earned it 20 million users. Plaxo was an early social networking tool, which would later influence the growth of companies like LinkedIn, Zynga and Facebook. Two years after founding Plaxo, Parker was ousted by the company’s financiers, Sequoia Capital and Ram Shriram, in an acrimonious exit that reportedly involved the investors hiring private investigators to follow him.
In 2004 Parker saw a site called "The Facebook" on the computer of his roommate’s girlfriend, who was a student at Stanford University. Parker had experience in the social networking industry as an early advisor to Friendster and its founder, Jonathan Abrams, for which he was given a small amount of stock in 2003. Parker met with Mark Zuckerberg and a few months later joined the five-month-old company as its founding president. According to Peter Thiel, Facebook’s first investor, Sean Parker was the first to see potential in the company to be "really big," and that "if Mark ever had any second thoughts, Sean was the one who cut that off."
As president, Parker brought on Thiel as Facebook’s first investor. Within the initial round of funding, he negotiated for Zuckerberg to retain three of Facebook’s five board seats. This gave Zuckerberg control of the company, allowing Facebook the freedom to remain a private company. Additionally, Parker is said to have championed Facebook’s clean user interface and developed its photo-sharing function. Zuckerberg notes that "Sean was pivotal in helping Facebook transform from a college project into a real company."
During a party in 2005 police entered and searched a vacation home Parker was renting and found cocaine. Parker was arrested on suspicion of possession but was not charged. This event was subsequently used by Facebook investors to pressure Parker into resigning as company president. Even after stepping down, Parker continued to remain involved with Facebook’s growth and met regularly with Zuckerberg. The event was later dramatized in The Social Network.
While working at The Founders Fund, Parker had been looking to invest in a company that could progress Napster’s music sharing mission legally. In 2009 a friend showed him Spotify, a Swedish streaming music service, and Parker sent an email to Spotify’s founder Daniel Ek.
The pair traded emails, and in 2010 Parker invested US$15 million in Spotify. Parker, who serves on Spotify’s board, negotiated with Warner and Universal, and in July 2011, Spotify announced its U.S. launch. At Facebook’s f8 conference, Parker announced a partnership between Facebook and Spotify, which allowed users to share their Spotify playlists on their Facebook profiles.
In 2010 Parker and The Founders Fund were a part of Votizen's $1.5 million funding round. Parker now serves on the board of directors for Votizen and he believes "Politics for me is the most obvious area [to be disrupted by the Web]".
In 2011 Parker reunited with Napster cofounder Shawn Fanning to found Airtime.com. Some of the investors are Ron Conway, Michael Arrington, and Ashton Kutcher. Parker will serve as executive chairman and Fanning as CEO.
In August 2013, Parker invested in mobile commerce company WillCall alongside European angel investor Oliver Jung—during that round, a total of US$2.1 million was raised. The company, co-founded by Donnie Dinch, aims to develop partnerships with live music venues to enable customers to organize and pay for their concerts with only the use of their mobile handset.
In April 2014, the public learned that Parker will serve as chairman and CEO of a new venture, Brigade Media, to "combat a lack of political engagement and interest in all levels of government across America". The initial round of funding was $9.3 million from Parker, with additional sums from other investors.
The People's Operator
In October 2014, Parker invested in The People's Operator, a mobile network provider that donates 25% of company profits to charitable causes.
The Founders Fund
In 2006 Parker became managing partner at the Founders Fund, a San Francisco-based venture capital fund founded by Peter Thiel. Founders Fund is focused on investing in early-stage companies, has $500 million in aggregate capital, and has invested in Quantcast, Path, and Knewton. Parker has carte blanche from Thiel when finding investments. Parker also hosts The TechFellow Awards, a partnership between TechCrunch and The Founders Fund that annually gives 20 entrepreneurs $100,000 each to invest in startups.
Philanthropy, political donations and activism
Parker has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for many causes including cancer research, anti-malaria groups and the "charity: water" campaign. He has spoken out in favor of higher taxes, particularly for the "wealthy and super wealthy," and in favor of higher capital gains taxes. He has made substantial donations to both sides of U.S. party politics, initially favoring Democrats and progressive causes such as campaign finance reform and gun control. Subsequently, Parker has supported middle-of-the-road Republican candidates and super PACs, favoring "economically moderate" conservatives and candidates with a demonstrated interest in compromise and deal-making. In an interview from early 2014 he is quoted as favoring "elected officials who have shown themselves willing to work across the aisle" and, in Washington, he has met with Republican lawmakers about ways of encouraging economic investment in struggling areas of the country. He has also supported cannabis law reform and in 2010, following the example of donations by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz (totaling $70,000) Parker donated $100,000 to the California Proposition 19 campaign to legalize marijuana in that state.
Parker is the founder of Causes, a philanthropic service that uses social media to connect charities with their supporters and potential donors and then communicates that connection to the user's network of friends. By 2010, 90 million people had joined Causes, donating a total of $27 million. One of the earliest Facebook applications, Causes is now at Causes.com and raises more than $20,000 a day for various charitable causes.
In popular culture
Parker was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the 2010 film The Social Network. The movie is a fictionalized account of Facebook's founding and early days. Timberlake was praised for his performance portraying Parker as a cocky opportunist.
Although Parker praised David Fincher as a director, many have remarked on the differences between Parker and his portrayal by Timberlake. Former Facebook growth chief Chamath Palihapitiya noted that Parker is "really the exact opposite of his portrayal in the film." Parker took issue with the movie version of Eduardo Saverin's exit from Facebook (with whom Parker reportedly remains friends), as it ironically paralleled his own exit from Plaxo. Parker called the character a "morally reprehensible human being," although he noted that "it's hard to complain about being played by a sex symbol."
In 2011, Parker became engaged to Alexandra Lenas, a singer-songwriter. In January 2013, the couple had a daughter. In September 2014, it was announced that Parker's wife is pregnant with their second child.
Environmental controversy regarding Big Sur Wedding
On June 1, 2013, Parker married Alexandra Lenas in Big Sur, California, in a wedding at which every guest was given a Lord of the Rings style costume. The wedding purportedly cost $10 million to stage, although other sources estimated the cost at $4.5 million.
The wedding made national news after it was claimed that unauthorized development caused extensive damage to a campground at the wedding site, the Ventana Inn and Spa. In fact, the mandated public campground had been closed by the inn, violating regulations, in 2007, six years before the wedding. Parker agreed to pay $2.5 million in penalties. Wrote Alex Madrigal of The Atlantic, "Nothing says, 'I love the Earth!' quite like bringing bulldozers into an old-growth forest to create a fake ruined castle. And to build this fantasy world on a spot that should have been open to regular old middle-class people: That makes it even better." After reading Parker's spirited defense of the wedding preparations, including a denial that there was any "fake ruined castle", Madrigal moderated his criticism somewhat, commenting, "I can't say I agree that there is nothing extravagant about doing $4.5 million in site preparation, but I can say that at least it wasn't quite the know-nothing bigfooting that it appeared to be." As part of his settlement with the California Coastal Commission, Parker was also required to create a beach-mapping app.
Parker had donated $250,000 to the Save the Redwoods League, which, according to Parker, then recommended the closed Ventana Inn and Spa campsite as an environmentally responsible wedding site. When the dispute deepened, Parker hired an attorney in a leadership role with the California League of Conservation Voters to represent him.
Mary Shallenberger, chair of the California Coastal Commission, issued a statement which criticized the Ventana Inn and Spa for having closed a mandated public campground in 2007, and said, in part, "I thank Mr. Parker for having his wedding there, so we discovered all the violations and the six years where the public has not had access," 
Under heavy criticism in advance of his wedding, Parker had agreed to indemnify the Ventana Inn for any penalties imposed by government agencies. When the multi-million dollar settlement was announced, the enforcement chief for the California Coastal Commission commented that "The environmental damage from the wedding-related construction work was less serious than we had originally feared, in part due to the fact that the large majority of the development was performed on a campground and existing road, not in a virgin forest."
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- Kirkpatrick, David (October 2010). "With a Little Help From His Friends". Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 1, 2011. "There is hardly a topic—literary, political, medical, or technological—about which he cannot offer an informed and nuanced opinion in his rapid-fire patter. (Don’t get him started on Ben Franklin’s role as a media pioneer.)"
- Kirkpatrick, David (October 2010). "With a Little Help From His Friends". Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 1, 2011. "He's always talking about the potential of computers to generate algorithms for likable melodies, and we have this ongoing argument: he believes it’s only a matter of time before computers will be able to create listenable tunes."
- Bertoni, Steven. Sean Parker: Agent of Disruption. Forbes. September 21, 2011. "I kind of refer to it as Napster University—it was a crash course in intellectual property law, corporate finance, entrepreneurship and law school. Some of the e-mails I wrote when I was just a kid who didn’t know what he was doing are apparently in [law school] textbooks."
- Levy, Steven. The Noisy War Over Napster. The Daily Beast. June 4, 2000.
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- Bertoni, Steven. Sean Parker: Agent of Disruption. Forbes. September 21, 2011. “It sounds boring compared to Napster and Facebook, but Plaxo was an early social networking tool and a pioneer of the types of viral tricks that helped grow LinkedIn, Zynga, and Facebook. “Plaxo is like the indie band that the public doesn’t know but was really influential with other musicians,” Parker says.”
- Marshall, Matt (December 12, 2006). "Founders Fund hires Sean Parker as partner, to launch second fund". Venture Beat. Retrieved May 18, 2009. "During the post-bubble downturn, Parker got pushed out by Sequoia Capital and Ram Shriram, and there’s been silence over the real reasons ever since. There were reports of private investigators going after Parker."
- Kirkpatrick, David. The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World. Simon and Schuster, May 3, 2011. "Finally they booted him out. In the end they even hired a private investigator to document his alleged misbehavior.
- Kirkpatrick, David (February 2010). The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4391-0211-4.
- Bertoni, Steven. Sean Parker: Agent of Disruption. Forbes. September 21, 2011. "Facebook’s key architect, Parker helped drive Facebook’s minimalist look. He was adamant that the site have a continuous flow and tasks like adding friends be as frictionless as possible."
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- Kirkpatrick, David (October 2010). "With a Little Help From His Friends". Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 1, 2011. "I don’t think Sean ever really left Facebook," says board member Thiel. "He’s continued to be involved in many ways."
- Marikar, Sheila. Justin Timberlake: From Boy Band Heartthrob to Modern Day Renaissance Man. ABC News. September 30, 2010.
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- Marshall, Matt (December 12, 2006). "Founders Fund hires Sean Parker as partner, to launch second fund". Venture Beat. Retrieved May 18, 2009. “At Founders Fund, Thiel is focused on investing in early-stage companies, and he’s given Parker a carte blanche to find the best companies he can, Thiel says.”
- Hoge, Patrick. Sean Parker hosts TechFellow awards. San Francisco Business Times. December 3, 2010
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- Causes Crunchbase Profile.
- Kincaid, Jason. Causes Raises Another $9 Million To Help Spread Philanthropy Online TechCrunch.com. October 17, 2010.
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- Sean Parker: The Social Network is a complete work of fiction. The Next Web. January 23, 2011.
- What's True in the Facebook Movie. The Daily Beast. September 30, 2010.
- White, Charlie. Sean Parker Says "The Social Network" Is "Fiction". Mashable. January 23, 2011.
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- "Sean Parker, Facebook Billionaire, Welcomes Baby Girl With Fiancee Alexandra Lenas". Us Weekly. January 5, 2013. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
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- La Ganga, Maria L (June 18, 2013). "Agency settles dispute over Sean Parker wedding: Coastal Commission OKs $2.5-million settlement with the tech billionaire over ceremony amid Big Sur's redwoods. Panel's chief thanks Parker for exposing the closure of a campground to the public.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
- Madrigal, Alexis (June 4, 2013). "New Government Documents Show the Sean Parker Wedding Is the Perfect Parable for Silicon Valley Excess". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 4, 2013.
- Steve Kovach (28 June 2013). "Sean Parker Wrote a 9,500 Word defence Of His Outlandish $10 Million Wedding". Business Insider Australia. Allure Media. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
- Madrigal, Alexis C. (June 6, 2013). "Sean Parker Responds to Redwoods Wedding Criticism, and His Defense Is Actually Pretty Convincing". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
- Alexander, Kurtis (October 17, 2014) "Sean Parker’s Big Sur punishment — create an app." San Francisco Chronicle. (Retrieved 10-17-2014.)
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