|Born||1979 (age 33–34)
|Education||Oakton High School, Chantilly High School|
|Occupation||Board of Directors at Spotify
Board of Directors at Yammer
Managing Partner at The Founders Fund
Co-founder of Plaxo, Napster, Airtime, and Causes
Founding President of Facebook
|Net worth||US$ 2 billion (2013)|
Sean Parker (born 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 March 2012, Parker's net worth was estimated to be US$2.1 billion.
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, F.B.I. 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 C.I.A. 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 subsequently 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. Parker had experience in the social networking space 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 currently 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.
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.
Parker is an active philanthropist, and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research, anti-malaria groups, charity: water, and marijuana legalization. He has spoken out in favor of higher taxes, particularly for the "wealthy and super wealthy," and in favor of higher capital gains taxes.
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. Originally one of the earliest Facebook applications, Causes now lives 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. On June 1, 2013, they married in Big Sur, California. It was reported that extensive damage was done to a campsite by the unpermitted set-up and use of the site for the wedding, as a result of which Parker paid $2.5 million in penalties, but Parker has since posted a rebuttal to these reports.
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- 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."
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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.”
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- 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.
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