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 & activism
- 6 In popular culture
- 7 Environmental Damage at Big Sur Wedding
- 8 Personal life
- 9 References
- 10 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, 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 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 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.
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 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 & activism
Parker is an active philanthropist and 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 US party politics, initially favouring Democrats as well as progressive causes such as campaign finance reform and gun control. Subsequently, Parker has supported middle-of-the-road Republican candidates and super PACs, favouring 'economically moderate' conservatives and candidates with a demonstrated interest in compromise and deal-making. In an interview from early 2014 he is quoted as favouring "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 legalise 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. 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."
Environmental Damage at 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 dollars to stage.
The wedding made national news after it was learned that extensive damage was done due to the unauthorized development of a campsite at the wedding site. Parker paid $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." As part of his settlement with the California Coastal Commission, Parker was also required to create a beach-mapping app.
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.
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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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