The Facebook IPO Players Club: Sean Parker

They were doing just fine before, but the biggest of Facebook’s minority owners are about to be catapulted into a far more elite bracket. As we ponder what they’ll do with with new millions (or an estimated $3.4 billion, in Sean Parker’s case), here’s a look at what got them where they are today.


Who he is: Sean Parker, 31, is an “American technology businessman and entrepreneur.” He learned to program on an Atari 800 at age 7, a skill he developed until he was a full-fledged teenage hacker–he was caught hacking into a Fortune 500 company at age 16, with the FBI showing up to seize his computer. Still in high school, he interned for the (now) CEO of Zynga Mark Pincus, was recruited by the CIA, and earned over $80,000 a year by the time he was a senior. He cofounded Napster with Sean Fanning, then launched Plaxo just a few years later in 2002, and is now an investor in Napster’s erstwhile crown-inheritor Spotify (where he’s also a director, as he is at Yammer). All of this craziness, part plot of War Games, part of Hackers, explains the “bad boy” epithet he’s earned, with the New York Post labeling him “billionaire playboy” and the “most party-hard geek in town.”


His connection to Facebook: Hearing about Facebook through a friend in 2004, he met with Mark Zuckerberg and, trading on his expertise as an adviser to Friendster, joined the firm as its founding president (age just 24). Oddly enough, early on he wanted to make Facebook’s mascot a hedgehog. More seriously he brought Peter Thiel aboard as the first investor, and engineered Zuckerberg into his leading role. His position at Facebook ended after investor pressure in 2005 when he was arrested on suspicion of possessing cocaine, although he was never charged.

What he’s worth now: Forbes estimates his net worth as of September, 2011, at $2.1 billion.

What Facebook’s IPO could earn him: We’re looking at an expected $5 billion IPO. So Parker’s 4% stake in a post-IPO company, freshly valued around $85 billion, will convert to $3.4 billion. Enough to buy him 170 replicas of his $20 million Manhattan townhouse, complete with subway car decor.

What he may do with the cash: Probably more playtime, if we’re to believe his reputation–and also new investments. Parker has recently reunited with Shawn Fanning to form a company called Airtime (attracting many Facebook employees, some fairly high profile say the rumors). So far it’s fairly secretive, but it has a few other big-name investors, and we know it’s based on video sharing.


How much cash IPO will make him: At a hundred billion valuation, Parker’s shares equate to a cool $5 billion. That’s five Instagrams, to you and me.


What he’ll do with it all: Parker’s Airtime was recently thrust into the limelight, a vaguely Facebook-connected social video chatting app, perhaps with a flavor of Chatroulette but without the anonymity. It’s cofounded by Napster’s Shawn Fanning, so we may expect it to be a bit counter-cultural–it launches June 5th, so we don’t have long to find out. Basically we can expect Parker to spend more of his money investing (he’s a Spotify backer, for example) and also…partying harder (wouldn’t you?!).


While the press has been pretty quiety on Parker’s party habits, it went crazy for Airtime, for a while. Parker and Fanning described it in one interview as being all about “smashing people together” and made an effort to note it was in prototype still. Since the initial flurry, there’s not been much chatter about Airtime at all. As the Guardian put it, it’s probably best to “check back in three months.”

Meanwhile Parker has recently been sounding off on the need for radical innovation in the music biz, suggesting that a Universal-EMI merger may be a great thing, in an “industry that needs leadership willing to drive change.” Is Spotify, one of his high-profile investments now in bed with Facebook, another route to driving this change?

Read about others in the Facebook IPO Players Club:



[Image: Flickr user LeWEB11]

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I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)