"What you want is people using your product because it's part of their life and they can't stop using it."
- Sean Parker
As an entrepreneur, Sean Parker has achieved numerous things from an early age. It all began as a rogue computer hacker in his teens, Parker showed his early genius as co-founder of the file-sharing computer service, Napster, a service that first famed his name.
Parker always has an eye to the next big thing. Among his ventures, his involvement in Facebook has been one of the pivotal helping hand in transforming it from a college project into a real company.
Facebook and his other ventures has successfully made Parker a billionaire at a young age and an active philanthropist.
Sean Alan Parker was born on December 3, 1979 in Herndon, Virginia, to Bruce Parker, a U.S. government oceanographer and Diane Parker, a TV advertising broker. At the early age of 7, his father taught him how to program on an Atari 800, an 8-bit home computer. This created a new hobby for the young Parker which he later developed skills in hacking and programming in his teenage years.
His childhood was shaped by struggles in school and asthma attacks that were sometimes so severe he'd have to go the hospital.
Parker’s father, who put his family over his entrepreneurial dreams, once told Parker "if you are going to take risks, take them early before you have a family."One night, while hacking into the network of a Fortune 500 company, Parker was unable to logout after his father unplugged his computer keyboard. Because his IP address was exposed, F.B.I. agents tracked down the the 16 year old Parker. Since Parker was a minor, he was sentenced to community service with other teenage offenders at the local library.
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. Parker graduated high school in 1998.
During the days in high school, 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, he was then mostly writing code and starting companies. While still in high school, he interned for Mark Pincus, the current CEO of Zynga. 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 put off college and pursue a career as an entrepreneur.
At the age of 15, Parker met Shawn Fanning over the internet. Parker and Sean who was a year younger, frequently talk and discuss over over topics like theoretical physics and hacking. With their friends, they launched an internet-security company, Crosswalk, which helped firms stymie hacker attacks. The business didn't take off, but their friendship are further forged.
A few years later, Parker and Fanning co-founded Napster, a free file-sharing service for music in June 1999 with $50,000 from Parker's initial fund. The service went popular that in a year, Napster had tens of millions of users.
Napster was opposed by recording labels, the Recording Industry Association of America, and some of the heavy metal bands. However, Napster was filed by lawsuits by various industry associations which saw the start-up as a huge threat to its business. Napster eventually shut down the service. Napster has been called the fastest growing business of all time, is credited with revolutionizing the music industry and served as a precursor to Apple's iTunes.
As a child, Parker was an avid reader. Despite his lack of formal education, 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. After Napster shuts down, Parker, who retreated to a beach house in North Carolina, found himself at a crossroads. "I had no home," he recalled. "I was totally broke. I would stay at a friend’s house for two weeks, then move because I didn’t want to become this permanent mooch.” His then-girlfriend argued he should leave the computer world behind and get a job but Parker had other plans for his business ventures.
Long before the term "Web 2.0" became popular, Parker was fascinated by the potential of social networking. He then continued his dreams and in November 2002, Parker with his friend and two Stanford engineering students launched Plaxo, an online address book and social networking service that integrated with Microsoft Outlook to keep the users' address books up-to-date. Plaxo was one of the first products to build virality into its launch, and that earned it 20 million users. Plaxo is based in Sunnyvale, California, 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, on the computer of his roommate's girlfriend who was a student at Stanford, Parker saw a site called "Thefacebook". From Parker's 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, he decided to meet Mark Zuckerberg. A few months later, Parker joined the young company as its founding President.
According to Peter Thiel, Facebook’s first investor, 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 designed Facebook’s user interface and developed its photo-sharing function. As one of the oldest member of Facebook's young executive team, Parker helped Zuckerberg navigate Silicon Valley's complicated venture-capital landscape.
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 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 and met regularly with Zuckerberg. The event was later dramatized in The Social Network in which he called the movie "fiction."
After previously worked with Napster Plaxo and Facebook, Parker co-founded Causes with Joe Green in 2007. Causes is an online advocacy and fundraising application within Facebook.
Parker and Green combined their knowledge of offline organizing, online social networking, and product design to launch Causes on May 25, 2007. Since then, the community has grown to over 100 million people. Users have created more than 350,000 causes for issues ranging from breast cancer research to stopping genocide to supporting local parks.
Causes is now one of the largest applications on Facebook with more than 90 million users.
Parker had been looking to invest in a company that could progress Napster’s music sharing mission legally. With his continued eye for the next big thing, in 2009, a friend showed him Spotify, a Swedish streaming music service, and Parker sent an email to Daniel Ek, Spotify’s founder.
The pair traded emails, and in 2010 Parker invested $15 million to the company. Parker, who currently serves on Spotify’s board, negotiated with Warner and Universal, and in July 2011, Spotify announced its U.S. launch. Parker announced a partnership between Facebook and Spotify, which allowed users to share their Spotify playlists on their Facebook profiles.
In 2010, Parker was a part of Votizen's $1.5 million funding round. Votizen is a consumer technology company that is developing an online network of voters in the United States. Based in Mountain View, California, the site allows its members (Votizens), to learn about issues and elections, and take collective action with other committed voters through social media.
Parker now serves on the board of directors for Votizen and he believes "Politics for me is the most obvious area".
In 2011, Parker reunited with Napster co-founder Shawn Fanning to found Airtime, a live video website with real-time sharing and communication. Parker serves as Executive Chairman and Fanning as CEO.
Initial investors included actors, musician and talent agents. Other Airtime investors include Founders Fund, where Parker serves as managing director; Accel Partners; Andreessen Horowitz; Yuri Milner of Digital Sky Technologies; Ron Conway; and Marissa Mayer.
The Founders Fund
In 2006, Sean 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 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.
The Social Network
A movie based on the founding years of Facebook, The Social Network was released on October 1, 2010, and stars Justin Timberlake as Parker. The film is based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, which the book's publicist once described as "big juicy fun" rather than "reportage." The movie won the Golden Globes award for Best Picture.
Although Parker praised the Director, many have remarked on the differences between Parker and his portrayal by Timberlake.
Sean 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.
Personal Life And Wealth
Sean Parker is married to Alexandra Lenas, a singer-songwriter, in a ceremony in June 1, 2013 at an inn in the costal retreat of Big Sur with 300 family and friends in attendance. Their daughter, Winter, who was also born in 2013 was part of the ceremony.
Parker currently lives in San Francisco. although he frequently travels to Los Angeles, New York City, Stockholm, and London for Spotify, Airtime, and the Founders Fund. His prior $20 million townhouse in Manhattan included an indoor pool, 30-foot bamboo plants, and an entrance hall adorned with the sides of an old New York subway train.
Parker that has an interest in politics, maintains an enviable collection of elegant white shoes and a wardrobe full of Tom Ford suits. Among his other possessions is a $100,000 Tesla electric sports car which he hardly finds time to drive.
Parker's worth is reported to be more than $2 billion.