Austin Russell became the youngest self-made billionaire in 2021; now he owns Forbes

by The Insights

Austin Russell is on a hell of a ride.

The 28-year-old founder and CEO of Luminar, which develops vision-based lidar and machine perception technologies primarily for self-driving cars, told the Wall Street Journal earlier today that he was buying a stake of 82% in Forbes Global Media Holdings in an agreement that values ​​the company at nearly 800 million dollars.

According to the WSJ, Russell’s stake includes the remaining part of the company owned by his namesake family, who sold 95% of the company to Hong Kong-based investor group Integrated Whale Media in 2014. Forbes was essentially for sale to From the time it called off its merger with a special purpose acquisition company in June last year after the market soured and investors lost their appetite for SPACs.

Luminar itself had better timing; it went public via a SPAC merger in 2021 as retail investors still clamored for shares in mobility tech companies. Yet, at the time Forbes was canceling its own SPAC plans, nearly all mobility SPACs were trading below their offer price, and Luminar has not been immune to the general slowdown. Valued at $3.4 billion when it hit Wall Street, its market capitalization is now around $2 billion. Just reported 3 days ago slightly greater than expected losses.

Some retail investors might not be so pleased with its performance, although Russell told the Silicon Valley Business Journal last year that he had no regrets about SPAC. (From his perspective, the alternative would have been to run out of money, as private market investors began closing their checkbooks.)

Others might be concerned that Russell – described by Forbes himself in 2021 as the world’s youngest self-made billionaire – will soon direct some of his attention elsewhere.

Shareholders — and Luminar employees — may also find the acquisition confusing.

While it has become fashionable to run more than one company at a time (Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey), as well as being a billionaire media company owner (Jeff Bezos, Laurene Powell Jobs, Marc Benioff ), to buy Forbes when so many outlets are fighting for the survival of conventional wisdom.

Again, Russell has focused on Luminar since 2012, when he left Stanford to start the company, aided by a $100,000 grant from famed investor Peter Thiel. (The Thiel Fellowship program, founded in 2011, continues to give $100,000 to select students willing to spend two years on their idea instead of “sitting in a classroom.”)

Russell enjoyed the fruits of his labor in the years that followed. He bought an $83 million Los Angeles run in 2021 that has since been featured on the hit show “Succession.” He also reportedly paid an additional $10.6 million for a 13,000 square foot mansion in Winter Park, Fla., near Luminar’s Orlando headquarters. But after spending his entire career focusing on Luminar, he may well be looking to change the way he invests his time.

As Y Combinator Paul Graham once said when expressing his distaste for funding particularly young founders, sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a person is for their startup to succeed right away.

Graham said: “[I]If you start a successful startup, for example, the footless, fantasyless days of your life are over. You work for this company.

In a statement to the WSJ, Russell said simply of his motivations that, “Forbes is something I’ve always admired as a brand and as a media empire.” He also told the outlet that he doesn’t plan to get involved in the day-to-day operations of Forbes, but wants to both expand the outfit and emphasize “philanthropy” within the company. ‘business.

TechCrunch reached out to Russell a while ago; we hope to hear more about his latest move soon.

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