Austin Russell is in the limelight.
The 28-year-old founder and CEO of Luminar, which develops vision-based lidar and machine perception technology primarily for self-driving cars, told the Wall Street Journal earlier today that he is buying an 82% stake in Forbes Global Media Holdings in a deal that values the company at nearly $800 million.
Russell’s stake includes the remainder of the company owned by his namesake family, which sold 95 percent of the company to a Hong Kong-based investment in 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal Group Integrated Whale Media. Forbes was essentially on sale from the moment it called off its merger with a special purpose acquisition company last June after the market soured and investors lost interest in SPACs.
Luminar itself has better timing; it goes public via a SPAC merger in 2021, at a time when retail investors are still keen to buy shares of mobile technology companies. Still, when Forbes canceled its own SPAC plans, nearly all moving SPACs were trading below their offering price, and
Luminar wasn’t immune to the broader downturn. Worth $3.4 billion when it listed on Wall Street, it now has a market capitalization of about $2 billion. Just three days ago, it reported
slightly wider than the expected loss.
Some retail investors may not be as happy with its performance, even though Russell told Silicon Valley Business Journal last year that he has no regrets about the SPAC. (From his perspective, alternatives may run out of money as private market investors start closing their checkbooks quickly.)
Others may find Russell-Description Forbes himself becomes the world’s youngest self-made billionaire in 2021 — and will soon turn some of his attention elsewhere.
Shareholders — and Luminar employees — may also find the acquisition confusing.
While dabbling in multiple companies (Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey) and becoming a billionaire owner of a media company (Jeff Bezos, Laurene Powell Jobs, Marc Benioff ( Marc Benioff)), buy Forbes conventional wisdom at a time when so much media is fighting for survival.
Again, Russell has been focused on Luminar since 2012, when he dropped out of Stanford to start the company, backed by $100,000 from prominent investor Peter Thiel. (The Thiel Fellowship program, established in 2011, continues to offer $100,000 to select students who aspire to spend two years working on their ideas rather than “sitting in a classroom.”)
Russell Already enjoying the fruits of his work for the next few years. He bought the $83 million Los Angeles spread in 2021 and has been appearing on the hit show “Succession” ever since. He also reportedly paid an additional $10.6 million for a 13,000-square-foot mansion in Winter Park, Florida, near Luminar’s Orlando headquarters. But after focusing his entire career on Luminar, he’s likely looking to change how he invests his time.
As Y Combinator’s Paul Graham once said, expressing his aversion to funding founders especially young, sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a person is that he or Her startup was an immediate success.
Graham said: “[I]f you start a successful business, the days of your life when you’re free and uninhibited are over. You’re working for that company.”
In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Russell spoke briefly about his motivation: “Forbes is a brand and a media empire that I always look up to.” He also told the outlet , he does not plan to be involved in the day-to-day operations of Forbes, but he hopes to both grow the company and emphasize the “philanthropy” of the business.
TechCrunch has previously contacted Russell; we were informed of the acquisition’s press release and told Russell has no further comment at this time.