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Sean Parker

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Sean Parker was born on December 3, 1979. He has been called an autodidact, visionary, oracle, disruptor, genius and “human accelerant”, all of which are likely to apply. Raised in Herndon, Virginia, his mother was an advertising broker and his father, an oceanographer. Programing by 7, he was caught hacking Fortune 500 companies by 18, for which he was sentenced to community service for that adventure.

Parker graduated from Chantilly High School in 1998. Along the way met 15 year old Shawn Fanning on the internet (Fanning recalls that their first internet conversation was about, of all things, theoretical physics), and interned for Mark Pincus (now president of Zynga). Even then, he was recognized as a programing wunderkind and won prizes for a web-crawler he invented and was recruited by the C.I.A.

Later, Fanning told Parker his idea about a free music sharing website. Parker, always good at raising money, brought in $50,000 and Napster launched in 1999. Within a year, Napster had tens of millions of fans. The music industry including artists, record labels and the Recording Industry Association of America attacked in court with a vengeance ….sighting that producers, artists and song writers were being deprived of royalties. Napster was eventually shut down but there is no one that would doubt that Napster was the foundation for iTunes. Parker and Fanning had disrupted the music industry.

In 2002, Parker founded Plaxo, an early social networking site that used the address book of members to invite others to join and then used their address book to invite others to join and so on and so on. In a short period it had it had 20 million members. Parker’s penchant for creating chaos in the companies he founds led to the investors, Sequia Capital and Ram Shriram, to oust Parker in a very acrimonious departure.

Contrary to the movie depiction in “The Social Network,” Parker discovered The Facebook on the computer of a roommate’s girlfriend that was visiting. Parker wrangled a meeting with founder Mark Zuckerberg and came with a flood of ideas. Probably believing in Facebook more than Zuckerberg, within a few months, Parker was named the Founding President.

Also contrary to the movie, Sean brought direction to the company that included, yes, the name change to just Facebook but he also insisted on keeping the site as “clean” and as uncluttered as possible, which greatly enhanced its user-friendly interface thus, popularity. He also brought in Peter Thiel as the first investor and brought, as Zuckerberg puts it, the realization that Facebook wasn’t a college project anymore but a multibillion dollar business. He also brought in Facebook Growth Chief Chamath Palihapitiya, who offered, “Parker’s really the exact opposite of his portrayal in the film.”

Parker left Facebook when cocaine was discovered at a house he was renting when police came for a noise compliant during a party (he was never charged). However, he never really “left” and consults with Zuckerberg often to this day. Many believe his greatest contribution directly to Zuckerberg was the structuring of Facebook where Zuckerberg will be in control of Facebook as long as he desires. A lesson Parker learned at Plaxo.

At this writing (Spring, 2013), Parker is based in New York City and has a net worth of $2.1 billion. He divides his time between Spotify, the next generation, legal re-birth of Napster, Founders Fund, Peter Thiel’s venture-capital shop and Airtime, a live video sharing site, reuniting him with his old Napster partner, Shawn Fanning and Causes, which helps people donate money to nonprofits.

Says San Francisco tech investor Ron Conway, a longtime friend, “The fact that Sean is so scattered yet so brilliant is something you just don’t see often. He’ll probably start another five really significant life-changing companies before he’s through.”

Says Peter Thiel, “I’ve told Sean he may be the long-lost grandson of Howard Hughes ….a brilliant entrepreneur who is somehow transforming the United States and yet is not understood by society. Sean is one of the great serial entrepreneurs of his generation, someone who is really changing the world and turning the wheel of history.”

Companies and Investments

Plaxo Napster Facebook Spotify

Lessons Learned

You have to think big or nothing much will happen.

Inspiring Quotes

Benjamin Franklin - We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.

My Quotes

Sean Parker - Facebook is such a basic utility. Its something that is such a part of peoples lives, I think its hard to imagine it going away.

Sean Parker - Running a start-up is like eating glass. You just start to like the taste of your own blood.

Sean Parker - I definitely wanted to earn my freedom. But the primary motivation was not making money, but making an impact.

Sean Parker - At the end of the day, money is just a proxy for votes. That is what makes politics so vulnerable to social media.

Sean Parker - “I think the best way to describe me is as an archetypal Loki character,” Parker begins, “like Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. I’m like the prankster or Puck in mythology. He’s not trying to cause harm, but rather to pull back the veil that masks your conventional, collectively reinforced understanding of society. This renegade thing was very clear at Napster. The point was that the emperor—the content industry—had no clothes.”

Influential Books

Joseph Campbell - The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)

Mentors

Steve Jobs

References


Technical

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