The incredible life and career of Sean Parker, who got his start as a teenage hacker before cofounding Napster and becoming a Facebook billionaire

Jordan Strauss/Invision/APSean Parker.
  • Sean Parker got his start as a teenage hacker before cofounding the file-sharing service Napster in 1999.
  • Parker later joined Facebook in the company’s early days, becoming the founding president of the site at 24.
  • These days, the 40-year-old billionaire is funding philanthropic programs in life sciences, global public health, and civic engagement, and is working to solve economic challenges throughout the US.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Sean Parker found massive success at an incredibly young age.

At 19, he cofounded Napster, a file-sharing service that would change how the world consumes music.

By 24, he was the founding president of Facebook, a startup that was then tiny but would go on to become the biggest social network in the world.

The 40-year-old, whose net worth is estimated to be about $US2.7 billion, hasn’t slowed a bit: he donates millions to philanthropic causes and lives an expensive lifestyle.

Here’s how Parker got his start, ended up at Facebook, and became a billionaire.

Madeline Stone contributed to an earlier version of this story.


Parker was born in Herndon, Virginia, a city right outside of Washington, DC. When he was in second grade, his dad taught him how to program on an Atari 800 computer.

Matt Weinberger

Source: Forbes


By the time Parker was a teenager, he was able to hack into universities and companies. He once hacked into a Fortune 500 company, but his dad confiscated his keyboard before he could log out. The FBI tracked him using his ISP, but since he was a minor, he was only sentenced to community service.

ReutersA man (not Sean Parker) takes part in a hacking contest during the Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas.

Source: Vanity Fair


Parker cofounded the file-sharing service Napster in 1999, when he was only 19 years old. Napster became one of the fastest-growing businesses of all time, as well as one of the most controversial. Parker and his cofounder, Shawn Fanning, are often credited with revolutionising the music industry.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Airtime

Source: Fortune


After several lawsuits from music associations eventually shut down Napster, Parker went on to found a social-networking site called Plaxo. He was ousted two years later. (Plaxo shut down in 2017.)

Plaxo

Source: Business Insider


Parker joined the Facebook team in 2004, when it was just a fledgling college startup. As the social network’s founding president, he would play a huge role in the site’s early investments, design, and transition into a viable company.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage/GettyFrom left: Mark Zuckerberg, Snoop Dogg, and Sean Parker.

Source: Business Insider


In 2005, Parker was arrested on allegations of cocaine possession. Though official charges were never filed, the incident contributed, in part, to his departure from Facebook. He stepped down a few months later.

Paul Sakuma/AP

Source: Vanity Fair


Still, Parker influenced Facebook even after formally departing. “I don’t think Sean ever really left Facebook,” early Facebook investor Peter Thiel told Vanity Fair in 2010. “He’s continued to be involved in many ways.”

AP

Source: Vanity Fair


He’s known for his intense focus. A former colleague told Vanity Fair that sometimes the best way to get ahold of Parker is to “war dial” him — call him 10 or 20 times in a row until he realises someone really wants to talk to him.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Source: Vanity Fair


Parker was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the 2010 Facebook movie “The Social Network.” Parker was upset by his portrayal as a party boy, saying that Timberlake’s character was “a morally reprehensible human being” and that the movie was “a complete work of fiction.”

SonyTimberlake, left, and Jesse Eisenberg, who portrayed Mark Zuckerberg.

Source: The Next Web


Parker was a managing partner at Thiel’s Founders Fund from 2006 to 2014. He was an early investor in Spotify, playing a major role in bringing it to the US, and served on the company’s board until 2017.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Source: TechCrunch,Variety


In 2012, Parker and Fanning launched Airtime, a video chat service that was similar to Chatroulette. The service initially flopped, and was relaunched as an iOS and Android app in 2016.

Source: Business Insider


Parker has accumulated a massive fortune over the years — Forbes estimates he’s worth $US2.7 billion.

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Source: Forbes


In 2010, he paid $US20 million for a West Village townhouse known as the “Bacchus House” for its party-animal past. Since then, he’s scooped up two more properties nearby, creating a three-mansion estate totaling an estimated $US58.5 million.

Kike Calvo/APA street in the West Village in Manhattan.

Source: New York Magazine,Vanity Fair


The Daily Mail reported that Parker and then-fiancée Alexandra Lenas were permanent residents of New York City’s ritzy Plaza Hotel while their new three-story townhouse was being renovated.

Brendan McDermid/ReutersFlags fly over the entrance of The Plaza Hotel in midtown Manhattan in New York.

Source: Daily Mail


Parker and Lenas were married in the summer of 2013 in a $US4.5 million, three-day ceremony in the woods of Big Sur, California.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Parker’s extraordinarily lavish wedding made headlines at the time, since he reportedly spent $US4.5 million to create a magical world, complete with goats, a pen of bunnies, a pony, a feast laid on top of white fur, and a 9-foot-tall wedding cake.

All 364 guests – including Jack Dorsey, Mark Pincus, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes – were given Tolkien-esque costumes made by “Lord of the Rings” designer Ngila Dickson to wear during the ceremony. Parker and Lenas even asked Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in the films, if he would officiate the wedding in character, which he turned down. Renowned celebrity photographer Mark Seliger shot photos of the wedding.

Parker faced backlash after the event, since he installed temporary structures in an ecologically sensitive area without obtaining the correct permits from the California Coastal Commission.

“There are crazy people on Facebook typing death threats,” Parker told CNET shortly after. “Psychopaths are hunting me.”

He later agreed to a $US2.5 million settlement with the commission.


The couple has two children together, Winter Victoria and Zephyr Emerson.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Source: Us Magazine


In 2014, the Parkers added another property to their portfolio: a nine-bedroom Los Angeles mansion called “The Brody House,” which they bought from Ellen DeGeneres for $US55 million. The historic property borders the Playboy Mansion and is filled with the Parkers’ art collection.

Redfin

Source: Business Insider,Bloomberg


As of 2010, Parker kept a $US100,000 Tesla Model S in Los Angeles …

John Keeble/Getty ImagesTesla Model S

Source: LA Times


… and an Audi S5 in San Francisco.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Source:


LA Times


Parker is also a philanthropist, and a friend described him to Vanity Fair as “one of the most generous people I know.” In 2015, he donated $US600 million to launch the Parker Foundation, which focuses on funding programs in life sciences, global public health, and civic engagement.

Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

He also pledged $US24 million to develop the Sean N. Parker Centre for Allergy Research at Stanford, donated $US4.5 million to support a malaria-elimination program at the University of California San Francisco’s Global Health Group, and used $US250 million to establish the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

Source: Business Insider,Forbes


Parker has donated to both Republican and Democratic political candidates, and he cofounded the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank focused on economic challenges throughout the US.

Kevin Wolf/APSean Parker, right, talks with Greg Simon, executive director at the White House Cancer Task Force, after President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016.

Source: Politico


Parker also pushed for the “Opportunity Zones” provisions in the 2017 Jobs Act, which aims to draw investment to struggling US communities. “It’s designed to have them do something with their capital that’s productive, rather than just sitting on a huge amount of Facebook stock or something,” Parker said at the time.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Source: Recode, The New York Times

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