Austin Russell is quite in the running.
The 28-year-old founder and CEO of Lightwhich develops lidar technologies based on vision and machine perception primarily for self-driving cars, he said The Wall Street Journal today that it 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 the Russell family, who sold 95% of the company to Hong Kong-based investor group Integrated Whale Media in 2014, according to the WSJ. Moment canceled its merger with a special-purpose acquisitions firm in June last year after the market soured and investors lost appetite for SPACs.
Luminar himself was better timed; it went public via a SPAC merger in 2021, when retail investors were still clamoring for shares in mobility technology companies. However, when Forbes was canceling its own SPAC plans, nearly all mobility SPACs were negotiation below its bid price, e Luminar hasn’t been immune to the broader recession. Valued at $3.4 billion when it hit Wall Street, its market cap is now around $2 billion. As soon as three days ago reported slightly losses larger than expected.
Some retail investors may not be so happy with its performance, though Russell told Silicon Valley Business Journal last year that he had no regrets about the SPAC. (From his perspective, the alternative would have been to potentially run out of money, as private-market investors began snapping up their checkbooks.)
Others may find it about that Russell, described by Forbes itself in 2021 as the the youngest self-made billionaire in the world – will soon direct some of his attention elsewhere.
Luminar shareholders and employees may also find the acquisition confusing.
While it has become fashionable to dabble with more than one company at once (Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey), as well as being a billionaire owner of a media company (Jeff Bezos, Laurene Powell Jobs, Marc Benioff), buying Forbes when so many points sale are fighting to survive bucks conventional wisdom.
Additionally, Russell has focused on Luminar since 2012, when he dropped out of 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 over the next several years. Lui bought an $83 million Los Angeles spread 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, Florida near Luminar’s Orlando headquarters. But after spending his entire career focusing on Luminar, he may very well be looking to alter the way he invests his time.
As Y Combinator’s Paul Graham once said, 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 unimaginative, free days of your life are over. You work for that company.”
In a statement to 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 that he wants to both grow the outfit and emphasize “philanthropy” within the company.
RockedBuzz reached out to Russell earlier; we were directed to Press release on the acquisition and said Russell has no further comment at this time.