Austin Russell is running.
The 28-year-old founder and CEO of Luminar, which develops vision-based lidar and machine perception technologies specifically for self-driving cars, told the Wall Street Journal earlier today that he bought an 82% stake to Forbes Global Media Holdings in a deal that values the company at nearly $800 million.
According to the WSJ, Russell’s stake includes the rest of the company owned by his family, which sold 95% of the company to Hong Kong-based investor group Integrated Whale Media back in 2014. Forbes is essentially being sold from at the moment. it halted its merger with a special purpose acquisition company in June of last year, after the market tanked and investors lost their appetite for SPACs.
Luminar itself had a better time; it went public through a SPAC merger in 2021 when retail investors are still demanding a stake in mobility tech companies. However, by the time Forbes halted its own SPAC plans, nearly all of the SPAC’s moves were trading below its offering price, and Luminar is not immune to the broader decline. Valued at $3.4 billion when it hit Wall Street, its market cap is now roughly $2 billion. packing three days ago was reported small wider than expected losses.
Some retail investors may not be so happy about its performance, though Russell told the Silicon Valley Business Journal last year that he has no regrets about the SPAC. (From his perspective, the alternative is to run out of money, as private market investors begin to close their checkbooks.)
Some may find it concerning that Russell – who Forbes himself described in 2021 as the youngest self-made billionaire in the world – will soon turn some of his attention elsewhere.
Shareholders – and Luminar employees – may also find the acquisition confusing.
While it has become a trend to run more than one company at a time (Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey), as well as a billionaire owner of a media company (Jeff Bezos, Laurene Powell Jobs, Marc Benioff), buy Forbes if too much. outlets fighting for survival bucks is conventional wisdom.
Then again, Russell has focused on Luminar since 2012, when he dropped out of Stanford to start the company, aided by a $100,000 grant from renowned investor Peter Thiel. (The Thiel Fellowship program, established in 2011, continues to award $100,000 to select students who are eager to spend two years on their idea instead of “sitting in a classroom.”)
Russell enjoyed the fruits of his labor for years to come. He bought the $83 million Los Angeles spread in 2021 that was featured on the hit show “Succession.” He also reportedly paid another $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 focused on Luminar, he may be looking to change how he invests his time.
As Y Combinator Paul Graham once said as he expressed his anger at funding founders too young, sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a person is that his startup succeeds too quickly.
Graham said: “[I]When you start a successful startup, like, the footloose and fashionless days of your life are over. You work for that company.”
In a statement to the WSJ, Russell said only of his motives: “Forbes is something I’ve always looked at as a brand and as a media empire.” He also told the outlet that he does not plan to participate in the day-to-day operations of Forbes but wants to grow the outfit and emphasize “philanthropy” within the business.
TechCrunch reached out to Russell a little while ago; we hope there will be more of his latest move soon.