Austin Russell is pretty much on the run.
The 28-year-old founder and CEO of Luminar, which develops vision-based lidar and vehicle perception technologies primarily for self-driving cars, told the Wall Street Journal earlier today that he is buying an 82% stake in Forbes Global Media Holdings : a deal that values the company at about $800 million.
According to the WSJ, Russell’s stake includes the rest of the company owned by his eponymous family, which sold 95% of the company to Hong Kong-based investor group Integrated Whale Media back in 2014. Forbes was essentially for sale from that point on. it canceled its merger with a special-purpose buyout firm last June after the market soured 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 were still clamoring for shares of mobility technology companies. However, when Forbes terminated its own SPAC plans, nearly every floating SPAC sold below its offering price, and Luminar has not been immune to the broader downturn. Valued at $3.4 billion when it hit Wall Street, it now has a market cap of roughly $2 billion. Simply reported three days ago slightly larger than expected losses.
Some retail investors may not be too happy with its performance, even though Russell told the Silicon Valley Business Journal last year that he has no regrets about the SPAC. (The alternative, from his perspective, would have been a potential run out of money as private market investors began to close their checkbooks.)
Others may worry that Russell, described by Forbes as the world’s youngest self-made billionaire in 2021, will soon turn his attention elsewhere.
Shareholders and Luminar employees may also find the acquisition confusing.
Until it became fashionable to run several companies at once (Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey), as well as to be a billionaire owner of a media company (Jeff Bezos, Lauren Powell Jobs, Marc Benioff), buying Forbes when there are so many. outlets are fighting for conventional wisdom of survival dollars.
Russell has then been focused on Luminar since 2012, when he dropped out of Stanford and founded the company thanks to a $100,000 grant from well-known investor Peter Thiel. (The Thiel Fellowship program, established in 2011, continues to award $100,000 to selected students willing to spend two years working on their idea instead of “sitting in a classroom”).
Russell enjoyed the fruits of his labor in later years. He bought an $83 million Los Angeles spread in 2021, which has since been featured on the show The Succession. He also reportedly paid another $10.6 million for a 13,000-square-foot mansion in Winter Park, Florida, near Luminary’s Orlando headquarters. But after spending his entire career focused on Luminar, he might be looking to change how he invests his time.
As Y Combinator Paul Graham once said when expressing his distaste for funding young founders in particular, sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a person is for their startup to succeed overnight.
Graham said:[I]If you’re starting a successful startup, for example, the carefree and casual days of your life are over. You work for that company.”
In a statement to the WSJ, Russell simply said of his motivations that “Forbes is something that I’ve always looked at as a brand and as a media empire.” He also said he doesn’t plan to be involved in the day-to-day running of Forbes, but wants to both grow the outfit and emphasize “philanthropy” in the business.
TechCrunch contacted Russell a little while ago. we hope to have more on his latest move soon.