Austin Russell is on a roll.
The 28-year-old founder and CEO of luminarwhich develops vision-based lidar and machine perception technologies primarily for autonomous cars, told 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.
According to the WSJ, Russell’s stake includes the remaining portion of the company owned by his namesake family, which sold 95% of the company to Hong Kong-based investment group Integrated Whale Media in 2014. Forbes has essentially been for sale since Moment called off its merger with a special purpose acquisition company in June of last year, after the market soured and investors lost their appetite for SPACs.
Luminar itself had a better time; it went public via a SPAC merger in 2021 when retail investors were still clamoring for shares in mobility-tech companies. By the time Forbes was canceling its own SPAC plans, almost all mobility SPACs were trading below your bid price.
Luminar has not been immune to the broader downturn. Valued at $3.4 billion when it hit Wall Street, its market capitalization is now about $2 billion.
Just three days ago he reported slightly greater than expected losses.
Some retail investors might not be so happy with its performance, even as Russell told the Silicon Valley Business Journal last year who does not regret the SPAC. (From his perspective, the alternative would have been to potentially run out of money, as private market investors began to close their checkbooks.)
Meanwhile, long-term shareholders in Luminar may find it concerned that Russell, described by Forbes in 2021 as the the world’s youngest self-made billionairesoon you will be directing part of your attention elsewhere.
While it has become fashionable to run more than one company at the same time (Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey) as well as being a billionaire owner of a media company (Jeff Bezos, Laurene Powell Jobs, Patrick Soon-Shiong, Marc Benioff), Luminar shareholders and employees may also find the acquisition confusing.
They certainly would not be alone in questioning the wisdom of buying Forbes when so many outlets are fighting for stay relevant in the midst of a fragmented landscape, and when ad budgets have been hit hard by an accelerating pushback from advertisers.
Separately, Russell has been focused on Luminar since 2012, when he dropped out of Stanford to start the company, with the help of a $100,000 grant from renowned investor Peter Thiel. (The Thiel Fellowship program, founded in 2011, continues to award $100,000 to select students who are eager to dedicate two years to their idea instead of “sitting in a classroom.”)
Russell has enjoyed the fruits of his labor in the years since. She bought an $83 million Los Angeles extension in 2021 that has since been featured on the hit show “Succession.” She 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 your entire career focused on Luminar, you may well be looking to broaden the way you spend your time.
As Y Combinator Paul Graham once said, when he expressed his distaste for funding founders who are especially young, sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a person is that their startup succeeds immediately.
“[I]If you start a successful startup, the free, no-frills days of your life are over. You are working for that company.
In a statement to the WSJ, Russell said simply: “Forbes is something that I have always admired as a brand and as a media empire.” He also told the outlet that he doesn’t plan to be involved in Forbes’ day-to-day operations, but that he wants to grow the team and emphasize “philanthropy” within the business.
TechDigiPro reached out to Russell just now; We hope to have more information about this move soon.