Austin Russell became the youngest self made billionaire in 2021 Now

Austin Russell became the youngest self-made billionaire in 2021; Now he owns Forbes

Austin Russell is on quite a run.

The 28-year-old founder and CEO of Luminar, which develops vision-based lidar and machine perception technologies primarily for self-driving cars, told the Wall Street Journal today that he is acquiring an 82% stake in Forbes Global Media Holdings in a deal that sees the company valued at nearly $800 million.

According to the WSJ, Russell’s stake includes the remaining stake in the company owned by the family of the same name, which sold 95% of the company to Hong Kong-based investor group Integrated Whale Media in 2014. Forbes was effectively up for sale from that moment. Last June, its merger with a special acquisition company was called off after the market slowed and investors lost their appetite for SPACs.

Luminar itself had better timing; The IPO came via a SPAC merger in 2021, when retail investors were still clamoring for shares in mobility tech companies. But when Forbes abandoned its own SPAC plans, almost all mobility SPACs were trading below their asking price, and Luminar wasn’t immune to the general downturn. It was valued at $3.4 billion when it went public, and its market cap is about $2 billion today. Just three days ago, slightly larger than expected losses were reported.

Some retail investors may not be so happy with the performance, though Russell told the Silicon Valley Business Journal last year that he had no regrets about the SPAC. (In his view, the alternative would have been potentially running out of money as private market investors began to close their check books.)

Others might find it concerning that Russell — described by Forbes itself in 2021 as the world’s youngest self-made billionaire — will soon divert some of his attention to other things.

Shareholders — and Luminar employees — might also find the acquisition confusing.

While it’s become fashionable to run more than one company at a time (Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey) and be a billionaire media company (Jeff Bezos, Laurene Powell Jobs, Marc Benioff), Forbes is buying despite so many outlets struggling for survival against conventional wisdom.

On the other hand, Russell has focused on Luminar since 2012, when he left Stanford to found the company, supported 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 would like to spend two years working on their idea rather than “sitting in the classroom.”)

Russell enjoyed the fruits of his labor in the years that followed. In 2021, he bought an $83 million Los Angeles spread that has since been featured on the hit show Succession. He also reportedly paid another $10.6 million for a 13,000-square-foot mansion in Winter Park, Fla., near Luminar’s Orlando headquarters. But after focusing his entire career on Luminar, he may well be looking to change the way he invests his time.

As Y combiner Paul Graham once said when he expressed his aversion to funding particularly young founders, sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a person is that their startup succeeds the first time.

Graham said: “[I]When you start a successful startup, the untethered and fancy days of your life are over. You work for this company.”

In a statement to the WSJ, Russell simply said of his motivations: “Forbes is something I’ve always looked up to as a brand and as a media empire.” He also told the outlet that he has no intention of interfering in the day-to-day running of Forbes, but that he wants to both grow the company and emphasize the “philanthropy” within the company.

TechCrunch approached Russell a while ago; We hope to hear more about his latest move soon.