Sean Parker’s incredible life: from teenage hacker to Napster maverick, Facebook billionaire and ‘party boy’ portrayed by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network
Sean Parker found massive success at an incredibly young age.
At 19, he co-founded Napster, a file-sharing service that would change how the world consumes music.
The 41-year-old, whose net worth is estimated to be about US$2.7 billion, hasn’t slowed a bit: he donates millions to philanthropic causes – and political ones – and lives an expensive lifestyle.
Here’s how Parker got his start, ended up at Facebook, and became a billionaire.
Parker was born in Herndon, Virginia, a city right outside Washington, DC
When he was in second grade, his dad taught him how to program on an Atari 800 computer. By the time Parker was a teenager, he was able to hack into universities and companies. He once hacked into a Fortune 500 company, but his dad confiscated his keyboard before he could log out. The FBI tracked him using his ISP, but since he was a minor, he was only sentenced to community service.
Parker co-founded the file-sharing service Napster in 1999, when he was only 19 years old. Napster became one of the fastest-growing businesses of all time, as well as one of the most controversial. Parker and his co-founder, Shawn Fanning, are often credited with revolutionising the music industry.
After several lawsuits from music associations eventually shut down Napster, Parker went on to found a social networking site called Plaxo. He was ousted two years later. Plaxo shut down in 2017.
Parker joined the Facebook team in 2004, when it was just a fledgling college start-up. As the social network’s founding president, he would play a huge role in the site’s early investments, design and transition into a viable company.
In 2005, Parker was arrested on allegations of cocaine possession. Though official charges were never filed, the incident contributed, in part, to his departure from Facebook. He stepped down a few months later.
Still, Parker influenced Facebook even after formally departing. “I don’t think Sean ever really left Facebook,” early Facebook investor Peter Thiel told Vanity Fair in 2010. “He’s continued to be involved in many ways.”
He’s known for his intense focus. A former colleague told Vanity Fair that sometimes the best way to get hold of Parker is to “war dial” him – call him 10 or 20 times in a row until he realises someone really wants to talk to him.
Parker was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the 2010 Facebook movie The Social Network. Parker was upset by his portrayal as a party boy, saying that Timberlake’s character was “a morally reprehensible human being” and that the movie was “a complete work of fiction”.
Parker was a managing partner at Thiel’s Founders Fund from 2006 to 2014. He was an early investor in Spotify, playing a major role in bringing it to the US, and served on the company’s board until 2017.
In 2012, Parker and Fanning launched Airtime, a video chat service that was similar to Chatroulette. The service initially flopped, and was relaunched as an iOS and Android app in 2016.
Parker has accumulated a massive fortune over the years – Forbes estimates he’s worth US$2.7 billion
In 2010, he paid US$20 million for a West Village town house known as the “Bacchus House” for its party-animal past. Since then, he’s scooped up two more properties nearby, creating a three-mansion estate totalling an estimated US$58.5 million.
Newspapers reported that Parker and then-fiancée Alexandra Lenas were permanent residents of New York City’s ritzy Plaza Hotel while their new three-storey town house was being renovated.
Parker and Lenas were married in the summer of 2013 in a US$4.5 million, three-day ceremony in the woods of Big Sur, California
Parker’s extraordinarily lavish wedding made headlines at the time, since he reportedly spent US$4.5 million to create a magical world, complete with goats, a pen of bunnies, a pony, a feast laid on top of white fur, and a nine-foot-tall wedding cake.
All 364 guests – including Jack Dorsey, Mark Pincus, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes – were given Tolkien-esque costumes made by Lord of the Rings designer Ngila Dickson to wear during the ceremony.
Parker and Lenas even asked Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in the films, if he would officiate the wedding in character, which he turned down. Renowned celebrity photographer Mark Seliger shot photos of the wedding.
Parker faced backlash after the event, since he installed temporary structures in an ecologically sensitive area without obtaining the correct permits from the California Coastal Commission.
“There are crazy people on Facebook typing death threats,” Parker told CNET soon after. “Psychopaths are hunting me.”
He later agreed to a US$2.5 million settlement with the commission.
The couple has two children together, Winter Victoria and Zephyr Emerson
In 2014, the Parkers added another property to their portfolio: a nine-bedroom Los Angeles mansion called The Brody House, which they bought from Ellen DeGeneres for US$55 million. The historic property borders the Playboy Mansion and is filled with the Parkers’ art collection.
As of 2010, Parker kept a US$100,000 Tesla Model S in Los Angeles and an Audi S5 in San Francisco.
Parker is also a philanthropist, and a friend described him to Vanity Fair as “one of the most generous people I know”. In 2015, he donated US$600 million to launch the Parker Foundation, which focuses on funding programmes in life sciences, global public health and civic engagement.
In 2016, he used US$250 million to establish the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
He also pledged US$24 million to develop the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research at Stanford, and donated US$4.5 million to support a malaria-elimination program at the University of California San Francisco’s Global Health Group.
Parker co-founded the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank focused on economic challenges throughout the US
Parker also pushed for the “Opportunity Zones” provisions in the 2017 Jobs Act, which aims to draw investment to struggling US communities. “It’s designed to have them do something with their capital that’s productive, rather than just sitting on a huge amount of Facebook stock or something,” Parker said at the time.
Parker emerged as a major political donor beginning around 2010. He’s made sizeable donations to both Republican and Democratic political candidates, and recently backed a candidate for the New York City mayoral race: according to journalist Teddy Schleifer, he gave US$250,000 to the super PAC backing Eric Adams.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider
- The FBI tracked down a teenage hacker called Sean Parker who would go on to co-found Napster and lead Facebook; now he boasts a US$2.7 billion net worth
- After introducing millions to illegal downloads, he invested early in Spotify, and married Alexandra Lenas in a US$4.5 million Lord of the Rings-themed ceremony