Austin Russell is on the run quite a bit.
The 28-year-old founder and CEO of Luminar Technologies, which develops vision-based lidar and machine 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 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 the eponymous family, who sold 95% of the company to Hong Kong-based investor group Integrated Whale Media in 2014. Forbes was essentially for sale from the moment it broke off its merger with a special-acquisition firm last June, after the market soured and investors lost their appetite for SPACs.
Luminar itself had better timing; it went public via a SPAC merger in 2021, when private investors were still clamoring for shares in mobility technology companies. By the time Forbes turned down its own SPAC plans, nearly every mobility SPAC was, too trade below its offer price.
Luminar has not been immune to the wider downturn. Valued at $3.4 billion when it hit Wall Street, its market cap is now around $2 billion.
It was only reported three days ago slightly greater than expected losses.
While some retail investors may not be thrilled with the performance, Russell told the Silicon Valley Business Journal last year that he had no regrets about the SPAC maneuver given the capital Luminar secured through the process, money that would otherwise be unavailable. have been when private market investors closed their checkbooks.
Longer-term shareholders in Luminar, meanwhile, may be concerned that the CEO, described by Forbes itself in 2021 as the the world’s youngest self-made billionairewill soon turn some of his attention elsewhere, even if it is fashionable both to run more than one company at a time (Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey), and to be a billionaire with his own media company (Jeff Bezos, Laurene Powell Jobs, Patrick Soon-Shiong, Marc Benioff).
Of course, it’s also easy to question the wisdom of buying a media company when so many outfits are fighting for it remain relevant amidst a drifting landscape and when advertising budgets have been hit hard by an accelerating advertiser withdrawal.
On the other hand, Russell has been focused on Luminar since 2012, when he left Stanford to start the company, aided by a $100,000 grant from celebrity investor Peter Thiel. (The Thiel Fellowship Program, founded in 2011, continues to give $100,000 to students who would like to spend two years on their idea instead of “sitting in a classroom.”)
Russell has enjoyed the fruits of his labor. He bought a $83 million spread in Los Angeles in 2021 that has since been featured on the hit show “Succession”.
But after focusing his entire career on Luminar, he may well be looking at expanding the ways he invests his time.
As Y Combinator Paul Graham once said, when expressing his aversion to funding founders who are particularly young, sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a person is for their startup to succeed right away.
“(If you launch a successful startup, the footloose and unimaginative days of your life are over. You work for that company.”
TechCrunch reached out to Russell a while back; we hope to gain more insight into this move soon.