What happened to Sean Parker?

Sean Parker is an American entrepreneur whom most associate with the music-sharing platform Napster. Parker founded Napster with childhood friend Shawn Fanning and the service was launched in June 1999 while the pair were still teenagers. Napster’s ultimate demise in 2001 is well documented. Parker was forced to step down as Facebook president in 2005 after an arrest for drug possession in North Carolina, but he nonetheless retained a significant shareholding and informal involvement with the company. He then worked with Peter Thiel at his venture capital firm for a time and then moved into philanthropic efforts.

Plaxo

Parker founded address book and social networking service Plaxo in 2002. The service, which was integrated with Microsoft Outlook, was a forerunner to companies such as Facebook, Zynga, and LinkedIn. It was also one of the first companies to incorporate viral marketing into a product launch, securing 5 million users in the first three years of operation.

Parker was fired from his own company just two years later by Sequoia Capital and Indian-American investor Ram Shriram. The reasons for his ousting have never been fully disclosed. Some posit that it was due to the dot-com bubble downturn, while others believe Parker had a sporadic or erratic interest in Plaxo itself.

Facebook

Whatever the reasons for his exit, Parker maintained an interest in social networking and joined a fledgling company called Facebook later in 2004. The company was in those days confined to college students, but as the social platform’s founding president, Parker was one of the main drivers of transforming Facebook into a viable company.

For example, he hired former Napster employee Aaron Sittig to design the Facebook website that most recognize today. He was also responsible for working hard to purchase the Facebook.com domain name and secured Peter Thiel as the company’s first investor.

Parker was forced to step down as Facebook president in 2005 after an arrest for drug possession in North Carolina. He retained a minority stake in Facebook that was worth hundreds of millions of dollars and continued to be informally involved with the company.

Founders Fund

Parker then joined the venture capital firm Founders Fund as a managing partner. There he once more crossed paths with co-founder Peter Thiel, who afforded Parker free reign to invest in any company he saw fit.

Parker stepped down from his role in 2014 to focus on other projects. During his tenure at the company, he made a $15 million investment in Spotify because of a personal desire to see Napster’s music-sharing heritage continue. 

Philanthropy

The Parker Foundation was then established in June 2015, with Parker himself making a $600 million donation to the philanthropic organization that focuses on the areas of art, civic engagement, public health, and life sciences.

He donated a further $250 million to the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in April 2016, with the funds disbursed to over 300 scientists across 40 laboratories. The institute has recently found a link between skin cancer and microbial diversity in the gut and has conducted immunotherapy clinical trials for melanoma patients.

Key takeaways:

  • Sean Parker is an American entrepreneur whom most associate with the music-sharing platform Napster. After Napster was shut down, he founded address book and social networking service Plaxo in 2002.
  • Parker then became the founding president of Facebook in 2004 after an acrimonious departure from Plaxo. He was instrumental in transitioning the young social media platform into a viable company.
  • Parker was forced to step down as Facebook president in 2005 after an arrest for drug possession in North Carolina, but he nonetheless retained a significant shareholding and informal involvement with the company. He then worked with Peter Thiel at his venture capital firm for a time and then moved into philanthropic efforts.

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