Sean Parker, from hacker to billionaire

9 June 2024 15 minutes Author: Lady Liberty

Learn about the journey of Sean Parker, who started his career as a hacker as a teenager, but later became one of the most influential Internet entrepreneurs. His brilliant ideas and ambitious projects changed the face of the Internet and social networks, making him a billionaire.

Let’s start

After watching the movie “The Social Network”, we wondered how real is the character of Sean Parker portrayed in the movie.

Justin Timberlake who played Sean Parker in the movie “The Social Network”
  • Those who have not seen the film, but only plan to, be aware that there will be some spoilers in the text

Sean Parker was born on December 3, 1979 in Herndon, Virginia, USA. His father, an oceanographer, had a hobby of programming and introduced his son to computers from an early age. At the age of 7, Sean mastered the basics of programming on an Atari 800. His passion for technology grew with him, and by his teenage years he was well versed in programming and cyber security.

By the time he was in high school, Sean was already actively involved in hacking. He became a member of an online hacker community where he met other young hackers. His skills allowed him to hack the servers of various companies. One of the first known cases was an attack on the servers of a leading telecommunications company. At the age of 16, he was arrested for these actions, but thanks to his young age, he escaped serious legal consequences.

In 1999, when Sean was 19 years old, he and his friend Sean Fanning founded Napster, a revolutionary service for sharing music files. The idea of ​​Napster arose from the desire to create a platform where users could share music for free. The service quickly became popular, gathering millions of users around the world. However, Napster faced legal problems due to copyright infringement and was eventually shut down in 2001. Despite this, Napster changed the music industry and became an important milestone in the history of Internet business.

The experience gained while working on Napster made Sean Parker a well-known personality in the world of technology and business. This project opened the door for him to further success in the technology sector, including a role in the creation and development of Facebook, Spotify and other significant startups.

Sean Parker demonstrated exceptional ability in the field of technology from an early age. His teenage hacking activities, although illegal, showed his talent and entrepreneurial spirit, which eventually led him to create one of the most influential technology startups of his time, Napster.

At the age of 19, Sean Parker helped create Napster. At 24, he became president and co-founder of Facebook. At 30, he is a party-goer, genius and press-shy billionaire. And after he was played by Justin Timberlake in the movie “The Social Network”, Parker became even more famous.

Sean Parker was in class at school in Virginia when he was handed a note saying his father was waiting for him for a trip to the orthodontist. It was strange because he didn’t have an orthodontist. After he got out, his father irritably put him in the minivan. When they got home, FBI agents were taking documents and a computer out of Sean’s room.

From a 16-year-old hacker who broke into corporate networks and military bases, Parker turned into an Internet entrepreneur. In 1999, at the age of 19, he helped create Napster with his younger friend, Sean Fanning, which revolutionized the music industry. As the co-founding president of Facebook, he played a significant role in the development of the social network, where 500 million people spend 700 billion minutes every month. Without his participation, Facebook would not have become so colossal.

Parker is considered a web oracle and genius. He understands computers and networks well and knows how people would like to use them. But he is also known for missing deadlines, skipping meetings and avoiding the press. He was kicked out of Facebook after being arrested for cocaine possession in 2005. Parker loves to party and has a reputation for being unpredictable.

The movie “The Social Network” portrayed Parker as a treacherous manipulator who played an important role in the formation of Facebook. But the real Parker is more complicated. At 30, he’s a near-billionaire thanks to Facebook stock. He is self-taught, barely out of school, but very intelligent. His father taught him programming from the age of 7. Parker can support a conversation on any topic – from literature to technology.

Sean Parker has channeled his knowledge and instincts into the realm of Internet business strategy to, as he says, “rebuild society.” He believes that today technology, and not business or the state, is the driving force behind major changes in society. Parker is known for his ability to predict future trends in technology and determine what products or services will be in demand. Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old founder of Facebook, often consults with Parker, calling him one of the smartest people.

Despite his experience in the Internet industry, Parker sometimes comes across as someone who is only interested in entertainment. He is known as a “rock star programmer”, often hangs out with real life rock stars and lives a lifestyle to match. Parker usually gets up very late, discusses things that interest him or attends parties, and then sleeps most of the next day. His longtime friend and investor Ron Conway says Parker has a rare combination of talent and distraction and predicts he will build several more significant companies before losing interest.

Parker’s high school hacking experience is like a scene from the movie WarGames. As a teenager, he spent nights on the computer hacking into the networks of Fortune 500 companies. His goal was to infiltrate various organizations and report vulnerabilities found to administrators. But one night, his father saw his son at the computer at 5 in the morning, got angry and took away the keyboard, preventing Sean from finishing his work. This led to the fact that traces of hacking activity were discovered, and Parker himself was obliged to do community service due to his young age.

One aspect of this story explains Parker’s attitude to the idea of ​​”rebellion” and his lack of negativity. His court-ordered community service was at the library with other juvenile offenders. There he met a girl he described as a punk rock princess. She wrote her phone number on his arm with a ballpoint pen, and a few months later he lost his virginity to her. “It was incredibly ironic. It was the most romantic experience of my life, and it was all because of being arrested by the FBI.”

Around the same time, Parker met 15-year-old Sean Fanning, a talented hacker, online. Fanning recalls their first conversation: “We immediately started discussing theoretical physics and realized that we had a lot in common.” Together with other friends, they created a company called Crosswalk, which provided services in the field of Internet security and consulting. However, they did not succeed. Parker simultaneously worked as a programmer at a large Internet company and graduated from high school.

Against his parents’ wishes, Parker decided not to go to college. When Fanning pitched him the idea of ​​Napster, Parker immediately agreed. He moved to San Francisco, although he had never lived away from home before.

In its first year, Napster attracted tens of millions of users. Parker is used to nightclubs and raves. However, Napster angered the record companies, and they launched a lawsuit. 14 months later, a federal court barred users from downloading copyrighted files. Parker’s letters, in which he discussed the possibility of breaking the law, were used in court. As a result of the appeal, the service continued to exist, but it was the beginning of the end of Napster. Parker was forced out of the company by Fanning’s other partners.

In early 2001, Parker tried to start his own Internet company. “It could have become as big as Napster,” he says. The idea was a service that helps to update email addresses. He lived on friends’ couches for about six months, without a home or money. His girlfriend suggested going to work at Starbucks.

Eventually, Parker and a few partners received funding from Sequoia and launched Plaxo in November. She quickly became famous thanks to aggressive viral marketing. But Parker was soon fired because of his unreliability. The board of directors even hired a private investigator to investigate drug rumors. Parker called the allegations ridiculous and dirty, but found himself out of work and money again.

Sean Parker started talking to his new friends from San Francisco, including Jonathan Abrams, who founded Friendster in 2002 to help people meet. Parker was fascinated by Friendster, the first social network to surpass a million users. However, the service began to struggle due to high traffic, which Parker saw as a great opportunity.

One day, Parker saw Thefacebook on his friend’s computer from Stanford. He had already concluded that the most successful social network would be launched in a closed community, and college seemed like the perfect environment. Parker researched the site and wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard student, offering to meet.

Matt Kohler, who joined Thefacebook after Parker, admires the historic letter Parker wrote to Zuckerberg. Parker discovered significant companies like Napster and Facebook before others.

Parker unexpectedly went to New York, where he met with Zuckerberg. They quickly found a common language. A few months later, they ran into each other on the street in Palo Alto, where Parker, unemployed, was living with another girlfriend. Zuckerberg offered him to move into the house rented for Facebook. Parker focused on the project, initially sleeping on the floor in co-founder Dustin Moskowitz’s room until he asked him to leave due to his relationship with his girlfriend.

Parker believed in the potential of the company even more than Zuckerberg himself. Peter Thiel, Thefacebook’s first investor, said: “Sean made sure Facebook was going to be something big. If Mark had any doubts, Sean dispelled them.” In August 2004, Zuckerberg and Parker opened an account for the company, and Parker convinced Zuckerberg not to return to Harvard. Moskowitz said Sean has done more for Facebook than others think.

Parker also worked to strengthen his position within the company. He arranged with Peter Thiel for financing and with Accel Partners, giving Zuckerberg absolute control of the board of directors. As a result, Facebook remained an independent company despite acquisition offers from Yahoo and Microsoft.

However, Parker’s behavior led to his downfall. In 2005, he was arrested on suspicion of possessing cocaine, and although no charges were filed, investors decided he could no longer serve effectively as Facebook’s president. Zuckerberg never disowned him, and Parker remained involved in the company’s operations.

Working with Parker could be both a pleasure and a frustration. Joe Greene, Parker’s partner in the Facebook app Causes, recalls Parker borrowing money for a haircut and refusing to take his eyes off his email even at critical moments. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, said that Parker often offered new ideas, but then disappeared. “We tolerate it because it brings significant value and is very loyal. When you really need it, it will be there for you.”

In Sean Fanning’s apartment, Parker expressed his frustration with modern culture and the lack of revolutionary ideas. He believes that people in his position should use technology to liberate society. Parker sees himself as Loki, an evil desert spirit who seeks to destroy traditional notions of society. Peter Thiel calls Parker one of the greatest serial entrepreneurs of his generation, changing the world and influencing the course of history.

Parker makes new friends easily, and does so quite often. A wide variety of people admire his ideas and enthusiasm. “Sean is a genius, there’s no doubt about it,” said Ashton Kutcher, who advised Parker when the actor was building an Internet-focused production company. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, met Parker in 2008 and began spending time with him. “He understands everything immediately,” says Wales.”He’s incredibly passionate and full of ideas. His brain is like the technical equivalent of the Library of Alexandria,” says musician Sean Lennon, one of Parker’s close friends. He’s truly one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and that’s still me. as said. He keeps talking about the ability of computers to generate tunes that people will like. He thinks it’s only a matter of time before the computer learns to make music. Sean is an “artist” from the business.

Actress and activist Trudy Styler, Sting’s wife, invited Parker and his then-girlfriend to an evening of philanthropists and public figures. There, Parker met Lara Ziskin, the producer of the Spider-Man movie and co-founder of a cancer charity. “It turns out that Shawn is interested in immunology and believes that this is the next step in cancer research,” says Ziskin. He talked about it with as many people as I did. “now they’re friends. Styler says she’s impressed: “he was very polite and kind to everyone. Existence of a higher order. I’m very proud of him. (Parker, meanwhile, is familiar with representatives of the world’s elite and politics, but in his own way.) During the World Economic Forum on May 1, he was disappointed with the level of nightlife in Davos and offered to throw the best party ever time the forum has seen if he’s allowed to rent the largest local venue and invite a few of his rock star friends).

A lover of the good life, Parker continues to collect smart white shoes, his wardrobe is full of Tom Ford suits, and he doesn’t seem to have enough time to drive 10 million yen Tesla electric sports cars. He spends the night either in an apartment in San Francisco or in a 5-story townhouse that he is shooting in New York. Among the numerous “conveniences” is a well-kept lawn on the balcony of the 3rd floor.

And while he has no idea about chartering a private jet for an overnight flight from New York to Washington, he’s still quite generous, and Parker is often one of the biggest donors when his friends organize fundraisers for charitable organizations. A lover of tea (he has more than 100 varieties in his collection), he gives his favorite varieties as a gift, which he packages and serves in teapots that he himself ordered from Japan. He invests in the business of various people and is often guided by emotions. “He is one of the most generous people I know,” says another acquaintance, “and at the same time one of the most unpredictable.”

Today, Parker spends most of his time sourcing and managing investments for Founders Fund, Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm. He’s currently backing London-based music company Spotify, which believes he and Fanning can finish what they started with Napster, but only this time legally. But not all hoodies will necessarily become gold. Some time ago, he invested in a less successful project to produce hand-painted clothes. He also briefly brainstormed with a group that included his old friend Sean Fanning and 18・year-old Chat Roulette founder Andriy Ternovsky, explaining how to turn the website from an online voyeur video into a full service. And yes, when he’s in New York, he takes piano lessons from Sean Lennon. And while Parker has some significant accomplishments for his age, he’s surprisingly lacking in self-confidence. According to some friends and acquaintances, he made great efforts, knowing that the reporter would ask them questions, even to write the text of the answer. (“Most of the time,” they claim, “he just wanted them to characterize his eccentric behavior as ‘youthful carefreeness.'”)

“If there’s a happy ending to this story, I think it’s because of the rigors of the test that I got what I wanted,” Parker says. “I wanted to do something interesting and be rich enough to stay free.” ..And to some extent I can do what I want. Perhaps in the eyes of new acquaintances who have heard many strange stories about me, they will have to try harder to form a good opinion of me. But at least I can make an appointment with them.”

The path he spoke of was winding. “I didn’t have a fairy tale. All my success came from my failure. In children’s dreams, glory always awaits us; reality is much more complicated and dramatic.”

Parker met his on-screen alter ego Justin Timberlake at a club after the actor read Aaron Sorkin’s script. He said he wanted to get to know me better: “Parker reminds me, but I said, ‘It’s not going to help you play what Sorkin wrote.’ That person in the script has little to do with me.”

Indeed, Sorkin’s Parker came across as convincing, thoughtful and evil, not at all like the real thing. According to the script, Parker is also greedy, and this is also not the quality that is inherent in the real Sean. He needs not only money, but also approval and recognition. “I’ve helped change the world at least 3 times,” Parker says in his justification. And, unfortunately, he adds: “I am an eternal outsider.” The movie should be a hit, so it definitely changes one thing. He will receive some recognition from that “superficial” society that he despised, and will become a celebrity. How he will cope with this is another question.

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