Success stories

The Top 10 Start-up Billionaires

The top 10 start-up billionaires

By Oliver Milman
Friday, 11 March 2011

The world’s major economies may have struggled to get back to pre-GFC growth levels last year, but the world’s wealthiest people appear to have been nicely insulated.


According to Forbes’ annual billionaire rankings, the 1,200-strong list increased its overall wealth from $3.4 trillion to $4.5 trillion, a figure higher than the GDP of Germany.


Amid this largess, however, there are some remarkable stories of entrepreneurial success. The presence of so many founders of relatively young businesses on the Forbes list demonstrates how quickly modern-day start-ups can grow, given the right idea, backing and timing.


Below, we’ve run down the world’s 10 wealthiest founders of recently founded businesses. Who knows, maybe you could make this list one day.


Mark Zuckerberg1. Mark Zuckerberg – $13.5 billion


The raw numbers are stunning – at 26-years-old, Zuckerberg is the 52nd richest person in the world, according to Forbes. His personal value soared by 238% over the past year, with investments from the likes of Goldman Sachs upping Facebook’s value to $50 billion.


But the Facebook founder’s impact on the world of culture, communication and business is something that is hard to sum up in numbers. Just witness Facebook’s, albeit slightly overplayed by western media, involvement in the recent uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.


In an entrepreneurial sense, Zuckerberg’s creation has opened up a whole new category for developers and web start-ups. And it’s clear he’s not happy to rest upon his laurels – Facebook has recently made aggressive moves into the area of email, instant messaging and even movie rental. Zuckerberg’s value looks set to balloon further in 2011.


2. Dustin Moskovitz – $2.7 billion


At just eight days younger than Zuckerberg, Moskovitz has the enviable title of the world’s youngest billionaire.


A roommate of Zuckerberg’s who dropped out of Harvard to work as Facebook’s first chief technology officer, Moskovitz’s entrepreneurialism hasn’t been confined to the social media giant.


In 2009, he raised more than $10 million in funding to create Asana, a software firm that aims to boost workplace productivity. Asana has been in private beta mode ever since, with a launch planned for later this year.


3. Yoshikazu Tanaka – $2.2 billion


Want to become a multi-billionaire entrepreneur before your temples start greying? The way to do it in recent years, going by Forbes’ list, is to start a social networking platform.


Tanaka, formerly of Sony, started Gree, Japan’s largest social networking site, as a 26-year-old in 2004 as a hobby. Originally a tech incubator, Tanaka switched Gree’s focus to mobile gaming, with fruitful results.


The popularity of Gree’s colourful site, which allows users to customise avatars and play games, has seen its stock rise by 35% in the past year. It could be set for a collision course with Facebook after Tanaka revealed plans to set up shop in California.


4. Eduardo Saverin – $1.6 billion


Another Facebook co-founder, Saverin was given a sympathetic portrayal in the 2010 movie The Social Network. After Facebook relocated from Harvard to California, Saverin stayed beyond and, infamously, had his 34% share diluted.


In an out-of-court settlement, Saverin is believed to have secured a 5% stake in Facebook and his inclusion as a co-founder on the site’s own biography.


Saverin’s reaction to his exit from Facebook and the subsequent portrayal in The Social Network is philosophical: “The true takeaway for me was that entrepreneurship and creativity, however complicated, difficult or tortured to execute, are perhaps the most important drivers of business today and the growth of our economy.”


Since his Facebook departure, Saverin now lives in Singapore and has led an $8 million investment in tech start-up Qwiki, which compiles information on a topic into a multimedia presentation.


"Facebook has been a big thing and will be a big thing,” Saverin has told the New York Times. “Qwiki is early stage, but they are on the path to be a game changer."


5. Eric Lefkofsky - $1.6 billion


The plethora of group buying sites that have sprung up in Australia, and abroad, in the last 12 months has somehow left the category appearing rather hackneyed.


This, however, shouldn’t take away from the phenomenal success of the site that created the niche – Groupon.


Lefkofsky co-founded and provided $1 million in funding to The Point in 2007. The business, owned jointly with Andrew Mason, changed its name to Groupon a year later and was valued at more than $1 billion last year.


Not a bad return in three years for Lefkofsky, who is also the co-founder of VC fund LightBank and an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.


6. Sean Parker – $1.6 billion


Perhaps surprisingly for such a well-known entrepreneur who founded Napster back in 1999, this year marks the first appearance by Parker on Forbes’ billionaire rankings.


Parker may well be best known to the general public through an unflattering portrayal in The Social Network, but his business acumen in recent years has helped build his fortune.


Not only does he have a 3% stake in Facebook, he is also a managing partner at Founders Fund, a VC company that backs tech companies. Recent successes include the formation of Plaxo, a contacts management system, and Spotify, an online music streaming service that is currently planning an assault on the US market after a successful introduction in Europe.


7. Peter Thiel – $1.5 billion


Another partner at Founders Fund, Thiel is similar to Parker in that he started a widely known online business, in his case PayPal, in the 1990s before moving on support other start-ups.


Thiel sold PayPal to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002, pulling in $60 million personally from the sale. He then made a $500,000 angel investment in Facebook two years later, although he’s understood to have now sold the majority of his stake.


In recent years, Thiel has made a number of canny investments, backing start-ups such as LinkedIn, Slide and Yammer, which recently expanded to Australia.


8. Yusaku Maezawa – $1 billion


Maezawa has had an interesting path to the top. Formerly the member of a Japanese punk band, he discovered a lucrative sideline in selling CDs at his band’s gigs. This then developed into his own mail order business, called Start Today.


His next leap was the most profitable. In 2004, he started up Zozotown, which caters for fashion-conscious shoppers. The website resembles an actual shopping mall, with retailers setting up stores and selling on consignment.


The business was subsequently floated, with Maezawa owning 59%. Sales have grown on average by 50% in the last five years, thanks to an army of 2.3 million subscribers, with pre-tax profit standing at $US54.6 million. Maezawa is reportedly plotting a play for older customers via an alliance with Yahoo Japan.


9. Mark Pincus – $1 billion


To some, Farmville is an inane, intensely irritating game. Tell that to Mark Pincus, the billionaire founder of Zynga, which makes Farmville – a game that has snared more than 60 million addicts worldwide.


Pincus founded Zynga in 2007, naming the company after his late bulldog. He has since hitched his wagon to the rise of Facebook, with Zynga’s games, which also include FrontierVille and Mafia Wars, reaching 250 million consumers.


Following a round of funding, Zynga has been valued between $7 billion and $10 billion. Not that the start-up journey was completely smooth sailing for Pincus.


In 2009, he told TechCrunch: “I knew that i wanted to control my destiny, so I knew I needed revenues, right, fucking, now. Like I needed revenues now.”


“So I funded the company myself, but I did every horrible thing in the book to just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this Zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it.”


10. Oleg Bakhmatyuk – $1 billion


As glorious proof that modern-day start-ups don’t have to rely on dazzling online applications for fast growth, Ukrainian entrepreneur Bakhmatyuk has built his fortune upon the humble egg.


Cashing in on Ukraine’s status as the ‘breadbasket of Europe’, Bakhmatyuk founded egg producer Avangardco in 2003. He floated a 20% stake in the company in June last year, a move that valued the company at $US1 billion.

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