Austin Russel started his lidar technology company, Luminar, at age 17 when he was in high school.
If you browse a list of the world's youngest billionaires, you'll notice that many of them are often heirs to massive empires inherited from generation to generation, or individuals that got their big break thanks to the right familial relations. This is not the case with Austin Russel, who at 25 is now the world's youngest self-made billionaire.
Russel's company, Luminar Technologies, which specializes in developing lidar technology for autonomous cars, went public this week. Lidar is a technology that uses lasers to measure distances and allows cars to comprehend the 3D space surrounding them. Lidar is what most self-driving cars use to operate today, and Russel founded his company to develop this tech when he was 17, as a high school student.
This week, the company officially listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, going public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), called Gores Metropoulos. As Reuters explains, a SPAC is a shell company that uses proceeds from an initial public offering to acquire a private company, typically within two years.
“It’s been insanely intense, grueling . . . everything through every day that we’ve had to go through, scaling this up. And of course it’s incredibly rewarding to have an opportunity to be able to get out there now and get into the public markets and scale through this IPO SPAC,” the young CEO told Forbes. “I'm still relatively young, but … a lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into it. And I was fortunate enough to be able to retain a good enough stake.”
Following its listing, Luminar raised $590 million. Russell’s 104.7 million shares, about a third of Luminar’s outstanding equity, was worth $2.4 billion at the close of Nasdaq trading on Thursday, Forbes notes.
On Friday, the stock rallied nearly 40%, according to MarketWatch.
In an interview with CNBC, Russel said that the feeling of becoming a billionaire (on paper, at least) is “absolutely incredible” and “totally surreal.”
“It is totally surreal and it totally makes sense and it is hard to explain the dichotomy of it, but this has always been the goal,” he said. “We set up the company to be a long-term sustainable business and power the future of autonomy for all of these automakers. We are in it for the long-term."
According to Reuters, "Luminar has given long-term revenue projections of billions of dollars per year, but those depend on it turning its research relationships into production deals. For 2019, Luminar had revenue of $12.6 million and a net loss of $94.7 million. The company estimated it will end 2020 with $15 million in revenue and an operating loss of $72 million."
Russle told Reuters that his company has nine “advanced development” deals with automakers so far.