Luminar co-founder and CEO Austin Russell says it is “absolutely incredible” and “totally surreal” to become a billionaire at 25. And he did it even though Elon Musk calls the core lidar sensing technology used by Luminar, a “freaking stupid” solution for autonomous driving. Source: Luminar
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Meet The World’s Newest—And Youngest—Self-Made Billionaire: Luminar’s Austin Russell

Russel started the company at age 17, with the aim of developing laser sensors for self-driving cars. On Thursday, the start-up debuted on the stock market as a public company.

According to the Wall Street Journal, it now has a market value of approximately $7.8 bn after share prices increased by 28%.

Russell founded Luminar in 2012 after dropping of out Stanford University, where he was studying physics. In his freshman year, he won a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship for a lidar concept.

Luminar now specialises in perfecting sensors that help self-driving cars see their surroundings. Known as lidar for ‘light detection and ranging’, the technology bounces laser beans off objects in the vehicle’s path.

In an interview with Forbes this week, Russell said it had been ‘insanely intense’ and ‘grueling’ but also ‘incredibly rewarding’.

‘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,’ he said, referring to the company’s new public status,’ he said.

At close of trading on Thursday, Russell’s 104.7 million shares in Luminar were valued at $2.4 bn.

Luminar Technologies founder Austin Russell, 25, at a Volvo Cars factory. Photo: Luminar

It was announced in August that Luminar had merged with Gores Meteropoulos, a unit of Beverly Hills-based finance firm The Gores Group, which raised Luminar’s estimated market value to $3.4 bn before it entered the stock market.

New investors in the public company include fellow billionaires Peter Thiel and Alec Gores and Volvo Cars Tech Fund.

Thiel told Forbes it is impressive that Russell has been able to hold onto a significant chunk of Luminar despite the company going public.

‘You can build a billion-dollar business but that does not mean you can become a billionaire. It’s remarkable from a financing perspective to retain a financial stake of that size,’ he said.

The technology enables cars to navigate more effectively using a 3D map of the road. Pic: Volvo Cars

As for the company’s future, Russell said he hopes the technology it is creating can revolutionise road safety.

‘When this becomes a new, modern safety technology on vehicles that’s integrated on every vehicle globally produced, that’s when I’d firmly say that we’ve accomplished the goals that we set,’ Russell said.

At age 25, Russell is one of just a handful of self-made billionaires who did not inhreit their fortune. It is reported that by age 2, he had memorised the periodic table.

At 13, he filed his first patent for an underground recycling system that catches sprinkler water and saves it for future gardening use.

Written by Saman Javed

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