The top 10 start-up billionaires

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.



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