Social Networker

Facebook's first president visits CSP's Outlook Conference to talk entrepreneurship, more

Published in CSP Daily News

By  Abbey Lewis, Executive Editor

Craig Weiss (left), Sean Parker

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Sean Parker has always been ahead of the curve. He started Napster when some of us were still listening to CDs. He was the first president of Facebook and was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the film that told the story. He is a major investor in Spotify and a committed philanthropist, the founder of the organization Causes. And now he's taking his record of entrepreneurship to the c-store product mix with e-cigarettes as an investor in Scottsdale, Ariz.-based NJOY.

"I typically see something systemic or a product or service that is missing from the world," he told the audience at CSP's 2013 Outlook Leadership Conference in Scottsdale on Monday. "It's a haunting feeling … and I'm guided by that mission."

As any good businessman, Parker obviously cares about the company and its bottom line, but he's also driven by more missionary objectives. And he's aligning himself with NJOY and its stated quest to make cigarettes obsolete: "These are harm-free products. You know what's coming in and you know what's going out," he said. "We have the potential to make the world a better place."

His beginnings as a powerhouse in the world of technology began when he and a friend, still in their teens, cofounded the music-sharing service Napster. The self-described "delinquent" wasn't hiding under the bleachers smoking cigarettes with the rest of the teenagers fighting the establishment, rather he jokes that he was a part of "an elite underground committee of cyber criminals."

When asked about the future of technological advancement, Parker told the audience that he didn't see a lot of potential for innovation in the area that has garnered him the most notoriety--the most success: the Internet.

"Consumer internet is kind of tapped out," he said. "Everything that has been tried is done."

Instead, he sees the future of technological advancement in the area of life sciences, calling it the "invisible revolution." He sees an emerging phenomena of "garage biotech" that could start in the same way the Internet and social media revolution did: "I think we will see a theme of innovation coming from unusual places."

And Parker believes he's capitalizing on this wave by investing his time and money with NJOY. On a basic level, as he told the audience, getting people to stop smoking is "an incredibly good idea." But on another, he buys into the belief that true success can come from surrounding yourself with people that are smarter in ways that you are not.

"One of the things I value most is intellectual curiosity," he said. "These are the types of people that are the most inspiring to me."