Alexandr Wang is the new youngest self-made billionaire

The son of Chinese immigrants to the US, Wang dropped out of college after his freshman year to found Scale Al, a company that helps companies like Uber, Toyota, and Airbnb optimize their artificial intelligence systems

Alexandr Wang in San Francisco, California; August 2019.
Alexandr Wang in San Francisco, California; August 2019.David Paul Morris (Bloomberg)

They say he could be the next Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, which might not be so far-fetched considering the meteoric growth of the company he founded before he could legally drink. Alexandr Wang, the latest Silicon Valley wonder boy, is only 25 years old and has a net worth of more than a billion dollars. The young man’s photo has already been splashed all over magazines about the rich and famous, but his success is due to a bold entrepreneurial vision, not a hyphenated surname, show business celebrity, or an enormous inheritance.

The son of Chinese immigrants was raised on the New Mexico military base where the first atomic bomb was developed. The young entrepreneur has convinced some of the world’s largest companies to entrust the future of their artificial intelligence systems to the pioneering data-tagging system he invented during summer vacations. In a recent interview with Forbes, Wang said, “I told my parents it was just going to be a thing I did for the summer. Obviously, I never went back to school .” Forbes recently proclaimed Wang the world’s new youngest self-made billionaire, the same honor it had bestowed upon Kylie Jenner in 2019. Forbes later recanted after accusing Jenner of lying.

Alexandr Wang–not to be confused with the similarly named fashion designer–is the cofounder and CEO of Scale Al, the startup he launched in 2016 when he was just 19 years old. The San Francisco-based company’s breakthroughs in massive data tagging to optimize artificial intelligence systems has caught the attention of dozens of companies looking to improve their automated processes for audio transcription, image recognition, and document collection. While data has typically been used in graphs and tables to support decision-making, the software developed by Wang can transform a bunch of numbers into valuable insights for corporations in every industry.

Scale AI is the most recent Silicon Valley unicorn– companies that attain a billion dollar valuation before going public. Well-known companies like Uber, Airbnb, Toyota, PayPal, and General Motors are among Wang’s impressive corporate clientele, and the US Army uses Scale AI’s software to quantify the damage caused by Russian bombing in Ukraine, among other things. The company has signed military contracts worth US$350 million, and its board of directors includes former Amazon executives and Michael Kratsios, the chief technology officer of the United States under former president Trump.

The idea for Scale Al came to Wang during his brief time as a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), recognized as one of the best universities in the world. Wang was convinced that one of his roommates was stealing his food, so he decided to install a camera inside the refrigerator to catch the alleged thief, and to collect information to help him forecast when he needed to go grocery shopping. Wang was never able to confirm his suspicions because it was impossible to distinguish between all the hours of video, but the experiment planted the seed that grew into the Scale AI software that now enables organizations to unlock the full potential of their stored data. That same summer he founded Scale AI and secured funding from Y Combinator, the technology startup accelerator that helped launch other startups like Dropbox, Twitch and Airbnb. A few years later, Wang is on every list of the richest people under 30 in the world.

As a child, Wang was already displaying a talent for numbers by competing in math Olympiads and programming competitions all over the US. His parents worked as physicists on US military projects, and Wang grew up near the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the secret government facility where the first nuclear weapon was created. “Because of the type of work they did, my parents had a big impact on our family’s world view. That’s why I decided to become a programmer–I wanted to make a difference in this world,” said Wang in a recent TED talk. With nothing on his résumé and no work experience, he packed his bags at age 17 and headed to Silicon Valley, where he got a job as a programmer at the Q&A site Quora. There he met Lucy Guo, who later cofounded Scale AI with Wang. Besides her tech credentials, Guo is a well-known socialite and neighbor of celebrities like David Beckham, and was dubbed “Miami’s number one party girl” by the New York Post.

While he’s not a partier like his cofounder, Wang actively uses social media to promote his public image. Like most young men, he uses Twitter to share his views on the new Spider-Man movie with his 20,000 followers, and has a blog in which he writes about the secrets of his success and offers advice for future entrepreneurs. Some of his blog posts say that an optimistic attitude is fundamental for achieving objectives, and the simplest formula for success is to hire employees who care about the company and its goals. It seems to have worked for Wang: Scale Al raised US$325 million in its latest round of funding, and is currently valued at more than US$7 billion.

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