Graffiti Artist Could Pocket $200 Million for Facebook Murals

David Choe was paid for his work in company stock.

By Daniel Arkin
|  Thursday, Feb 2, 2012  |  Updated 5:20 PM EDT
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Graffiti Artist Could Pocket $200M for FB Murals

BLOOMBERG NEWS

David Choe, an artist who painted murals in Facebook offices in exchange for 1% of company's stock, works in his studio in Chinatown section of New York City.

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In 2005, a street artist named David Choe dismissively tagged a then-fledgling social networking company called Facebook as a "ridiculous and pointless" venture. Nonetheless, he became one of Facebook's first employees. Choe had been hired to spray-paint murals in Facebook's first Silicon Valley HQ by the company's original president, Sean Parker. Parker, the Napster mastermind notorious for his hard-partying exploits and iconoclastic streak, must have seen a kindred spirit in Choe, a self-styled rebel with a reputation for rowdiness and a penchant for anatomically lurid graffiti.

After Choe inked the interiors of Facebook's Palo Alto, California offices with surreal sketches and kaleidoscopic colors, Parker made the Korean-American artist an offer: Choe could either accept thousands in dollars of cash for his work or he could take out stock shares of equivalent value. Choe, despite his reservations about the social network's usefulness—and really, who could blame him—went with the stock.

Now, seven years and 845 million monthly active users later, Choe's prescient gambit is paying off big time. Choe will personally pocket close to $200 million when Facebook begins publicly trading stocks later this year. Facebook announced a $5 billion public offering on Wednesday afternoon, which business pundits are tentatively valuing at $75 billion to $100 billion. The market windfall, one of the most massive stock blockbusters in recent history, will make Choe one of Facebook's most unlikely new millionaires.

Choe's public image offers a sharp contrast to that of the reclusive and shy Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg—who, as 28.2 percent owner, stands to net $28 billion.

As the New York Times writers Nick Bilton and Evelyn M. Rusli first reported, the interview-averse graffiti artist has offered glimpses into his wild lifestyle on his Facebook page—the existence of which suggests that Choe no longer finds the website ridiculous or pointless.

"[On the Facebook page]," Bilton and Rusli write, "there is a trail of images of him partying with scantily clad women and spending large amounts of money on alcohol. In recent weeks, Mr. Choe promited photos of a $40,000 bottle of alcohol; a single shot, he boasted, costs $888."

Choe's wild-child antics are not exactly anomalous in street art subculture. The popular Banksy, for example, has rigorously fashioned a bizarre and deeply irreverant media persona. What's more, Choe's defiant attitude jives well with the freethinking entrepreneurism and dropout-friendly diffidence of the Bay Area tech scene.

And interestingly enough, Choe's raw and edgy art isn't only at home in Silicon Valley. The newly-minted millionaire also has a paint-splattered (and subliminal message-laden) portrait of Barack Obama hanging in the White House.

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