Admit it. Secretly, you'd love to win the "Powerball" jackpot or to suddenly find yourself wealthy because of a mysterious inheritance. Everyone would love to be that lucky. However, winning the lottery or getting a mysterious financial gift, can come in a variety of forms. For example, hitting the jackpot can be about being in the right place at the right time, and being willing to take a gamble. Such is the case with Stanford University professor David Cheriton. Who, you ask? David Cheriton is a Stanford University graduate school professor who might be the luckiest (and richest) teacher of all time. So why is David so lucky? Well, back in 1998 David gave two of his students a check to start a new company. Those students were Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The company they founded with his $100,000 seed money? Google, Inc. As you might imagine, that little check changed this college professor/computer scientist's life in a very big way.
David Cheriton was born on March 29, 1951 in Vancouver, British Columbia. He went to school in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and then went on to attend the University of Alberta. He originally intended to pursue a dual major in music and mathematics, but he was not accepted to the music program. He subsequently transferred to the University of British Columbia, and graduated with a degree in Mathematics in 1973. From there, he went on to earn a Masters and a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo. After earning his doctorate, he spent the next several years working as a professor, first at the University of British Columbia, and then at Stanford University. It was during his time at Stanford, that an intriguing opportunity appeared.
While at Stanford, he created and directed a team of computer scientists developing the V operating system, a microkernel operating system. The V operating system later became an important building block of the IP multicast standard and a useful tool for some graphical user interface research. The operating system developed out of two other systems that Cheriton had previously developed, Thoth and Verex. While useful in particular situations, the system was most useful for research purposes. Over his years at Stanford, he continued to develop operating systems and to experiment with the network communications. In 1996, he co-founded Granite Systems with Andy Bechtolsheim, an electrical engineer, who had earned his PhD from Stanford. Bechtolsheim had already hit it big with his company Sun Microsystems. The pair subsequently sold Granite Systems, a network switching company, to Cisco Systems for $220 million.
Would you have given these guys $100k?
In 1998, Cheriton, Bechtolsheim, and two of their Stanford students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, got together on Cheriton's front porch. Brin and Page had an idea for a project they wanted to call "Google". After a 10 minute pitch, Bechtolsheim wrote them a check for $100,000 on the spot. Cheriton decided to match it, writing his own check for $100,000. Armed with that initial $200,000 investment, Brin and Page went off to develop what we now know as the massively successful internet juggernaut – Google. (The company name has even become a verb, for pity's sake.) While Google began chugging along successfully, Cheriton and Bechtolsheim founded another successful tech company called, Kealia, in 2001. Kealia is most widely known for Magnum, Galaxy, and Thumper, which later became the Sun Fire X4500.
Guess how much those $100,000 investments are each worth today? $100 million? $200 million? $500 million? Nope. Nope. And nope. Try $3.3 BILLION!
Cheriton then went on to co-found another company with Bechtolsheim (who is worth $4.3 billion today, mostly thanks to Google) called Arasta, now known as Arista Networks. He served as Arista's chief scientist for several years, and then founded his own company, OptumSoft. He later invested in Aster Data Systems, as well as various video game ventures. The end result, is that David Cheriton, former mathematician with musical aspirations and a career college professor, is easily the richest teacher in human history. Yet, despite his billions, David lives a notoriously frugal lifestyle. He still keeps an active teaching schedule at Stanford and still famously drives a 1986 Volkswagen station wagon. So it's safe to say that he'll stay comfortably wealthy for a long long long time.
David has also given multi-million dollar charitable donations to multiple schools, including his various alma maters, and he continues to invest in tech start-ups. To this point, he's had a very successful track record of being in the right place at the right time, and taking the right gamble. It will be interesting to see if his successful streak continues!
And I guess the main lesson here for you is to keep your eyes and ears open when opportunity knocks on your door!