In 2005, A Graffiti Artist Asked To Be Paid In Stock Instead Of Cash To Paint Pre-IPO Facebook's Offices… That Was A Wise Choice.

By on April 5, 2023 in ArticlesEntertainment

Unless you are a trust fund baby, choosing to devote your life to making art typically means choosing to follow a very challenging life path. The pursuit of creative expression often clashes with the harsh realities of the modern world. Arguably the harshest reality of the modern world is that everything costs a lot of money. Rent. Food. Art supplies. Gas. Clothing. While their friends enjoy corporate jobs and suburban lives, artists often struggle to to keep themselves above the poverty line.

Graffiti artist David Choe is definitely NOT a trust fund baby. He is the son of Korean immigrants and was raised in a working class neighborhood of Los Angeles. Back in 2005 David was a broke artist. He had made lots of money from his art and from gambling, but he spent it as fast as he made it. Making matters worse, Choe had just spent a week in jail for graffiti when he was approached by the the President of an obscure tech company with an offer for a paying gig.

The company President was named Sean Parker. Sean's boss was Mark Zuckerberg. The obscure private tech company was called "The Facebook." And yes, it was still called "The Facebook" when Choe was first approached with the offer to paint the interior walls of the company's Bay Area corporate headquarters.

Sean Parker (the Justin Timberlake role in "The Social Network"), was a huge fan of Choe's work, having just seen a bunch of his work at a San Francisco gallery. The offer?


That would have been $60,000 for a few days of planning and actual work. An easy gig.

David had heard of the fledgling social media company, but at the time he thought it was "ridiculous and pointless."

So you might assume that he was happy to take an easy $60k payday from a "ridiculous and pointless" company to fund his lifestyle for a little while.

And yet, that's not what he did…

Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Stock Over Cash

In April 2005, Facebook raised $12.5 million in a Series A funding round led by Accel Partners. This round valued the company at $100 million. And that was up from a $4.9 million valuation from a year earlier when Facebook raised $500,000 from Peter Thiel.

But going back to 2005 and David Choe.

Sensing a bigger opportunity, Choe told Parker that he would not do the job for $60,000. Instead he insisted on being paid the equivalent amount in Facebook stock. Parker went to Zuckerberg. Zuck gave the green light. And I do mean GREEN light. David Choe was awarded the equivalent of 0.25% of Facebook's total equity, which was on the high end a standard amount received by new hires.

Here's what happened to Facebook's valuation over the next few years:

  • April 2006 – Series B funding of $27.5 million from Greylock Partners and Meritech Capital Partners, at a $525 million valuation
  • October 2007 – Series C funding of $240 million from Microsoft, at a $15 billion valuation
  • November 2007 – Additional funding of $500 million from Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, at a $15 billion valuation
  • January 2011 – Investment of $1.5 billion from Goldman Sachs and Digital Sky Technologies, at a $50 billion valuation

Facebook went public on May 18, 2012, seven years after Choe's gig. At the end of the IPO day the company's market capitalization was approximately $104 billion.

At the IPO, David's 0.25% stake was worth…

$260 million

As crazy as it sounds today, Facebook's first year as a public company was kind of meh. Facebook ended 2012 with a market cap of $57 billion. At that point, assuming he held all of his shares, David's Facebook stock would have been worth $145 million.

It's not known how many shares (if any) of Facebook (now Meta) David owns today. He does not (and has not ever) owned a large enough stake to be reported in a company filing.

We currently estimate David Choe's net worth at…

$300 million

That's enough to make David one of the richest living artists in the world. Not THE richest artist in the world. By our count, David is currently topped by Damien Hirst's $700 million net worth and Jeff Koon's $400 million net worth.

But if David's instincts are correct, those rankings will change in the coming years. In an April 2023 interview with Joe Rogan, David spoke about his Facebook windfall and general wealth:

"As an artist I had subscribed to the starving artist type… I was like Top Ramen, holes in your clothes… What if I tried to be as rich as possible for the next 5 years? What if that's my singular focus? And I did it. It was a lot of work, but the video game of money is over for me… It's not going to be that hard for me to be a billionaire. I've amassed hundreds of millions. If that's my goal, if that's my video game…"

So what's the lesson here?

If you ever find yourself being asked to do work for a Harvard dropout whose company is sky rocketing in growth and value… forget cash. Demand stock!

Oh, and one final thing. Just for fun, below is a chart breaking down Facebook's market cap at the end of each respective year since being a public company. We also added the value of .025% equity stake had David continued to hold on to his shares:

  • 2012 – $57 billion * 0.0025 = $142.5 million
  • 2013 – $139 billion * 0.0025 = $347.5 million
  • 2014 – $223 billion * 0.0025 = $557.5 million
  • 2015 – $314 billion * 0.0025 = $785 million
  • 2016 – $342 billion * 0.0025 = $855 million
  • 2017 – $516 billion * 0.0025 = $1,290 million
  • 2018 – $383 billion * 0.0025 = $957 million
  • 2019 – $585 billion * 0.0025 = $1.462 billion
  • 2020 – $778 billion * 0.0025 = $1.945 billion
  • 2021 – $931 billion * 0.0025 = $2.3275 billion
  • 2022 – $320 billion * 0.0025 = $800 million
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