Russel Simmons — Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Russel Simmons — Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Russel Simons is best known for being a member of the PayPal mafia, a group of PayPal alumnus who went on to found or invest in other technology companies. He and fellow PayPal Mafia member Jeremy Stoppleman founded Yelp in 2004. Other PayPal Mafia members, including Max Levchin, invested in Yelp as well. He also founded Learnirvana, a website that is designed to help people learn languages. The only product currently associated with Learnivarna is Lentil, a product designed to teach users how to read Japanese or Korean and to learn geography.

Simons guards his personal life closely, so little is known about his net worth or marital status.

Quick Facts

Full Name
Russel Simmons
Net Worth
Unknown, but believed to be high
  • Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from University of Illinois
Fields of Expertise
[“Computer Science”,”Business”,”Entrepreneurship”]
PayPal, Yelp, University of Illinois
PayPal Mafia, co-founder of Yelp

Who Is Russel Simmons?

Russel Simmons is a businessperson and entrepreneur. He has been involved in some of the biggest internet companies of the past twenty years, including serving as an engineer with PayPal during the company’s early days. He would eventually go on to found additional companies, including Yelp and Learnirvana. Yelp, in particular, would significantly alter the way that companies did business and sought-after consumer reviews.

Early Life

Like many of PayPal’s alumni, Simmons expressed an interest in computers and technology his entire life. He graduated from a specialized high school for just such purposes. From 1992-1995, Simmons attended the Illinois Math and Science Academy. 

Simmons is somewhat rare as far as PayPal Mafia members go in that he did not attend school on the West Coast. Many of the PayPal Mafia members attended Stanford. Instead, Simmons graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. He would graduate with two awards: the Bronze Tablet and graduating Summa Cum Laude (with highest honors).

Paypal website on Apple iPad Air
Paypal is the worldwide e-commerce business service allowing payments and money transfers via the internet, founded in June 1998. Image: iStock



Still, in his early 20s, Simmons would join the start-up staff as an engineer at PayPal. He would work for the company from 1999 to 2003. This was essentially the start of the company and also its most tumultuous time. Simmons worked for the company during its massively successful start-up period, its Initial Public Offering, and its eventual acquisition by eBay.

Simmons started at the company as its first Engineer. He would eventually become its Chief Technology Officer. During this time, he created the entire PayPal operating system and managed the group of engineers that would eventually better flesh out what PayPal did and how it would work.


In July 2004, Simmons joined his friend and fellow PayPal Mafia member, Jeremy Stoppleman, and founded Yelp. In addition to serving as the company’s cofounder, Simmons would serve as its Chief Technology Officer for his entire time with the company.

Yelp was initially envisioned as an Email recommendation service. However, as time went on, Simmons and Stoppleman shifted the design of the company, eventually turning it into a massive review company that allowed users to leave reviews and make recommendations about their experiences in using many businesses. 

One of the first investments in Yelp was made by Max Levchin, another PayPal Mafia member. This is an example of the PayPal Mafia at work, as Simmons’ connections with the wealthy people he used to work with helped to create his business and launch his success. 

Simmons left the company in 2010 to take time off and travel. In the announcement of Simmons’ departure, it was said that he would remain an advisor to the company and an active shareholder. 


After leaving Yelp and taking some time off, Simmons founded Learnirvana. He has served as the company’s CEO since its founding in May 2011. 

Learnirvana is a web program that helps people learn languages. According to its website, it has only produced one product, Lentil. That product allows users to potentially learn how to read Japanese or Korean. It also helps people learn geography. However, that’s the only product listed, and the Learnirvana website is extremely bare-bones.

According to publicly available information, Learnirvana is located on the West Coast, near San Fransisco. It is not a public company, so many of its internal details are not known. However, it is believed to be a mid-sized company, employing between 11 and 50 people. In addition to being its founder, Simmons serves as the company’s CEO. He still has a position with the company today. 

What Is Russel Simmons Best Known For?

PayPal Mafia

As one of PayPal’s first employees and eventually Chief Technology Officer, Simmons would be part of the exclusive business group known as the PayPal Mafia. This is the group of people who founded PayPal and would go on to enjoy massive business success. Its membership includes some of the biggest names in American business, including Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, David O. Sacks, Reid Hoffman, and more.

Simmons remains very close with the group. In addition to business relationships that intertwine the men in the PayPal Mafia, Simmons boosts recommendations on his LinkedIn profile from Reid Hoffman. Hoffman is the founder of LinkedIn. 

Business Success

There is no question that Simmons has been a business success. He was an instrumental part of the technology behind PayPal, and it was his engineering and computer expertise that helped the company experience massive growth under high-pressure circumstances. Furthermore, his time with Yelp redefined consumer power, and he was able to turn consumers’ word-of-mouth reviews into actionable items. It is believed that Yelp helped to lead a consumer revolution that made reviews and customer service far more powerful. It also gave rise to extensive competition in the form of Google Reviews.

Learnirvana has, as of yet, failed to make the same impact that PayPal and Yelp did. However, there is clearly still ample time for Simmons and Learnirvana to make an impact in the consumer world. 

This video, Paypal Mafia: Where Are they NOW?, recounts what the members of the Paypal Mafia achieved after leaving PayPal.

Russel Simmons: Marriage, Children, Personal Life

Net Worth

Simmons’s exact net worth is not known. However, he has made a series of million-dollar investments in projects that clearly imply he has available cash. 


Simmons is not a PayPal Mafia member who regularly seeks the limelight, gives interviews, or writes books. As such, there is a variety of information about his personal life — and wife — that is not known. It is not known if Simmons has a wife, as there is no public mention of who his wife is or if he even has one. 

Russel Simmons: Awards and Achievements

Simmons’s career has been very successful, and as such, he has earned awards that have recognized his contributions to the business sector. Among those awards are the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, given to him by his college, the University of Illinois.

Russel Simmons: Published Works and Books

At the moment, Simmons has not published any books. However, he is mentioned in many books that discuss PayPal, including its early days. Among those is The Founders, an account of PayPal’s early days.

The Founders: The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley
  • Provides a gripping account of PayPal's origins and the individuals who made its meteoric rise possible
  • Written by award-winning author and biographer Jimmy Soni
  • Explores PayPal's turbulent early days
  • A SABEW "Best in Business Book Awards" finalist and The New Yorker's best book of 2022.
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Russel Simmons: Quotes

Simmons has not made any noteworthy quotes. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Russel Simmons?

Russel Simmons is an American businessperson. He is one of PayPal’s earliest employees and a member of the PayPal Mafia. After leaving PayPal, Simmons co-founded the review site Yelp. He then left to found Learnirvana.

What is Russel Simmons' net worth?

Simmons’ exact net worth is not known, as he does not have any obligation to disclose this number or fill out any forms that would indicate his financial details, including investments or net worth. However, his net worth is believed to be substantial. He has made major investments in a variety of companies, including $4.5 million in Haus, a California alcohol brand. This obviously implies substantial wealth. Other investments made by Simmons include investments in Postmates, MRL Ventures Fund, and Circa.

What companies did Russel Simmons found?

Simmons founded two companies: Yelp and Learnirvana. He is still currently employed by Learnirvana.

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