Why The Billionaire Behind Roblox Decided To Direct His Philanthropy Toward Mental Health

David Baszucki made a fortune cofounding social gaming platform Roblox in 2004. By early 2021, he was a billionaire, thanks to a funding round that valued Roblox at $29.5 billion. He took the business public on the New York Stock Exchange two months later in a $38 billion IPO. Today, Forbes estimates Baszucki’s net worth to be $2.1 billion. Now he’s starting to give it away, to causes that hit particularly close to home.

Baszucki explained why during an appearance at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference, during a panel discussion about philanthropy with the institute’s Dr. Cara Altimus and fellow billionaire and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

“A confluence of three things happened within a span of five years,” Baszucki recalled. His son son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had a “very serious bipolar episode” for more than five years. “We learned firsthand about mental health,” Baszucki said. So his wife Jan ended up scouring the medical research in search of a cure. “We tried everything,” he said, “and ultimately arrived at a metabolic health solution involving a keto diet that has essentially cured him and brought him back to reality.”

Then Baszucki took Roblox public. It didn’t take long to realize how challenging it can be to give away vast sums. “It’s really hard to figure out what to do when you go public–how to wisely deploy that money,” he said.

He and his wife set out to focus their billions on an underserved area: mental health research. “It’s a philanthropic greenfield,” Baszucki told the audience. “Less than 1% of philanthropy goes there; less than 2% of health spending.”

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According to a recent World Health Organization report, governments tend to spend around 2% of their health budgets on mental health. In the U.S., total mental health spending accounts for less than 5.5% of all health spending, per a 2019 report by research firm Open Minds.

The couple’s Baszucki Brain Research Fund invests in technology to prevent and treat bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions. In January, the fund partnered with the Milken Institute–a think tank founded by billionaire Michael Milken that hosts the annual conference–to give $9 million in grants to 45 scientists around the world for research grants for bipolar disorder research. The disorder affects some 45 million people globally.

The Baszuckis also donated $6 million over five years to launch the Baszucki Lymphoma Therapeutics Initiative at UC San Francisco, which supports research to help fight the cancer. Their inspiration again came from personal experience. Jan Baszucki’s father recovered from a near-fatal lymphoma after undergoing treatment by Dr. Babis Andreadis, a professor of clinical medicine at UCSF who the Baszuckis announced will head the initiative.

“There’s something wonderful about the hard problems,” Baszucki said on Monday. “There’s a chance they will fail, but there’s also a chance they’ll be ten times more impactful than anyone could ever imagine.”

To millions of tweens, Baszucki is better known as his avatar, “Builderman.” He built Roblox into an addictive combination video game and social-media site that rivals YouTube and TikTok for engaging children. The $1.9 billion (revenues) business provides tools for kids to make and sell their own games, and sells a virtual currency, called Robux, that can be spent on games and digital trinkets, like avatars and in-game items.

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So far the 59-year-old Baszucki has publicly shifted little of his gaming fortune to charity–his known donations represent just a fraction of his estimated $2.1 billion net worth. But the relative newcomer to the world of philanthropy, who has not signed The Giving Pledge, has said both to Bloomberg and in regulatory filings that he will donate the proceeds from his Roblox stock awards to charity. And, thanks to his 9% stake in the company, there could be billions more to come. “We want to give most of what I’m earning away,” he said Monday.