Thiel speaking in Berlin, 2014
|Born||Peter Andreas Thiel
October 11, 1967 
Frankfurt am Main, West Germany
|Alma mater||Stanford University (B.A., J.D.)|
|Net worth||US$2.8 billion (Forbes September 2015)|
Peter Andreas Thiel (//; born October 11, 1967) is a German-American entrepreneur, venture capitalist and hedge fund manager. Thiel co-founded PayPal with Max Levchin and Elon Musk and served as its CEO. He also co-founded Palantir, of which he is chairman. He was the first outside investor in Facebook, the popular social-networking site, with a 10.2% stake acquired in 2004 for $500,000, and sits on the company's board of directors.
Thiel serves as president of Clarium Capital, a global macro hedge fund with $700 million in assets under management; a managing partner in Founders Fund, a venture capital fund with $2 billion in assets under management; co-founder and investment committee chair of Mithril Capital Management; and co-founder and chairman of Valar Ventures.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Philanthropy
- 4 Gawker lawsuit
- 5 Political activities
- 6 Religious views
- 7 Other pursuits
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Thiel was born to Germans Klaus Thiel, a chemical engineer, and Susanne Thiel, in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany. Thiel has one brother, Patrick Thiel. Thiel moved to the United States with his parents when he was one year old and was raised in Foster City, California. Thiel, in his youth, was a competitive, highly ranked, under-21 chess player.
College and law school
Thiel formed friendships with other students at Stanford, many of whom contributed to The Stanford Review. These include Keith Rabois, David O. Sacks, and Reid Hoffman. Some of these friends later took up jobs at PayPal which was co-founded by Thiel.
Thiel clerked for Judge J. L. Edmondson of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit for one year after his graduation from Stanford Law School. From 1993 to 1996, he traded derivatives for Credit Suisse Group. In 1996, he founded Thiel Capital Management, a multistrategy fund.
In 1998, Thiel co-founded PayPal, an online payments system, with Max Levchin. The company later merged with X.com, then headed by Elon Musk. PayPal went public on February 15, 2002 and was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion later that year. Thiel's 3.7 percent stake in PayPal was worth approximately $55 million at the time of the acquisition.
According to Eric Jackson's account of PayPal in his book The PayPal Wars, Thiel viewed PayPal's mission as liberating people throughout the world from the erosion of the value of their currencies due to inflation. Jackson recalls an inspirational speech by Thiel in 1999:
We're definitely onto something big. The need PayPal answers is monumental. Everyone in the world needs money – to get paid, to trade, to live. Paper money is an ancient technology and an inconvenient means of payment. You can run out of it. It wears out. It can get lost or stolen. In the twenty-first century, people need a form of money that's more convenient and secure, something that can be accessed from anywhere with a PDA or an Internet connection. Of course, what we're calling 'convenient' for American users will be revolutionary for the developing world. Many of these countries' governments play fast and loose with their currencies," the former derivatives trader [referring to Thiel] noted, before continuing, "They use inflation and sometimes wholesale currency devaluations, like we saw in Russia and several Southeast Asian countries last year [referring to the 1998 Russian financial crisis and 1997 Asian financial crisis], to take wealth away from their citizens. Most of the ordinary people there never have an opportunity to open an offshore account or to get their hands on more than a few bills of a stable currency like U.S. dollars. Eventually PayPal will be able to change this. In the future, when we make our service available outside the U.S. and as Internet penetration continues to expand to all economic tiers of people, PayPal will give citizens worldwide more direct control over their currencies than they ever had before. It will be nearly impossible for corrupt governments to steal wealth from their people through their old means because if they try the people will switch to dollars or Pounds or Yen, in effect dumping the worthless local currency for something more secure.
Thiel launched a global macro hedge fund Clarium Capital, pursuing a global macro strategy. In 2005, Clarium was honored as global macro fund of the year by both MarHedge and Absolute Return, two trade magazines. Thiel’s approach to investing became the subject of a chapter in Steve Drobny’s book, Inside the House of Money. Thiel successfully bet that the U.S. dollar would weaken in 2003, and gained significant returns betting that the dollar and energy would rally in 2005. After significant losses starting in 2009, Clarium dropped from $7 billion in assets in 2008 to around $350 million in 2011.
In 2004, well before the financial crisis of 2007–08 bore him out in general terms, Thiel spoke of the dot-com bubble of 2000 having migrated, in effect, into a growing bubble in the financial sector. He specified General Electric, with its large financing arm, and Walmart as vulnerable. For example, in 2004, he reported having backed away from buying Martha Stewart's Manhattan duplex for $7 million in the winter of 2003–04. While the apartment did sell in 2004 for $6.65 million to another buyer, it was on the market but unsold in early 2010 at $15.9 million, and later at the reduced price of $13.9 million.
In August 2004, Thiel made a $500,000 angel investment in the social network Facebook for 10.2% of the company and joined Facebook's board. This was the first outside investment in Facebook, and Thiel was portrayed in The Social Network (2010) by actor Wallace Langham.
In his book The Facebook Effect, David Kirkpatrick outlines the story of how Thiel came to make his investment: former Napster and Plaxo cofounder Sean Parker, who at the time had assumed the title of "President" of Facebook, was seeking investors for Facebook. Parker approached Reid Hoffman, the CEO of work-based social network LinkedIn. Hoffman liked Facebook but declined to be the lead investor because of the potential for conflict of interest with his duties as LinkedIn CEO. He redirected Parker to Thiel, whom he knew from their PayPal days. Thiel met Parker and Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard college student who had founded Facebook and controlled it. Thiel and Zuckerberg got along well and Thiel agreed to lead Facebook's seed round with $500,000 for 10.2% of the company. Hoffman and Mark Pincus also participated in the round. The investment was originally in the form of a convertible note, to be converted to equity if Facebook reached 1.5 million users by the end of 2004. Although Facebook narrowly missed the target, Thiel allowed the loan to be converted to equity anyway. Thiel said of his investment:
I was comfortable with them pursuing their original vision. And it was a very reasonable valuation. I thought it was going to be a pretty safe investment.
As a board member, Thiel was not actively involved in Facebook's day-to-day decision making. However, he did provide help with timing the various rounds of funding. Zuckerberg credited Thiel with helping him time Facebook's 2007 Series D to close before the 2008 financial crisis.
In September 2010, Thiel, while expressing skepticism about the potential for growth in the consumer Internet sector, argued that relative to other Internet companies, Facebook (which then had a secondary market valuation of $30 billion) was comparatively undervalued. Facebook's IPO was in May 2012, with a market cap of nearly $100 billion ($38 a share), at which time Thiel sold 16.8 million shares for $638 million, at almost $38 per share. In August 2012, immediately upon the conclusion of the early investor lock out period, Thiel sold almost all of his remaining stake for between $19.27 and $20.69 per share, or $395.8 million, for a total of more than $1 billion. He still retained 5 million shares and a seat on the board of directors.
Angel investor and venture capitalist
In addition to Facebook, Thiel has made early-stage investments in numerous startups (personally or through his venture capital fund), including Booktrack, Slide, LinkedIn, Friendster, Rapleaf, Geni.com, Yammer, Yelp Inc., Powerset, Practice Fusion, MetaMed, Vator, Palantir Technologies, IronPort, Votizen, Asana, Big Think, Caplinked, Quora, Rypple, TransferWise, Nanotronics Imaging, Stripe, and Legendary Entertainment. Slide, LinkedIn, Geni.com, and Yammer were founded by Thiel's former colleagues at PayPal: Slide by Levchin, Linkedin by Reid Hoffman, Yelp by Jeremy Stoppelman, and Geni.com and Yammer by David Sacks. Fortune magazine reports that PayPal alumni have founded or invested in dozens of startups with an aggregate value of around $30 billion. In Silicon Valley circles, Thiel is colloquially referred to as the "Don of the PayPal Mafia", as noted in the Fortune magazine article. Thiel's views on management are often referenced, especially his observation that start-up success is highly correlated with low CEO pay.
Through Valar Ventures, an internationally focused venture firm he cofounded with Andrew McCormack and James Fitzgerald, Thiel was also an early investor in Xero, a software firm headquartered in New Zealand.
Mithril: a late-stage investment fund
In June 2012, Peter Thiel launched Mithril, a late-stage investment fund with $402 million at the time of launch, intended for companies that were at the cusp between being private and going public. Other partners in the fund include Jim O'Neill, co-founder of the Thiel Fellowship, and Ajay Royan, a former managing director at Clarium Capital, a hedge fund started by Thiel.
Thiel carries out most of his philanthropic activities through a nonprofit foundation created by him called the Thiel Foundation.
Theory of philanthropy
Thiel devotes much of his philanthropic efforts to potential breakthrough technologies. In November 2010, Thiel organized a Breakthrough Philanthropy conference that showcased eight nonprofits that he believed were working on radical new ideas in technology, government, and human affairs. A similar conference was organized in December 2011 with the name "Fast Forward".
Machine Intelligence Research Institute
Thiel believes in the importance and desirability of a technological singularity. In February 2006, Thiel provided $100,000 of matching funds to back the Singularity Challenge donation drive of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (then known as the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence). Additionally, he joined the Institute's advisory board and participated in the May 2006 Singularity Summit at Stanford as well as at the 2011 Summit held in New York City.
In May 2007, Thiel provided half of the $400,000 matching funds for the annual Singularity Challenge donation drive.
The organization was a participant in the Breakthrough Philanthropy conference (November 2010) and the Fast Forward conference (December 2011).
When asked ”What is the biggest achievement that you haven’t achieved yet?” by the moderator of a discussion panel at the Venture Alpha West 2014 conference, Thiel replied, “Certainly, the area that I’m very passionate about is trying to do something to really get some progress on the anti-aging and longevity front,” describing it as ”a massively under-studied, under-invested phenomena [sic].”
In September 2006, Thiel announced that he would donate $3.5 million to foster anti-aging research through the Methuselah Mouse Prize foundation. He gave the following reasons for his pledge: "Rapid advances in biological science foretell of a treasure trove of discoveries this century, including dramatically improved health and longevity for all. I’m backing Dr. [Aubrey] de Grey, because I believe that his revolutionary approach to aging research will accelerate this process, allowing many people alive today to enjoy radically longer and healthier lives for themselves and their loved ones."
The Thiel Foundation supports the research of the SENS Research Foundation, headed by Dr. de Grey, that is working to achieve the reversal of biological aging. The Thiel Foundation also supports the work of anti-aging researcher Cynthia Kenyon.
The SENS Research Foundation was invited as a participant in Thiel's Breakthrough Philanthropy conference (November 2010) and the Fast Forward conference (December 2011).
Thiel said that he registered to be cryonically suspended, meaning that he would be subject to low-temperature preservation in case of his legal death in hopes that he might be successfully revived by future medical technology.
On April 15, 2008, Thiel pledged US$500,000 to the new Seasteading Institute, directed by Patri Friedman, whose mission is "to establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities to enable experimentation and innovation with diverse social, political, and legal systems". This was followed in February 2010 by a subsequent grant of $250,000, and an additional $100,000 in matching funds.
In a talk at the Seasteading Institute conference in November 2009, Thiel explained why he believed that seasteading was necessary for the future of humanity.
In 2011, Thiel was reported as having given a total of $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute. According to the Daily Mail Peter Thiel was inspired to do so by Ayn Rand's philosophical novel Atlas Shrugged.
The Seasteading Institute was a participant in the Breakthrough Philanthropy conference (November 2010) and the Fast Forward conference (December 2011).
On September 29, 2010, Thiel said he had created a new fellowship called the Thiel Fellowship, which will award $100,000 to 20 people under 20 years old, in order to spur them to drop out of college and create their own ventures. According to Thiel, for many young people, college is the path to take when they have no idea what to do with their lives: "I feel I was personally very guilty of this; you don’t know what to do with your life, so you get a college degree; you don’t know what you’re going to do with your college degree, so you get a graduate degree. In my case it was law school, which is the classic thing one does when one has no idea what else to do. I don’t have any big regrets, but if I had to do it over I would try to think more about the future than I did at the time". "The 24 year-old Peter Thiel had no plan whatsoever", choosing education as a substitute for thinking about personal future. "You cannot get out of student debt even if you personally go bankrupt, it's a form of almost like indentured servitude, it's attached to your physical person for the rest of your life"
In October 2011, the Thiel Foundation announced the creation of Breakout Labs, a grant-making program intended to fund early-stage scientific research that may be too radical or innovative for traditional scientific funding bodies but also too long-term and speculative for venture investors. In April 2012, Breakout Labs announced its first set of grantees.
The Thiel Foundation is also a supporter of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which promotes the right of journalists to report the news freely without fear of reprisal, and the Human Rights Foundation, which organizes the Oslo Freedom Forum.
In May 2016 Thiel confirmed in an interview with The New York Times that he had paid $10 million in legal expenses to finance several lawsuits brought by others, including a lawsuit by Terry Bollea ("Hulk Hogan") against Gawker Media for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and infringement of personality rights after Gawker made public sections of a sex tape of Bollea with a married woman. Gawker published an article on Thiel, outing him in 2007. The jury awarded Bollea $140 million. Gawker announced it was permanently shutting its doors due to the lawsuit in August 2016. Thiel referred to his financial support of Bollea's case as "one of my greater philanthropic things that I've done."
Thiel said he was motivated to sue Gawker after they published a 2007 article discussing his sexuality, which concluded with the statement "Peter Thiel, the smartest VC in the world, is gay. More power to him." Thiel and the author of the article agree that he was already openly gay, but Thiel says that Gawker articles about others, including his friends, had "ruined people's lives for no reason." Thiel said, "It's less about revenge and more about specific deterrence."
Thiel has donated money to the Committee to Protect Journalists and supported freedom of speech, but said, “I refuse to believe that journalism means massive privacy violations. I think much more highly of journalists than that. It’s precisely because I respect journalists that I do not believe they are endangered by fighting back against Gawker.”
On August 15, 2016, Thiel published an opinion piece in The New York Times in which he argued that his defense of online privacy went beyond Gawker. He highlighted his support for the Intimate Privacy Protection Act, and he suggested that athletes and business executives have the right to stay in the closet as long as they want to.
Peter Thiel wrote, on April 13, 2009, in the Libertarian 'Cato Unbound' blog, “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” In the same article, he also wrote, "Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron."
On September 22, 2010, Thiel said at a 2010 fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, "I believe that gay rights and marriage rights for gay people should not be a partisan issue," and "Gay marriage can’t be a partisan issue because as long as there are partisan issues or cultural issues in this country, you’ll have trench warfare like on the western front in World War I. You’ll have lots of carnage and no progress."
He wrote an editorial in National Review in 2011 claiming that the world had entered a "tech slowdown" and that 1969 was when "the hippies took over the country, and when the true cultural war over Progress was lost."
In a 2014 episode of "Conversations with Bill Kristol," he spoke at length on what he perceives to be a crisis in American higher education. He said: "The university system in 2014, it’s like the Catholic Church circa 1514. There’s less diversity, so you have the Dominicans and Franciscans and all these different orders, whereas the diversity between say the Harvard and Stanford political science department is considerably less. But it is sort of, you have this priestly class of professors that doesn’t do very much work; people are buying indulgences in the form of amassing enormous debt for the sort of the secular salvation that a diploma represents."
Thiel is listed as a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group, a private, annual gathering of intellectual figures, political leaders and business executives. He participated in every conference between 2007 and 2016.
Support for political activism
Thiel has supported gay rights causes such as the American Foundation for Equal Rights and GOProud. In 2010, Thiel held Homocon 2010 for GOProud, an LGBT conservative/libertarian organization, in his New York City apartment. Thiel himself is gay. He invited conservative columnist Ann Coulter, who is a friend of his, to Homocon 2010 as a guest speaker. Coulter later dedicated her new book, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America, to Thiel. In 2012, Thiel donated $10,000 to Minnesotans United for All Families, in order to fight Minnesota Amendment 1.
In 2009, it was reported that Thiel helped fund college student James O'Keefe's "Taxpayers Clearing House" video – a satirical look at the politics behind the Wall Street bailout. O'Keefe went on to produce the ACORN undercover sting videos, but through a spokesperson, Thiel denied involvement in – or even knowledge of – the ACORN sting.
Support for political candidates
In December 2007, Thiel endorsed Ron Paul for President. After Ron Paul failed to secure the Republican nomination for president, Thiel contributed to the John McCain/Sarah Palin presidential ticket of 2008.
In 2012, Thiel, along with PayPal co-founder Luke Nosek and Scott Banister, an early adviser and board member, put their support behind Ron Paul's Endorse Liberty Super PAC, alongside Internet advertising veteran Stephen Oskoui and entrepreneur Jeffrey Harmon, who founded Endorse Liberty in November 2011. Collectively Thiel et al. gave $3.9 million to Endorse Liberty, whose purpose was to promote Texas congressman Ron Paul for president in 2012. As of 31 January 2012[update], Endorse Liberty reported spending about $3.3 million promoting Paul by setting up two YouTube channels, buying ads from Google and Facebook and StumbleUpon, and building a presence on the Web. At the 2012 Republican National Convention, Thiel held a private meeting with Rand Paul and Ron Paul's presidential delegates to discuss "the future of the Liberty Movement." After Ron Paul again failed to secure the Republican nomination for president, Thiel contributed to the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan presidential ticket of 2012.
Thiel initially supported Carly Fiorina's campaign during the 2016 GOP presidential primary elections.In 2016, Thiel became one of the pledged California delegates for Donald Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention, and was a headline speaker during that convention, during which he announced that he was "proud to be gay." This made him the first person to publicly announce to the GOP convention that he is gay. On October 15, 2016, Thiel announced a $1.25 million donation in support of Donald Trump's campaign.
Other politicians Thiel has contributed donations to include Rep. James E. Rogan, Don Stenberg, Sen. John Thune Douglas Forrester, Rep. Robin Hayes, Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, Sen. Lamar Alexander, State Sen. Dick Monteith, Rep. Lee Terry, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Rep. Dan Lungren, Rep. Bob Beauprez, Rep. Mike Simpson, Rep. Tom Tancredo, Rep. Mary Bono, Gov. Butch Otter, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Rep. Nancy Johnson, Rep. Scott Garrett, Rep. Tim Johnson, Rep. Bill Thomas, Sen. Jeff Flake, Sen. Jim DeMint, Sen. Jim Talent, Rep. Denny Rehberg, Rep. Rob Simmons, Rep. Jon Porter, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Rep. Ed Royce, Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Rep. Bob Schaffer, John Neely Kennedy, Sen. Norm Coleman, Rep. Mike Coffman, Rep. Eric Cantor, John Raese, Dino Rossi, Ryan Brumberg, Sen. Rand Paul, Randy Altschuler, Rep. Justin Amash, State Sen. Richard Tisei, Kevin McCarthy, Sen. Ted Cruz, Josh Mandel, and Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Thiel grew up in an evangelical Christian household but now describes his religion beliefs as "somewhat heterodox." Thiel has stated: "I believe Christianity is true. I don't sort of feel a compelling need to convince other people of that." Thiel said in a 2014 interview, that "I think that faith and technological progress are related, or can be related, but they are not substitutes."
During his time at Stanford, he attended a lecture given by the French literary critic and philosopher René Girard, which led him to Girard’s books, and he became a devotee. Girard had developed a theory of mimetic desire, of people learning to want and compete for the same things, which attempted to explain the origins of violence. Girard, a Catholic, explained the role of sacrifice and the scapegoat in resolving social conflict, which appealed to Thiel, offering a basis for his Christian belief without the fundamentalism of his parents.
Media appearances and commentary
Awards and honors
In 2006, Thiel won the Herman Lay Award for Entrepreneurship. In 2007, he was honored as a Young Global leader by the World Economic Forum as one of the 250 most distinguished leaders age 40 and under. On November 7, 2009, Thiel was awarded an honorary degree from Universidad Francisco Marroquin In 2012, Students For Liberty, an organization dedicated to spreading libertarian ideals on college campuses, awarded Thiel its "Alumnus of the Year" award, and Thiel delivered the keynote address at the 2012 International Students For Liberty Conference.
The Diversity Myth
Thiel is the co-author, with David O. Sacks, and with a foreword by the late Emory University historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, of the 1995 book The Diversity Myth: 'Multiculturalism' and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford, published by The Independent Institute. The book is critical of political correctness in higher education and the consequent dilution of academic rigor. It "drew a sharp rebuttal from then-Stanford Provost (and later President George W. Bush's National Security Advisor) Condoleezza Rice," with Rice joining Stanford's then president in writing "They (the two former students) concoct a cartoon, not a description of our freshman curriculum" and that Thiel and Sacks' "commentary was demagoguery, pure and simple."
According to his 2011 New Yorker profile, Thiel has backtracked somewhat from his assertions in the book:
'All of the identity-related things are in my mind much more nuanced,' he said. 'I think there is a gay experience, I think there is a black experience, I think there is a woman’s experience that is meaningfully different. I also think there was a tendency to exaggerate it and turn it into an ideological category.' But his reaction against political correctness, he said, was just as narrowly ideological.
Thank You For Smoking
Teaching and book on startups: Zero to One
In spring 2012 Thiel taught Stanford class CS 183: Startup. Notes for the course, taken by student Blake Masters, led to a book titled Zero to One by Thiel and Masters, released September 2014. Thiel was interviewed about his book by Professor Teppo Felin at the University of Oxford in May 2015.
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