He's a 'Strange, Strange Boy' Who Became Wildly Influential

Max Chafkin excerpts his new book on the PayPal, Palantir founder Peter Thiel
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 26, 2021 10:05 AM CDT
He's a 'Strange, Strange Boy' Who Became Wildly Influential
In this July 21, 2016, file photo, entrepreneur Peter Thiel speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Peter Thiel was "a strange, strange boy," Max Chafkin quotes a former classmate as saying. After reading the piece Chafkin adapted from his new biography of the PayPal and Palantir founder for New York Magazine, some stronger adjectives and descriptions might come to mind. The excerpt zeroes in on Thiel's time at Stanford and the "right-wing provocateur" he established himself as there. It touches on the PayPal origin story, which includes PayPal's first office landing on the same floor as that of Elon Musk's similar startup, which ultimately somersaulted into the two companies merging and Thiel exiting, only to have Musk ultimately fall victim to what Chafkin terms a "trap" laid by Thiel that saddled Musk with an executive team that favored Thiel and ultimately brought him back in.

Chafkin also goes deep into the almost impossible-to-overstate impact Thiel has had on Silicon Valley startups, chief among them Facebook (Chafkin paints Zuckerberg as a bit of a mini-me), while making clear that Thiel is different than "pretty much every important figure in Silicon Valley who’d come before him." One story that illustrates that point: At a PayPal board meeting around 2001, Thiel reportedly argued that PayPal's cash should be moved to his hedge fund, Thiel Capital, "so that he could take advan­tage of the economic upheaval of the post-dot-com bubble," with Thiel explaining "he had a plan to bet on interest rates falling." Some were agog. "Risking a start-up’s limited cash on speculation—particularly speculation that had the potential to personally enrich the CEO—was something no venture capitalist, nor any self-respecting tech entrepreneur, would even consider suggesting." (Read the fascinating full piece for much more.)

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