Peter Thiel is an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, hedge fund manager, philanthropist, political activist, teacher, and author. He’s colorful, controversial, and more conservative than you’d expect. He was among the co-founders of PayPal as well as Facebook’s first professional investor. His other firms include Founders Fund, which backed SpaceX, and Palantir, a data-mining software company with CIA ties. As fascinating a person as there is in Silicon Valley, to say that Thiel is a complex man is akin to saying that da Vinci was merely a tinkerer.
A native of Frankfurt, Germany, Peter Thiel and his family moved to the U.S. when he was a year old. He was mostly reared in California, although he did also spend part of his childhood in South Africa, which actually helped shape his strong commitment to and belief in individualism and other libertarian principles as an adult.
He went to Stanford and received his philosophy degree in 1989. He stayed at Stanford for law school, obtaining his J.D. in 1992. During his schooling in Palo Alto, the campus was in constant chaos due to ongoing debates about political correctness, identity politics, diversity, and multiculturalism – with a dash of complaints about Western society’s high opinion of its contributions to the world, to boot.
Although he wasn’t necessarily against all of these liberal tenets, they did often conflict with his libertarian ideals. His response was founding Stanford Review in 1987 as a conservative balance to that combative atmosphere.
Law Career, in Brief
After Stanford, Peter Thiel worked for several years in law, first as a clerk for a judge and then as a securities lawyer for New York international law firm Sullivan & Cromwell. He also wrote speeches for then-Secretary of Education William Bennett before spending time as a derivatives trader at Credit Suisse.
However, feeling that nothing he was doing had any meaning or value, he eventually moved back to the Bay Area. In 1996, after noticing how the dot-com at the time was impacting the region, he founded investment firm Thiel Capital. A six-figure mistake on one of the firm’s first investments led to a series of events that culminated in his co-founding of Confinity in 1998, a digital payments and cryptography company, which launched its landmark product in 1999.
It was called PayPal.
From PayPal to Facebook
Peter Thiel believes that paper money is an antiquated form of currency that lost its efficiency long ago. His feeling is that it’s inconvenient and causes governments to take advantage of their citizens through inflation and other currency devaluation measures. He co-founded PayPal as a way to help regular people gain more control of their money and protect them from the careless decisions and actions frequently made by renegade governments. With PayPal’s online convenience and cryptographical features, it would make financial transactions easier and more secure.
In 2002, after selling PayPal to eBay for $1.5 billion, Thiel founded global macro hedge fund Clarium Capital, which he began building in earnest. He became such a force that, in 2004, he and Clarium became the first outside professional investor to sink money in Facebook. His $500,000 investment netted him 10% of the company. After Facebook went public in 2012, Thiel made over $1 billion when he sold most of his stake in the social media giant.
Thiel’s Other Ventures
Facebook was not the only way Peter Thiel was involved in the explosion of humanity’s dependence on technology. In 2004, he co-founded Palantir, a data-mining software company initially financially backed by none other than In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital enterprise. A year later, Thiel founded venture firm Founders Fund, which has backed a litany of startups. Between his fund and his own money, Thiel has had his hand in investments in the following:
In 2009, he spun off an investment firm, Valar Ventures, from Thiel Capital to focus on international markets, specifically New Zealand, a market that has always interested Thiel. One notable move was an early-stage investment in New Zealand software firm Xero.
In 2012, he launched investment fund Mithril Capital Management, which focuses on more established companies that are ready for growth.
Peter Thiel focuses a lot of time, money, and support on concepts that portend possible technological breakthroughs, including radical ideas regarding technology, government, and human affairs.
He is a prominent supporter of the safe research and development of AI, believing it to be a key to humanity’s survival. He has donated considerable time and support to seasteading, the mission of which is preparing for humanity to be able to live in permanent ocean communities – another key Thiel believes is necessary to the survival of the human species.
He is obsessed with death, too. Or, rather, he’s obsessed with dodging it. He believes that death is not inevitable. He is a substantial contributor to anti-aging and human longevity research. It is rumored that he has registered to be cryonically suspended in the event of his death so that he may be revived by future technology.
Thiel also supports and promotes journalists’ rights to reporting the news without fear of repercussions. In 2016, he secretly funded Hulk Hogan’s legal costs when the famed ex-pro wrestler sued Gawker website for publishing a sex tape of him with his friend’s wife. Many people criticized Thiel’s involvement as hypocritical, especially after a jury awarded a $140 million verdict to Hogan, which led to Gawker’s demise. Thiel’s reply was that while he does support the rights of journalists, he does not support them for violating the privacy of anyone, even those in the limelight.
Thiel is a multi-dimensional man with strong opinions on everything from politics to human affairs. It’s impossible to pigeonhole him because he has strong beliefs that conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and every ideology in between can claim as their own. He’s relentless, smart, and forward-thinking, so if you’re able to read this in 2216, you may have Peter Thiel to thank.