- Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel published an op-ed in The New York Times on August 1 attacking Google for doing artificial-intelligence research in China while simultaneously refusing to do business with the US military.
- Thiel is an outspoken Trump supporter, according to Forbes.
- Thiel, 51, cofounded PayPal alongside Max Levchin in 1998 and was an early investor in Facebook, according to Bloomberg.
- Thiel has a net worth of $2.5 billion, Forbes estimates.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Peter Thiel, one of Silicon Valley‘s most successful and controversial venture capitalists, has a problem with Google.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Thiel accused the search engine of being unpatriotic for operating an artificial intelligence lab in China while simultaneously developing artificial intelligence for the Pentagon. Thiel has repeatedly launched this criticism at Google in recent years, beginning during a July speech at the National Conservatism conference in which he called the research “treasonous.”
This isn’t the first time Thiel, 51, has expressed issues with Silicon Valley. In 2018, he relocated his home, personal funds, and his foundation from Silicon Valley to Los Angeles, according to The Wall Street Journal, and took his 50-person staff with him. At the time, Thiel said that Silicon Valley felt like a “one-party state,” according to Forbes.
Keep reading to learn more about Peter Thiel.
Peter Thiel was born in Germany, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. He moved to the Bay Area when he was in fifth grade.
- Flickr / Sharon Hahn Darlin
His family first moved to the US when he was a year old, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. They moved around the world a few more times before settling in Foster City, California, south of San Francisco.
He attended Stanford, where he studied philosophy, before getting a law degree, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- Thomson Reuters
While at Stanford, Thiel founded a newspaper called “The Stanford Review” to criticize the University’s emphasis on political correctness, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. He served as its first editor-in-chief.
Thiel became a world-ranked chess player at a young age.
- Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for World Chess
The game even inspired some of Thiel’s business strategies, according to GQ.
Before his career in tech, Thiel was a clerk for an appeals judge.
He landed interviews to clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Antonin Scalia, but he didn’t get the job, Business Insider previously reported. “At the time, I was devastated,” he wrote in his book, “Zero to One.”
After about seven months as a securities lawyer, Thiel took a job as a derivatives trader at Credit Suisse Group and made enough money to launch a financial tech startup called PayPal with Max Levchin.
PayPal later merged with Elon Musk’s payment company, X.com, before selling to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002, according to CNet.
Thiel also coauthored a controversial book that came out the same year PayPal launched.
- The Independent Institute
The book was called “The Diversity Myth,” and it challenged the education system’s political correctness, according to its Amazon listing.
Thiel and his buddy David Sacks argued that colleges were bowing to political correctness, dumbing down their admissions policies and silencing intellectual dissent in the “name of diversity.”
Many of Paypal’s early employees went on to become wealthy angel investors.
- Corbis/The Telegraph
The group, known as “The PayPal Mafia,” includes Keith Rabois, Elon Musk, David Sacks, and Reid Hoffman, Business Insider previously reported.
When PayPal was sold in 2002, Thiel’s stake was worth about $55 million, which he used to launch a hedge fund, Clarium Capital.
- SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Clarium was initially very successful, according to Bloomberg, but lost 90% of its assets by 2011.
Thiel correctly predicted that the US dollar would weaken in 2003 and that it would rally in 2005. A series of decisions based on Thiel’s good foresight helped establish Clarium as a valuable hedge fund.
In 2004, Thiel and Alexander Karp cofounded Palantir, based on Thiel’s idea to use financial industry fraud-detection software to detect terrorist activity.
Palantir can sift through photos, videos and other data to watch for criminal activity, according to its website.
The company was named after the “seeing stones” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” Thiel is famously a huge fan of the books, which he read as a teenager since he wasn’t allowed to watch television, Business Insider previously reported.
In 2004, Thiel became the first outside investor of Facebook.
He made a $500,000 angel investment for about 10% of the company, and joined the board, according to Reuters.
Facebook’s then-president Sean Parker approached LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman first and Hoffman introduced Parker to Thiel, according to Mashable. Once he was on the board, Thiel helped direct Zuckerberg through series funding decisions but stayed out of the day-to-day management.
Between the shares that Thiel sold at the IPO and those he sold shortly after, he made about $1 billion, according to Reuters. “[My] biggest mistake ever was not to do the Series B round at Facebook,” he said in his Reddit AMA.
In the 2010 movie about Facebook, “The Social Network,” Thiel was played by actor Wallace Langham.
- Wallace Langham
Thiel wasn’t a fan of the movie, he wrote on Reddit.
“The zero-sum world [David Fincher’s “The Social Network”] portrayed has nothing in common with the Silicon Valley I know,” Thiel wrote, “but I suspect it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of the dysfunctional relationships that dominate Hollywood.”
Soon after joining Facebook’s board, Thiel started his VC firm, Founders Fund, which he’s best known for today.
- Fred Prouser / Reuters
Founders Fund had a manifesto that once said, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” according to its website. The slogan is a ding at Twitter that expressed his disappointment with what he considered a lack of big ideas from startups. Still, he’s also an active angel investor and has backed about 80 companies including LinkedIn, Yammer, and Yelp.
In 2007, Thiel began a feud with Gawker when the now-terminated website published a story with the headline “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.”
- REUTERS/Tampa Bay Times/John Pendygraft
Thiel responded to the 2007 Gawker story in a 2009 interview with the PE Hub Network, in which he compared the site to Al Qaeda “in that it scares everybody.” The story left a mark on Thiel, as those close to him told Forbes, and has been described as part of his motivation to go after Gawker in court down the road.
As the feud continued, Thiel went on to open two more VC firms.
Valar Ventures has invested in startups including conference room rental service Breather and mobile tax service Taxflix and is based out of New York, according to its website.
Another firm, Austin-based Mithril Capital, backs startups across all sectors that incorporate technology, according to its website. The name “Mithril” is also a Lord of the Rings reference.
In 2011, he launched The Thiel Fellowship, which gives $100,000 and two years of support to 20 applicants under the age of 20 so they can drop out of school and launch their companies.
- Thiel Fellowship
The Thiel Fellowship is based off of Thiel’s belief that college costs too much for what it returns, and that smart kids are better off skipping it to start as soon as possible, according to its website. Dropping out of school, at least for the stipulated two-year period, is a requirement of the fellowship.
In 2016, it was revealed that Thiel had been funding Hulk Hogan’s 2012 case against Gawker.
The former wrestler and TV personality brought his case to court after the site published a sex tape starring Hogan, according to The New York Times. He went on to win the case, and Gawker declared bankruptcy as a direct effect of the monetary loss from the case.
Thiel admitted to putting about $10 million behind similar cases against Gawker, and his attempt to hinder the freedom of the press caused some concern about his position on Facebook’s board, the Times reported. In his first interview after his identity was revealed, he told The New York Times that he considered Gawker a bully. “I thought it would do more harm to me than good,” Thiel said, “One of my friends convinced me that if I didn’t do something, nobody would.”
Thiel’s personal stances <a href=”http://www.businessinsider.com/peter-thiel-rnc-speech-convention-2016-7″ target=”_blank”>took center stage again</a> during the 2016 presidential election, and his open support for the Trump campaign caused rifts with other Silicon Valley executives.
- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Although Thiel is still on the board at Facebook, a leaked email from Reed Hastings – the CEO of Netflix and chairman of the Facebook board committee – to Thiel shows how strongly Hastings felt about his stance, Business Insider previously reported.
“I’m so mystified by your endorsement of Trump for our President, that for me it moves from ‘different judgment’ to ‘bad judgment,'” said the email to Thiel. “Some diversity in views is healthy, but catastrophically bad judgment (in my view) is not what anyone wants in a fellow board member.”
Reed Hastings offered to leave the board when the letter went public, but Zuckerberg refused. Meanwhile, Y Combinator then-President Sam Altman vowed to keep Thiel on his company’s board regardless, but the two quietly split ways about two years after Thiel became a partner.
Thiel also served on the President’s transition team, Business Insider previously reported.
In January 2018, Thiel spoke at his alma mater about how Silicon Valley’s left-leaning ways are hindering progress, calling it “a one-party state.”
- REUTERS/Rick Wilking
“The other side doesn’t care for you, and your side doesn’t care for you because they don’t need to,” he said, according to the Stanford Daily.
Thiel plans to live to be 120 years old and takes human growth hormones every day, he wrote on Reddit in 2015.
- Getty / Chip Somodevilla
“Most people deal with aging by some strange combination of acceptance and denial. I think the psychological blocks to thinking about aging run very deep, and we need to think about it in order to really fight it,” he said in the Reddit AMA.
He donated over $6 million to the Methuselah Foundation, a foundation working on technology to reverse aging, and supports anti-aging research (e.g. the SENS Research Foundation, which is working to stop aging), which he calls “The Immortality Project.” He also backs a bunch of biotech firms.
Thiel has also expressed interest in getting blood transfusions from younger people to slow aging, according to Vanity Fair.
Thiel also signed up with cryogenics company Alcor, which will freeze your ailing body in the hopes of unfreezing it in the future when there is a cure.
- Business Insider at KryoLife
Thiel also invested in the company, according to CNBC.
“In telling you that I’ve signed up for it [cryogenics], there’s always this reaction that it’s really crazy, it’s disturbing. But my take on it is it’s only disturbing because it challenges our complacency,” Thiel told The Telegraph.
Another big idea he’s into appeals to his Libertarianism: He backed the Seasteading Institute, which is building self-sustained floating cities that want to experiment with different types of governments.
- Ephemerisle/Judd Weis
The project was put on hold when it lost the support of the French Polynesian government in 2018, Business Insider previously reported.