Peter Thiel is an entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, and political activist. He is one of the founders of PayPal and has founded several venture capital firms, including Clarium Capital, Founders Fund, Valar Ventures, and Mithril Capital Management.
Thiel was born on October 11, 1967, in Frankfurt, Germany. He and his family relocated to several areas when he was a young child. They first moved to Cleveland, Ohio in the United States when he was one year old, then to South West Africa, and finally settled in Foster City, California for the remainder of Thiel's childhood. As a child, Thiel was a good student and an avid chess player, and he enjoyed reading science fiction and fantasy books. For these reasons, he was bullied, and the harassment continued into his college years as Thiel kept these hobbies.
Thiel graduated from San Mateo High School in 1985 and went on to attend Stanford University. While in college, he discovered the author Ayn Rand, whose works influenced Thiel's conservative political views. In 1987, Thiel and a friend founded The Stanford Review together, Stanford's conservative monthly newsletter. He also joined Stanford's College Republicans group. Besides Ayn Rand, Thiel found inspiration in the philosopher René Girard. After earning his bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1989, Thiel attended Stanford Law School and graduated in 1992 with a doctor of jurisprudence degree.
His first venture after college was as a clerk for Judge James Larry Edmondson. Thiel's next job was at the Wall Street firm Sullivan & Cromwell, but he quit after less than a year. He also quickly quit his third job, at Credit Suisse, saying he was going to start a hedge fund. Thiel Capital Management was founded by Thiel in 1996 with $1 million and was the predecessor to his later firm, Clarium Capital.
The night of a lecture he gave at Stanford University in 1998, Thiel met Max Levchin, a young computer scientist who had already launched and sold several of his own technology startups. The two became business partners and began creating a company with a licensing platform for encrypting sensitive and criminal information. Thiel funded the venture, which they called Field Link, through Thiel Capital Management. After realizing there was no demand for that sort of service, they abandoned the project. It was then that Thiel had the idea of a similar storage and encryption service using money.
Levchin quickly created an informal technology-based "IOU" note system, in which IOU monetary requests could be sent to and from other Palm PDA users via the device's infrared ports. They named this venture Confinity and launched the company in 1998 in Mountain View, California. This direct method of payment between ordinary users developed into the first version of the PayPal platform, which was introduced in 1999. Still just a service for Palm users, PayPal wasn't particularly successful until 2000 when the payment technology was brought online to use in internet merchant payments. Up until this point, goods purchased online were typically paid for with checks or money orders, which required more time to mail and process than an instant e-payment. PayPal user accounts were linked to external bank accounts and credit cards as payment methods. Money could also be deposited directly into the account and earn interest.
In March 2000, Confinity and X.com, an online financial services company founded by Elon Musk, merged together and officially changed the company name to PayPal in 2001. The merger led to a disagreement between Musk and X.com's CEO, Bill Harris, who resigned in May 2000. PayPal's customer base grew rapidly, and the platform was widely associated with eBay as it became one of the most used and accepted payment platforms on the site. Several other online merchants accepted the payment method as well.
Musk took over as CEO after Harris quit. In October 2000, while Musk was taking a vacation, he was ousted from his position after company executives delivered a motion of no confidence about him to PayPal's board of directors. He was replaced by Thiel. PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in October 2002, at which point Thiel resigned as CEO.
Thiel founded Clarium Capital in 2002, a hedge fund, with $10 million of his total earnings of $60 million from the PayPal sale. By 2008, the fund had lost a great deal of value in its assets and 90% value by 2010, though it would go on to recover. Clarium Capital has mainly invested in early-stage companies, including Zynga, FreedomPay, and Cavendish Kinetics.
Palantir Technologies was founded in 2003. It is a data gathering and analysis company that mainly performs contract work for the United States federal government. Police departments in several states use Palantir's software. The company has been recognized as a key developer in post-9/11 intelligence and surveillance tools dedicated to identifying suspicious and terrorist activities. Individuals and entities for human rights have criticized Palantir's software and its invasive practices. Palantir Technologies has never reported a net profit.
Thiel's venture capital firm, Founders Fund, was founded in 2005. The firm invests in what it sees as riskier startups and aims to give founders more freedom with how they use their funding. Its invested companies include Airbnb, Affirm, Stripe, Ramp, Spotify, Eight Sleep, Postmates, Withco, and more.
Valar Ventures, a venture capital firm founded in 2010, invests in information technology companies like Novo, Simpl, and Hopscotch.
Mithril Capital Management, another one of Thiel's investment firms, was founded in 2012. The firm invests in innovative global technology companies and has invested in companies like Paxos, Helion Energy, AiFi, and others.
The Thiel Fellowship is a grant awarded to college students under twenty-two years of age who drop out of college. Twenty to thirty applicants are chosen each year to receive a $100,000 grant spread out over two years. Recipients use the awarded money to launch startups, invent something, create non-profit organizations, and pursue other ventures that aim to bring new ideas to the world. Thiel established the fellowship in 2011. Notable recipients of the Thiel Fellowship include Ari Weinstein and Conrad Kramer, who worked together to create an app called Workflow, which allows users to perform tasks from multiple apps in one; Ritesh Agarwal, who founded the Asian hospitality company OYO; and Dylan Field, a cofounder of Figma, which offers software design tools.
Thiel was a part-time partner at Y Combinator from March 2015 to November 2017, when he quietly left the company. No reason was given for his departure.
Thiel is a billionaire. As of April 13, 2022, Thiel's net worth is $5.1 billion. In January 2021, Thiel purchased an $18 million waterfront property in Miami Beach belonging to the former CEO of Ford. He also purchased a $13 million home in Washington, D.C. from Wilbur Ross, former United States Secretary of Commerce, in November 2021.
Thiel has long espoused conservative and libertarian beliefs since his college days at Stanford when he founded The Stanford Review. Thiel was a vocal supporter of Republican nominee Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election. Thiel donated over $1.25 million to his campaign and was a member of Trump's transition team. Other Republican nominees in lower political spheres have received support from Thiel as well. In 2009, he made controversial comments regarding women's suffrage and indicated it was detrimental to modern-day political problems.
An opinion piece published on Gawker in December 2007 claimed that Thiel was gay and hiding his true sexual orientation, albeit somewhat jokingly. The article resulted in a grudge against Gawker, which Thiel would hold for years. Shortly after the article's publication, Thiel hired a private investigator to look into Gawker's founder, Nick Denton. In April 2011, Thiel was contacted by an acquaintance who was first known publicly as Mr. A—later revealed to be named Aron D’Souza. D'Souza approached Thiel with an elaborate plan to run Gawker out of business by using shell companies to fund lawyers to investigate the company and sue it. D'Souza began looking for lawyers willing to be involved in such a case and eventually settled on lawyer Charles Harder.
In 2012, Gawker published a sex tape from 2006 involving wrestler Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Gene Bollea) and Heather Clem, Bubba the Love Sponge's wife. All three parties had consented and were privy to the sexual acts taking place between Hogan and Clem; however, the encounter was secretly filmed by Bubba the Love Sponge, without Hogan's knowledge. Bubba stored the tapes in a desk at the radio station he worked at. The tapes were leaked six years later by a suspected rival DJ of Bubba's, although no one was ever charged. Hogan announced his intent to file a lawsuit against Gawker, news that quickly reached Thiel, who offered to pay for part of Hogan's legal defense in the case. Lawyer Charles Harder filed the lawsuit on behalf of Hogan in October 2012 for damages of $100 million.
Suspicions of Hogan's lawsuit being privately funded were raised as the trial was dragged out and Hogan refused to settle, despite the sensitive nature of the case and Hogan's own purported lack of funds. The case was settled in March 2016, with Hogan being awarded $115 million in damages, which were later increased to $140 million. Thiel publicly revealed in May 2016 that he financed $10 million of Hogan's lawsuit to "fight back" against Gawker and its exploitative stories. In June 2016, Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy as it couldn't afford to pay Hogan's damages. The company was put up for auction. Thiel offered to buy the company in January 2018 but withdrew his bid in April that year and agreed to no longer fund any legal action toward Gawker.
Thiel publicly came out as gay for the first time in July 2016 at that year's Republican National Convention. He married Matt Danzeisen in October 2017. They have an infant daughter.
Thiel holds birthright citizenship in Germany and became a naturalized United States citizen as a young child after moving there. Thiel applied for and was granted citizenship in New Zealand in 2011, reportedly in preparation for a possible future worldwide crisis or doomsday scenario. The property he purchased in the South Island was 477 acres. These acts stirred controversy as it was believed that Thiel, a wealthy man, had purchased his citizenship. He drew more negative attention in 2021 after he submitted an application to build a luxury lodge on South Island. This drew criticism from environmental groups who said it would be a disruptive addition to the local environment.
Thiel has interest in anti-aging efforts and how to extend the average human lifespan. In 2014, he said he regularly took human growth hormone pills and is hoping to live to age 120. He has expressed interest in the practice of parabiosis, which in humans involves receiving blood transfusions from a younger person. Thiel has donated millions of dollars to fund anti-aging research efforts. He has also made plans to be cryogenically frozen upon his death.
Peter Thiel on "The Straussian Moment"
September 23, 2019
September 21, 2021
The World According to Thiel
February 11, 2020
Zero to One
Peter Thiel, Blake Masters
September 16, 2014