Peter Thiel’s profile: The Disruptive Billionaire

Peter Thiel’s Profile – not the average billionaire investor! 
IntelligentHQ Disruptive Investor and Entrepreneur Profile Series

When you look at the concept of disruption and when you think about the future and through leadership in its most provocative ways one name needs to be mentioned: Peter Thiel. Whether you agree or not with his unconventional ways of thinking, investing and acting one thing is sure he has been succeeding in multiple ways never seen before, with exception of probably personalities such as the Medici in the Renaissance.

Peter Thiel has been conducting disruptive new ways in industries such as: payments, finance, social networks, web, thinking and education. Creator, Co-founder of PayPal, and its first Chairman and CEO, he was as well the first big Investor of LinkedIn, Facebook (where he was the first outside investor and director), YouTube and other powerful and emergent start-ups (the list is giant and still ongoing once he is still quite young, born in1967) .

To say that German-born Peter Thiel is not the average billionaire investor would be a heavy understatement. With an unique passion for technology Peter Thiel is an investor, philanthropist, venture capitalist and 360 degrees entrepreneur.  Peter has an unique personality and energy and he is known as the mentor of the “PayPal mafia” (a term first coined by a 2007 Fortune article), a group of highly successful investors: Reid Hoffman, Elon Munck,  Max Levckin, Roelof Botha, Jeremy Stoppelman, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, Keith Rabois, David Sacks, Dave MaClure, entrepreneurs and doers that have been changing several industries and innovating as few.

His work has been in the direction of accelerating innovation to prevent crisis and focused on identifying and funding promising technology ideas and guiding successful companies to scale and dominate their industries. In his youth, he was one of the top under-21 chess players in the USA, and achieved a junior doctorate from Stanford Law School in 1992 before embarking on a short career as a lawyer. There he founded as well a philosophy magazine amongst other activities. He made the switch into finance and payments the following year, and between 1993 and 1996 he made a small fortune trading derivatives for the Credit-Suisse group.

Peter Thiel  big break came in 1997, when he met up with Ukrainian-born computer programmer Max Levchin to discuss a new venture. Levchin’s original idea was to create a system that would allow people email payments using PalmPilots, but Thiel encouraged him to think bigger, and PayPal was born. The idea was simple – to create a user-friendly, trustworthy, and straightforward payment system for web commerce. At that time, if you wanted to buy something over the internet, you had to send a cheque (slow and unreliable), arrange a bank transfer (costly and time consuming) or hand over your credit card details, which exposed users to the risk of credit card fraud. With Paypal, all you had to do was set up an account and log in every time you made a payment.

This hassle-free system soon became the most popular payment option on eBay, which at that point was growing at an exponential rate. Over the next five years, PayPal acquired over 20 million users and burned through $180m in funding before breaking even and selling out to eBay for $1.5 billion. In the years that followed, he made a number of other extremely smart investments, most notably by purchasing 10.2% of the fledgeling social networking site Facebook for just $500,000 in 2004. That stake alone is now worth around $10 billion on paper, and it is just part of a portfolio of investments that includes sizeable investments in Slide, Yelp, Digg, and YouTube.

Libertarian with a strong anti-establishment streak

A staunch libertarian with a strong anti-establishment streak, Thiel believed that PayPal provided a way to circumvent government interference and taxation.  In creating a new virtual currency, Thiel was taking on national governments and huge financial institutions, which required vast engineering, financial, and legal expertise as well as a siege mentality among the workforce. This anti-government, anti-mainstream attitude permeated his hiring policies and the corporate culture at PayPal. At first, Thiel hired friends from Stanford, and Levchin brought in friends from the University of Illinois. They were looking for super-competitive, multi-lingual, well-read workaholics with a strong proficiency in mathematics. Crucially, they were not looking for consultants, MBAs, frat boys or jocks, and turned down many applicants on the basis that they enjoyed playing sports such as basketball. Basically, they were looking for people that were like them – geeky, rebellious guys without a lot of social distractions.

His management style is also highly unorthodox. His hallmark move at PayPal was to introduce all-hands open-book meetings, in which all the company data, including burn rate, fraud losses, revenue flow, and customer logs were there for every employee to see. This open approach extended to the layout of the PayPal headquarters, which was completely open plan, with no offices or private meetings. This created a flat, non-hierarchical structure where rank or station were no barriers to getting ideas heard.

An education, science and technology radical philanthropist and radical thought leader

With a BA in Philosophy from Stanford University and a JD from Stanford Law School Peter Thiel has been always an active writer and publisher involved with a variety of philanthropic, academic, and cultural pursuits.

Peter Thiel serves in various committees and boards, is an active speaker in thought leadership events and organisations. He is a primary supporter of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a group that promotes press freedom worldwide. Peter remains active at his alma mater, and has taught at Stanford Law School, in addition to serving on the Board of Overseers of the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

Outside of the business world, and his main company Clarium Capital Management, a global macro hedge fund, Thiel has a keen interest in science and technology. Part of his philanthropist has been divided in funding for various foundations and organisations. He has donated $3.5m to the life extension research organisation The Methuselah Foundation, a medical charity dedicated to extending healthy human lifespans, run by controversial academic Aubrey de Grey. He is also a board member of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which seeks to foster the responsible development of advanced computing technologies and even discussed offering cryogenic freezing as an employee benefit in the early days of PayPal.

Recently he has been pushing the discussion about education with his radical re-thinking of what ideas are about and what is necessary to succeed with thinking out of the box. Having started the Thiel Fellowship he has been encouraging under 20 years old entrepreneurs with lifelong learning and independent thought with $100,000 funding and 2 years free to pursue their dreams.

Honored by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader, he was named as one of the 25 most influential people on the Web by BusinessWeek. A true Silicon Valley ‘Utopian’ leader-investor Peter Thiel is the one of the billionaire that uses ideas, investment and capacities to change and innovate industries, thus the world. The next great technology revolution might be around the corner, and investors such as Peter Thiel are the ones leading it.

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