Who is Peter Thiel?
Peter Andreas Thiel is an American entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author and philanthropist. He is well-known as the co-founder of the American online payment service company PayPal, and the founder of American investment management and hedge fund company Clarium Capital. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Thiel grew up in the US. He commenced career as judicial clerk and later founded ‘Thiel Capital.’ Thereafter, he co-founded PayPal and remained its CEO till eBay acquired the company. He then went on to launch ‘Clarium Capital’ and co-founded startups like the private American software company, ‘Palantir Technologies,’ venture capital firm, ‘Founders Fund,’ and venture capital fund, ‘Valar Ventures.’ He also partnered the American seed accelerator, ‘Y Combinator,’ and became the first outside investor in ‘Facebook.’ A conservative libertarian, he co-founded the student-run newspaper, ‘The Stanford Review,’ and has made donations to several politicians. He is also the founder of the ‘Thiel Foundation.’
Childhood & Early Life
Peter Thiel was born on October 11, 1967, in Frankfurt, West Germany, to Klaus Friedrich Thiel and Susanne. He has a younger brother called Patrick Michael Thiel.
When Thiel was a year old, his family migrated to the US and settled in Cleveland. His father’s professional endeavours saw the family moving to South Africa and South West Africa (presently Namibia) prior to settling down in Foster City, California, in 1977.
He was a chess prodigy; he started playing the game at the age of six. In 1992, he attained a peak rating of 2342 from United States Chess Federation (USCF). He was awarded the title of Life Master.
He attended San Mateo High School where he was chosen valedictorian of his graduating class in 1985. He then attended the Stanford University to study philosophy. At Stanford, Thiel along with Norman Book founded the student-run newspaper, ‘The Stanford Review,’ to provide conservative and libertarian viewpoints. Thiel became the newspaper’s first editor-in-chief and served the position till he earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1989.
He then attended the Stanford Law School and obtained his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1992.
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After receiving his J.D. Thiel started working as a judicial clerk for Judge James Larry Edmondson. Thereafter, he served international law firm Sullivan & Cromwell in New York as a securities lawyer for around seven months.
In 1993, he began working with Credit Suisse as a derivatives trader in currency options. Meanwhile, he also worked as speechwriter for former-U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett.
In 1996, he returned to California and set-up ‘Thiel Capital Management.’
In December 1998, he along with Luke Nosek and Max Levchin co-founded the American software company, ‘Confinity Inc.,’ in Silicon Valley. The company was originally launched as a Palm Pilot payments and cryptography company.
Thiel had the objective of creating a digital wallet, which eventually led Confinity to launch ‘PayPal’ in 1999. PayPal supports online money transfer and works as an electronic alternative of the conventional mode of payments, such as cheques and money orders. During launch of PayPal, Deutsche Bank and Nokia representatives used PayPal on their PalmPilots to sent Thiel $3 million in venture funding.
With time, PayPal expanded into the wireless phone market through mergers with X.com and Pixo. On February 15, 2002, the company went public and later in October that year it was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion. Thiel who had a 3.7% stake in the company stepped down as its CEO following the sale.
In 2002, he established the global macro hedge fund company, ‘Clarium Capital Management LLC,’ in San Francisco. The funds under management of the company grew to $8 billion in 2008. However as of 2011, its assets declined to $300–400 million due to several unprofitable investments and client redemptions.
He co-founded a software company, ‘Palantir Technologies,’ in May 2003. Thiel serves as Chairman of the company that is headquartered in Palo Alto, California, and specializes in big data analytics. Palantir witnessed a steady rise and was valued at $20 billion in late 2015. Morgan Stanley valued it at $6 billion in 2018.
He became the first outside investor in Facebook in August 2004 when he made a $500,000 angel investment in the company for a 10.2% stake in it. He also became a board member of Facebook. He sold 16.8 million shares of Facebook for $638 million when the company held its initial public offering in May 2012. Eventually, he sold a substantial portion of his Facebook shares. He remains on the board of directors of the company.
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In July 2005, he co-founded a venture capital firm, ‘Founders Fund,’ based in San Francisco. The firm invests in companies building revolutionary technologies. At the personal level, Thiel has made investments in different startups.
He launched the venture capital fund, ‘Valar Ventures,’ along with Andrew McCormack and James Fitzgerald. Thiel serves as the chairman of the company that became the first venture fund to invest in Xero in October 2010.
He is also investment committee chair of ‘Mithril Capital Management’ that he co-founded in June 2012.
Thiel was also a partner at the American seed accelerator ‘Y Combinator’ from 2015 to 2017.
Thiel is a libertarian, and as a dedicated member of the Republican Party he has been contributing for different Libertarian and Republican causes.
He endorsed Ron Paul for President in December 2007, contributed to the John McCain 2008 presidential campaign, backed Meg Whitman during the 2010 California gubernatorial election, and supported Ron Paul for president in 2012, and upon Paul’s failure to get the Republican Party nomination for president, Thiel contributed to the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan presidential ticket of 2012.
He backed Donald Trump and donated $1.25 million to support the latter’s 2016 presidential campaign. Following the victory of Trump, Thiel was included in the executive committee of the Trump transition team.
Thiel has also contributed donations to several other politicians, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, Ryan Brumberg, Rep. Mike Coffman and Douglas Forrester.
He is a Steering Committee member of the Bilderberg Group.
He founded the ‘Thiel Foundation’ through which he executes most of his philanthropic endeavours. He governs the foundation’s three main internal projects - Breakout Labs, Imitatio and Thiel Fellowship. The foundation also supports outside groups and had made major funding in non-profit research in areas of seasteading, artificial intelligence, and life extension.
He has been an occasional commentator on CNBC and featured in CNBC programs like ‘Squawk Box’ and ‘Closing Bell.’
Thiel co-authored the book, ‘The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford,’ with David O. Sacks. In September 2014, Thiel and Blake Masters came up with the book, ‘Zero to One.’ Thiel has also contributed articles to ‘Policy Review’, ‘Forbes’, ‘First Things,’ and ‘The Wall Street Journal’.
He was credited as co-producer of the commercially successful 2005 satirical-comedy film, ‘Thank You for Smoking.’
Thiel is a German citizen by birth. He became a naturalized citizen of the US in 1978, and a citizen of New Zealand in 2011.
Thiel is a gay. He got married to his long-time partner, Matt Danzeisen, in Vienna, Austria, in October 2017. He has backed different gay right causes like ‘GOProud’ and ‘American Foundation for Equal Rights.’