Peter Thiel

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Peter Thiel on Forbes' Midas List
Birthname Peter Thiel
Date of Birth October 11, 1967
Birth Place Frankfurt, West Germany
Nationality German, American
Occupation Entrepreneur & venture capitalist
Biography Prominent entrepreneur, founder of PayPal, Palantir, Clarium Capital, and more. Heavily involved in the advancement of disruptive technology in the Valley.

Peter Andreas Thiel (born October 11, 1967) is an American entrepreneur, innovator and venture capitalist. Known for his reputation in Silicon Valley for both creating companies and funding a variety of founders, Thiel is frequently cited as a major figure in the tech industry throughout the turn of the century. An immigrant from the now defunct West Germany, Thiel showed an early aptitude for chess and mathematics, frequently topping the leaderboard for the under-13 chess division.[1] After finishing up high school in Foster City, California, Thiel enrolled in the Philosophy program at Stanford University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in 1989 followed up with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) several years later. After graduation, Thiel bounced between several jobs in Wall Street and governmental agencies before ultimately starting his first venture in 1996 and PayPal in 1999.

Key Business Endeavors


Max Levchin, a computer scientist with a history of selling self-started companies to corporations such as Microsoft, decided to attend a lecture Thiel was giving at Stanford University one afternoon in 1998. Intrigued by Thiel's lecture, he approached him with an idea to create encryption software that could be licensed out to individuals and corporations who needed it. While Thiel liked the concept initially, after doing some more research he found the concept had no real market and instead proposed a new concept - a way to send virtual debt collections online. Thus, with a team of two more the group launched Confinity in 1998, and eventually switched to PayPal a year later as they tuned the firm to accomodate a larger market.

While the company was strong growth wise, their bottom line was often abysmal, a hallmark of the dot-com boom at the time. In addition, PayPal found themselves in constant competition with a similar venture -, headed by Elon Musk. Not to be outdone by the group, Musk routinely copied elements of Paypal promotions, such as "bounties" for getting a friend to sign up, and made them even more rewarding. The result was a war of attrition, with both and PayPal paying absurd amounts towards customer acquisition while managing anemic cash flow. After realizing the defeatist nature of the conflict, the two companies made a truce and decided to merge at the turn of the century, with Thiel and Musk taking prominent roles in the joint venture, flanked by the original crew from PayPal’s founding and William Harris, the CEO who was later forced out by Musk. However, PayPal’s core group was unhappy with Musk as well, and rallied together to overthrow Musk and replace him with Thiel at the helm.

Still cash-starved but reborn, PayPal quickly turned their eyes to the markets, and prepped an Initial Public Offering pinning them at a 1.2 billion dollar valuation before being hastily acquired by eBay in October 2002. Thiel maintained his chief position and received a large windfall after the acquisition, which he would later put towards a young Facebook, as well as Palantir. [2] Many of the PayPal group have gone on to found and lead other companies, earning them the moniker “PayPal Mafia” for their significant role in the Valley after their acquisition.[3]


Using his windfall from the acquisition of PayPal, Thiel went on to form Palantir with a group of Stanford and PayPal alumnus in May 2003. <link> Named after the Lord of the Rings centerpiece known for its ability to see events far away before they unfold, Thiel sought to have Palantir serve as a risk modeling tool for crime, with the intent of providing analytics to enforcement agencies and stop malicious activity rather than responding to it.[4] While venture capital firms had little interest in Thiel’s new creation, the idea caught the eye of the Central Intelligence Agency, who invested in Palantir through their own venture capital arm and later provided the firm with human capital as well.

To get traditionally archaic governmental bodies on board, Thiel returned the use of bounties for client acquisition, albeit at a larger scale. The model was simple - by joining Palantir, you can get discounted access to the service in return for a copy of your data stores, which were then put to use in Palantir’s predictive forecasts. The proposition was a success, and by 2010 Palantir attracted major governmental agencies such as the CIA, FBI, Air Force, Marines, and plenty more onto Palantir’s data mines and extensive contract plan. Defence agencies were not the sole benefactors of Palantir, as seen when the Securities Investor Protection Corporation used Palantir to convict Bernie Madoff, and also in instances such as the CDC signing a contract with the firm to monitor a worrying Cholera outbreak abroad.[5] However, after bouts of infighting, as well as negative press once Palantir’s intentions were revealed - the firm spun off this division into “Palantir Gotham” and recreated its core business into enterprise oriented services such as customer retention analysis. Due to the sensitive nature of Palantir’s work it is unclear how much of their revenue can be attributed to each branch, but the Wall Street Journal and other sources speculate recent rise in revenue can be attributed to an increased focus on corporational analytics. [6]

Ethical Dilemmas



Thiel has been involved in a multitude of issues regarding issues of speech as well as journalistic responsibility. The most notorious of these instances is Thiel’s feud with Gawker, a major publications company, who in 2007 noted that Thiel was (correctly) homosexual, penning an article entitled “Peter Thiel is Totally Gay, People”.[7]. In an act that Thiel himself described as “one of my greater philanthropic things I have done”, Thiel personally funded over $10 million in legal case fees against Gawker Media after they published Hulk Hogan’s notorious sex tape. [8]. Gawker found themselves unable to match the quality of counsel Thiel provided, and was eventually forced into solvency after a judge awarded a $100 million dollar judgement to Hulk Hogan, formally known as Terry Bollea. Since Thiel personally had no damage in the case, yet blatantly funded one of the largest media takedowns for publishing unknown facts about him, many journalists have viewed this as a suppression of speech.

While Thiel attempted to quell the press in the Gawker case, as a prominent board member of Facebook Thiel pushed for the platform not to fact-check political advertisements, but rather let viewers detect disinformation, a premise that has been shown hard to achieve. [9] After Facebook followed through with implementing fact-checking for the 2018 election cycle, Thiel publicly mulled his decision to the Facebook board and, as of February 2020, diminished his once valuable position in the company to a mere fraction of a percent.[10]

Adding to his flipped image of journalistic dominance, Thiel has also financially backed a publication looking to discredit climate change and evolution.[11]

Personal Remarks

Notorious for his contrarian yet outspoken demeanor, Thiel has also had his fair share of controversial statements. His most lengthy is The Diversity Myth, a novel in which Thiel brings together numerous sources to show how university classes are often tinted with a leftist political view, drawing from his own experiences at Stanford where he frequently debated fellow students on the topic.[12]. He exhibits many of these same political views today, and was often regarded as the integral Republican bastion on the Facebook board in a time where political advertisements on Facebook were coming into question after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and reports that foreign adversaries were using Facebook to spread disinformation during the 2016 election cycle. Thiel also has commented on the activities of other major tech companies, as seen when he penned an op-ed in the New York Times claiming that software giant Google has been infiltrated by the Chinese government. Strongly encouraging President Trump to investigate the company for treason, Trump agreed to launch a formal investigation of the company in June 2019.[13]



While PayPal has been relatively transparent about steps to increase privacy, the FTC found one of their child companies, Venmo, in violation of several privacy laws that may have been violated to increase their bottom line. Specifically, Venmo was accused of auto-friending every contact found in a user's phone (similar to the "bounty" notion Thiel heralds), and was illegally vague about transfer time to their bank account, which the FTC speculated may help their underlying business metrics.[14]. Although the FTC did not disclose the sum fined, they released a subsequent fine figure of over $40,000 for each violation, underscoring the severity of the issue.


As Palantir’s rolodex grew, the firm’s governmental projects were placed under the proverbial microscope in the press, with criticisms mounting in recent years. Notorious clients such as the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency and the CIA have recently come under increasing fire for their supposed violation of privacy. However, Palantir has provided these organizations with the ability to increase the sophistication and spread of operations such that it not only encompasses potential terrorists, but everyday citizens. This notion is particularly seen in the Los Angeles Police Department, where the predictive monitoring program provided by Palantir provoked officers to turn routine traffic stops into a miniature investigation.[15]

On a larger scale, Palantir enhanced the NSA’s surveillance goals to encompass everyday Americans, a premise Edward Snowden later unveiled in a leak that sent him into exile.[16]. Particularly, Palantir was contracted to flesh out XKEYSCORE, NSA’s hallmark surveillance tool that not only tapped the communications of potential threats, but allowed NSA to access sensitive data such as voice calls, pictures, and even Skype sessions in their own personal database. Interestingly, Palantir created a tool to determine who edited a Wikipedia page based on their IP address, and used this information to point out any worrying contributions that may seem unpatriotic. While Palantir is no longer the provider for the NSA, their contributions to the agency are irrefutable.

See Also


  1. Robert Parloff."Peter Thiel disagrees with you"] "Fortune". September 4, 2014.
  2. Margaret Kane. "eBay Picks Up Paypal for $1.5 billion." CNET. August 18, 2002.
  3. Charlie Parish. "Meet the PayPal Mafia, the Richest Group of Men in Silicon Valley" The Telegraph. September 20, 2014.
  4. Maya Kosoff. "Peter Thiel's All Seeing Eye Looks to a $41 billion dollar I.P.O." Vanity Fair. October 18, 2018.
  5. Sam Matera. “How Does Palantir Make Money?” “The Motley Fool”. June 6th, 2016
  6. Rob Copeland. “Peter Thiel’s Secretive Data Giant Palantir Finally Raking in Cash”. “Wall Street Journal”. February 7, 2019.
  7. Derek Thompson. “The Most Expensive Comment in Internet History?” “The Atlantic”. February 23, 2018
  8. Rowland Manthorpe. “How Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan broke Gawker: UpVote 24”. “Wired”. March 8th, 2018
  9. Emily Glazer, Deepa Seetharaman and Jeff Horwitz. [ "Peter Thiel at Center of Facebook’s Internal Divisions on Politics "] Wall Street Journal. December 17, 2019.
  10. Alfred Ng. “Peter Thiel reportedly considered leaving Facebook's board”. “CNET”. February 15, 2018.
  11. Adam Becker. "A Science Journal Funded by Peter Thiel is Running Articles Dismissing Climate Change and Evolution" Mother Jones. January 29, 2019.
  12. Andrew Gronato. [ “How Peter Thiel and the Stanford Review Built a Silicon Valley Empire”]. “Stanford Politics”. November 27, 2017
  13. Adam Smith. "Thiel Accuses Google of Being Infiltrated by Chinese Intelligence" PC Mag. July 16, 2019.
  14. Sarah Perez. "The FTC Settles with Venmo Over a Series of Privacy and Security Violations". "TechCrunch". February 27, 2018.
  15. Maha Ahmed. “Aided By Palantir, The LAPD Uses Predictive Policing to Monitor Specific People and Neighborhoods”. “The Intercept”. May 11, 2018
  16. Sam Biddle. [1] The Intercept. February 22, 2017.