Monday, October 18, 2021

Thiel tried to start his own company at 20 — and found out how adult life is

Photo Peter Thiel, accused of violating the law by profiting from the postelection securities violations that Republicans committed at his encouragement, was also a juvenile delinquent growing up in the Virginia farm country of Wayne County, which no longer exists. His life is the subject of a new biography, Suicide Girls: The Life and Times of Peter Thiel, by Gwenda Blair, an investigative journalist who regularly

digs into the adventures of Ann Coulter, Donald Trump, Ron Paul and Sam Harris. And, she reminds us, Peter Thiel has a past, too. Back in 1983, after his high school graduation and before he pursued a full time adult career, Peter Thiel started his first small company with some friends, he told the New York Times. At that time, the company was making a machine for distributing nuts that had come straight from the

stores. Thiel was 22 years old, he was hungry, and he felt he had nowhere to go. “I was not yet an adult, not yet living like one,” he explained. “There were all these profound and terrifying pressures that a child — who, if they were lucky, might be able to experience at age 10, or 18 — wasn’t able to experience until age 20.” He decided that the more exciting job for him would be in the adult world. Thiel met two

friends from high school, Matthew van Breda and Tyler Furman, and they decided to start a big company in Silicon Valley. But when Thiel went looking for people to join him, he ran into trouble. “I had a rudimentary understanding of the system, but for some reason it took very long to find the right people,” he told the Times. “I thought it was kind of silly and overdone, and I didn’t really like the idea of outsiders

being successful.” That attitude no doubt explains some of the origins of other, less impressive ventures he has backed, like E*Trade, PayPal and Facebook. It’s those companies that some say made him a powerful and able investor in favor of the GOP. But it’s not as if he lacked the assets for making a healthy living. “It was basically like if I was working at the school cafeteria as a janitor and I wanted to start my

own restaurant,” he told the Times. “To be a successful, primarily young entrepreneur, it’s clear that you have to be extremely good, with incredible potential, with immense ambition.” Writing about Andreessen Horowitz, his venture capital firm, the New York Times revealed that Thiel has an academic achievement award for having advanced a microcomputer science research project. He also has an honorary doctorate from

MIT. Thiel has an intensely political mind. And he is unapologetic about making money to help get rid of government regulations, the New York Times said, and he encouraged a culture of abuse that would come to be seen as the defining culture of the Trump era. Even as it focuses on his younger years, Suicide Girls makes a powerful point: For all the money that came in, Thiel was less than wealthy. And he made lots of

money. Of course, his money still mattered a lot. According to his friend Nathan Sands, a software entrepreneur, Musk, a billionaire who runs both Tesla and SpaceX, helped Thiel out of a tight spot: “Peter spent a great deal of money on lawyers. Because Peter is wealthy and he has a lot of lawyers … Elon Musk had a lot of money. It was no issue.” Musk reportedly wrote a large check to Thiel to help him avoid paying

taxes. As Peter Thiel’s former lawyer put it to The New York Times, “Peter spent money like a drunken sailor — except that he had lawyers. He was in legal stuff.” That is not to say that the money didn’t hurt. In a note to friends when Thiel announced his campaign against Facebook in 2016, where he was trying to derail the company’s bid to take over WhatsApp, he wrote, “Currently I have a balanced portfolio

consisting of just a few large cap stocks, which greatly reduces portfolio turnover, gives me the opportunity to hold an extremely broad range of securities and which — as you all know — has helped my investment returns.” Still, he wrote, he wanted to give “more of my capital to the winning economy of the future” and do it “without endangering your sons and daughters, your marriage, or yours.” In April, Thiel sold

part of his stake in SpaceX for $164 million.

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