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Peter Thiel: The Mastermind Behind PayPal and Palantir Technologies

Peter Thiel: The Mastermind Behind PayPal and Palantir Technologies
Photo by Dan Taylor | Wikimedia Commons

Peter Thiel is a name that echoes in the world of finance, technology, and politics. He is a billionaire investor who has made a name for himself as a man who knows how to amass money, power, and influence. But who is Peter Thiel?

Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal, is widely recognized for his masterful negotiation of an acquisition deal with eBay, which earned the PayPal team $1.5 billion. This deal made Thiel quite wealthy, with a take of $60 million. However, this is not even 1% of Thiel’s current net worth of $9.18 billion. While he is most famous for his involvement with PayPal, it was not even close to being his most successful investment or business endeavor.

In this article, we’ll explore the rise of Peter Thiel, his background, and the controversies surrounding his career.

Early Life and Education

Peter Thiel was born on October 11, 1967, in Frankfurt, Germany. He spent most of his early days in the United States, after his parents moved to Cleveland, Ohio, when he was only one year old. Thiel’s father was a chemical engineer who landed a stable job, but the job required the family to move frequently. By the time Thiel finished elementary school, he had switched schools seven times, including a school located in modern-day Namibia. The family finally settled down in Foster City, California, when Thiel hit middle school.

Throughout his school days, Thiel had two main passions: reading science fiction books and playing chess. He was an avid fan of “The Lord Of The Rings” and has read it over ten times. Six of his companies are named after references to the book and the author. As for chess, Thiel started playing the game when he was six and became one of the strongest junior competitors. He was so good that he was awarded the title of Life Master. Thiel was particularly talented in mathematics and graduated as valedictorian.

After high school, Thiel attended Stanford, where he majored in philosophy. Although he enjoyed the content, he wasn’t a fan of the liberal biases embedded within the education. This was one of Thiel’s first entanglements with controversy, as he turned around and co-founded “The Stanford Review,” a conservative-libertarian newspaper. Thiel served as the editor-in-chief until graduation, but that wasn’t the end of his support. He still donates to the newspaper to this day and commonly hires students from the newspaper.

After his undergraduate days, Thiel returned to Stanford to get his Juris Doctor degree. After graduation in 1992, he started clerking for a judge in the US appeals court, and he would eventually work up to being a securities lawyer in New York. However, he would end up quitting this job and law as a whole just seven months later, stating that he found little transcendental value in the work. Thiel bounced around a little after leaving law, working briefly as a derivatives trader and a speechwriter. But in 1996, he decided to return to California and look for a more meaningful job. He never found the perfect job, but he found the perfect career.


In 1998, Thiel co-founded PayPal, an online payment system that would go on to become one of the most successful fintech companies in the world. PayPal merged with Elon Musk’s online financial services company,, in 2000, which led to a clash of personalities between Thiel and Musk. However, despite their differences, the merger was successful, and PayPal became a massive hit, making Thiel a wealthy man.

In 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion, which gave Thiel a substantial financial cushion to pursue his other interests. Thiel’s success with PayPal and his subsequent wealth made him a sought-after investor in the tech industry. He became known for his unconventional investing style, which involved investing in startups that were overlooked by other investors.


Peter Thiel’s involvement with PayPal made him a billionaire, but it wasn’t until he co-founded Palantir Technologies that he became a Silicon Valley superstar. Palantir is a data analytics company that provides software to government agencies, financial institutions, and corporations. Palantir’s software has been used for a variety of purposes, including tracking terrorists and detecting financial fraud.

While Palantir has been successful, it has also been controversial. The company has faced criticism for its work with government agencies like the CIA and NSA, and for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Despite the controversies, Peter has remained a staunch defender of Palantir and its mission.

But it’s not just Palantir that Peter is passionate about. He has become a vocal critic of Silicon Valley and its culture. In his book, “Zero to One,” Peter argues that Silicon Valley has become too focused on incremental improvements rather than radical innovation. He believes that companies should focus on creating new technologies that fundamentally change the way we live and work, rather than simply improving existing technologies.

Peter has also been critical of the political and cultural climate in Silicon Valley. He has been a vocal supporter of President Trump and involved in several controversial political causes. In 2016, he donated $1.25 million to Trump’s presidential campaign and was a speaker at the Republican National Convention. He has also been involved in several legal battles, including a lawsuit against Gawker Media that ultimately bankrupted the company.

Political Influence

Thiel’s success in the tech industry also gave him a platform to exert his political influence. He was an early supporter of Donald Trump and helped him rise to power during the 2016 election. Thiel’s support of Trump was controversial, as he was one of the few tech investors who supported the Republican candidate.


Peter Thiel is a complex and controversial figure, but there’s no denying his impact on the worlds of finance and technology. From his early days as a chess prodigy to his success as a venture capitalist, Peter has always been one step ahead of the curve. His involvement with PayPal and Palantir have made him a billionaire, but his contributions to the worlds of philosophy and politics have made him a polarizing figure.

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Peter Thiel has left his mark on Silicon Valley and the world at large. His unconventional approach to business and life have made him a fascinating figure to study, and his legacy will undoubtedly be felt for generations to come.

Additional Resources

To keep learning and advancing your career, we highly recommend these additional resources:

Peter Thiel and the 16 Unicorns: The Legacy of Thiel Fellowship

Leveraged Buyout (LBO) Explained in 60 Seconds

Precedent Transactions Analysis (PTA) Explained in 60 Seconds

What is a Hedge Fund? A Complete Guide to Understanding Hedge Funds

Hedge Funds Explained in 60 Seconds

Top 100 Hedge Funds 2022

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