Peter Thiel is known for many things, from his hedge fund, Clarium Capital, to his venture capital firm, Founders Fund, to his role as the original CEO of PayPal — whose 2002 sale to eBay famously netted Thiel, then 34, roughly $60 million.
Yet Thiel has become best-known as one of the first investors in Facebook, and the association has proved double-edged. Though Thiel’s profile has risen along with that of Facebook, making him the subject of numerous glowing profiles, Thiel, now 41, is also the target of harsh gossip at times. In the last couple of months alone, he’s been characterized as a misogynistic weirdo, under the sway of an anti-immigration organization, and a tax cheat.
I had a chance to catch up with Thiel today, and we talked about everything from his views on women to whether he’d ever run for office to Facebook. I’ll be publishing much of that conversation on Wednesday, when I write Dan’s wire (it will also be available here on peHUB). In the meantime, here’s a short preview:
Did you ever imagine that you’d be the subject of conversation on gossip blogs like Valleywag, and how does that effect you, if at all?
[Laughs.] I’m not sure if I should answer this, but a couple of years ago, there was an article in New York magazine about Gawker Media, and the theme of it was sort of, everybody sucks, and the mindset that was being perpetrated.
I don’t feel that I’m being unequally targeted. But it’s disturbing to me that there are people who are so angry out there. Maybe I’m wrong and did something terrible to them, but I’m not particularly flattered by being targeted. I actually think it’s sort of the psychology of a terrorist, where it’s purely destructive and that Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda.
You think Valleywag is a like a terrorist organization?
Yes, in that it scares everybody. It’s terrible for the Valley, which is supposed to be about people who are willing to think out loud and be different. I think they should be described as terrorists, not as writers or reporters. I don’t understand the psychology of people who would kill themselves and blow up buildings, and I don’t understand people who would spend their lives being angry; it just seems unhealthy.
I do understand, but it’s an extreme comparison.
Terrorism is obviously a charged analogy, but it’s like terrorism in that you’re trying to be gratuitously meaner and more sensational than the next person, like a terrorist who is trying to stand out and shock people. It becomes this unhealthy dynamic where it just becomes about shocking people. On the other hand, it’s an interesting theoretical question, whether, if Valleywag went away, something else would fill in to replace it.
Does it drive you crazy when your employees or investors or potential investors leak documents or other information to blogs?
I don’t know that they do. Often, what gets written is half right, and half entirely wrong, but I can’t try to correct everything that gets written about me.
Let’s talk about a few of these items. What did you make of a recent charge that you didn’t make as much from the sale of PayPal as you believe you deserved. Is there a kernel of truth to that claim?
I did extraordinarily well at PayPal. It was capital intensive, and we burned through $180 million before we got to breakeven, but our early-stage and late-stage investors did very well, and I would never think of complaining about it. I think everyone at PayPal felt very fortunate.
I think we did something well, but we were also a little bit lucky, and the notion that people didn’t make enough money is just crazy. I honestly don’t know where they come up with this stuff.