Peter Thiel On Valleywag; It’s the “Silicon Valley Equivalent of Al Qaeda”

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.

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14 Comments

  • I was fortunate enough to meet Peter in the early days of X.com (“PayPal”) and more fortunate to lead Robertson Stephens’ investment in the company. Sure – it was interesting to back a CEO who took time out to run a hedge fund and personally defend Western Civilization on public access TV. However, at time when companies were being rewarded for being lazy, Peter demonstrated the rear ability to tie a big picture vision to specific data and adoption analytics. Easiest investment decision I have ever made.

  • [...] Read the entire interview at PEHub → [...]

  • I’m sorry, but I think it’s a terrible analogy, and I think anyone who has lost loved ones to terrorist acts would agree that they’d probably rather be mocked than, you know, SHOT AT… I understand the frustration that Mr Thiel’s probably experienced, but I’m sure there are more appropriate analogies.

  • [...] Read the entire interview at PEHub → [...]

  • [...] a label from Peter Thiel. The CEO of PayPal and also a Facebook investor and hedge fund manager has called Valleywag the Al-Qaeda of the Silicon Valley (perhaps he avoids naming Owen Thomas the leader). [...]

  • [...] Read the entire interview at PEHub → [...]

  • Peter Thiel: ‘Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda’
    By Ryan Tate, 3:44 PM on Mon May 18 2009, 1,158 views
    Peter Thiel, the Facebook investor and PayPal co-founder, has never been shy about making incendiary statements. Now he’s turned his guns on us.

    The hedge-fund chief today answered a series of questions about his press on PE Hub, a website for the private-equity industry. Valleywag’s coverage of Thiel figured prominently. Some choice quotes:

    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.

    Awww, he thinks we’re angry!

    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’s odd that Thiel would equate provocative writing with terrorism when the arch libertarian seems so comfortable saying sensational things to get attention. Last month, he wrote that women’s suffrage ruined democracy in the early 20th Century. At Stanford Law School, Thiel started a conservative newspaper and is said to have had some kind of noisy fight with campus liberal Rachel Maddow, now of MSNBC fame.

    So it’s surprising that Thiel is so tight-lipped after saying “what gets written is half right, and half entirely wrong.” We’d love to hear specifics. Sadly, as in our past attempts to get comments from Thiel, none have been forthcoming.

    Thiel is hardly alone in trying to turn tech blogs into a rah-rah chorus. There is now an entire media ecosystem dedicated to disseminating CEO and investor spin. Thanks to Thiel, anyone who questions the publicist-approved message can now be labeled a terrorist. Whatever: Valleywag will continue to be a place that prints the truths that others are too polite to say out loud.

    And Peter, on this my first day as the Valleywag, you couldn’t have picked a better welcome gift.

  • PayPal is one the great success stories of the commercial internet; Mr. Thiel deserves our respect for helping to build this successful and well run service. That said he falls victim to the same sensation mindset he accuse ValleyWag of by calling Valleywag a terrorist organization.

    Thats a pure sensualist play; Mr. Thiel appears to be the pot calling the kettle black.

  • Its clearly bias reporting over there.

  • While the terrorist analogy is a stretch, i have to believe Thiel meant it to be tongue in cheek. Frankly, I know a lot of people in Silicon Valley who would agree with it when it comes to valleywag, and more specifically owen thomas. He is clearly very angry and envious of those he reported on, and I know he is widely loathed in the tech community.

  • Some of the stuff Valleywag has written was pretty far off the mark. Maybe they can hire someone who understands Finance/Wall St but they just seem bitter because they don’t like his politics.

    Clarium has struggled of late, but they have done better than 90% of hedge funds no matter the arbitrary time period you choose.

    And calling him a tax cheat because of his IRA investment in Facebook is just silly.

    just my two cents.

    SJ

  • I agree… comparing Valleywag to Al Queda is amazingly unfair.

    Al Queda just doesn’t deserve such harsh insults!

    :-P

  • [...] hedge-fund chief today answered a series of questions about his press on PE Hub, a website for the private-equity industry. Valleywag’s coverage of [...]

  • [...] Today – “Peter Thiel Says Valleywag Is ‘Silicon Valley Equivalent Of Al Qaeda’”. Certainly what Peter said, if you read only the first answer, is quite over the top. Dan Frommer quite obviously didn’t even read into the third paragraph of the post he responded to where Peter very clearly clarified his comment: [...]

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