The life and rise of billionaire investor Peter Thiel, Trump’s biggest Silicon Valley supporter — who might be moving to Los Angeles

Peter Thiel

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Peter Thiel
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Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Peter Thiel, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful and controversial venture capitalists, is reportedly leaving the Bay Area.

The outspoken libertarian will reportedly relocate his home, personal funds, and his foundation to Los Angeles, according to The Wall Street Journal, and he’s taking his 50-person staff with him.

Why Los Angeles? It isn’t totally clear.

As a famously private person, Thiel has yet to confirm the move, or the rumors that he might also be resigning from the board at Facebook. Still, it’s worth taking this time to look at Thiel’s rise to fame in the tech capital of the world – a saga that includes his effort to stop aging and death, his controversial thoughts about college, and his war with the media:


Peter Thiel was born in Germany. He moved to the Bay Area when he was in fifth grade.

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Flickr / Sharon Hahn Darlin

His family first moved to the US when he was a year old, but they moved around the world a few more times before settling in Foster City, south of San Francisco.


He attended Stanford where he studied philosophy, got his JD law degree, and served as <a href=”https://stanfordpolitics.org/2017/11/27/peter-thiel-cover-story/” target=”_blank”>the first editor-in-chief</a> at The Stanford Review.

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Cyclists traverse the main quad on Stanford University’s campus
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Thomson Reuters

He also met many of the people that would become key players at PayPal (later known as the PayPal mafia) including include Keith Rabois, David Sacks, and Reid Hoffman.


Thiel also became <a href=”http://ratings.fide.com/card.phtml?event=2022389″ target=”_blank”>a world-ranked chess player</a> at a young age. He was reportedly once one of the highest ranked under-21 players in the US.

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AGON Limited

Before his career in tech, Thiel was a clerk for an appeals judge.

He landed interviews to clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Antonin Scalia, but he didn’t get the job. “At the time, I was devastated,” he wrote in his book “Zero to One.”


After about seven months as a securities lawyer, Thiel took a job as a derivatives trader at Credit Suisse Group and made enough money to launch a financial tech startup called PayPal with Max Levchin, which merged with Elon Musk’s payment company, X.com.


Thiel also co-wrote a controversial book that came out the same year PayPal launched. The book was called <a href=”https://www.amazon.com/Diversity-Myth-Multiculturalism-Political-Intolerance/dp/0945999763″ target=”_blank”>”The Diversity Myth,”</a> and it challenged the education system’s political correctness.

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The Independent Institute

Thiel and his buddy David Sacks argued that colleges were bowing to political correctness, dumbing down their admissions policies and silencing intellectual dissent in the “name of diversity.”


PayPal went public and was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. Those early employees (the PayPal Mafia) became wealthy angel investors.

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The PayPal Mafia — with Thiel in the No. 8 spot.
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Corbis/The Telegraph

When PayPal was sold in 2002, Thiel’s stake was worth about $55 million, which he used to launch a hedge fund, Clarium Capital. By the time he was 37, Clarium was managing $270 million.

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Apostolos/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Thiel correctly predicted that the US dollar would weaken in 2003 and that it would rally in 2005. A series of decisions based on Thiel’s good foresight helped establish Clarium as a valuable hedge fund.


In 2004, Thiel and Alexander Karp cofounded Palantir, based on Thiel’s idea to use financial industry fraud-detection software to detect terrorist activity.

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Alexander Karp, Palantir cofounder CEO
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YouTube/Screenshot

Palantir can sift through photos, videos and other data to watch for criminal activity, and is known today as one of the most secretive successful companies in the Valley.

The CIA was an early investor of Palantir, which today has raised $2.42 billion and is valued at $20 billion. Karp has indicated that it has no plans to go public.

The company was named after the “seeing stones” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” Thiel is famously a huge fan of the books, which he read as a teenager since he wasn’t allowed to watch television.


In 2004, Thiel became the first outside investor of Facebook. He made a $500,000 angel investment for about 10% of the company, taking 3% himself, and joined the board.

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Young Mark Zuckerberg
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TechCrunch

Facebook’s then-president Sean Parker approached LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman first, but Hoffman refused because of a potential conflict of interest with his own company, and directed Parker to Thiel.

Once he was on the board, Thiel helped direct Zuckerberg through series funding decisions, but stayed out of the day-to-day management.

Between the shares that Thiel sold at the IPO and those he sold shortly after, he made about $1 billion. “[My] biggest mistake ever was not to do the Series B round at Facebook,” he said in his Reddit AMA.


In the 2010 movie about Facebook, “The Social Network” Thiel was played by actor Wallace Langham. Thiel wasn’t a fan of the movie, prompting his quote about “the dysfunctional relationships that dominate Hollywood.”

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Wallace Langham

“The zero-sum world [David Fincher’s “The Social Network”] portrayed has nothing in common with the Silicon Valley I know, but I suspect it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of the dysfunctional relationships that dominate Hollywood,” Thiel said during his Reddit AMA in response to the portrayal of him in the movie about Facebook.


Soon after joining Facebook’s board, Thiel started his VC firm, Founders Fund, which he’s best known for today.

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Fred Prouser / Reuters

Founders Fund had a manifesto that once said, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” a ding at Twitter that expressed his disappointment with what he considered a lack of big ideas from startups. Still, he’s also an active angel investor and has backed about 80 companies like LinkedIn, Yammer, and Yelp.


In 2007, Thiel’s feud with Gawker began when the now-terminated blog site published a story with the headline “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.”

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Nick Denton, founder of Gawker, talks with his legal team before Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, testifies in court.
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REUTERS/Tampa Bay Times/John Pendygraft

Thiel responded in a 2009 interview by comparing the site to Al Qaeda, “in that it scares everybody.” The story left a mark on Thiel, as those close to him told Forbes, and was part of his motivation to go after Gawker in court down the road.


As the feud continued, Thiel went on to open two more VC firms: Valar Ventures, which focuses on investments in New Zealand but is based out of San Francisco, and Mithril Capital, which funds companies past the startup phase (also named for a LOTR reference).

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Shutterstock and Neilson Barnard/Getty

In 2011 he launched <a href=”http://thielfellowship.org/” target=”_blank”>The Thiel Fellowship</a>, which gives $100,000 and two years of support to 20 applicants under the age of 20 so they can drop out of school and launch their companies.

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Thiel Fellowship

The Thiel Fellowship is based off of Thiel’s belief that college costs too much for what it returns, and that smart kids are better off skipping it to start as soon as possible.

It’s become a competitive and prestigious program. So far, 104 young people, under age 22, have participated in class sizes that range from 20-30 people. Dropping out of school, at least for the two-years, is a requirement of the fellowship.


In 2016, it was revealed that Thiel had been funding Hulk Hogan’s 2012 case against Gawker.

The former wrestler and TV personality brought his case to court after the site published a sex tape starring Hogan. He went on to win the case, and Gawker declared bankruptcy as a direct effect of the monetary loss from the case.

Thiel actually admitted to putting about $10 million behind similar cases against Gawker, and his attempt to hinder the freedom of the press caused some concern about his position on Facebook’s board. In his first interview after his identity was revealed, he told the New York Times that he considered Gawker a bully. “I thought it would do more harm to me than good. One of my friends convinced me that if I didn’t do something, nobody would.”

In January, Thiel submitted a bid to buy the site.


Thiel’s personal stances <a href=”http://www.businessinsider.com/peter-thiel-rnc-speech-convention-2016-7″ target=”_blank”>took center stage again</a> during the 2016 presidential election, and his open support for the Trump campaign caused rifts with other Silicon Valley executives.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Although Thiel is still on the board at Facebook, a leaked email from Reed Hastings – the CEO of Netflix and chairman of the Facebook board committee – to Thiel shows how strongly Hastings felt about his stance.

“I’m so mystified by your endorsement of Trump for our President, that for me it moves from ‘different judgment’ to ‘bad judgment,'” said the email to Thiel. “Some diversity in views is healthy, but catastrophically bad judgment (in my view) is not what anyone wants in a fellow board member.”

Reed Hastings offered to leave the board when the letter went public, but Zuckerberg refused. Meanwhile, Y Combinator President Sam Altman vowed to keep Thiel on his company’s board regardless, but the two quietly split ways about two years after Thiel became a partner.


In January — just weeks before news broke about his reported move out of Silicon Valley — he <a href=”https://www.stanforddaily.com/2018/02/01/peter-thiel-reid-hoffman-talk-political-progressiveness-inequality-in-silicon-valley/” target=”_blank”>spoke at his alma mater</a> about how Silicon Valley’s left-leaning ways are hindering progress, calling it “a one-party state.”

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Thiel stole the show at the Republican National Convention. Note the banner: “Make America One Again.”
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REUTERS/Rick Wilking

“The other side doesn’t care for you, and your side doesn’t care for you because they don’t need to,” he said.


Thiel’s San Francisco story might be coming to a close, but his story is far from over — especially if his effort to help find a cure for aging shows results. Thiel says he plans to live to be 120 years old and takes human growth hormones every day.

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Getty / Chip Somodevilla

“Most people deal with aging by some strange combination of acceptance and denial. I think the psychological blocks to thinking about aging run very deep, and we need to think about it in order to really fight it,” he said in a Reddit AMA.

He donated over $6 million to the Methuselah Foundation, a foundation working on technology to reverse aging, and supports anti-aging research (e.g. the SENS Research Foundation, which is working to stop aging), which he calls “The Immortality Project.” He also backs a bunch of biotech firms.


Thiel also signed up with cryogenics company Alcor, which will freeze your ailing body in the hopes of unfreezing it in the future when there is a cure.

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Business Insider at KryoLife

“In telling you that I’ve signed up for it [cryogenics], there’s always this reaction that it’s really crazy, it’s disturbing. But my take on it is it’s only disturbing because it challenges our complacency,” Thiel once said.


Another big idea he’s into appeals to his Libertarianism: He backed the Seasteading Institute, which is building self-sustained floating cities that want to experiment with different types of governments.

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Ephemerisle
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Ephemerisle/Judd Weis

One of its projects is Ephemerisle, “which is intended to be more like Burning Man on the ocean,” as Thiel describes it.