Peter Thiel’s investment company owned more shares in artificial intelligence (AI) lab DeepMind than all three of the startup’s cofounders when it was acquired by Google for around $US600 million (£463 million).
Analysis of an annual return document on UK company register Companies House showed that Thiel’s “Founders Fund” owned 4,490,487 of DeepMind’s 16,406,358 overall shares at the time of the Google acquisition in January 2014. That equates to more than 25% of DeepMind’s shares.
DeepMind cofounder and CEO Demis Hassabis owned 3,435,605 shares, while DeepMind cofounders Mustafa Suleyman and Shane Legg owned 867,672 and 736,406 respectively.
Assuming DeepMind was acquired by Google for the reported $US600 million (£463 million) sum, Thiel’s fund would have gotten around $US164 million (£127 million) from its shares. It’s worth noting that DeepMind’s founders may have had other options in the company beyond shares.
DeepMind is one of the UK’s most successful startups in recent years and the company has made headlines for achieving a number of AI breakthroughs in recent years including mastering the Chinese board game Go. Its mission is to “solve intelligence and use that to solve everything else.”
Speaking at Google Campus in London last month, Hassabis said that Thiel was DeepMind’s first “major” investor. He explained how Thiel wanted DeepMind to move to Silicon Valley and how he managed to convince him to invest and let DeepMind remain in London.
“At that time he’d never invested outside of the US, maybe not even outside of the West Coast,” said Hassabis. “He felt the power of Silicon Valley was sort of mythical, that you couldn’t create a successful big technology company anywhere else. Eventually we convinced him that there were good reasons to be in London.”
Other notable shareholders in DeepMind include Elon Musk, who cofounded PayPal with Thiel in 1998, and Geoffrey Hinton, an academic that divides his time between Google and the University of Toronto. Musk had 505,051 shares through the Elon Musk Revocable Trust and Hinton had 13,126.
Prior to the Google acquisition, DeepMind was also on the radar of Facebook, according to The Information. Both Google and Facebook wanted DeepMind to relocate to Silicon Valley.
Under Google, DeepMind has grown rapidly from less than 100 people to over 500 people. That expansion hasn’t come cheap. In 2015, DeepMind made a loss of £54.3 million, according to the company’s audited financial statements for the year end December 31, 2015. Of that figure, some £44.3 million went on “payroll costs and related charges.”
A spokesperson for DeepMind said: “Founders Fund was represented on the DeepMind board by Luke Nosek and the founders always held a board majority.”
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