Peter Thiel would often sweep the chess pieces off the board when he lost a game. “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser,” he would say.That’s just one of the tidbits in George Packer’s long profile of Thiel (subscribers only) in this week’s New Yorker.
Thiel, who is both Christian and gay, comes across as a stubborn contrarian whose refusal to accept conventional wisdom sometimes gets him in trouble — for instance, when his backward bets during the financial crisis of 2008 and rebound of 2009 caused his hedge fund Clarium Capital to lose more than 90% of its value.
But it’s hard not to admire him as a rare big thinker in an industry filled with lots of small ideas. For instance, he invests in companies that want to do big things like commercialize space travel and cure ageing, and has no interest in a pitch from a student who wants to create a mobile social app to find nearby friends.
Some other tidbits:
- Thiel is a bit of a Luddite when it comes to consumer technology: he admits he’s never gotten the hang of the whole “BlackBerry/iPhone email thing,” and only started texting last year. He thinks the Internet is “a net plus — but not a big one.”
- Thiel wanted PayPal to be an alternative to government-issued currency and says that heightened fear of terrorism — who could use an alternate financial network to hide big exchanges of money — blew those plans.
- Clarium was at one point worth $7 billion, but he got killed in the 2008 crash and shorted stocks in 2009. Now it manages just $350m in assets, two thirds of which are his own, and it represents almost his entire liquid net worth.
- His investment in Facebook went against his libertarian philosophy, but he invested in a sort of concession to his more liberal friend Reid Hoffman.
- He has invested in an early stage startup whose goal is to cure all viral diseases — it’s so early that Thiel asked writer George Packer not to print its name. It echoes his investment in Halcyon Moleclar, a DNA sequencing company that aims to eliminate human ageing.
- Keith Rabois — now an investor and Square COO — was involved in a scandal at Stanford after he and a couple other students screamed homophobic epithets at a professor to test the limits of free speech. The outcry to the incident inspired Thiel to write a book with David Sacks (who later founded Yammer) criticising political correctness.
The whole article is available to subscribers here.