Knowledge Base

Peter Thiel: The Controversial Tech Billionaire

Who Is Peter Thiel?

Peter Thiel is a famous tech entrepreneur, venture capital investor and hedge fund manager best known as a co-founder and CEO of PayPal, member of the ‘PayPal Mafia’ and the first outside investor in Facebook. Thiel was born in Germany and his family immigrated to California, USA when he was young. Thiel went on to study Philosophy undergrad and law school at the prestigious Stanford University, in the heart of Silicon Valley. At Stanford, Thiel became friends with a number of students who later became key employees of PayPal and were later known as the ‘PayPal Mafia’.

After University, Thiel worked on Wall Street as a derivatives trader for three years before setting up his own hedge fund. Two years later, Thiel co-founded online payments company PayPal, which was later acquired by eBay shortly after its IPO. After eBay’s acquisition, the PayPal employees started departing and founding their own companies. Thiel founded a variety of venture capital, hedge fund and tech companies. His most famous investment was a $500k investment into Facebook for a 10.2% stake in 2004.


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Above: Peter Thiel speech at the Republican National Congress


Why Has Peter Thiel Become Controversial?

Peter Thiel caused a huge controversy in the tech world in late May 2016 when it came to light that he was privately funding wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media. It turns out as you might expect that Peter Thiel had no personal interest in Hulk Hogan’s sex tape lawsuit but was more interested in extracting revenge on Gawker Media which publicly outed him as gay in 2007 in its blog post ‘Peter Thiel is Totally Gay, People’. Thiel was privately open about his sexuality with his friends but it was not widely publicly known.

In turned out that Thiel had funded multiple lawsuits against Gawker Media, and when his involvement came to light in the Hulk Hogan lawsuit, this shocked the typically relaxed, open minded, slightly left wing Silicon Valley tech world. Thiel described the lawsuit as ‘one of my greater philanthropic things’ and referred to Gawker Media as a ‘singularly terrible bully’. Shortly after Gawker Media was bankrupted, Thiel attracted even more attention for speaking at the Republican National Convention. This time, Thiel publicly supported Donald Trump’s bid to become president as an openly gay Republican. Many people in Silicon Valley do not support Trump's stated views on diversity and immigration, but Thiel’s speech itself did not cause further controversy.

It seemed like Peter Thiel’s controversy would slowly die down but then at the end of August 2016, it came to light that the Thiel Foundation had funded a startup that determines the probability of lawsuit success and then funds these potentially successful lawsuits in exchange for half the legal judgment. This startup Legalist claims that it is not focused on Hulk Hogan Gawker type lawsuits but instead on small businesses tied up in expensive litigation.


Peter Thiel Gawker.jpg


What Businesses Has Peter Thiel Helped Build or Invest In?

Peter Thiel has founded or co-founded the following businesses:


  • PayPal (co-founder and former CEO)
  • Palantir Technologies (private big data company with an estimated value of $15bn)
  • Hedge fund Clarium Capital (global macro hedge fund with $700m assets under management)
  • Venture capital firms Founders Fund ($2bn assets under management), Mithril Capital and Valar Ventures
  • Thiel Foundation (private foundation focused on potential breakthrough technologies)
  • Thiel Fellowship (which awards $100,000 to 20 people under 20 years old annually in order to leave university and startup their own companies)

Peter Thiel has invested in the following businesses through his personal investments or venture capital funds:


  • Facebook (first outside investor in Facebook investing $500k for a 10.2% stake in 2004, and Peter is a Facebook board member)
  • Lyft (key American competitor to taxi app Uber)
  • SpaceX
  • LinkedIn
  • Yammer
  • Yelp
  • TransferWise
  • Stripe


PayPal Mafia.jpg


Personal Opinion:

One of my first giffgaff blogs was on the ‘PayPal Mafia’ and I was inspired to write this story after Peter Thiel gave a public lecture at my university. I attended the lecture with my friend, who is also an ex-work colleague, and we both found his lecture pretty interesting. However, it was clear from the lecture that Peter Thiel is not your ordinary guy. Some of his ideas are a bit unusual. Peter Thiel has an undergrad Philosophy degree and law degree from the prestigious Stanford University but then he is funding the Thiel Fellowship which encourages high potential high school and university students not to pursue university studies but instead to go straight into the workforce. This particular project has not been particularly successful to date.

It is an understatement to say that Peter Thiel is successful and he has always been vocal of his political views since Stanford University. On a personal level, I do not have a problem with Peter Thiel publicly endorsing Donald Trump but I think that bankrupting Gawker Media was unnecessary. Peter Thiel is openly gay and was publicly outed by Gawker Media but bankrupting media companies because you can afford to does not promote freedom of speech in America or the world. Gawker obviously violated people’s privacy, which is wrong but bankrupting the company was not the right answer.


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Above: Peter Thiel promoting his book ‘Zero To One’


Feedback From The giffgaff Community:

Before reading this blog, did you know who Peter Thiel was? Were you aware that Peter Thiel funded a lawsuit to bankrupt Gawker Media? Do you think that it is right or wrong for tech billionaires to spend millions of dollars to sue media companies in the name of privacy violations? Are you surprised that some Silicon Valley tech leaders are publicly supporting Donald Trump?

Thanks for reading!

Jeff Elephant

You can read more about me here and my favourite apps here

I will never of think twice of PayPal again

It's fitting that Peter Thiel is a bit crazy and a Trump supporter

Peter Thiel sounds like a smart guy with a few loose screws


Peter Thiel is a legend but now he's showing his evil side.