Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, liked Mark Zuckerberg for the same reasons that most people disliked him.
Thiel saw the younger man’s indifference as “a sign of intelligence,” writes Max Chafkin in his new book, “The Contrarian” (Penguin Press), despite the fact that the Facebook CEO is often criticized for being robotic and unfeeling.
Based on their iconoclastic ways, the two developed mutual respect.
“Zuckerberg, like Thiel, had stuck it in the eye of his politically correct peers when he’d hacked Harvard’s online directory to create FaceMash.” Thiel founded The Stanford Review, a conservative publication that mocked liberals on campus, while still in college in the 1980s.
When Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, brought Thiel on board as an investor in 2004, he warned Zuckerberg about Thiel’s “dirty tricks.”
Thiel’s tactics, on the other hand, inspired Zuckerberg, who said he would use them to force his friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin out of Facebook the following year.
In an instant message exchange with Parker, Zuckerberg replied, “I learned it from him.”
“And I’ll do it to Eduardo.”
Thiel, who will turn 54 next month, is one of his generation’s most ruthless financiers. He’s difficult to categorize — having gone from hedge-fund trader to Silicon Valley entrepreneur to data-mining surveillance capitalist — and almost impossible to comprehend, according to Forbes.
“He is self-created, a Silicon Valley Oz, who has, through networking and a capacity for storytelling, constructed an image so compelling that it has come to obscure the man behind it,” Chafkin writes.
Chafkin writes that many of the people he contacted for his book — millionaires with political clout — “told me they were scared of him.” “He was that powerful, and he was that vindictive.”
Thiel is so infamous for his vengeance that his name has become a verb. To “Peter Thiel” someone means to exact terrible vengeance, as he did in 2016 when he brought down the gossip website Gawker Media. And, like nearly every other takedown in his life, he did it without pulling the trigger himself.
One of his bullies told Chafkin that he “always thought [Thiel] might have a list of people he’s going to kill somewhere and that I’m on it” after helping plant “for sale” signs on Thiel’s front lawn.
Thiel was disgusted by his classmates’ hard-partying antics when he first arrived at Stanford in 1985. “They drank smoked pot, and hooked up,” Chafkin writes. “It goes without saying that Thiel was not a part of any of it. He didn’t seem particularly interested in making new friends.”