Reason Magazine Interviews Peter Thiel — and he’s even more impressive than I previously realized:
reason: You were a Stanford undergrad and law student. After you graduated, your career seemed to be taking a policy wonk direction.
Thiel: As an undergraduate at Stanford, I started The Stanford Review, which ended up being very engaged in the hot debates of the time: campus speech codes, questions about diversity on campus, all sorts of debates like that. I ended up writing a book on it, The Diversity Myth, the thesis of which was basically that there was no real diversity when you had a group of people who looked different but thought alike, and what really was needed was a diversity of ideas.
In parallel I was obviously on the law track. I worked at a law firm in New York very briefly. I’d always been good at math — I was a nationally ranked chess player as an undergraduate — and I shifted over into trading financial derivatives at Credit Suisse Financial Products in ’94.
reason: How did you make that transition?
Thiel: They gave me a math test, and I got all the questions right.
I moved back to California in ’96. I started a small fund and started investing in tech companies. In the course of that, I invested in PayPal in late ’98. I came on board as the interim CEO, and it evolved from four of us to a 900-person company. At this point, it’s up to about 7,000 people working for the PayPal division of eBay. Basically creating this new payment system from scratch, which was one of these Holy Grail type of things that a lot of people had been focused on. The basic thought was if you could lessen the control of government over money and somehow shift the ability of people to control the money that was in their wallets, this would be a truly revolutionary shift.
I suppose the actual topic of the interview is Thiel’s philanthropic support of the Singularity Institute.