You know who Peter Thiel is. He’s the guy in “The Social Network” who cuts Facebook their first real, bona fide investor check for $500,000. Thiel became Facebook’s first investor in 2004, famously handing over the check with the admonition, “Just don’t fuck it up.”
Before investing in Facebook Theil had co-founded PayPal, which he took public in 2002 and which Ebay acquired a year later for $1.5 billion. Thiel’s stake in PayPal at the time of the acquisition was apparently worth $55 million.
So he had a few bucks to spare when he decided to place a bet on the fresh-faced, 20-year-old Zuckerberg. And man, did that bet pay off. Though Thiel’s initial investment has been diluted from 10% ownership down to 3%, if Facebook’s upcoming IPO is as big as Wall Street is predicting, the check he cut on that fateful day in 2004 should blossom as a windfall somewhere between $2.5 and $3 billion.
This fall the New Yorker published the kind of epic 10,000-word profile on Thiel that only the New Yorker can. It revealed a deeply complex character of an interesting political persuasion: Thiel is a faithful Christian and a libertarian-leaning gay conservative from California.
Where does such a person go for a political candidate? Ron Paul, naturally.
Politico reports that Endorse Liberty, a Ron Paul Super PAC created on December 20, raised $1 million in December with $900,000 coming from Peter Thiel. “However, in a press release on Tuesday, the [Super PAC] founders disclosed that they have increased their fundraising to date to $3.9 million,” with most of the additional funding coming from other technology entrepreneurs.
Given the fervent youth following that has sprouted up around Ron Paul over the last year, it seems highly appropriate that Facebook’s first investor would choose to invest in Paul. Sure, with nearly a billion users worldwide the idea of a “Facebook generation” is fast becoming watered down. But to the extent Facebook still represents a base of young interconnected people hell-bent on chattering non-stop, a daunting amount of its political chatter tends to be about Ron Paul.
So what does it mean that a serial entrepreneur with a penchant for picking winners is investing on Ron Paul?
After PayPal’s acquisition by Ebay, Thiel founded a hedge fund, Clarium Capital. As anyone who has read the New Yorker profile knows, Thiel has made plenty of losing bets in addition to the winners. Clarium had an incredible run in the bubble years and terrible bust after 2008.
But like most of Ron Paul’s supporters, the likelihood of his actually winning is probably beside the point here. The Ron Paul mania seems to be about pushing a worldview agenda as much as actually electing a candidate. By all counts the real world doesn’t seem posed for a Ron Paul victory. But who knows—Thiel and his Silicon Valley buddies have changed the world before—maybe they can do it again in the political arena.