Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Kara Visits Founders Fund's Peter Thiel

What can we say about investor Peter Thiel, when it is much better to listen to him talk?


Here’s a longish video I made at Thiel’s office on San Francisco’s Presidio (no Sand Hill Road mundanity for Peter!) yesterday with the man who has become Silicon Valley’s most interesting venture capitalist and all-around great character of late.

Now running the VC firm called the Founders Fund, as well as a hedge fund called Clarium Capital Management, Thiel has a lot to say about everything from the painfully slow decline of old media (likening them to train companies in a plane world!) to the underhyping of Web 2.0 companies like Facebook (a 10-times-10 valuation from its current $15 billion if the hot social network, in which he was the first investor, keeps up its torrid pace of growth!) to the state of venture capital (needs a shake-up!).

My favorite quote from the interview comes from Thiel right at the end: “There’s absolutely no bubble in technology.”

This is Thiel’s Web 2.0 version of the infamous quote from Web 1.0 uber-VC John Doerr, who said at the height of the last bubble that the Internet was then “underhyped” (which turned out to be pretty accurate overall, except to investors who lost their shirts in the bust).

The Stanford undergraduate and law school grad is in many ways a breath of fresh air for Silicon Valley–an entrepreneur (he was co-founder and CEO of PayPal, which he flipped to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion and personally pocketed $55 million in the transaction), a center square of a new kind of VC keiretsu (ex-PayPalers have their mitts in everything from Facebook to YouTube to Slide and more) and, best of all, someone willing to say deliciously wild things (he’s essentially John Doerr unplugged).

Such as this year when, in a widely read interview with the Deal in July, Thiel floated a massive figure for the valuation of Facebook, on whose three-person board he serves with founder Mark Zuckerberg and Accel Partners’ Jim Breyer.

“If we got an offer from someone for $10 billion, we probably would listen to them,” said Thiel to the Deal’s David Shabelman. “I don’t think we’re going to get that offer, and we’re not going to solicit it.”

It was a stunningly brash statement at the time, given that Thiel had initially invested $500,000 in 2004 in the company, which was followed by two more rounds, for a total of about $32 million overall by Founders Fund, Accel and others.

The last one was more than a year ago for $25 million, giving Facebook a $525 million pre-money valuation.

Except that changed last week when software giant Microsoft forked over an investment that put Facebook’s number at $15 billion and made Founders Fund’s 5% stake worth $750 million, at least on paper. (One has to wonder, of course, how Thiel is now hedging his bet to lock in that obscene gain.)

In any case, that deal is just the kind of capitalist development a political libertarian like Thiel would savor. And he clearly does.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik