Posted on November 12, 2016 by Matt Pressman
Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that, "Peter Thiel will join President-Elect Donald Trump’s transition team, a move that... could help Silicon Valley have a say in the next administration." It's possible that this might represent, "a change [that] could be good for a range of technology companies." Why would this matter to Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA]? It turns out that Tesla's CEO Elon Musk was actually Thiel's old business partner at Paypal and the two have a long and storied history together.
Above: Partners at Paypal, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk (Image: Founder Institute)
Running Paypal (along with Elon Musk) Peter Thiel is often cited as the head of the Paypal Mafia — a term loosely thrown around as Paypal later spawned leaders who landed at: "YouTube, LinkedIn, Tesla, Yelp. Silicon Valley is known for networking and creating ecosystems," and the Paypal Mafia is a prime example (see below). In fact, Thiel is quoted as saying, "I wanted to build a company [Paypal] where everybody would be really great friends and, no matter what happened with the company, the friendships would survive... In some ways that was very utopian. We didn't only hire our friends, but we did hire people that we thought we could become really good friends with."
Above: Members of the Paypal Mafia which include Thiel and Musk (Image: Lowdown)
Not only were Thiel and Musk involved in PayPal together, it turns out that the influential non-profit, OpenAI, which focuses on artificial intelligence is also backed by Musk and Thiel. And in a Reddit AMA with Thiel, he named Musk's dual businesses of Tesla and SpaceX as the “most exciting example of a company showing determinate optimism today.” And in a reply to another question about what he thought of Musk when he first met him, Thiel came off really humble, calling Musk, “very smart, very charismatic, and incredibly driven—a very rare combination, since most people who have one of these traits learn to coast on the other two.”
Above: Thiel and Musk in the early Paypal days (Source: Quora)
And Musk has also praised Thiel and even helped to promote his book, Zero to One, on its website, where he's quoted as saying: "Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies. Zero to One shows how." Musk had more praise for Thiel in a New Yorker interview in which he explained that: "He’s unconstrained by convention. There are very few people in the world who actually use unconstrained critical thinking. Almost everyone either thinks by analogy or follows the crowd. Peter is much more willing to look at things from a first-principle standpoint.” Musk added, “I’m somewhat libertarian, but Peter’s extremely libertarian.”
Above: Discussion on Thiel's role on Trump's transition team (Source: Bloomberg)
And when Thiel was asked about Tesla, he said that he: "would never bet against Elon in anything." So with many uneasy about the impact that Trump's administration will have on Tesla, it may come as a surprise (and possibly a relief) that Musk's old business partner and good friend, Peter Thiel, will be joining Trump's transition team. Nevertheless, we'll have to wait and see how it all plays out. The Washington Post reports that Thiel had spoke at the Republican National Convention in support of Trump and donated $1.25 million to Trump’s campaign — they conclude that his appointment is: "a sign of the influence the billionaire tech investor will have in shaping the new administration."