There are only a handful of billionaires in this world. My personal belief is that we should only count the self-made ones, since all the other ones are basically poseurs. That even further reduces the number to a small child's handful of them. As they're some of the most extraordinary people in our lifetime and are pretty much an embodiment of all our dreams and aspirations, we might want to take notice of what they're doing and try and learn from them.
We need to filter out our list a little further it seems. Middle Eastern sheiks who were one day woken up by crude oil springing out of their back yards cannot be considered self-made, even though they might qualify in theory. Oh, and we can't really consider Russian oligarchs and Mexican drug lords for our list as well, because, you know, laws, basic human decency and morality, not wanting to get your head cut off and placed on a utility pole, things like that.
Even from the legal, legit self-made billionaires, there are many who simply just got lucky. No matter how hard you try, you'll never convince me that Evan Spiegel made a deliberate effort to end up on the Forbes lists by creating SnapChat. He has even said so himself. In fact, I'd bet most of them would attribute much of their success to luck. They all worked hard, there's no doubt about it, and they made some brilliant choices along the way as well, but nobody outworks or outsmarts the collective cause and effect of the entire universe, also known as luck.
Now, the luck factor varies greatly, of course. As entrepreneurs, we don't like variables that much, we prefer constants instead, so in our little thought exercise on which people to monitor closely and try to steal knowledge and wisdom from, it would make sense to look at the ones which had the least amount of luck and seemed the most like they knew what they were doing. I will be awfully biased here, but our list has come down to tech founders. Maybe Warren Buffet, Carlos Slim and the Zara guy as well. As I said though, I'm biased, and since technology has far greater impact on every one of us than, say, Berkshire Hathaway or affordable yet stylish clothing, we'll only look at tech founders (hey, don't hate, make your own elimination process if you want...).
I've analysed a bunch of tech founders a little, not in a stalker-y kind of way, more like an apprentice-they-never-asked-for kind of way. I've come to respect and esteem Peter Thiel the most. The explanation follows.
Thiel's first success was PayPal. Just being in the same gang of super nerds as Reid Hoffman and Elon Musk and the Yelp guy is a smart choice by itself. Developing a product such as PayPal and bringing it successfully to market is obviously a difficult but profitable endeavour. What intrigues me more are some of his later choices.
Thiel was the first investor in Facebook. Man, this guy has a great nose. I mean nose for sniffing out a business opportunity, not that his nose is great aesthetically, or in some other weird way, I bet his nose is just, fine, I guess... the point is he saw and seized an opportunity that many missed. Not only was he the first investor, he also played a key role in shaping the young startup into becoming the most powerful connector of people and distributor of fake news ever. Facebook probably wouldn't have become what it is today without his expertise and guidance.
An even better example of this guy's sense of the force is his investment in Vitalik Buterin. He's the weird Ethereum guy with the Unicorns (that's just marketing, don't worry he's probably a great guy). Buterin has been awarded the Thiel Fellowship, which put him on the fast track to drop from university and continue working on Ethereum full time. That was another winner being picked right there. Whether or not the blockchain fuels the next digital revolution or just dies a boring death, it has already made a lot of people rich (and a lot people broke too). Personally, I see a lot of potential in blockchain and cryptocurrencies as a technology, even if Ethereum fails they’re here to stay, and I think Ethereum will probably rise more instead of falling. In fact, I'm thinking of buying some Ether just because Thiel is behind it. Hope he doesn't read this and dump all of his Ether just to sabotage me.
And what's up with Palantir? What do they even do? Does anyone know? They do something with huge, huuuge amounts of data, and maybe for the Pentagon or the DOD, right? That already sounds like it's worth billions.
Seems like it's not all brains though, there's a lot of brawn as well. Gawker learned that the hard way. While shutting down an entire company and causing hundreds of people to lose their jobs is cruel, I believe the company (not everyone in it of course but at least the upper management) got what it deserved. In case you don't know, Gawker was a yellow press running celebrity gossip and they outed Thiel without his consent. You can't do that to people. Especially not to people like Peter Thiel. What followed was a masterful legal battle where Gawker had a taste of Thiel's enraged genius. I got into a lot of trouble while growing up, and that made me appreciate people who stand up for themselves, especially when bullied. I believe Thiel did exactly that.
Many billionaires write books (or pay ghost writers to do it for them). Many of them are terrible, run of the mill bullshit advice that you would expect from someone who has made one extremely lucky shot in their entire life and then iterated on it and milked it as much as possible. Their books sometimes suck. Peter Thiel's iconic book, "From 0 to 1", is the opposite of a sucky book, and more importantly, it is noticeable that not only did he write it himself, but he lives by it.
What I like the most in the book is the advice to try and think like a contrarian as much as possible. The most blatant example of Peter Thiel walking the walk as he talks his talk is that he was the only important Silicon Valley figure to publicly support and endorse Donald Trump in the 2016 elections. While everyone else thought the race was over before it even began, Thiel saw the massively undervalued opportunity and bet on it. Yeah, I think Trump is an asshole as much as the next guy, but Thiel probably thinks so to. This has probably nothing to do with politics, it's just about making a bet and winning. That support of the underdog, in fierce opposition of his entire tribe of tech billionaires supporting the other side, must have brought him some influence with the most powerful almost-person in the world. Maybe he used some of that Palantir data to predict the winner...
The biggest lesson I believe I learned is that it is very lucrative to look for value where everyone else is being blind about it. It's a beautiful piece of advice because it actually gives you an edge over the competition, which are all doing the same thing more or less, grinding the grind and competing with each other. Even when applied on a micro level, that strategy pays off, I'm able to find arbitrage in the most overlooked everyday products and ideas, just by trying to look at the value instead of the price.
Thiel is a bit of a mysterious guy it seems. Unlike his far more famous peer Elon Musk, he's not in the paper all that much, and it seems that's by design. I try to keep an eye on him as much as I can, trying to look more at what he does and less at what he says, even though he’s been pretty much congruent the whole time. He is an avid chess player. As a chess enthusiast myself, I'm eager to see what will be Peter Thiel's next move.
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