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The Founders: The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley Hardcover – Feb. 22 2022
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“A gripping account of PayPal’s origins and a vivid portrait of the geeks and contrarians who made its meteoric rise possible” (The Wall Street Journal)—including Elon Musk, Amy Rowe Klement, Peter Thiel, Julie Anderson, Max Levchin, Reid Hoffman, and many others whose stories have never been shared.
Today, PayPal’s founders and earliest employees are considered the technology industry’s most powerful network. Since leaving PayPal, they have formed, funded, and advised the leading companies of our era, including Tesla, Facebook, YouTube, SpaceX, Yelp, Palantir, and LinkedIn, among many others. As a group, they have driven twenty-first-century innovation and entrepreneurship. Their names stir passions; they’re as controversial as they are admired.
Yet for all their influence, the story of where they first started has gone largely untold. Before igniting the commercial space race or jumpstarting social media’s rise, they were the unknown creators of a scrappy online payments start-up called PayPal. In building what became one of the world’s foremost companies, they faced bruising competition, internal strife, the emergence of widespread online fraud, and the devastating dot-com bust of the 2000s. Their success was anything but certain.
In The Founders: The Story of PayPal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley, award-winning author and biographer Jimmy Soni explores PayPal’s turbulent early days. With hundreds of interviews and unprecedented access to thousands of pages of internal material, he shows how the seeds of so much of what shapes our world today—fast-scaling digital start-ups, cashless currency concepts, mobile money transfer—were planted two decades ago. He also reveals the stories of countless individuals who were left out of the front-page features and banner headlines but who were central to PayPal’s success.
Described as “an intensely magnetic chronicle” (The New York Times) and “engrossing” (Business Insider), The Founders is a story of iteration and inventiveness—the products of which have cast a long and powerful shadow over modern life. This narrative illustrates how this rare assemblage of talent came to work together and how their collaboration changed our world forever.
From the Publisher
—New York Times
"A gripping account of PayPal’s origins and a vivid portrait of the geeks and contrarians who made its meteoric rise possible. His richly reported narrative includes corporate intrigue, workplace hijinks, breakthrough innovation and first-class nerdiness."
—Wall Street Journal
—Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
"Spellbinding...What an achievement by Jimmy Soni in telling the essential story of PayPal, and the amazing people who made it happen."
“A dramatic business story about the payment’s company rise… also a human tale about [Elon] Musk, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin before they went on to greater fame and fortune. In The Founders, Jimmy Soni captures the heady days of the dot-com bubble.”
"Gripping... [A]n engrossing glimpse of the PayPal mafia’s riotous early days."
"[An] entertaining history...Soni’s account memorably renders the personalities involved and engages with ideas about financial sovereignty, open-source technology, and the place of politics in Silicon Valley."
—The New Yorker
“A masterpiece of reporting and storytelling by a deeply intuitive writer who gained access to the most important—and elusive—minds of our generation. In The Founders, Soni has produced more than just a bona fide business thriller. He has written a book with the power to change how we see the world, and one that reminds us that America’s most beautiful instinct is to embrace original thinkers who are willing to risk everything in the name of innovation. The best book I have read in ages.”
—Robert Kurson, author of Shadow Divers and Rocket Men
“Anyone who has used the internet in the last decade will find The Founders a revealing and sometimes shocking look inside today’s tech revolution and the very human wizards who have transformed our lives—for good and ill.”
—Kati Marton, author ofThe Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel
“This is a fascinating page-turner about the brilliant and competitive innovators who created PayPal and went on to shape our digital world. The colorful cast of characters—including Thiel, Musk, Hoffman, Levchin—is amazing. Deeply reported and bracingly written, this book is an indispensable guide to modern innovation and entrepreneurship.”
—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
“The real secrets of Silicon Valley are the tight networks of friendship and business that propel new ideas, companies, and personalities into the world. The most consequential of these networks in recent decades is the one that began at PayPal. Here Jimmy Soni delivers a startup-hustle story for the ages, revealing why their wild entrepreneurial ride did so much to build Silicon Valley’s supersized present.”
—Margaret O’Mara, author of The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America
“You may think you know something about the early careers of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin, but until you read this extraordinary and meticulously reported book, you really don't. The Founders not only explains the veiled histories and inner workings of Silicon Valley’s influential ‘PayPal Mafia’—it explores the profound questions of how world-changing networks of technology, talent, and innovation come together.”
—Jon Gertner, author of The Idea Factory and The Ice at the End of the Worlda
“With this book, Soni joins the ranks of Eric Ries and Ben Horowitz as the author of a canonical must-read for all startup founders. Readers will discover not only rich characters, but unflinching and trend-proof insights into what it takes to start a company that changes history.”
—Amanda Cassatt, founder of Serotonin and former CMO of ConsenSys
"Short of getting into a time machine, it's hard to imagine how you'd get closer to capturing PayPal's rise—and understanding the lives of its creators. A brilliant book chock full of wisdom and lessons for business and life."
—Nir Eyal, bestselling author ofHooked and Indistractable
“This book is stunning in its depth and clarity, especially given the complexity of its subject matter: the intertwined early lives of some of the greatest innovators of the twenty-first century. I thought I knew most of the characters—particularly given how much they are covered in the news—but I was wrong. Jimmy Soni’s immense effort, which involved combing through 150,000 pages of emails and hundreds of interviews, unearthed not only new facts but also new layers of humanity that lie at the heart of the story. This is the rare book that combines deep research, powerful storytelling, and wit. Anyone who wants to understand how great things get built will benefit from reading it—and so will anyone who wants an inside look at brilliance.”
—Luke Burgis, author of Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life
"Soni has written a brilliant origin story—the kind you want to read. He returns to the opaque beginnings, to the time before archetypes had formed around Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. He excavates the layers of technological history, human grit, and visionary genius that converged to form a world historical company."
—Natalie Elliot, science writer and professor at St. John's College
"The only business adventure I’ve ever read that made me feel like I saw into all the main characters' brains—along with seeing what they did. An absolutely addictive read."
—Brandon Kleinman, founder of Time Capsule and Showroom
"[A] punchy origin story full of wheeling, dealing, and political machinations... Soni tells the story with novelistic verve."
“This deep dive into PayPal’s history will intrigue readers from the beginning. Soni, an award-winning author, had unprecedented access to Elon Musk and internal PayPal documents. Readers will be surprised by how much personalities, company culture, and people shape revolutionary innovation. Those with entrepreneurial spirits will want to add this to their reading list."
"A modern technology success story about the Silicon Valley innovators who developed one of the world’s largest payments companies. Combining historical detail with biographical perspective, Soni sifts through PayPal alumni to reveal the company’s origins and the risks it took to surpass both its predecessors and contemporary competition… A captivating examination of a significant consortium of tech pioneers.”
About the Author
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster (Feb. 22 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 496 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1501197266
- ISBN-13 : 978-1501197260
- Item weight : 658 g
- Dimensions : 15.24 x 3.81 x 22.86 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #46,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top review from Canada
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The cast of characters is vivid and interesting, and I'm finding so many early echos of the modern world in this late-90s/early-2000s period, with the early days of mobile computing, only commerce, crypto & fraud, etc.
Jimmy is very good at finding scenes that give you great 'mental cinema' of what it had to be to live through this, and he's clearly done an incredible amount of research and digging up to find all these stories. Highly recommended!
Top reviews from other countries
Really fascinating to learn how the paypal team dealt with problems, how they made decisions and how those turned out.
If you're an entrepreneur, business student, or anyone interested in the topic of internet history, early internet services companies, what tech startups were really like around the dot com bubble, or even just interested in the characters involved, I highly recommend you read this book.
A COMPANY WITH MANY FATHERS (AND MOTHERS)
The cover of the Kindle edition of The Founders features cameo sketches of five men and three women. The implication, of course, is that all eight were “founders.” By contrast, Wikipedia lists seven founders, all men. The iconic 2007 photo in Fortune of the “PayPal mafia” includes 13 people, all men. Elsewhere, I’ve read there were 20 founders. It’s true that a third of the people who worked for the company in its early years were women, and a majority of those in the most senior positions were foreign-born. So, after a fashion, diversity was a fact of life at PayPal. And there were, indeed, many people involved at the outset. But a reading of The Founders makes clear that three men were central to the company’s success: Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin.
THE THREE PRINCIPALS OF THE PAYPAL MAFIA
Elon Musk needs no introduction to anyone who’s awake in the United States in 2022. A South African immigrant (by way of Canada), he is routinely identified as the richest person in the world, with a fortune pegged at $270 billion as I write. He’s also famously the man behind Tesla and SpaceX as well as The Boring Company, Neuralink, and OpenAI. (Musk is the founder or cofounder of all these companies except Tesla, for which he serves as CEO and product architect.) And at this writing he seems to have bought Twitter as well. With the possible exception of Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, no one has shined as brightly in the technological firmament as Elon Musk.
By comparison, Peter Thiel is poor. He weighs in at only number 551 on the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires list, with net worth estimated at a paltry $5.1 billion. However, it’s enough for him to wreak havoc on the American political scene. Thiel is a right-wing libertarian who scorns both political parties and the democratic system as a whole. As I write, he’s in the process of sending enormous campaign contributions to favored reactionary Republican candidates around the country. Although Thiel served as CEO of PayPal during a stretch of its most consequential years, he is not an entrepreneur. Instead, he identifies as a venture capitalist. However, Thiel did found a software company named Palantir Technologies, a $3 billion enterprise with some 3,000 employees. Palantir software is widely employed by federal and state government agencies and major corporations to combat terrorism, computer fraud, and other cyber crime.
Max Levchin is the least well-known of the three principal cofounders at PayPal. A Ukrainian-American immigrant, he is a software engineer who designed several of the mission-critical features that made PayPal’s success possible. These included, most notably, a novel approach to cyber fraud and a program that was one of the first commercial implementations of the CAPTCHA challenge to identify Internet bots. Since leaving PayPal not long after the company went public, Levchin has founded several companies, including Slide (sold to Google for $182 million). He was an early investor in Yelp and became its largest shareholder. Levchin appears at number 2664 on the Forbes billionaires list with net worth of $1 billion.
HOW PAYPAL CAME TO BE
At first, there were two companies, not one. It was 1999. Elon Musk was fresh from selling an earlier startup and walking away with $32 million. He poured his newfound fortune into X.com. His goal was to turn the company into an online financial superstore, combining consumer banking, investment banking, insurance, and financial advisory services under one roof.
At about the same time, Peter Thiel teamed up with Max Levchin to form Confinity. After stumbling around in search of a niche, the pair settled on using a new feature on the then-popular PalmPilot. With an infra-red port on a new version of the device, one could beam information from one device to another. Thiel and Levchin decided the answer was to beam money. As an afterthought, both Confinity and X.com offered customers the option to send money by email.
It was only later that both companies discovered how much more popular it proved for customers to send money via email than anything else they were doing. Both then reluctantly decided to shift their focus to email. And when competition between X.com and Confinity threatened to sink both companies, they grumpily merged to form PayPal. The combined firm soon went public, but later in 2002 eBay bought it for $1.5 billion. EBay spun off PayPal as an independent company in 2015. But by then the principals of the PayPal mafia were long gone and well on their way to making history.
Today, eBay boasts 159 million users and a market cap of $32 billion. By contrast, PayPal counts 400 million users—more than 10 times as many—and a market cap of $128 billion. Roughly one out of every 20 people in the world uses PayPal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
French-American biographer Jimmy Soni is the former managing editor of the Huffington Post. He is best known for A Mind at Play, his biography of Claude Shannon, the founder of information theory.
This is probably the most in-depth story on PayPal that exists so far. And man isn’t it detailed. Jimmy goes through the broader company story and looks at the nuances that go into building something new as a team for the first time.
Max, Thiel, Musk & the team are scrappy folks. And their success is absolutely well earned. You get a first-hand seat in learning critical lessons in:
•Board room machinations
•Facing off the competition
•Staying lean and avoiding organizational bloat
It is a highly recommended reading for entrepreneurs looking to learn significant lessons from a scrappy team that made it big in a cutthroat world.