The Founders: The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
National Bestseller * New York Times Editors’ Choice * Financial Times “Books to Read in 2022”
“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.
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|Listening Length||18 hours and 25 minutes|
|Narrator||Jonathan Todd Ross|
|Audible.ca Release Date||February 22 2022|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster Audio|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #1,302 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#7 in E-Commerce (Audible Books & Originals)
#12 in Internet Marketing (Books)
#12 in Business Web Marketing
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.