PayPal: 'Very Basic Idea' Nets Thiel $55 Million
Thiel has already been credited with transforming the world. He said PayPal, which he cofounded in 1998, "was a very basic idea: take dollars and email and try to combine them."
That combination turned out to be a winning one. Ebay bought PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion; Thiel made $55 million. He used some of that to invest in promising startups, most famously in Facebook. Although others say he bankrolls big, eccentric ideas that he thinks will save the world, Thiel calls it "breakthrough philanthropy."
"Technology is fundamentally about going from zero to one," he told ABC News. "If you do something new, it will always look a little bit strange."
He's donated millions to promote research into reversing the aging process to extend human-life expectancy. "I enjoy my life," he said. "I certainly would like to live longer."
He also funds the Seasteading Institute, which is devoted to creating self-governing communities in the middle of the ocean.
"Seventy percent of the planet is covered with water, and there's so much we can be doing with oceans and it was one of the frontiers that people have more or less abandoned," Thiel said. "It's pretty far in the future but closer than say building cities on the moon."
Thiel has become the poster boy for Silicon Valley libertarianism, the belief among many entrepreneurs that government hinders innovation. Openly gay, Thiel endorsed Ron Paul for president in 2008 and has donated heavily to Republicans.
"I probably am a bit of an outsider in many ways," he said. "That has good things and bad things about it. It does have the tremendous benefit of forcing you to think about what's going on fundamentally with institutions, with our society and then for for ways to make them better."