The Tim Ferriss Show: Interview with Peter Thiel, Billionaire Investor and Company Creator (#28)

team_peter

“Freedom lies in being bold.” – Robert Frost

This episode’s guest is the incredible Peter Thiel.

Ep 28: Peter Thiel, Billionaire Investor and Company Creator on Investing, Business, and Life
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Peter is a serial company founder (PayPal, Palantir), billionaire investor (first outside investor in Facebook, 100+ others), and author of the new book Zero to One. Whether you’re an investor, entrepreneur, or simply a free thinker aspiring to do great things, I highly recommend you grab a copy.  His teachings on differentiation, value creation, and competition alone have helped me make some of the best investment decisions of my life (e.g. Twitter, Uber, Alibaba, etc.).

This podcast episode was experimental, as I was on medical leave.  It includes both audio and written questions. What are Peter’s favorite books?  Thoughts on tech and government, and more?  Answers to these “bonus questions” can be found in the text below.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

For the longer, main audio discussion, you can:

Ep 28: Peter Thiel, Billionaire Investor and Company Creator on Investing, Business, and Life
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Now, a bit more on Peter…

Peter Thiel has been involved with some of the most dynamic companies to emerge from Silicon Valley in the past decade, both as a founder and investor. Peter’s first start-up was PayPal, which he co-founded in 1998 and led to a $1.5 billion acquisition by eBay in 2002. After the eBay acquisition, Peter founded Clarium Capital Management, a global macro hedge fund. Peter also helped launch Palantir Technologies, an analytical software company which now books $1B in revenue per year, and he serves as the chairman of that company’s board. He was the first outside investor in Facebook, and he has invested in more than 100 startups total.

There are a lot of lessons in this podcast, even more in his new book, and below are a few follow-up questions that Peter answered via text.

Enjoy!

TIM: What is the book (or books) you’ve most often gifted to other people?

PETER: Books by René Girard, definitely — both because he’s the one writer who has influenced me the most and because many people haven’t heard of him.

Girard gives a sweeping view of the whole human experience on this planet — something captured in the title of his masterwork, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World — but it’s not just an academic philosophy. Once you learn about it, his view of imitation as the root of behavior is something you will see every day, not just in people around you but in yourself.

What is your favorite movie or documentary?

PETER: No Country for Old Men — a movie about whether all events are simply random, but also a work in which no detail is left to chance. I catch something new every time I watch it.

To increase technological growth/progress, what are the key things you think the government or people should do for greatest impact?

PETER: Libertarians like to call out excessive regulations, and I think they’re right.

But it’s a vicious circle: when governments make it harder to get things done, people come to expect less; when expectations are low, technologists are less likely to aim high with the kind of risky new ventures that could deliver major progress. The most fundamental thing we need to do is regain our sense of ambition and possibility.

For those who want to improve their ability to question assumptions or commonly held “truths,” which philosophers, or reading, or exercises, or activities might you suggest?

PETER: It’s a great exercise to revisit predictions about the future that were made in the past.

People write a lot of history, and they make a lot of predictions, and I consume a lot of both. But it’s rare that people go and check old predictions. It’s a way to see — with the benefit of hindsight — the assumptions that people didn’t even know they were making, and that can make you more sensitive to the questionable conventions that surround us today. For example, The American Challenge by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber argued in 1968 that Europe would be eclipsed by relentless American progress. But that progress never came. It’s instructive to go back and see why Servan-Schreiber was optimistic.

###

Now, some questions for you all…

Who should I interview next?  Please let me know in the comments by clicking here.

Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave a short review here.  Help me get to 1,000!  It’s so close!

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The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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196 Replies to “The Tim Ferriss Show: Interview with Peter Thiel, Billionaire Investor and Company Creator (#28)”

  1. Interesting guest!

    Some suggestions for new guests:

    Entrepreneurship: Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Parker

    Fitness: Pavel Tsatsouline, interesting and often alternative views, also featured as author on some posts at this blog.

    Writing/productivity/career: Cal Newport, http://calnewport.com/about/, an associate professor who writes about productivity, and alternative views on “follow your passion” as career advice

    And different from your regular guests, but it would be really interesting to have you “deconstruct their belief systems” and experiences: a former US president?

  2. For the next interview, I would recommend Daniel Pink. He has written several books but his book drive was truly transformational. He really helps highlight how the old framework for motivating employees is dead and how to harness the new framework. Through autonomy, mastery and purpose.

  3. Tim, super insightful episode. Preordered “Zero to One” a few days ago. Looking forward to reading.

    PS: is it just me, or does it seem like Alex was the model/inspiration behind Peter Gregory (the sesame seed investor character from HBO’s “Silicon Valley”)!?!?

  4. Great interview, I really appreciate Peter’s perspective on the brken educational system and how it holds us back from a country from moving forward. Thanks Tim.

  5. For you next podcast, I suggest Michael Muhammad Knight. He is a novelist, essayist, and journalist. A “White” american, who converted to Islam at age 16, after reading the Autobiography of Malcom X, he writes a column for VICE.com (http://www.vice.com/author/michael-muhammad-knight), teaches college courses and his latest book “Tripping with Allah, Islam, Drugs and Writing” probably keeps your previous guest, Sam Harris awake at night. Also, check his recent Washington Post article, “I understand why Westerners are joining jihadi movements like ISIS. I was almost one of them.”

    Both of you can thank me later.

  6. This post rocked my face into smiley mode.

    – Tony Schwartz on Energy

    – Wyatt Woodsmall on Timelines & Learning

    – Paul Dobranski on Integration Theory in psychology & it’s tranferable application to business as now being the buzz word in Mgmt Programs (also a non-conventional physician)

    – Ken Wilber

    – Dr. Mark Hyman on Integrative Medicine

  7. Tim, it would be rad if you interviewed Louie Schwartzberg and Dr. Paul Stamets TOGETHER. They are creating a new film called Fantastic Fungi that explores the uses and benefits of mycelium as alternatives to allopathic medicine, as a solution to our environmental crisis, and for consciousness expansion. These guys are visionaries, pushing the boundaries about how we see and experience nature.

  8. Jack Canfield for the obvious reasons that you likely wouldn’t be podcasting had you not met him…and the world would be poorer for it…and he is a fantastic speaker and teacher…

  9. An avid surfer.

    A holder of significant rankings in Judo, Sambo and Aikido.

    Son of the founder of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Hélio Gracie),

    Undefeated in the world of full contact fighting

    With a record of 400-0.

    Considered one of the greatest Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters in history…

    Rickson Gracie.

  10. Keep doing what you’re doing Tim, great stuff! I have some ideas for you and it’ll be intersteing if they ever get to you. I think you’d like to interview Adele Diamond. I hope you get better soon.

    Etc.

  11. Tim, Huge fan! Get better put the work on hold but please don’t outsource the magic. If fell way short cos there’s only one Tim.

    Suggestions – get drunk with Arnie!

    Jarod Diamond to learn that genetically we are more closely related to chimps than they are to gorillas and what we can learn about life from the stone age tribes living in the mountains of PNG.

    The Dali Lama for obvious reasons

    Dr. Mohammad Yunus founder of Grameen Bank

    All the best and get back on the straight and narrow.

  12. Richard Reed (Innocent Drinks, Art Everywhere) would make a good interviewee. As well as start-up advice it would be cool to hear about his recently completed Strive Challenge (1,000km run, row, cycle, hike and climb from London to the Matterhorn, one of the largest peaks in the Alps)

  13. How about interviewing the director David Lynch?

    He wrote a book called Catching the Big Fish about TM and creativity and he has a foundation to bring TM to kids…

  14. Hi Tim, applauds for the experimentation with the podcast. Found some ‘data’ re. the impact on the audience of reading an essay vs. delivering a speech or an interview! The application for the TFS may be somewhere in between (or not at all) check out http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/09/a-speech-is-not-an-essay/ by John Coleman. This summed up the impact on me of the format of the PT podcast vs. the rest. Please redo the PT podcast in person over a bottle or two of Grange. In fact I invite you to the land down under where women glow and men chunder, can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder . . .yeah yeah yeah, yeah, ooh ooh. You can recuperate whilst travelling in a fried out Kombi on a hippie trail, head full of zombie. That might suit given your current interest in medicinal herbs. Now back to my Grange and the perils of responding to blog posts late on a Friday night! Keep up the good work and drop in when next visiting the Convict Colony.

  15. Great podcast! Incredible questions asked and incredible, genuine answers given.

    Quite a response about how failure is a tragedy. How did you feel about that answer, Tim?

    Next: Barry Bonds or Bill Gates or Mike Tyson.

  16. I’m sorry. Peter Thiel is a billionaire but man, please try and develop a sense of humor. If you have on Peter please try and incorporate it into your story telling and delivery. I listened to this interview and after it I felt like walking into a bus…simply because of how the info was delivered. I can’t say anything negative about his accomplishments or his philosophy as I found a few of his points resonating with mine. However there’s nothing wrong with adding a smile to the information.

  17. Nick Woodman, founder of GoPro. A classic start up story where he worked against mountains of friction to revolutionize a whole sector that the incumbents totally missed.

  18. Ep. 28 – Found Peter to be fascinating, but without Tim this episode didn’t have the back and forth exploration of ideas and getting into the real meat of a topic. Particularly wanted to hear more on the subject of “Death as an illness to overcome”, as well as Tim’s thoughts. This is a subject I have been researching my whole life and constantly looking for more resources and others who study it. I want to thank Peter for bringing the subject to light as this is one of the first non “Woo Woo” interviews I have heard surrounding overcoming death. Starting to feel the urge to jump on my soap box, so better go for now.

  19. Daniel Kahneman is a nobel-prize winning psychologist.

    It’s obvious why Kahneman would be a good person to be in your podcast if you read this long, thought-provoking Der Spiegel interview with him. http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/interview-with-daniel-kahneman-on-the-pitfalls-of-intuition-and-memory-a-834407.html Years later this one interview still stands out in my memory sometimes because of the profound subject matter and surprising facts.

    “True calamities, on the other hand, seem to have surprisingly little effect on well-being. Paraplegics, for example, hardly differ from healthy individuals in terms of their satisfaction with life.” And it overlaps in some ways very well with themes in the four hour work week.

    “Debunking the Myth of Intuition

    Can doctors and investment advisers be trusted? And do we live more for experiences or memories? In a SPIEGEL interview, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman discusses the innate weakness of human thought, deceptive memories and the misleading power of intuition.”

  20. Hi Tim – I would love to hear an interview with Tommy Kono. He is tied for second for the most Olympic and World Championship gold medals in Weightlifting and has a training philosophy akin to the 80/20 approach. He has coached several national teams and is a very inspiring speaker. He has also been Mr. Universe and won other big bodybuilding titles. He accomplished all of this after growing up in the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

    I enjoyed this interview. I will have to check out Thiel’s book and the Girard book.

    Cheers,

    Nathan

  21. Peter Thiel has some interesting points in this interview. “Failure is always a tragegy,” he says. Somehow I think he is right and somehow I disagree. I thing we entrepreneurs has to go through failure to get to succes and that we learn a lot along the bumby road…But yes – failure always hits you like a rock. Leaving you a little injuired every time…

  22. You could have the creator of the Lifestyle Business Podcast on, Dan Andrews. Billionaires are pretty interesting, but as you yourself said in the 4HWW “Dude, what would you do with 15 million dollars?”

  23. Hi Tim

    A guest I would like to see would be Mark Shuttleworth. Being a South African myself, he’s a huge inspiration to me. He’s been to space! And considering that he comes from the southern most tip of Africa that proves to me that anything is truly possible.

    Fantastic podcast as usual. And I only say “as usual” because I’ve listened to all your podcasts so far and havent’ been dissapointed by any yet. Even the ones heavy in medical jargon. So keep up the great work.

    An aside: There is a character on the hit HBO show, “Silicon Valley” called Peter Gregory, played by the late Christopher Evan Welch. His character was allegedly based on Peter Thiel and after hearing Peter speak for the first time today I have to say that Christopher nailed Peter’s voice down pat!

    I would have been interested to hear how Peter Thiel reacted to this portrayal of him on the show(if he’s seen the show that is). Does he find it flattering or does he see no resemblance to himself at all.

  24. You asked Peter Thiel: what’s the one problem you face every day that no one has solved? I’ll pose this: How can corporate / non-profit America capitalize on the slew of smart, educated, formerly successful moms who’ve “opted out” because there is no such thing as balance between work and life? More than half of this population would be happy and willing to work, if work understood how to flex to their needs – and I don’t mean stuffing envelopes, selling knives via phone, or doing customer service for JetBlue from their bedrooms. I mean real, tangible, meaningful project work that can drive businesses forward – but on their own times and their own terms?

    1. I agree. I currently have a job I love. Being 34, I also wish to start a family, but don’t want to go down to a single income and will go out of my mind sitting around the house all day. Daycare? Hell no, I’ve worked at a day care and the laws are such that it’s illegal to pick up a crying child to comfort them.

      You’re children are not well taken care of.

  25. I listen to the podcasts during my long commute to office. It has made my commute so much more bearable and I actually feel smarter after listening to each podcast.

    I know you are on medical leave but please get back to the usual style of interviewing as soon as you feel better. It is much more interesting when you are having a conversation because you ask him so many questions that pops up in the listener’s mind.

    Also, please make the earlier podcasts downloadable in MP3 format.

  26. Amazing how billionaires talk about passion. Love the way the dots are connecting. Great content Timtim, love your stuff! (Currently listening to the 4hb) I would love an interview with Owen Cook, Warren Buffet or MJ Demarco

  27. Thanks for the Interview Tim! Although I loved the insightful questions that you had sent over, the interview did lack that personal touch of two people “conversing” and topics coming up organically.

    Thanks for everything you do!

    -Vybhav

  28. I´d like you to interview Nathan Myhrvold if that is a possibility, seems like a great fit to this podcast. Thanks for making them, every single episode is beyond awesome!

  29. Tim – Awesome podcast! I think this name was dropped in the James Altucher podcast…Mark Cuban…or any of the entrepreneurs from Shark Tank.

  30. Hey Tim, love the show. How about George Foreman? He has an amazing story of rising to fame, returning to poverty and then back to prominence. One of the most inspirational stories you can find

  31. Russ Roberts just released an awesome book entitled “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness.” He seems like the type of person your listeners would enjoy.

  32. A great interview you could have is “the King of Youtube” Elliott Hulse. He has a great story of going from Rags to Riches, has great ideas for workout advice and “creating the best version of yourself” with weightlifting and yoga, and he has cited you before in his work so I know that he most likely respects what you do and would be up for being on your podcast.

  33. Tim I love your podcast and listen to it every week… but.. your friend Peter Thiel (I just found out) started Palantir which is a company involved in mining data from American citizens and handing it over to agencies like the NSA. In other words, Palantir helps the American government spy on it’s own citizens. It’d be great if you could do a podcast where you address this concern about Peter. Maybe give him a chance to explain. Generally speaking I absolutely love the guests you interview – or in Glenn Beck’s case, I don’t love him but I still love your interview of him. But when someone you interview and hold in high regard is seemingly involved with robbing your tribe of their fundamental right to privacy, I think it’d make sense for you to explain. Especially with your tribe generally being so tech savvy, they’d probably be really interested (or concerned) about Palantir and other companies (including Google) spying and handing over personal info to the gov’t.

    And no – I’m not some conspiracist. I was simply listening to TruthDig and they began talking about Palantir and I thought “Hey, isn’t the silicon valley guy who co-founded it… isn’t that Tim’s buddy Peter Thiel?” Unfortunately I was right.

    Too political for your podcast? Probably. But I’d love for you to be the kind of guy who doesn’t just interview “successful” people – but stands up when those successfully people are doing bad, bad things. Otherwise the success you’re deconstructing turns out to be rather shallow and without ethics. Which in my opinion is the core of the major problem facing America – “success” at all costs and no ethics.

    Thanks for listening.

  34. Hi Tim – This podcast is a goldmine! I listened to it 4x back to back last night. Thiel is clearly visionary and bold. My only complaint is the rapid-fire, brief format left me with far more questions than it answered. I would have loved for you to be live with him to ask follow-up questions and probe deeper on most topics. Any chance for a round 2?

  35. Hi Tim – There’s a great guy named Richard Crawford in NYC who is a master of and teacher of Lecoq (yup – pronounced Lee-cock) I know… but he would be a fascinating interview. When it comes to world class performance, on stage or in athletics, having mastery of the body is essential. This gentleman is a genius and just delightful. A quick google search (I don’t want to post links here to honor your request) will give information about him and the art form.

  36. Twitter has been a popular topic lately. If you could land Jack Dorsey, Ev Williams, or Chris Sacca that would be sweet! I think even if twitter wasn’t a hot topic I think these guys could throw down on a great interview.

  37. Tim,

    First, I want to thank you for the excellent work you’re doing on this podcast. Your creation is reaching thousands and changing lives and has definitely made me a stronger leaner and problem solver. This podcast has been incredibly valuable that since picking it up with Naval’s interview I am going through back episodes. You may have already taken away this criticism from some of the other feedback, but I didn’t enjoy this episode do to some of the transactional nature of the interview. It could simply be an abrupt transition due to editing but the presentation of this episode lacked some the tangents that many of your other episodes feature. Those are especially valuable because you see how your world class performers connect thoughts rather than the tidbits they’ve absorbed and subsquently present back to you. Hearing those organics thoughts presents a more complete framework to deconstruct. I am so thankful for everything you do, keep up the great work!

  38. You should interview Jason Levinthal. One could argue he’s been among the most influential skiers of the last thirty years by way of founding line skis and playing a huge role in the freeskiing renaissance of the late 90s.

  39. I enjoyed this episode, until i found out later he is a Donald Trump supporter. I went back into my notebook, rip out the pages of notes and set fire to it.

  40. Peter Thiel’s ideals and activism are scary. He believes that he is more entitled and more deserving to breathe and think than you and I are. White or not, male/female, gay/straight, it doesn’t matter, you’re thoughts are unwelcome and unworthy. He has always had the money, now he has the US President’s ear to prove it; seriously scary dude. The kind of guy that smiles after he pulls the knife from your stomach and reassures you that “you did this to yourself”. It’s no wonder that he wouldn’t agree to the conversation interview format that TF excels at; he must have total control over public enlightenment and information.

  41. Elon Musk. And an even harder challenge – ask him questions he’s never been asked before. (Tons of Amazon interviews from 2010 – current and Tim Urbans writing five great background.

    Everyone asks Elon the same questions. Please ask him about how we should solve other problems that he doesn’t have enough to solve.

    Q: What do you think about animal consciousness and how can we better coexist with them? Is there a solution to our negative effects on so many species? What does that solution look like and how do you think we’ll coexist with them in the distant future?

  42. Great podcasts.

    Tim,

    Get Clif High. Get Clif High. Get Clif High.

    He is half past human.

    And will blow you and your audience away with his work.

    If you dare, of course.