Founders paradox

“Of the six people who started PayPal, four had built bombs in high school” (Thiel 2014: 174). Thus Peter Thiel begins chapter 14 ‘The Founder’s Paradox’ in his book Zero to One: notes on startups, or how to build the future. In this chapter, Thiel explores the differences and commonalities between the founders of PayPal and other founders of huge corporations. He identifies as the common denominator a set of extreme personality traits, somehow eccentric. This is Thiel’s paradox: that founders seem to have an inverse bell curve distribution of personality traits from the general population. He goes on to ponder the mechanisms producing this distribution. Are the people who found companies born this way? Or do they strategically cultivate these personality traits? Does the attention they get tend to focus on the quirkier sides of founders and do they for branding reasons invest in cultivating this image? Meanwhile there is another common denominator between the founders which is – I think quite strategically – not mentioned: Of the six people who started PayPal, six are men. And so is every other founder mentioned in the chapter despite Thiel’s inclusion of Lady Gaga whom does not really seem to fit the bill as founder of anything without stretching the concept beyond its limits.

So, rather than levering any critique at Thiel for lack of inclusion of female founders I extend my sympathy to him because this is my recurrent problem. There are no women in my own text. Nor are there any women in the text’s I read, or, if they do occur, it seem that they have with force been pulled in as token-such – as in the case of Lady Gaga. But then again. It’s not that difficult. If you search Forbes Magasine for female founders you soon enough get a list of 16 highly influential female founders of coorporations; among these Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), J.K. Rowling (The Potter Empire), and Che Wang (co-founder of HTC), or if this becomes too conventional and he had wanted to stay with the young vibrant tech milieu trying to tackle big topics he soon enough find a list including Alice Zhang, founder of Verge Genomics and Lu Zhang founder of NewGen Capital. But writing this makes me realize that there is a reason he included Lady Gaga who did not found anything and not these women who actually founded big things. I think he might have gotten himself confused thinking that he wanted to say something about a founders’ paradox when what he really wanted to say something about the power of highly eccentric people in affecting change and mobilizing support for their ideas.

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