Why the “PayPal Mafia” Worked

He’s one of the most notable members of the so-called “PayPal Mafia.” Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal, recently announced its split from parent company eBay, and shares his expansive insight in his first book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

“The first team that I built has become known in Silicon Valley as the ‘PayPal Mafia’ because so many of my former colleagues have gone on to help each other start and invest in successful tech companies,” writes Thiel in Zero to One. “We didn’t assemble a mafia by sorting through résumés and simply hiring the most talented people. I had seen the mixed results of that firsthand when I worked at a New York law firm, [comprising] impressive individuals one by one, but the relationships between them were oddly thin.”

Thiel describes these individuals as free agents who check in and out on a transactional basis. “Worse than cold: it’s not even rational,” he writes. “Since time is your most valuable asset, it’s odd to spend it working with people who don’t envision any long-term future together. If you can’t count durable relationships among the fruits of your time at work, you haven’t invested your time well.

“From the start, I wanted PayPal to be tightly knit instead of transactional. I thought stronger relationships would make us not just better and happier at work, but also more successful in our careers even beyond PayPal,” Thiel writes.

So they set out to hire people who would actually enjoy working together.

“They had to be talented, but even more than that they had to be excited about working specifically with us. That was the start of the PayPal Mafia.”

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