A Look at “The Founders: The Story of Paypal…

The Founders: The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley by Jimmy Soni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A pretty impressive book by Jimmy Soni, who manages to give us an up-close look at how PayPal was created, bringing us through the different iterations of the company. Who cares about PayPal? The group that created this company has become known for so much more than their work at PayPal. The list of “The Founders” includes Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and a cast of coders that were nothing short of brilliant.

This book is not biographical. If you are looking for an in-depth look at any one of the individuals this is not your book. It will show you how a start-up, even with brilliant people at the helm, is often one step away from oblivion.

I was not aware of the history here, which includes the fact that PayPal was a merger of competing companies helmed separately by Peter Thiel and Elon Musk. This meter created PayPal, which eventually has Musk as the CEO.

Musk obviously has garnered a lot of publicity of late, and not everybody is happy about it. But this book shows you some of what he is made of. He had made a small fortune selling another company before his involvement in the PayPal predecessor X.Com. Musk, despite several twists and turns in just what product(s) his company was developing, was willing to stake a big chunk of his newly made fortune into X.Com. He had guts and was willing to gamble it all. But this is not an Elon Musk story. The team that developed from the merger of X.Com and Confinity (and even before) was free-wheeling, a bit reckless, and absolutely brilliant. Confinity initially invested heavily into a product that would allow money to be beamed between Palm Pilots. Maybe a good idea at the time, but as technology evolved so did the PayPal team, striking gold in realizing that there was a market for a payments provider for the auction site eBay, which was just taking off.

Soni does take us through the development of the business and how, even when the company appeared to find success, the chance of failure was ever present. How to combat user fraud, ward off the hostile EBay, who had their own payment platform, scale down customer acquisition costs, which were enormous, and stay one step ahead of regulators was a rough road indeed. The coders did amazing work here, and the entire group put in hours that were simply inhuman. But success depended on that level of commitment and this group was willing to pay the price.

I read a couple of reviews that were a bit critical of the level of detail on the business development in the book. I thought it was just right. With all of the big names involved here as younger men and women a certain legend has grown around the PayPal “Founders.” The group has gone on to some great heights after PayPal, and has been accorded the nickname “The PayPal Mafia.” You can see, through this book, how that group got its start, took a new market by storm, and made a barrel of money. Their success was not pre-ordained but came through hard work, brilliance in driving the company to the right spot in the market, and out-flanking business competitors. I enjoyed the book, and recommend it highly.



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The “paypal mafia” photographed at Tosca in San Francisco, Oct, 2007. Back row from left: Jawed Karim, co-founder Youtube; Jeremy Stoppelman CEO Yelp; Andrew McCormack, managing partner Laiola Restaurant; Premal Shah, Pres of Kiva; 2nd row from left: Luke Nosek, managing partner The Founders Fund; Kenny Howery, managing partner The Founders Fund; David Sacks, CEO Geni and Room 9 Entertainment; Peter Thiel, CEO Clarium Capital and Founders Fund; Keith Rabois, VP BIz Dev at Slide and original Youtube Investor; Reid Hoffman, Founder Linkedin; Max Levchin, CEO Slide; Roelof Botha, partner Sequoia Capital; Russel Simmons, CTO and co-founder of Yelp
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