Peter Thiel, the PayPal founder, Gawker killer and high-profile Trump supporter has a new title – Silicon Valley pariah.
America’s technology dreamland, where geeks are supposedly encouraged to let their fertile minds soar in search of tomorrow’s Facebook, is now hearing the clatter of jackboots as the thought police march in to punish people for their politics.
The chief object of Silicon Valley’s scorn is Thiel, a billionaire entrepreneur and early investor in Facebook with a thin skin and a penchant for litigation, much like the man he is supporting for president, Donald Trump.
Thiel has been vocal and generous in backing his fellow billionaire, addressing the Republican National Convention and ponying up some $1.25 million for the Trump Campaign.
“Where I work in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to see where America has gone wrong,” Thiel said at the RNC, citing the innovations and wealth created in the cradle of high-tech. “…but Silicon Valley is a small place. Drive out to Sacramento or even across the bridge to Oakland, and you won’t see the same prosperity.
“I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform, but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.”
Thiel went on to tell the cheering crowd that he is proud to be gay, proud to be a Republican and proud to be an American.
The proud-to-be-gay part may be a little disingenuous. Thiel reportedly bankrolled the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker because the brash website had outed him. But in any case, the way he swings doesn’t mean a thing to GroupThinkers in the Valley.
Ellen Pao, a partner in the venture capital powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers who sued the firm for gender discrimination and lost, now runs Project Include, which Bloomberg describes as a “diversity group.” But Pao will brook no diversity when it comes to political opinion: She told Bloomberg she is severing ties with the famous tech incubator Y Combinator because Thiel is a part-time partner.
Arlan Hamilton, managing partner at VC fund Backstage Capital, said she refused to accept money from an investor connected to Thiel, according to Bloomberg. It describes Backstage as a firm investing “in entrepreneurs who are underrepresented in the Valley, including women, minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”
Apparently, there are limits to underrepresented groups, like gay conservative Republicans.
Even the CEO of a firm Thiel invested in, Ryan Petersen of Flexport, has said he would probably not have accepted the money had he known about Thiel’s politics.
Refusing to do business with someone because of their politics is a slippery slope. Would it be okay for a bakery in Silicon Valley to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple wearing Trump buttons?
It’s hard to characterize Thiel as put upon, but he has a right to voice his political opinions and back them up with his wealth without fear of reprisal in his business life.
In a memo defending his decision to keep Thiel on the Facebook board of directors, Mark Zuckerberg wrote, "We can't create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate."
But beyond the noble goal of diversity is this: Politics is politics, and business is business.
If you don’t like people’s politics, don’t invite them to your next cocktail party. But don’t try to use business as a paddle to punish them for thinking differently.