How Elon Musk and Peter Thiel almost died in a 2000 car crash

“So what can this factor do?” enterprise capitalist Peter Thiel requested from the passenger seat of the glossy, 627-horsepower McLaren F1.

“Watch this,” Elon Musk replied.

It was March 2000, one 12 months after the 28-year-old Musk bought his first start-up for $22 million. He’d dropped $1 million of it on the silver sports activities automobile, then pumped many of the relaxation right into a grandiose enterprise scheme:, an internet-based megabank that aimed to remake the worldwide monetary system.

However his plans had been blocked by Confinity, an organization led by Thiel. The 2 had been about to debate a “shotgun marriage” merger to finish their harmful competitors. Musk, pulling rank, had provided Thiel a raise. “I didn’t actually know the way to drive the automobile,” he tells creator Jimmy Soni in “The Founders: The Story of PayPal and the Entrepreneurs Who Formed Silicon Valley” (Simon & Schuster), out now.

Musk gunned the McLaren’s gold-plated engine. The drive was greater than he might deal with. The automobile spun out on the busy Silicon Valley highway, hit an embankment, went airborne and smashed on the roadside. Glass shattered, tires burst and the automobile’s suspension snapped.

At simply 28, Musk made information by shopping for a $1 million sports activities automobile (above). He went on to turn out to be CEO of Tesla.

The crash might have killed each males and likewise destroyed PayPal — the corporate that revolutionized e-commerce and gave rise to YouTube, LinkedIn, Yelp, Tesla and SpaceX — earlier than it even started.

However miraculously, Thiel and Musk had been unharmed. They dusted themselves off, caught out their thumbs and hitchhiked off to vary web historical past.

In “The Founders,” Soni tells the story of PayPal from its beginnings as a easy bill-splitting app meant for the now-forgotten PalmPilot system adored by pre-smartphone Silicon Valley. The app was the brainchild of Max Levchin, a 24-year-old laptop programmer who had befriended Thiel, then 32, by means of a sequence of what Levchin calls “ultra-nerd dates,” bookstore conferences the place they spent hours one-upping one another with mind teasers and math issues.

Thiel and Musk butted heads at PayPal, with Musk being forced out of his CEO position by the board.
Thiel and Musk butted heads at PayPal, with Musk being compelled out of his CEO place by the board.
Reuters; Getty Pictures
Thinking back on the car accident, Thiel said of SpaceX founder Musk, “I’d achieved liftoff with Elon, but not in a rocket.”
Considering again on the automobile accident, Thiel stated of SpaceX founder Musk, “I’d achieved liftoff with Elon, however not in a rocket.”
Getty Pictures

When the financier and the engineer launched Confinity, the geek crowd swooned over Levchin’s PayPal app, which let PalmPilot customers beam cash to every different — if their gadgets had been in the identical room.

It was spectacular tech for the time, however restricted. Then Levchin added an afterthought bonus characteristic to PayPal’s web site: email-based funds.

Consumers and sellers on eBay immediately latched on. Inside six months of PayPal’s November 1999 launch, the corporate had greater than 1,000,000 customers.

Nevertheless, Musk’s deep-pocketed was focusing on eBay customers, too, attractive them with hefty sign-on bonuses that Confinity struggled to match. “It was type of a race to see who might run out of cash the quickest,” Musk stated.

Musk and Thiel remain on decent terms. In 2016, they met with President-elect Donald Trump at a gathering for tech leaders including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Oracle CEO Safra Catz (center).
Musk and Thiel stay on respectable phrases. In 2016, they met with President-elect Donald Trump at a gathering for tech leaders together with Apple CEO Tim Prepare dinner and Oracle CEO Safra Catz (heart).

After the automobile crash, within the spring of 2000, the exhausted combatants agreed to merge underneath the banner. However the merger proved rocky. Musk, nonetheless aiming for his final objective of world monetary domination, noticed PayPal as merely a method to that finish.

As CEO of the blended firm, Musk insisted on the primacy of the model — regardless that clients hated it, focus teams discovered. “Repeatedly, the theme of ‘Oh God, I wouldn’t belief this,’” recalled Vivien Go, a PayPal advertising exec. “‘It’s an grownup web site.’” Regardless of: Musk ordered PayPal to be rebranded as “X-PayPal.”

Then Musk decreed PayPal’s code to be scrapped in favor of a model new codebase meshing with’s structure. That was a blow to Levchin, whose PayPal code was stuffed with quirks bearing his fingerprints — strains recognized to all as “Max code.”

“This … is simply destroying my will to dwell,” Levchin remembers considering in despair.

Author Jimmy Soni interviewed scores of Silicon Valley insiders for his new book, "The Founders."
Writer Jimmy Soni interviewed scores of Silicon Valley insiders for his new guide, “The Founders.”

“I didn’t absolutely respect the emotional ingredient,” Musk later admitted.

The livid Levchin staged a coup. When Musk headed to Australia for a long-delayed honeymoon, Levchin mobilized Thiel and different allies on the board of administrators and ousted Musk from his CEO place.

“Sneaky backstabbing bastards,” Musk stated in 2019 — humorously, Soni writes. “Too scared to stab me within the entrance.”

The Founders
When Musk went on a long-delayed honeymoon, Levchin satisfied allies to on the board to oust him as CEO.

Musk retained his stake, profiting handsomely when PayPal went public in 2002. The capital he realized from the corporate’s billion-dollar IPO helped launch SpaceX.

At present, Thiel and Musk are on good phrases, with Thiel even joking concerning the automobile crash that preceded their success.

“I’d achieved liftoff with Elon,” Thiel advised the creator, “however not in a rocket.”

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