What's wrong with Peter Thiel

Why star investor Peter Thiel thinks nothing of the Berlin startup scene

Of course, Peter Thiel doesn't live (anymore) in Silicon Valley. That wouldn't do him justice either. He now completes his consistently staged "against" attitude with his new place of residence: Los Angeles. A city like no other; and especially not like Silicon Valley. At least not yet. Those who wanted to be emphatically different from the rest of the tech world to which they belong, companies such as Snap (chat), Hulu or SpaceX, settled here. It is already called Silicon Beach today because many followed, increasingly tech giants like Google. Thiel is not a pioneer with his move to the Sunset Strip.

The fact that he has distanced himself from Silicon Valley in recent months is no secret and is well documented in the press. Now Peter Thiel is currently visiting Berlin. Anyone who thinks that his anti-Valley attitude (or age-related) will make him romantic at home - Thiel and his parents moved from Frankfurt am Main to the USA a year after his birth - are mistaken: There is still nothing Big things in Western Europe, he says, do not allow any remarks that the startup scene in Berlin is still young compared to that in the real Valley. Eight to ten years is a long time, says Thiel, long enough in any case to produce more than what Europe has to offer. Fintech maybe, something could happen, Thiel has invested in the German banking startup N26. "Definitely something that Amazon or Google will not discover for themselves."

Europeans are not ambitious enough

Thiel may be controversial, but when he speaks, people listen to him precisely because he is controversial. That intense look. There is also an attentive silence in the audience on the top floor of the Springer high-rise, where the publisher Döpfner invited guests to dinner. Because Thiel had controversial opinions for many years, he immediately fired an explanation for his skepticism about Europe. They are not ambitious enough, the Europeans, he observed, certainly not “super-ambitious” like the US founders. It is more about the “work-life-life-life balance” (quote!) And the goal of retiring at the age of twenty-two. There is a great club scene for that.

Perhaps Thiel notices that he is sitting in a room with well-known founders such as Fabian Siegel (Marley Spoon), Jens Begemann (Wooga), Philipp Pausder (Thermondo), Johannes Reck (GetYourGuide) or Chris Boos (Arago). Or not. When Thiel can linger on the GDPR for minutes, it visibly helps the mood in the room. But it doesn't work without controversy. The data protection regulation is similar to the construction of the Berlin Wall at the beginning of the sixties: It seems like an admission that you have lost. That one cannot create an antipole to the large US tech companies in Europe - and therefore resort to regulatory measures. "A very stupid own goal," says Thiel. In any case, the regulation harms startups and the tech industry in Germany.

What else is up to Thiel? In a nutshell: Society has to solve the possible problems with artificial intelligence itself, AI cannot do anything for that. And why eternal life is not explored further, he does not understand. The next US president will be even more against free trade than Trump is, whether a Democrat or a conservative, because there is a global imbalance and nobody does anything against the Great Firewall of China.

The duel came too late

At this point, dear reader, a question: Who else has that little picture from above in their head? Right, there was someone else. It is really unfair to Dara Khosrowshahi to write about him at this point. The Uber boss may forgive it, it is not meant to be angry and it should certainly not speak against him. Only: Against Thiel, economic reason, or at least the attempt to restore it, is simply too tame.

The fact that Khosrowshahi plays the supporting role against Thiel in the Springer skyscraper may also be due to the fact that Travis Kalanick's successor is on an active reconciliation tour. Khosrowshahi admits a false start in Germany. Talking incessantly about the "driver-partners". From the new dialogue with cities and municipalities. About how important the new mobility - that is to say: Uber - is in the incessant growth of the metropolises. The US megastartup could save the megacities because it becomes a platform for many offers, not just their own. He then announces an e-bike service on the Noah stage. Uber wants to be a platform. "Cars are to us what books were to Amazon."

Much too late a little duel between Khosrowshahi and Thiel (you would have loved to have seen the two tech giants crash into each other!). The Uber boss thinks a lot of the tech scene in Germany and Europe, he says. The people here are at least as motivated and ambitious - at least those in the Uber office. "In a few years we will see who was right," Khosrowshahi smiles, his counterpart not making a face. Somehow it's hard to imagine Peter Thiel on the cannabis-smelling beaches of Los Angeles.

Image: Copyright Dan Taylor