Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Billionaire's playground: Paypal's founder loves Kiwi entrepreneurial culture

Billionaire American technology entrepreneur Peter Thiel.  Photo / AP
Billionaire American technology entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Photo / AP

A house in Parnell, an investment in an NZX-listed company, a stake in an internet cable business, an audio ebook business and scouting around the Queenstown area - this billionaire really loves New Zealand.

Peter Thiel, the openly gay Californian hi-tech expert who supports gay causes was the founder and former chief executive of e-commerce business Paypal.

He owns an exclusive Parnell property which he bought through Auckland real-estate agent Graham Wall but he is no flash-harry CEO-type, not highly eloquent, according to one man who met him.

"He is highly intelligent but not highly polished. He doesn't come across as rehearsed but natural, very professional, personable and when he's talking about business and ideas he is not at all sleek or smooth. He actually takes a while to make his point and talks around things for a while."

Mr Thiel made his stack in 2002 when he sold Paypal to eBay for US$1.5 billion but he loves New Zealand, particularly its business culture which he has found flexible, inventive and different to his home country's which he said had become too bureaucratic.

"There's a lot of incredibly talented people in New Zealand," the American technology investor told the Herald last year. "You look around and you see the small businesses and it's very entrepreneurial. It's not dominated by [long traditions] that say 'this is the way you have to do things'."

He first came here 19 years ago on an adventure tourism trip to Queenstown but is now an investor in NZX-listed Xero, the cloud-based accounting platform provider, whose other investors include Trade Me founder Sam Morgan and MYOB co-founder Craig Winkler.

In October 2010, Mr Thiel invested $4 million in Xero's online accounting software through his local capital firm, Valar Ventures. The 44-year-old also sits on Xero's advisory board with Mr Morgan.

In his second round of local investment, Mr Thiel put an undisclosed amount last January into Pacific Fibre, which plans to build a second submarine internet cable to Australia and the United States. Last April, he donated $1 million to help people affected by the Christchurch earthquake.

And in the trifecta, he invested in Booktrack, the brainchild of New Zealand brothers Mark and Paul Cameron, which adds music and other ambient audio to novels or short stories being read on tablet devices like the iPad.

The anti-academic who went to Stanford is a critic of formal education and has paid some promising undergraduates US$100,000 to drop out of university to become entrepreneurs.

PETER THIEL

Forbes magazine's estimate of net worth: US$1.5b
* Ranked 293rd out of 400 billionaires last year
* Born in Frankfurt, has a doctorate in law from Stanford
* Paypal founder, Facebook investor
* House in Auckland, major investments here.

- NZ Herald

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