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The Founders

The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley

A definitive, deeply reported look at the origin story of PayPal and the creation of the “PayPal Mafia,” a group that includes Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Max Levchin, among many others whose stories have never been told until now. Out of PayPal came the most powerful players in Silicon Valley and a new template for entrepreneurship in our modern age.

Today, they’re referred to as the “PayPal Mafia.” Out of the founding employees of PayPal have come billionaire start-up executives, award-winning film producers, and high-ranking government officials. Collectively, they constitute the most influential network in Silicon Valley, responsible for forming, funding, or advising two decades worth of major technology companies from SpaceX to Facebook, YouTube to Yelp, Palantir to LinkedIn, Pinterest to Airbnb, and many more.

Yet, for all their influence today, the story of the company where they first cut their teeth has gone untold. Before they became a “mafia,” they were the unknown, uncertain creators and employees of the online payment company PayPal. In The Founders: The Story of PayPal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley, award-winning author and biographer Jimmy Soni explores the earliest venture of some of today’s foremost business titans—including many individuals who have been left out of the front pages and banner headlines.

Based on hundreds of interviews and with unprecedented access to thousands of pages of never-before-seen material, Soni’s narrative digs deep into the founding days of a company whose earliest employees have changed how we use the internet and technology today. It is a story of sweeping, nail-biting entrepreneurial success—the definitive account of how a generation of technology founders came to learn and practice their craft. Through their fight for survival during the dot-com's turn-of-the-century bust, the founders of PayPal not only built a company that still exists two decades later, but also created a template for entrepreneurship in the 21st century.

Photograph by Damon Dahlen

Jimmy Soni is an award-winning author. His last book, A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, won the 2017 Neumann Prize, awarded by the British Society for the History of Mathematics for the best book on the history of mathematics for a general audience, and the Middleton Prize by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). His most recent work, Jane’s Carousel, completed with the late Jane Walentas, captured one woman’s remarkable twenty-five-year journey to restore a beloved carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his daughter, Venice.

More books from this author: Jimmy Soni