Peter Thiel is most well-known for being a founding member of PayPal, which is also affectionately known as the PayPal Mafia; a group that includes great thinkers such as Max Levchin and Elon Musk. His accomplishments though do not end there. He was one the first external investors in a small company named Facebook, where he also has seat on its board of directors, but this is a man of many chairs as he also chairman of Palantir, Clarium Capital, Founder’s Fund and many others. He is in the top 300 in the Forbes 400 list and at 2.2 billion dollars he’s number four on the Forbes Midas list. Being mentored by such a herculean figure in the global economy is a rare and highly revered privilege, but Jason Portnoy who worked part time with Peter Thiel when he was CEO of Confinity (the company that created PayPal) generously shares the insights he gained during his tenure with one of the most financially influential people in the world.
1. About the Mentee
Jason Portnoy is by no means a slacker, but he is a college drop-out. He started his academic career at the University of Colorado majoring in chemical engineering and minoring in business. While progressing through his studies he realized that his passion laid in mathematics and business so he applied to a graduate program at Stanford in Organizational Research, a field which uses mathematics to solve complex business problems. While there he realized that his classmates had much more work experience than Portnoy, which they used empirically during their studies. Feeling this was a deficiency Portnoy pursued a part-time job at Confinity as a financial analyst.
2. Carve Out Your Niche
Portnoy says that when he was first hired at Confinity most of his supervisors didn’t know how to implement a chemical engineer with a glancing knowledge of business, luckily Portnoy had a skill that would help them utilize him: Excel. Serendipitously, one of Portnoy’s professors at U.C. had instructed his student to become proficient in Excel’s more obscure and powerful functions and Jason used this to his advantage. Not only was he proficient with this function, he was also very quick; he was actually so efficient that he would finish his work and sit in on the meeting in which the senior executives would go over the information Portnoy had prepared for them. This gave him invaluable insight into the business communication and idea sharing.
3. Hard Skill FTW
As mentioned in the previous section Portnoy’s rapid accession in Confinity was largely due to his ability to use Excel and with that tool output data that was valuable towards the company. Once he proved his worth and his abilities he was actually asked to stay on full time, forcing him to drop out of Stanford’s graduate program.
4. Take Risks But…
The offer for a full time job was a turning point for Portnoy; he would have to drop out of an immensely competitive and prestigious University program to work in a rapidly evolving company. Although he chose to drop out he did so cautiously. He spoke with Stanford and confirmed that if the job with Confinity didn’t work out he could return and complete his graduate degree. He never needed to though, because shortly after Confinity merged with X.com and the two entities were renamed PayPal, Portnoy’s corporate star continued to rise and by the time the company was preparing its IPO, Portnoy possessed an important role in the company’s financial team. Shortly after the company was acquired by Ebay, giving Portnoy experience that became invaluable to the success of his career.
Did I leave any piece of Portnoy’s advice that you think should have been included? Let me know in the comment section below.