"An intensely magnetic chronicle...[Soni] is balanced and fluid in this solo outing, making mundane projects like the creation of an online 'button,' or the dawn of CAPTCHA, somehow literary...[he] also has a knack for the wry or lovely phrase...[and] appends a coda about the power of PayPal’s 'mafia' to inspire that left this reader, at least, in sobs."
—New York Times
"A gripping account of PayPal’s origins and a vivid portrait of the geeks and contrarians who made its meteoric rise possible. His richly reported narrative includes corporate intrigue, workplace hijinks, breakthrough innovation and first-class nerdiness."
—Wall Street Journal
—Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
"Spellbinding...What an achievement by Jimmy Soni in telling the essential story of PayPal, and the amazing people who made it happen."
“A dramatic business story about the payment’s company rise... also a human tale about [Elon] Musk, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin before they went on to greater fame and fortune. In The Founders, Jimmy Soni captures the heady days of the dot-com bubble.”
"Gripping... [A]n engrossing glimpse of the PayPal mafia’s riotous early days."
"[An] entertaining history...Soni’s account memorably renders the personalities involved and engages with ideas about financial sovereignty, open-source technology, and the place of politics in Silicon Valley."
—The New Yorker
“A masterpiece of reporting and storytelling by a deeply intuitive writer who gained access to the most important—and elusive—minds of our generation. In The Founders, Soni has produced more than just a bona fide business thriller. He has written a book with the power to change how we see the world, and one that reminds us that America’s most beautiful instinct is to embrace original thinkers who are willing to risk everything in the name of innovation. The best book I have read in ages.”
—Robert Kurson, author of Shadow Divers and Rocket Men
“Anyone who has used the internet in the last decade will find The Founders a revealing and sometimes shocking look inside today’s tech revolution and the very human wizards who have transformed our lives—for good and ill.”
—Kati Marton, author of The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel
“This is a fascinating page-turner about the brilliant and competitive innovators who created PayPal and went on to shape our digital world. The colorful cast of characters—including Thiel, Musk, Hoffman, Levchin—is amazing. Deeply reported and bracingly written, this book is an indispensable guide to modern innovation and entrepreneurship.”
—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
“The real secrets of Silicon Valley are the tight networks of friendship and business that propel new ideas, companies, and personalities into the world. The most consequential of these networks in recent decades is the one that began at PayPal. Here Jimmy Soni delivers a startup-hustle story for the ages, revealing why their wild entrepreneurial ride did so much to build Silicon Valley’s supersized present.”
—Margaret O’Mara, author of The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America
“You may think you know something about the early careers of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin, but until you read this extraordinary and meticulously reported book, you really don't. The Founders not only explains the veiled histories and inner workings of Silicon Valley’s influential ‘PayPal Mafia’—it explores the profound questions of how world-changing networks of technology, talent, and innovation come together.”
—Jon Gertner, author of The Idea Factory and The Ice at the End of the Worlda
“With this book, Soni joins the ranks of Eric Ries and Ben Horowitz as the author of a canonical must-read for all startup founders. Readers will discover not only rich characters, but unflinching and trend-proof insights into what it takes to start a company that changes history.”
—Amanda Cassatt, founder of Serotonin and former CMO of ConsenSys
"Short of getting into a time machine, it's hard to imagine how you'd get closer to capturing PayPal's rise—and understanding the lives of its creators. A brilliant book chock full of wisdom and lessons for business and life."
—Nir Eyal, bestselling author of Hooked and Indistractable
“This book is stunning in its depth and clarity, especially given the complexity of its subject matter: the intertwined early lives of some of the greatest innovators of the twenty-first century. I thought I knew most of the characters—particularly given how much they are covered in the news—but I was wrong. Jimmy Soni’s immense effort, which involved combing through 150,000 pages of emails and hundreds of interviews, unearthed not only new facts but also new layers of humanity that lie at the heart of the story. This is the rare book that combines deep research, powerful storytelling, and wit. Anyone who wants to understand how great things get built will benefit from reading it—and so will anyone who wants an inside look at brilliance.”
—Luke Burgis, author of Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life
"Soni has written a brilliant origin story—the kind you want to read. He returns to the opaque beginnings, to the time before archetypes had formed around Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. He excavates the layers of technological history, human grit, and visionary genius that converged to form a world historical company."
—Natalie Elliot, science writer and professor at St. John's College
"The only business adventure I’ve ever read that made me feel like I saw into all the main characters' brains—along with seeing what they did. An absolutely addictive read."
—Brandon Kleinman, founder of Time Capsule and Showroom
"[A] punchy origin story full of wheeling, dealing, and political machinations... Soni tells the story with novelistic verve."
“This deep dive into PayPal’s history will intrigue readers from the beginning. Soni, an award-winning author, had unprecedented access to Elon Musk and internal PayPal documents. Readers will be surprised by how much personalities, company culture, and people shape revolutionary innovation. Those with entrepreneurial spirits will want to add this to their reading list."
"A modern technology success story about the Silicon Valley innovators who developed one of the world’s largest payments companies. Combining historical detail with biographical perspective, Soni sifts through PayPal alumni to reveal the company’s origins and the risks it took to surpass both its predecessors and contemporary competition... A captivating examination of a significant consortium of tech pioneers.”
Soni's (A Mind at Play) book, about the online payment company PayPal, becomes the latest work to capture in print the obsessive gold-rush mentality of 1990s Silicon Valley startups. Soni excels at weaving together the nitty-gritty details of PayPal's early days, as told by the people who were directly involved. He allows readers to feel like they are caught up in the action, whether sleeping on office floors or discussing nine-figure business transactions over hamburgers. This account begins by fleshing out the backstories of the company's major founders (including well-known characters like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel), then delves into the founding and merger of the two original companies that eventually formed PayPal. Through Soni's analyses of internal communications and press coverage, in addition to his extensive interviews, readers will learn about PayPal's product launches, hiring practices, issues with customer satisfaction and prices, international expansion, and contentious history with eBay, which would eventually acquire PayPal. VERDICT More than a history of PayPal. Soni's book is a must-read for anyone who wants an insider's perspective on the demands of tech startups or who wants to better understand how Silicon Valley's culture became what it is today.—Sarah Schroeder, Univ. of Washington Bothell
A modern technology success story about the Silicon Valley innovators who developed one of the world’s largest payments companies.
Combining historical detail with biographical perspective, Soni sifts through PayPal alumni to reveal the company’s origins and the risks it took to surpass both its predecessors and contemporary competition. He seamlessly chronicles the early years of driven entrepreneurs like Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, Reid Hoffman, and Elon Musk, who began as a bank intern at 19. Soni writes extensively about PayPal’s beginning as a digital payment platform borne from a hybridized set of companies founded by Thiel and Levchin, whose business plan was essentially to simplify the ability to transfer money. This conglomerate locked horns and vied with Musk’s expanding X.com for eBay’s attention. Eventually, they combined forces to create a resilient startup merger that survived the 2000 dot-com bust despite its fair share of executive turmoil, lawsuits, fierce competition, fraudster infiltration, and imitators. In 2002, investors were stunned when eBay purchased PayPal only months after PayPal went public. “Eventually,” writes Soni, “eBay spun PayPal out on its own, and today it’s worth roughly $330 billion.” The author entertainingly elaborates on all the high drama, as interviews with former employees paint a vivid portrait of the early working environment at PayPal: cutthroat, chaotic, and mercilessly backbiting. Soni puts a positive, conclusive spin on the machinations of this select group of enterprising internet innovators (more contentiously known as the “PayPal mafia”) by describing their funding and developing efforts as well as their mentorship programs for other startups seeking to achieve comparable success. Soni effectively captures both sides: “For its critics, the group represents everything wrong with big tech—putting historically unprecedented power into the hands of a small clutch of techno-utopian libertarians. Indeed, it is hard to find a lukewarm opinion about PayPal’s founders—they are either heroes or heathens, depending on who offers the judgment.”
A captivating examination of a significant consortium of tech pioneers.