The Former PayPal Employees Who Run Silicon Valley

Peter Thiel. Elon Musk. Jawed Karim. Some of the biggest names in tech are alumni of the same startup.

The Former PayPal Employees Who Run Silicon Valley
Photos: Loic Le Meur, Steve Jurvetson, Robert Scoble, Frank Ruddy, The Bui Brothers via Creative Commons

Uber. Airbnb. LinkedIn. YouTube. Besides all being valued at $1 billion or more—and providing services so ubiquitous that it’s hard to remember life before them—these companies are connected in a lesser-known way. They’re all advised, funded, or led by former PayPal employees known as the “PayPal Mafia”—essentially, the dons of Silicon Valley.


You may have heard of this group of hoodie-clad tech gangsters before. The (self-named) PayPal Mafia has been around since PayPal was bought by eBay in 2002. Members of the group emerged as major players in the years after the acquisition, when these alums went on to found new companies or take on roles at venture capital funds.

But while the PayPal Mafia is a well-known phenomenon, understanding just how far the PayPal tentacles go is actually a difficult endeavor. A new data visualization from Fleximize helps reveal the connections that make up the PayPal alumni network. The verdict? PayPal alumni are everywhere, and their close ties with the group of privately owned, billion-dollar companies known as “unicorns” suggest that they’re not going anywhere.

via Fleximize

Fleximize has unraveled the complex connections between the group, laying out their relationships as a neat interwoven network of people connected by companies they have influenced. Peter Thiel, a cofounder and former chief executive of PayPal, is tethered to Airbnb, SpaceX, Facebook, and the many other startups in which he has invested. You can also see that Elon Musk, formerly the CEO of PayPal, of course went on to found Tesla and SpaceX. But Musk also invested in a string of other endeavors—the most surprising of which is probably the movie Thank You for Smoking (he’s not the only Mafia member with ties to the movie). Inversely, clicking on a company will show you everyone involved. YouTube, for instance, was founded by three PayPal alumni— Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim.

Industry know-how, business connections, and a willingness to invest in startups—as well as each other’s companies—has all made the members of the PayPal Mafia into some of the most valuable men (yes, they’re all men) in tech. But most of all, this web of unicorns deftly visualizes that success begets success.

See the interactive infographic in full here.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.