Analysis If ever there was any doubt that billionaire Peter Thiel was a contrarian, he put it to bed last night in a short speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, US.
The Paypal cofounder and early investor in Facebook already stood out as a supporter of Donald Trump in Silicon Valley – an industry that despises the presidential candidate so much that it wrote an open letter calling him a "disaster."
Thiel contradicted everything those around him believed in yet again when he took the stage in Cleveland and declared: "I'm proud to be gay."
He may be proud of it, but much of the Republican party and indeed its official platform is not (although some reports coming out of Cleveland suggest there are more than a few closeted members in the GOP ranks).
Not that Thiel is unaware of the fact he was telling people the opposite of what they want to hear: contrarians never are; in fact they feed off it.
"I don't pretend to agree with every plank in our platform," he noted later in the speech, presumably in reference to the section in the official platform on "Renewing American Values" which states at the top: "We believe that marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage, and promote through laws governing marriage."
And even though Donald Trump twice referenced the LGBTQ community in his speech – so carefully that many suspect he had never said the phrase before – an interview with a gay member of the GOP's platform committee said she considered quitting the party after efforts to even mention the gay community were repeatedly shot down.
But Peter Thiel's contrarianism doesn't end there: he is a contrarian even to Peter Thiel. Despite openly declaring his pride in being gay, his outing by gossip site Gawker elicited such fury in the entrepreneur that he spent nearly a decade devising its downfall, secretly funding a lawsuit against the company in an effort to bring it down just this year.
Wherever he is, whatever everyone else agrees on, you can rely on Thiel to aggressively take the opposite approach.
He lives next door to one of the world's best universities – Stanford – a college from which most of Silicon Valley's most celebrated individuals have graduated. And he offers to pay students to leave in the middle of their course in order to take up entrepreneurial classes.
Peter Thiel is an immigrant – he arrived in the United States at age one – but he supports and funds groups that are anti-immigration while claiming the opposite.
His speech was a ringing endorsement of Donald Trump when even a key member of the Republican Party pointedly refused to endorse the candidate on stage. And yet Thiel supported just about every other candidate in the Republican primaries before Trump, skipping to the next after each dropped out.
He first supported libertarian Rand Paul. Then former HP head Carly Fiorina. Then Texas senator Ted Cruz. Only when no one but Trump was left did Thiel pledge his support. And the more his colleagues and coworkers railed against the orange businessman, the stronger his support became.
What message did he bring?
All that aside, there is no denying that Peter Thiel is an original and insightful thinker. Despite what many assume, he is a shy and private individual. And unlike similar high-profile VCs (cough, Marc, cough, Cuban), he is not a blowhard building a career on one lucky buyout: in a recent ranking of the most successful Valley VCs, Thiel came in a very respectable 12th.
So aside from being the first Republican speaker ever to publicly acknowledge their homosexuality on stage, what was Thiel's main message to the gathered?
It was that the country – and especially the US government – sucks at tech.
Although Silicon Valley is doing extremely well, he noted that it is an extremely small place and its success should be being replicated all over the country. He harkened back to when he first arrived in the United States.
"In 1968, the world's high tech capital wasn't just one city ... Our government was once high tech too."
Thiel cited DARPA developing the internet and the Apollo mission as examples of when the US government was leading from the front. But now, he notes, "nuclear bases still use floppy disks and our newest fighters can't even fly in the rain."
That is, he argued, a "staggering decline" – a decline that he says "nobody is being honest about except Donald Trump." And warming to Trump's business-only mindset, Thiel argued: "We don't accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley and must not accept it from our government."
He then took another stab at what people still occasionally call the industrial-military complex: "Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East."