Billionaire and All In podcast co-host Chamath Palihapitiya has had a long and distinguished career working for and investing in numerous well-known companies. Although his path has been far from straight, Chamath has always shown a keen eye for the sorts of opportunities that increase personal wealth. As an early investor in Bitcoin, part of his money doubtless comes from that intelligent investment. However, that is only a tiny part of the story of how Chamath Palihapitiya achieved a net worth of $1.2 billion.
Learning From the Past to Forge a Better Future
Never one to shy away from hard work or pass up an opportunity, Chamath Palihapitiya was born in Sri Lanka, but his family moved to Canada as refugees when he was only five years old. His parents were far from wealthy, and his early experience plus watching his parent's struggles likely influenced Chamath's future path to financial solvency. He indeed wasn't born rich. In fact, Chamath's first job was working for Burger King. It's unlikely any of the wealth he holds today came from that early experience, but it did help him make ends meet while he worked toward a better future. Upon moving to Canada, the future billionaire's mother worked low-paying jobs as a housekeeper. Meanwhile, his father had a more challenging time maintaining employment. However, the brilliant young man would grow up to attend Lisgar Collegiate Institute, where he graduated at just seventeen years old. After Lisgar, he went on to study at the University of Waterloo. Palihapitiya majored in electrical engineering and graduated in 1999. At that time, many tech companies we think of as ubiquitous today were still in their infancy. Fortunately, Chalmath had an excellent eye for opportunity. After graduation, he would go on to work for several of the biggest names in technology.
Early Employment 2004-2011
As an electrical engineer, the job prospects are incredibly diverse. A graduate in this field can choose numerous industries. Chamath went into the tech sector. By 2004 he was working in the Instant Messaging department at AOL. More importantly, he was the youngest vice president in the companies' history. That would have satisfied most aspiring engineers, but not Palihapitiya, who always sought a more significant challenge. A year with AOL's IM department was more than enough for the forward-thinking Chamath. Naturally, being a VP for a major company like America Online would have paid well. Though it was nothing like a billion dollars, this was likely the catalyst for Palihapitiyas' elite wealth journey.
Facebook, The Good, The Bad, and The Almost Failed
In 2005 he left AOL for Mayfield Fund to be a venture capitalist, but that didn't last long because Facebook offered him a position, which he promptly took. Even Facebook had roots, and when Chamath joined, the company was barely over a year old. For the next four years, he worked on user growth. Unsurprisingly things went very well overall. In fact, the company had more than a billion users at the end of that time. However, that's not the whole story. Steven Levy's book, Facebook, The Inside Story, mentions that Chamath was not well-liked at Facebook and was known for making coworkers cry. Moreover, According to an expert from the book published by Maker Medium, his long term success was far from instant. If not for a deal that linked AOL's instant message program to Facebook, he might not have lasted long enough to make the impact he eventually affected. Palihapitiya became friends, or at least friendly with Mark Zuckerberg, which led to the job change, and ultimately what saved his job after initially failing to find enough of a direction to be a significant help. That said, it was Chamath who came up with the genius idea to create his "Growth Circle." This team of brilliant people ultimately helped Facebook identify ways to grow when it seemed like the company couldn't break past a hundred thousand users. With his mind firmly on the future, Palihapitiya worked with Embarcadero Ventures to begin growing his income. By investing in various projects, he was able to turn his salary into a moneymaking venture, but of course, he didn't stop there. His brief tenure with Mayfield Fund years before must have been eye-opening because Chamath never wholly gave up on venture capital.
Investing In The Future
Owning a sports team is the dream of many but the privilege of few. In 2010 Chalmath helped buy The Golden State Warriors, a pro-basketball team out of San Francisco. At the time, he was still employed by Facebook, but he left that position in 2011. The purchase must have been personally significant because he has maintained both a seat on the board and a minority stake for over a decade. Leaving Facebook was a calculated move. Chamath was ready to start his own business investing in others companies. The Social + Capital Partnership, later simply called Social Capital. Over the last decade, Social Capital has invested in several highly lucrative businesses. Chamath Palihapitiya made the majority of his fortune through investments over the last decade. For example, in March of this year, he sold his personal stake in Virgin Galactic for more than two hundred million dollars. By 2015 the investment firm had $1.1 billion in assets from investors. In 2021, the company was ranked number two at finding unicorn companies to invest in by CB Insights. Additionally, Palihapitiya is known for his work with SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies, a type of investing that helps companies raise capital by trading while also allowing the owner to keep their majority interest.
From Burger King to engineer, and AOL VP to billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya has made shrewd decisions to reach his goals from the get-go. His skill at networking and identifying the right place to put money or energy to increase value is undeniable. Despite recent questions from senators about some possible conflicts of interest, Mr. Palihapitiya has helped build numerous businesses while creating his own substantial net worth.
Written by Lily Wordsmith
Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith