The Founders

The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley

Today, PayPal’s founders and earliest employees are considered the technology industry’s most powerful network. Since leaving PayPal, they have formed, funded, and advised the leading companies of our era, including Tesla, Facebook, YouTube, SpaceX, Yelp, Palantir, and LinkedIn, among many others. As a group, they have driven twenty-first-century innovation and entrepreneurship. Their names stir passions; they’re as controversial as they are admired.

Yet for all their influence, the story of where they first started has gone largely untold. Before igniting the commercial space race or jumpstarting social media’s rise, they were the unknown creators of a scrappy online payments start-up called PayPal. In building what became one of the world’s foremost companies, they faced bruising competition, internal strife, the emergence of widespread online fraud, and the devastating dot-com bust of the 2000s. Their success was anything but certain.

In The Founders: The Story of PayPal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley, award-winning author and biographer Jimmy Soni explores PayPal’s turbulent early days. With hundreds of interviews and unprecedented access to thousands of pages of internal material, he shows how the seeds of so much of what shapes our world today—fast-scaling digital start-ups, cashless currency concepts, mobile money transfer—were planted two decades ago. He also reveals the stories of countless individuals who were left out of the front-page features and banner headlines but who were central to PayPal’s success.

Described as “an intensely magnetic chronicle” (The New York Times) and “engrossing” (Business Insider), The Founders is a story of iteration and inventiveness—the products of which have cast a long and powerful shadow over modern life. This narrative illustrates how this rare assemblage of talent came to work together and how their collaboration changed our world forever.


“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


—Business Insider

“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.”

The Economist

“[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


About the Author

Jimmy Soni is an award-winning author. His last book, A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, won the 2017 Neumann Prize, awarded by the British Society for the History of Mathematics for the best book on the history of mathematics for a general audience, and the Middleton Prize by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). His most recent work, Jane’s Carousel, completed with the late Jane Walentas, captured one woman’s remarkable twenty-five-year journey to restore a beloved carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his daughter, Venice.

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