Review: The Founders by Jimmy Soni

Review of the book The Founders by Jimmy Soni. On the origins of PayPal and it's founding team.

Review: The Founders by Jimmy Soni
The Founders, The inside story of PayPal by Jimmy Soni.

I read the book The Founders in a series of other books that deal with the emergence of large Internet companies and the associated investments (The Power Law by Sebastian Mallaby, The Cryptopians, Laura Shin).

These stories give a nice picture of a time, it gives background to my own life as a knowledge worker and inspiration for my current work as a MarTech specialist and Content Producer. I must confess that it is also partly out of nostalgia and curiosity for individual protagonists.

In the case of The Founders, the company is Paypal and the founders, from two different companies, included Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. Now, in my own country, the Netherlands, Paypal is not a very important brand but in many countries it was an indispensable catalyst for e-commerce.

I actually finished reading The Founders in one go and was impressed by how the author managed to create a story that actually takes place at the office. The financial world is abstract and not really tangible. And how do you tell a story about something that, according to internet years, took place centuries ago, where a factual account surely counts, and you don't want to lower yourself to gossip and backbiting?

The story

The author tells the story chronologically with some smaller side trips, such as a visit to Elon Musk or in depth. The picture of the company begins to emerge, but what I like about it is that it is not immediately clear, or could have been, where exactly it is going. There is movement, but not immediately a linear direction. That sense of possibilities becoming so numerous that it tends towards chaos gives a good insight into the spirit of the times. Don't stand still, keep moving, personal styles and forces that continue to drive the movement. Not immediately by being right, but in any case by thinking big and operating on the edge of megalomania. The bigger, the better.

PayPal isn't just about people banding together to shape a product-it's about how banding together shaped the people themselves.
The Founders, Jimmy Soni.
The Founders, Jimmy Soni.

About writing

How do you portray a story that actually takes place in boring offices? The author handles this very well, the tension curve remains tense. What I find very clever is that he does this without abandoning the facts. There must have been an awful lot of meticulous research in this book.

And Jimmy Soni is a very gifted and clever writer. The story requires a lot of concentration, and you can tell. When the tension is off and the complex story is told, he lets go completely and freely and tells the story about two prisoners who see the PayPal Mafia as an inspiration. Then you notice the great potential of his ability, and I at least understand better how much power and energy (five years of work) the book must have cost.

Besides the story about PayPal, I enjoyed the backstory of the making of this book. In it, Soni tells us candidly about the struggle that writing this difficult book cost him. It gives an insight into how you write a book, but above all how you create it. How and with whom. The surrounding professionals that you need to write a book like this.

The Founders is cleverly written, profound and exciting. For people who work professionally with products and teams, are starting a business, or are interested in the history of the Internet or financial services. And for people who want to know more about what drives entrepreneurs like Musk and Thiel. I definitely recommend the book.

The Founders
The story of PayPal and the entrepreneurs who shaped Silicon Valley

P.s. I am eager to read Jimmy Soni's biography on Claude Shannon:

A Mind at Play
How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age