Y Combinator Has Quietly Cut Ties With Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist as famous for his controversial activism as for his savvy tech investments, is no longer a part-time partner at Silicon Valley startup incubator Y Combinator. The parting of ways comes after a year in which Thiel’s politics, including vocal support of Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions, put Thiel at odds with many of his peers in the tech world.

Y Combinator and its president, Sam Altman, have declined to comment on the matter to multiple news outlets. But a 2015 blog post announcing Thiel’s arrival has been updated with the announcement that “Peter Thiel is no longer affiliated with Y Combinator.” The change was first reported by BuzzFeed News.

Thiel was a relatively uncontroversial addition to Y Combinator in 2015, when Altman praised his involvement with massive tech winners including PayPal and Facebook, and called Thiel “one of the two people . . . who has taught me the most about how to invest in startups.”

But Thiel has since courted controversy on at least two fronts. In May of 2016, it emerged that Thiel had funded a lawsuit against the news website Gawker over its publication of a sex tape featuring wrestler Hulk Hogan. The move was apparently in retaliation for Gawker’s 2007 public outing of Thiel as gay, but many saw it as a disturbing use of wealth to silence the media.

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Then Thiel made a large campaign contribution to then presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying that Trump “rejects bubble thinking.” Altman at the time said that while he personally opposed Trump and disagreed with Thiel, that disagreement was not a good reason to end Thiel’s role at Y Combinator.

That seems to have changed. A source told BuzzFeed that Y Combinator ended its part-time partners program last year, but that while some other participants remained with the incubator in different roles, Thiel did not.

The reality of a Trump presidency clearly made Y Combinator’s association with Thiel more complicated. When the incubator joined forces with the ACLU, which had fought Trump’s travel ban, full-time partner Kat Manalac had to clarify that Thiel “will definitely have no interaction with the ACLU.” More broadly, Silicon Valley execs have almost uniformly opposed Trump’s stances on immigration, which stood to seriously throttle their access to global talent.

More recently, Altman, who has said he is a Democrat, has announced that he will support a slate of candidates in California elections in 2018. That could put him in more direct conflict with Thiel, who has denied plans to run for governor there, but still seems likely to be politically engaged.

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Joan Guzman