5 Lessons from the PayPal Mafia

If you want to go far, go together

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Happy Monday and welcome to Through the Noise!

One thing I am coming to love is the "move fast and break things" ideology when building a startup. Speed is a critical factor in early success. Yet a byproduct of this is your grandma's china tends to take a tumble when you're flooring it down the highway whilst avoiding oncoming obstacles.

PayPal’s culture was a precursor to this movement. The founders and early employees who brought PayPal into existence have since gone on to build and fund some of the most successful technology companies of the 21st century. This includes the likes of YouTube, SpaceX and LinkedIn. The learnings from the mafia can not only be applied to your startup, but as mental models when making decisions with work, education and your free time.

Today we're looking at the top 5 lessons to help accelerate your life.

It’s time to strap in and enjoy.

Read time: 2 minutes

If you want to go far, go together

1. Extreme focus

At PayPal, Peter Thiel required everyone to be tasked with exactly one priority. He would refuse to discuss anything else with you except what was currently assigned as your #1 initiative. This was extended to your annual review: Identify your single most valuable contribution to the company.

Lesson: Focus on one thing– put your effort behind one unique idea.

2. Long-term vision, short-term goals

Thiel's long-term vision for PayPal was to become "the Microsoft of payments, the financial operating system of the world." Having this high-level view was the tangible objective for employees to rally around. But he put in place attainable short-term goals via achievable milestones.

Lesson: Focus on the sprints but maintain the strategic vision of the marathon.

3. Be genuinely intellectually curious

Many mafia members didn't have a formal engineering background. Yet each had a strong sense of the technology and direction PayPal was heading. Learning in non-traditional ways by chasing your curiosity often leads to the most favourable outcome.

Lesson: Combine hyper-focus with a genuine curiosity for lifelong learning.

4. Dedication to individual accomplishment

Teams were almost considered socialist institutions at PayPal. Many of the company's great innovations were driven by one person who conscripted others to support, adopt and implement the new idea.

Lesson: Avoid imposing on others' time by removing unnecessary meetings

5. Vigorous debate

Almost every important issue had champions and critics. These were normally resolved by a vigorous debate that could be very intense. Implement agreed upon decision making frameworks to avoid making noise just for the sake of making noise.

Lesson: Be able to articulate and defend your strategy or product in a succinct, compelling manner with thoughtful analysis.

A Little Something Extra

  • 📚 The Founders: Jimmy Soni recently published a book called 'The Founders' on the origin story of PayPal where he interviewed all the original creators of the company. It was a great reference when writing this piece– I recommend you check it out.

  • 🗞 Business Brainstorms: Jakob Greenfeld writes a free weekly 3-minute report to 9,000+ entrepreneurs that's packed with under-the-radar trends, business ideas, and actionable frameworks.

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That’s all for today friends!

As always feel free to reply to this email or reach out @thealexbanks as I’d love to hear your feedback.

Thanks for reading and I’ll catch you next Monday.


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