Get to know more about the canadian venture capitalist
Born in September 3, 1976 in Sri Lanka Chamath Palihapitiya is an engineer, SPAC investor, venture capitalist and CEO of Social Capital. He immigrated from Sri Lanka to Canada at age 6. His father was a civil servant and came from a pretty intellectual class of writers and thinkers but was economically not successful.
His mom came from a much more commercially successful family. She was a housekeeper. His parents have met very late in their life in their mid-30s, this is quite uncommon for people in the 60s in Southeast Asia. Back then you normally got married in your early 20s.
The whole family went from Sri Lanka to Canada after his uncle helped his dad got stationed in Ottawa Ontario Canada, to work for the high commission.
The civil war of the Buddhist majority, which Chamath and his family are part of and the Hindu Tamil minority got escalated. During that period they have filed for refugee status to stay in Canada because they didn’t feel like it was safe for his father to return and Canada has accepted his family as refugees.
It was really strange because the Sinhalese majority was not only fighting the Hindu Tamil minority they were also fighting an extreme nationalist wing of the Buddhists, who also felt like there should be zero tolerance of this insurrection. Since Chamath and his family was caught in the middle they get attacked by both sides.
His mom became a housekeeper, she never became a nurse state eventually. His dad stumbled from job to job worked at a photocopy store, sold encyclopedias, sold vacuum cleaners and just did whatever to kind of survive.
His parents has then basically told him and his two sisters, that they are better and they should get there things together, because there is no soft landing.
His dad became pretty dependent on alcohol, it became a way to kind of like deaden the pain, which lessen his frustration which causes a really turbulent life inside the house.
In contrast to that, his parents found the money for music lessons, therefore Chamath learned to play piano and violin. They also exposed their kids to art and culture. All that, with the knowledge that they life on welfare, which takes a unique personality and a unique kind of vision Chamath mentioned.
Chamath did not had a bedroom, he had a mattress which he has kept in the closet of the hallway and has taken it in the living when he wanted to sleep and put it back to the closet afterwards.
However, he goes to the best high school that was Lisgar Collegiate Institute in Ottawa. Everyone in this school were rich in Canadian standards, they were successful stable families and Chamath was hyper aware about that.
Chamath ran a little casino during the lunch hour because all these little rich kids wanted to play Blackjack. Since he was the house, it was obviously that he is making more money. He made anywhere from 25 cents to a buck.
He wanted what all the rich had, he wanted to live like they did, because he and his family did not went on vacations, they never learned to do some things that cost money like skiing and so on. It was fine for Chamath but he wanted to understand what that was like and he wanted to be around it if he could.
Driven from the fact that you want to have what you don’t have. He never put that back on his parents, because they were grinding and they had their own sets of issues. He will try to take care of this for himself when he has the chance.
He took that money during the week and went to these charity casinos and played blackjack. Back then he was a card counter. He was spinning up his money and was working at that time at Burger King too.
He was a good kid but he was a kind of like little shady. At Burger King he figured out what everything on the menu cost with tax.
At least 10% of the population live in an extremely precise life.
When they come and they’re like: "I’d like a whopper combo" and you say "five twelve", five dollars twelve cents. They literally take out five dollars and five cents. All you need to do is to be in cahoots with the guy in the back, because for him to make the whopper and you don’t put it in the cash box.
He came up with all these little things, because like at the edges it would just make him feel a little bit more like empowered, like an extra five bucks made that difference for them back then.
Chamath said: “He was like a kind of a kid who was not great in school but reasonably clever when it came to like risk and things like card counting. In math he was quite good. At that time, he was just kind of trundling along.
When the riots in Los Angeles happened, it was a huge moment in his life in 1992. Rodney King Riots. Back then nothing happens in California, nothing is happening in America - but in Canada, they took notice and in Ontario the government said, any minority kid who can get a job will be subsidize and get paid for getting work.
Chamath has applied for a job through this program called “Jobs Ontario Youth” – JOY and he get a job at “New Bridge Networks” which was a high-flying telecommunication company. It took him one hour and a half to get there by bus and it was a test of his will.
He was grinding this job and he got paid 10 bucks an hour and this has let him grew up. He met a guy who has taking him to the office someday and he learned a lot from him by just listening. The name of this guy was Sam. Chamath was impressed of him and declared him for a “real person”.
Chamath was around of that success of that place, a high-flying telco-stock back in the 90s. He was impressed of all the wealth being created and seeing people driving around with BMWs.
This was the moment when he has figured out, that there was an escape in the technology, that could be really profound and he forced himself to pay attention.
With that knowledge, he decided to take a couple of computer science classes in high school. He was okay in programming, but doesn’t had a passion for it, but he was really passionate about what it meant to build companies like that.
Chamath learned everything he had, that he applies in success, from failure or hardship. He mentioned that with success, it's so easy to conflate luck and skill. You don't really know whether it was you, whether it was timing, whether it's the moment. Then unfortunately that stuff is really corrosive, because it gets into your mind, it drives your ego and it defines your sense of self-worth and in a way that's just not sustainable or accurate. Whereas in failure, what happens is, you're basically like at zero and you have to really unpack what was you, what was the moment. Then you have these moments of clarity where you can really figure out what your powers are and what you're really good at and where you can affect change in an otherwise difficult circumstance and when you internalize that you become really powerful.
Chamath graduated from college, he took a very traditional job as derivatives trader. Even he went through Electrical Engineering, he had kind of managed to get that job. He liked that job because it played on his desire to take risk and quote unquote gamble. Although he realized later that this calculated decision-making and gambling look really similar on the outside and even though they're not the same thing.
He had to leave that job because he felt like he was gonna get trapped by money, because he was poor and he needed the job and he needed the money and then he needed their perspective on what making a lot of money meant and all of the encumbrances that it came with respect to your behavior your personality, with respect to sort of like the things you can do and can't do.
He would have just become a slave in a gilded cage. He don't want that. He wanted to be emancipated, he wanted to find his own path to being able, to like not have to be a subject of the man. Working at a bank just didn't seem that path for him, so he moved to Silicon Valley and he worked for a small company, that they all had bought, called Winamp. This was crazy because it was at a moment in time where it was part of the AOL Music Group.
AOL was trying to get a very complicated merger with Time Warner done. There was all this antitrust scrutiny around the music space and so they were handcuffed. There's many things they couldn't do then separately, there were all these things that they tried to do. Nobody knows this but, they have created the first 99 cent download store and they were able to do it because they had all these credit cards on file from all of the customers of AOL. It performed beautifully, but then when you try to go to the powers-that-be within the AOL infrastructure and convince them to launch a 99 cent download store, they all said no for political reasons, so you deal with this failure. None of it made any sense, but then you become really resilient. Then you figure out how to get great ideas to win and how to get great ideas to market because you wanted them to win.