A rough childhood, a degree in electrical engineering, investment banking, software, venture capital. What could come next for Sri Lankan-born Canadian American Chamath Palihapitiya? Why, the Governor of California, of course.
On 26th January 2021, Palihapitiya, the billionaire, investor and CEO of Social Capital, sent out a tweet with the link to the “Chamath for California Governor” campaign website. He’s lent support to force a recall of the incumbent California Governor Gavin Newsom. In no uncertain terms, he tweeted “It’s on. #RecallGavinNewsom” with the link to his new website chamathforca.com. However, no official announcements have come up other than the tweets expressing his intentions.
As a young graduate, Palihapitiya started out as a derivatives trader at the investment bank BMO Nesbitt Burns. His next big leap landed him in the software industry when he followed his girlfriend to California. Palihapitiya joined AOL and rose steadily through the ranks to become their youngest ever vice president, heading their then-popular instant messaging division. He was 27. Next, he ventured into what’s known as the ‘dark side’ of the Silicon Valley – venture capitalism with Mayfield Funds. However he didn’t last for more than a few months. In 2005 he quit Mayfield Fund to join Facebook which was a little over a year old then. In Facebook, he was responsible for increasing the userbase. Parallely, he was also dabbling in start-ups like a gaming company Playdom and a software company Bumptop.
In 2010, while on a holiday, he was introduced to bitcoins by a friend who is a stalwart in the Bitcoin arena. That was a time when a Bitcoin was priced somewhere around $80. He claims to have once owned 5% of the entire Bitcoin supply. He founded Social Capital in 2011 that has Mark Zuckerberg as one of the first investors.
Some Californian residents are unimpressed with the current Governor’s performance in the poorly executed lockdowns and rather slow roll out of COVID-19 vaccines. Palihapitiya, now strongly vocal in his support of a recall vote for Governor Gavin Newsom, is gearing for the Gubernatorial race of 2022 or for a potentially special election in the latter part of 2021.
In his website, Palihapitiya puts out his thumbnail sketches focussing on the “mess” the state is in. He goes on to promise a long list of deliverances: tax reductions, raise in school teachers’ pay, the payout on births, cut down on student debts, free school vouchers and opportunities for tech and climate jobs.
Given his background in Bitcoins and venture capitalism, Palihapitiya has been quizzed in response to one of his tweets: “Honest question: what happens to your investments/ventures/deal flow if you became a governor?”
Palihapitiya replies, “I’ll keep doing it but donate my profits to California pensions.”
Interestingly, there has been a pro-crypto stir since President Biden has taken office. Among them, the nomination of Michael Barr, the former member of Ripple’s board of advisors directors, as the next Comptroller of Currency is in focus. Yet another interesting choice is crypto-literate Gary Gensler as the head of Securities and Exchange Commissions.