SA can tap into two of Silicon Valley’s best brains – so why don’t we? 

by Alec Hogg

Silicon_ValleySilicon Valley insiders talk of the “Paypal Mafia”, a dozen fabulously wealthy men who were involved in the creation and development of the global online payment company. Their number includes three certified billionaires, many whose wealth runs in to hundreds of millions of dollars, and the founders of a string of massively successful companies including Youtube, LinkedIn, Yammer and Yelp. It’s said in the Valley that if you have a great idea, the Paypal Mafia are the first people to approach.

Two South Africans are among those 12 superstar entrepreneurs. Interestingly, both were born in Pretoria. Elon Musk was the biggest shareholder at Paypal when the company was sold to eBay in 2003. He doubled down the $165m he got from that sale to build an even bigger business at Tesla and SpaceX, and also found time to bankroll his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive, also from Pretoria, in what’s today the US’s biggest retail renewables business, SolarCity Corp (market cap: R60bn).

The other SA member of the Paypal Mafia is Roelof Botha, who was chief financial officer and negotiated the eBay deal. An actuary from UCT, Botha is named after his grandfather, long-serving “verligte” Foreign Minister Pik Botha. His father, also Roelof, is a highly respected local economist. The Silicon Valley-based Botha is a partner at Sequoia Capital, the district’s leading venture capital business and as a result serves on the boards of a list of the US’s hottest tech start-ups.

If SA’s leadership are serious about “serving the people” surely it would be better advised to seek counsel on things like Eskom’s energy conundrum and the developing Uber dilemma from the globally respected duo. Their suggestions are certain to be less self-serving and of a lot higher quality than the bunch currently doing the advising.

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