Here is the full transcript of Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya’s fireside talk on Money as an Instrument of Change at Stanford Graduate School of Business…
Interviewer: Thank you so much for being here today.
Chamath Palihapitiya: Thank you for including me.
Interviewer: I’m so excited to dig into that career and your thoughts on the Valley. And I’m going to start us off with one of the things that jumped out at me in my prep for this interview. You are an extremely generous tipper.
Chamath Palihapitiya: Yeah.
Interviewer: I love that and I would like to know why.
Chamath Palihapitiya: So, I mean, it’s well known and part of why I’m so open about this is that I think it gives permission for other people just to be honest. I grew up in a very kind of dysfunctional household on welfare. And that compounded a bunch of shit in my life that was not great. We were very focused on money. It was a huge point of pressure and tension in the family. It created massive depression in my father, drinking. Just, it was very dysfunctional.
And there was some point along the way where I was like, okay, is money like really important or not important? And I feel very lucky because I don’t think if you ask my sisters, they got to the same place that I did. But I ended up not coveting it. And I found it to be something that I could use to really empower myself to do the things that I wanted to do.
And so, in a situation where you know you go to like a restaurant. If you really empathize with the people that are working there, I see people who are like me, brown skinned, working hard, creating these beautiful experiences. And then I can celebrate it by, I guess, giving a YELP review. But you can’t buy food for your kids with a fucking YELP review. So I want to tip.
And, I mean, it gives me so much joy because it’s like you’ll have a $300 or $400 bill. In some cases, you tip 500 bucks or 1,000 bucks, and you close it. And they’re expecting $40. And, I mean, I’ll get a little emotional, but they will come out to you, and it’s transformational. And so it’s so great. It’s just like little things like that mean a lot of people. And just to be anonymously generous like that, I think it’s a great gift that I have the ability to do. That’s why I do it, I love it.
Interviewer: And it sounds like the experience of being seen and give. You are seen and the individual is seen, and you’re sharing in that…
Chamath Palihapitiya: Well I mean, it’s funny. It’s like 99% of the time they don’t say anything, because they do the bill thing afterwards. And they for sure can’t pronounce my name. And so they for sure have no fucking clue who it was that gave them the tip. It’s fine, it’s totally fine. But I love it, I absolutely love it.
My friends freak out. Now it’s caused tension actually, because now when I go out with my friends, they know as well. And I’ve just made it very easy, which is like, hey, if we’re going out, let me just fucking pay. Just like, it’s fine, and it makes it simpler.
Interviewer: Okay, I want to dig into what you were describing about your upbringing and this unique position that you’ve gotten to where you don’t feel that you covet money. But you see its power and the use that it has in furthering some opportunities for you. How did you develop that? How do you distinguish between luck and skill? How do you end up in that position?
Chamath Palihapitiya: So, my parents craved money, meaning they needed it because my dad was unemployed for long stretches of time. My mom was the sole breadwinner. She was a housekeeper, then she was a nurse’s aide. And I would just see how she grinded. We didn’t have a car for a long time. She takes the bus, we all take the bus. When I got my first job, it was at Burger King. I’d take the money, and I had to give it to my parents, and we would buy bus passes.
And I remember telling some of my friends, I went to a very good high school, kind of like the rich high school. Not the high school I should’ve gone to. I was able to go to this different high school. And I would tell them, like, I would be so ashamed that I worked at Burger King. They would sometimes come by, and I would just be like fuck… And then at some point, it was like this release moment where I was, like this is my life. I can’t do anything about it. This is what it is right now. And I kind of had a sense that I could figure some stuff out later, but I didn’t really know. And so I just accepted it.
And then the minute I accepted it, I wasn’t ashamed anymore. And then, when I wasn’t ashamed I could start to actually be inside my head, like, what really matters? So then what happened was there was these massive racial riots in Los Angeles. And not as if the fucking American government did anything about it. But the Canadian government was like, shit, let’s get all these black and brown kids jobs, because we don’t want the Rodney King riots in Toronto, and Ottawa, and parts of Ontario.