Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund was one of the first venture capital firms to take action and urge their clients to quickly withdraw funds from Silicon Valley Bank last week. The firm had reportedly removed all of its own holdings in SVB by Thursday morning, just as panic over the bank’s solvency began to set in on social media, from which it devolved into a historic $42 billion bank run on Friday that collapsed SVB. Thiel and his firm have come under fire online for the role they played in the bank run that followed, but the billionaire investor and PayPal co-founder himself is denying he wanted it to fail. After all, Thiel says, he kept his own money invested there.
“I had $50mn of my own money stuck in SVB,” Thiel told Financial Times columnist Gillian Tett in an article published Thursday. As he held his own money at the bank, Thiel was a bit of an outlier as SVB mainly catered to startups and venture capital firms. The bank held $175.4 billion in total deposits when it was seized Friday, according to federal regulators. Surely, Thiel would also have pulled his own $50 million if he thought SVB was going to fail?
That Thiel was one of many clients who were left disoriented and scrambling last week when SVB publicly disclosed some of its financial troubles may help explain the mentality of last week’s bank run. Founders Fund withdrew all its deposits with SVB by Thursday morning, according to Axios, with the intention of returning it once the panic subsided. Thiel was reportedly not a part of that conversation.
As Thursday wore on, the firm began getting more nervous, eventually starting to advise its portfolio companies, which last year collectively accounted for around $11 billion of investment, to withdraw their own funds, saying that there were few risks and downsides to doing so.
Founders Fund was far from the only VC firm to amplify the panic around SVB, causing its shares to plummet 60% last Thursday, before dropping another 20% after-market and then a further plummet in Friday pre-market trading. SVB’s failure has been designated the first major social media-fueled bank run, as investors and venture capitalists took to platforms like Twitter and instant messaging apps last week to spread news and panic over the bank’s financial status. SVB CEO Greg Becker warned against exactly this phenomenon during an investor call Thursday, saying the bank would only be in crisis if “everyone is telling each other SVB is in trouble.”
Investors and founders later criticized each other bitterly for their role in causing the crisis. “This emergency was not helped by investors going into a frenzy and orchestrating a bank run,” Madison Maxey, CEO and founder at Loomia, told Insider Friday.
Many VC firms, including Pear VC in San Francisco and Hoxton ventures in London, advised portfolio companies to withdraw their funds from SVB, but Thiel’s Founders Fund still got most of the heat given its speed to act and the large size of its portfolio.
In a statement to Axios, Founders Fund CFO Neil Ruthven said: “Thursday morning it was clear we were in the middle of a bank run, and we reacted in line with our fiduciary duties.”
Like the managers at Founders Fund who advised clients to temporarily withdraw their funds, Thiel didn’t believe SVB would eventually fail, he told the FT.
Thiel, like all account-holders at SVB with deposits exceeding the $250,000 insurable limit, will be able to get all of his money back after the government stepped in over the weekend with extraordinary measures to ensure all depositors would be made whole. While Thiel will surely be happy to see his money returned to him, the inaccessible funds over the weekend are unlikely to have made a big dent in his $8 billion fortune.
Founders Fund and Peter Thiel did not immediately reply to Fortune’s requests for comment.