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A surprising early investor in Nanosolar: Reid Hoffman

When PayPal went public in 2002, then executive vice president Reid Hoffman, spent some of his winnings on investing in an early round of Silicon Valley’s first solar thin film startup Nanosolar, according to an article in the New York Times. Hoffman, of course, later on founded LinkedIn (s LNKD), which went public in May of his year, but Hoffman hasn’t seemed to continue that sort of interest in funding early stage clean power and cleantech companies.

Those early shares of Nanosolar that Hoffman bought are likely worth a decent amount at this point. Other seed investors at the time included Spring Ventures investor Sunil Paul, Google’s founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Benchmark Capital.

Nanosolar was reportedly worth $2 billion at one point in 2008 when it last raised money, but I’m not sure how the company is valued now. As the demand for solar panels, particularly one’s not made of silicon, has dropped dramatically this year, and thin film solar companies have struggled, I wouldn’t be surprised if that valuation has dropped, too.

Back when Hoffman made that investment in Nanosolar, then colleague at PayPal Peter Thiel bought a Ferrari with his earnings, says the New York Times. Thiel has gotten a lot of attention recently for calling cleantech investing “a disaster.” 

So who was right back then: Thiel or Hoffman? Will Nanosolar struggle like its peer Solyndra has, going bankrupt partly due to cheap Chinese solar panels, and making Hoffman’s seed investment worthless? (And idealistic compared to Thiel’s sports car splurge). Or will the company be one of the solar leaders and add more cash to Reid’s coffers if it gets bought for a high amount of goes public?

5 Responses to “A surprising early investor in Nanosolar: Reid Hoffman”

  1. The doors will shut sooner than you think. The current management did nothing but spend money with no regard to good business practices. They drove the company into the ground.

  2. I have always suspected that Nanosolar was fiction. They never really offered them for sale to the public, never published the specifications, and used lots of hype. They offered their first solar cells on ebay, then retracted the offer, claiming ebay wouldn’t allow it. I could never find any of their products used by anyone or any evidence they actually produced anything.

  3. Brian Stone

    My bet is on bankrupt. Friends of mine are in the engineering group at Nanosolar and they say the upper management is just trying to find a way to cash themselves out while keeping the employees at bay. Some of the things he said they did were lavish holiday parties, $1000 company wide bonuses for no real reason, etc. When I asked him if they’ll be like Solyndra, he told me they just took a government grant, not a loan, so it’s a bit different. But, he thought that the management team with toying with the books to make the cost per watt seem better than it was (something about op-ex vs. cap-ex, I dunno…), so that might come back to haunt them.

  4. Solar has actually been a great success, never has clean energy costs come down in prices as we’ve seen the last 2 years. Investors may not have made out like bandits, but they are definitely changing the world bit by bit.
    You forgot to mention Elon Musk and Tesla changing the face of motoring. As for Thiel, you may not want to put too much stock in him, after all this is the guy who said “freedom and democracy are not compatible”