It was Jan. 4, and Chamath Palihapitiya was ready to tease another deal. “Shooters Shoot,” he tweeted to his followers, along with a GIF of Alec Baldwin berating weary salesmen to “Always Be Closing.” The retweets and likes for the “Glengarry Glen Ross” reference came fast and furious. “We’re ready,” one follower replied.
Three days later, when Mr. Palihapitiya announced his intention to take online lender Social Finance Inc. public via a “blank-check” company, Reddit message boards popular with the day-trading crowd lit up. One fan called it a “stock that you buy with hopes of transforming you into a millionaire”—even though SoFi did not expect to be profitable until 2023 and faced stiff competition.
Mr. Palihapitiya is the man of the market moment. The founder of tech-investing firm Social Capital Holdings Inc. has charmed Wall Street to raise billions of dollars to bring startups public. Amateur traders hang on his every word for clues about his next target—and for the insults he hurls at the high-finance elite. (Hedge funds, he said last April, deserved to get wiped out when coronavirus shutdowns devastated the economy.)
Wall Street has always had its rock stars. Warren Buffett’s carnival-like annual meeting, after all, is nicknamed “Woodstock for Capitalists.” But Mr. Palihapitiya, a former Facebook Inc. executive who now has 1.4 million Twitter followers, belongs to a new class of market influencers—social-media savants who’ve figured out how to take shots at the establishment while taking its money.
No one has marshaled the twin forces reshaping markets—the blank-check boom and the retail-trading surge—quite like Mr. Palihapitiya. So far this year, as of Thursday, 225 companies that use money from initial public offerings to buy established businesses have raised roughly $71 billion—a figure that accounts for more than 70% of all public stock sales, according to Dealogic data. These outfits are known as “blank-check” firms or SPACs, an acronym that stands for special-purpose acquisition companies.