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Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

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If you want to build a better future, you must believe in secrets.

The great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. In Zero to One, legendary entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel shows how we can find singular ways to create those new things.

Thiel begins with the contrarian premise that we live in an age of technological stagnation, even if we’re too distracted by shiny mobile devices to notice. Information technology has improved rapidly, but there is no reason why progress should be limited to computers or Silicon Valley. Progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business. It comes from the most important skill that every leader must master: learning to think for yourself.

Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace. They will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.

Zero to One presents at once an optimistic view of the future of progress in America and a new way of thinking about innovation: it starts by learning to ask the questions that lead you to find value in unexpected places.

195 pages, Hardcover

First published September 16, 2014

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Peter Thiel

21 books2,108 followers

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Profile Image for Jacek Ambroziak.
11 reviews92 followers
December 21, 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed the book even if I have found myself in violent disagreement with many of its thoughts. The book opens up with these words.

"Every moment in business happens only once.

The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.

It’s easier to copy a model than to make something new: doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1. The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange."


Initially, I kind of liked this quote. It is indeed hard to imagine a new business to threaten the dominance of Google Search or Facebook's social network. But the fact that Google search dominates is not really a zero-to-one effect, but a decisive improvement over previously existing internet search engines. Facebook was not originally conceived of as a dominant social platform; it so happened that it turned out to be well liked by millions of people beyond the original community of Harvard students. In operating systems we already have Linux and Android (using Linux) which have way more deployments than Windows. So it is not the case that "every moment in business" happens only once, unless in a very literal sense.

Peter discusses "copying" with disdain, but not all "copying" is just copying, a lot of progress happens via semi-continuous improvements. This civilization does not only progress by one-off disruptive inventions. A lot of it is steady improvements. And these improvements occasionally lead to enabling zero-to-one (or dominating) developments.

Peter asks "What company is nobody building?" Like the previous quote, this question has some charm, but I think it too is misleading. Well, maybe nobody is building this "company X" yet, because it is not yet fully enabled. Eg. voice over internet existed in the lab (IBM?) since mid 70's, but Skype made sense only much later when lots of people got access to personal computers and these computers started being connected to the Net all the time.

Bottom line: it is not all "zero to one", nor it can be or should be.

I still give the book 5 stars as I enjoyed its thought provoking character; it was an engaging reading: disagreeing, agreeing, learning new perspectives. Highly recommended but please don't treat it as Gospel :-)
Profile Image for Yevgeniy Brikman.
Author 3 books582 followers
November 27, 2014
This book fluctuates between brilliance and madness. When it focuses on the mechanics of start ups, it's great. When it focuses on Thiel's philosophies, it's a bit whacky. Thiel enjoys being a contrarian too much. Doing something new and valuable may require being a contrarian, but just being contrarian doesn't mean your ideas are new and valuable. Worth reading if you're interested in startups, but be prepared to skim and shake your head.

Pros:

* Great chapters on how to build a monopoly, approach markets, luck, hiring, culture, and sales.

* lots of contrarian views that will force you to reconsider your own ideas

* Interesting outlook on the future of technology and humanity

* Clear writing

Cons:

* The ideas of vertical vs horizontal progress is nonsense. All ideas are horizontal, built incrementally on top of all the ideas that came before by people who came along at the right time and place. This includes the ideas behind paypal and palantir.

* Limited perspective on competition. It exists. It leads to better products for consumers. It hurts some businesses, but drives others to greatness.

* I disagree with Thiel's negative view of education. Yes, higher ed is too expensive and can be done better, but that's not the same as eliminating it. And if you want to change it, then have your companies stop filtering candidates by college degree.

* Dismissing a broad curriculum and saying everyone should study just one thing is absurd coming from a lawyer turned businessman who likes to quote a very wide array of human knowledge, including philosophy, history, physics, mathematics, medicine, economics, and mythology. It's also absurd since the fusion of ideas from different disciplines is what leads to much of innovation.

* Comparing hipsters to the uni bomber? Really?

Fun quotes:

As a good rule of thumb, proprietary technology must be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute in some important dimension to lead to a real monopolistic advantage. Anything less than an order of magnitude better will probably be perceived as a marginal improvement and will be hard to sell, especially in an already crowded market.

By the time a student gets to college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse résumé to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready—for nothing in particular.

But leanness is a methodology, not a goal. Making small changes to things that already exist might lead you to a local maximum, but it won’t help you find the global maximum. You could build the best version of an app that lets people order toilet paper from their iPhone. But iteration without a bold plan won’t take you from 0 to 1. A company is the strangest place of all for an indefinite optimist: why should you expect your own business to succeed without a plan to make it happen? Darwinism may be a fine theory in other contexts, but in startups, intelligent design works best.

As globalization advances, people perceive the world as one homogeneous, highly competitive marketplace: the world is “flat.” Given that assumption, anyone who might have had the ambition to look for a secret will first ask himself: if it were possible to discover something new, wouldn’t someone from the faceless global talent pool of smarter and more creative people have found it already? This voice of doubt can dissuade people from even starting to look for secrets in a world that seems too big a place for any individual to contribute something unique.

The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.

Every great company is unique, but there are a few things that every business must get right at the beginning. I stress this so often that friends have teasingly nicknamed it “Thiel’s law”: a startup messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed.

You can’t accomplish anything meaningful by hiring an interior decorator to beautify your office, a “human resources” consultant to fix your policies, or a branding specialist to hone your buzzwords. “Company culture” doesn’t exist apart from the company itself: no company has a culture; every company is a culture. A startup is a team of people on a mission, and a good culture is just what that looks like on the inside.

All salesmen are actors: their priority is persuasion, not sincerity.

The most fundamental reason that even businesspeople underestimate the importance of sales is the systematic effort to hide it at every level of every field in a world secretly driven by it.

It’s better to think of distribution as something essential to the design of your product. If you’ve invented something new but you haven’t invented an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business—no matter how good the product.

Tthe seven questions that every business must answer:

1. The Engineering Question
Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?

2. The Timing Question
Is now the right time to start your particular business?

3. The Monopoly Question
Are you starting with a big share of a small market?

4. The People Question
Do you have the right team?

5. The Distribution Question
Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?

6. The Durability Question
Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?

7. The Secret Question
Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don't see?
Profile Image for Jamie.
Author 4 books156 followers
January 3, 2016
I hate this book and I suspect that the feeling is mutual.

Zero to One is a bunch of thoughts about entrepreneurs and startups by Peter Thiel, co-founder of Pay Pal. The book doesn't have a central thesis or framework like many other business advice books. Rather, each chapter is more or less self contained set of thoughts about how someone starting a company should to go from "zero to one" (create something new where nothing like it existed before) instead of "one to two" (iterating on something or copying some existing service or product). There's a chapter on the 1999/2000 dot com boom, there's a chapter where Thiel shares his contempt for competing in an open market, a chapter on company culture, and more.

It's a bunch of nonsense that leans more towards being a polemic than a business advice book. It's mainly Thiel looking down on what he sees as the problems of the business world and trying to convince you that he has all the answers to problems nobody else has even thought of. This is super aggravating, since he is so partial to misstating an opposing point of view and making strawman arguments. He does it, for example, in the chapter about competition and monopolies where he brushes aside the generally accepted definitions of monopolies and competition and instead hacks them into new shapes to fit his arguments.

My biggest "this is BS" realization came with the chapter "You are not a lottery ticket." This was his examination of Malcom Gladwell's "luck plays a role in success" idea from the book Outliers. Thiel says that the serial entrepreneurship of a handful of people --many of them rich from previous successes or otherwise privileged-- is grounds for dismissing the role of luck or good timing in success. It's a dishonest and self-serving examination of the topic that ignores the fact that Outliers (and the work it was based on) all account for motivation and ability as well as luck. It's the worse, lazy, anecdotal, self-serving kind of thinking.

And once you realize that Thiel is out to misattribute, redefine, and cherry pick anecdotes in order to prop himself and his arguments up, you see it everywhere and you can no longer take anything he says at face value. He claims, for example, that nothing but information technology and communications technology have evolved much since the 70s. Which has to be untrue. We have made crazy advances in all kinds of fields --medicine, astrophysics, chemistry. I mean, are all those Nobel prizes undeserved? Thiel doesn't have the desire to research outside of his own world and so just makes proclamations that support his thesis at the moment.

Another example of Thiel just saying something to make it true: "This is why physics PhDs are notoriously difficult to work with --because they know the most fundamental truths, they think they know all the truths." (pg 104). Uh, [citation needed]. I could see an author making the same point by telling a story about a physicist (or some other scientist) he once worked with and found to be a pain in the ass. Then saying "people like Dave tend to..." Another writer may talk about the Dunning Kruger effect or about research showing how expertise in one field biases you in others. But no. Thiel is all in. He's too impressed with his own insights to do anything but write them down and move on.

Really, this is the work of a crank. It's more coherent and better written mechanically than a messageboard screed, but it's still the work of a crank. On page 96 he equates hipsters with the unibomber and religious fundamentalists. He's serious. The book has nothing to offer but platitudes and advice that's impossible to actually act on.
Profile Image for Nick.
20 reviews21 followers
August 5, 2014
The first book since Antifragile that had me hooked beginning to end. The definite/ indefinite paradigm had me thinking long after the book was finished. Fantastic.

Ch. 1 The challenge of the the future

The first chapter is an introductory piece on the creation of new value (going from nothing to something) thus zero to one as opposed to logarithmic and or incremental changes one to n.

- He argues that spreading old ways to create wealth around the world will only further globalize the world into sameness. This sameness means a universal current state. The downside to this is that everyone will now have a North American live style which requires a lot more energy and competition for the same resources. Thiel calls for a pursuit of new growth not a desire to spread the sameness around.

- He argues that old technologies still pervade our society and that new technologies will and should come from startups because large scale bureaucracies move slowly and entrenched interests in these organizations shy away from risk. In a lot of organizations signaling that your work is completed is more important than the work itself.

Ch. 2

- When growing a company exponential growth in size of your business also means exponential growth in your cost structure.

- Out of fear of a post 90's tech bubble do not treat the lessons learned as dogma. The goal of lessons is that the mistakes of the past are potential future realities not a determined future. Silicon Valley currently is trapped in this thinking that the bubble of the past dictates how we should act presently.

- Current tech companies focus on too much 1) incremental advances 2) have no idea where there business will go or what they will be doing 3) forego creating new markets and instead attempt to gain more ground in overcrowded markets 4) ignore sales completely

- The opposite is important 1) risk boldness 2) have a framework of where you'd like to take your company 3) search for new markets 4) sales matter as does product design not more though

Ch. 3 All Happy Companies are Different

- Ask yourself what valuable company is nobody building.

- Create value and then capture that value

- Choose to become a monopoly as competitive markets strip your profits away. Become a company so good at what you do that no one offers a close substitute. Differentiate your company from all others.

- Monopolists lies to protect themselves (google claims its an advertising company and thus has only 3% of the global advertising market but if it is to be considered a search engine company then it owns 67% of the search engine market).

- Competitive companies lie and exaggerate their share of the market to attract investors.

- Monopolistic profits allow companies to transcend the competitive struggle and focus on their employees.

-Monopolies can keep innovating and profits ease long term planning and make it more feasible to attempt ambitious R&D projects.

- Basic economics are a relic of the past.

- Every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot.

- Rivalry causes us to overemphasize old opportunities and slavishly copy what has worked in the past.

- Is your market the right one to be in? Everybody loses when the war isn't worth fighting.

- Do not accumulate enemies. And if you can't beat a rival consider merging.

- Short term thinking diverts your focus from company growth and durability.

- Will your company be around in 10 years?

- Characteristics that may guarantee you dominance: proprietary technology, network effects, economies of scale, and brand.

- The problem with MBA types: initial markets are small that they often do not perceive them as opportunities.

- Choose small market demand with immediate product adoption.

- First dominate a specific niche and then scale to adjacent markets.

Chapter 6:

- How you perceive the future may dictate your outcome. Are you indefinitely pessimistic, definitely pessimistic, definitely optimistic or indefinitely optimistic.

- Indefinite pessimist: the future is bleak and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

- Definite pessimist: the future is bleak and must be prepared for.

- Definite optimist: the future will be better and everyone must work in a direction to make it better (Entrepeneurs)

- Indefinite optimist: the future will be better but how it will materialize is unforeseeable (law school students).

- Entrepeneurs do not view their future as out of their hands and are optimistic enough to plan for their future. They only sell their company when they have no plans for where they would like to take it.

- Long term planning has become undervalued in a world that only thinks in quarterly cycles and 4 year election cycles.

- A startup is the largest endeavour over which you can have some sort of control over your own destiny.

Ch. 7

- Venture returns don't follow a normal distribution, rather they follow a power law: a small handful of companies outperform all others.

- The biggest secret in venture capital is that the best investment in a successful fund equals or outperforms the entire rest of fund combined. Every investment in your portfolio must have the potential to succeed at a vast scale. Less than 1% of companies started each year receive venture funding.

- You are an investor in yourself. When you choose a career you believe your line of work will be desired in years to come.

- An individual cannot diversify his own life by keeping dozens of possible careers in his back pocket.

Ch. 8

- What company is nobody building?

- Have unorthodox ideas and do not be afraid to hold these ideas. Having mainstream ideas that everyone else has is not a sign of progress. It is thinking with a contrarian-esk perception is where new ideas stem from.

- If you think something is hard you'll never try.

Ch.9 Foundations

- Thiel's law: a startup messed up at the beginning cannot be fixed.

- Bad decisions made early on such as choosing the wrong partners or hiring the wrong people can be very hard to correct after they are made.

- You cannot build something great on flawed foundations.

- When you start something the most important decision is who you start it with.

- Technical abilities and complementary skill sets matter, but how well the founders know each other and how well they work together matter just as much. Founders should have a prehistory before they start a company together otherwise it is just a gamble.

- The benefit of working for yourself is you have sole control of a vision the downside is that you don't gain the benefit of having a team.

- You need good people who get along but you also need a structure to keep everyone aligned for the long term.

- Sources of unalignment: ownership, possession and/ or control. Ownership: who owns equity. Possession: who runs the company on a day to day basis. Control: who governs the company's affairs.

- Be aware when bureaucracy is creeping into your company.

- Refrain from having conflict between investors and founders due to differing interests and priorities. Have a smaller board because the smaller the board the easier it is for people to reach consensus and for control to be exercised. Every person on your board matters because each has the possibility to bring an issue that you may have to deal with so be selective. A board of 3 to 5 is perfect.

- Everyone should be a full time employee (except lawyers and accountants) to keep your company aligned with your goals.

- A company does better the less its CEO makes. A CEO that takes a high salary in startup will defend his pay and the status quo while a CEO that takes less money or money equal to his founders and employees will work hard to ensure problems do not arise and when problems arise to help solve them. A cash poor executive will continually focus on creating value for his or her company.

- Anyone who prefers owning a part of your company rather than being paid in cash reveals a preference for the long term and a commitment to increasing your company's value.

- The most valuable kind of company maintains an openness to invention and new ideas.

Ch. 10

-Do not assemble a team by hiring the most talented people based on a resume or some other arbitrary metric of talent.

- Your time is your most valuable asset and thus create a team you would enjoy spending time with on a shared vision. You want a tight knit group not a team of free agents only looking out for themselves. Hire people who enjoy working together, excited about your vision and talented.

- Always ask yourself why someone would want to work for you not the inverse which is why should I hire them. If they ask why they should work for you you should be able to respond why your mission matters and why your team is a team people likeminded people where they could not afford to not want to join.

- Make every person responsible for doing just one thing by defining roles to reduce conflict. Avoid people overlapping each other doing the same job and thus leading to conflict over the same responsibilities. Eliminate competition among your employees by differentiating their tasks.

Ch. 11

- Never underestimate the importance of sales. Sales works best when hidden. The worst salesmen are the ones who let us know we are being sold to.

- A product is viral if its core functionality encourages users to invite their friends to become users to.

- You must also sell your company to investors and employees. Keep them engaged.

- You should never assume that people will admire your company without a public relations strategy.

Ch. 12

- Computers are complements for humans not rivals or substitutes. The most valuable businesses of the future will be created by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than making people obsolete.

Ch. 13

- Companies should strive to make their product 10X better than their rivals because merely incremental improvements often end up meaning no real improvement at all for the end user.

- Entering a slow moving market can be a good strategy but only if you have a definite and realistic plan to take it over.

- Customers won't care about any particular technology unless it solves a particular problem in a superior way.And if you can't monopolize a unique solution for a small market you will be stuck with vicious competition.

Ask yourself 7 questions

1) Is your technology superior?
2) Is the timing right?
3) Do you have a monopolistic advantage?
4) Have you assembled a good team?
5) Do you have a good distribution chain?
6) How durable is your company?
7) Do you have any insight as to why your company is different?

Ch. 14

- The most important task in business is the creation of new value which cannot be reduced to a formula.

- We need unusual individuals to lead companies beyond mere incrementalism.

Ch. 15

- Always remember the first essential step is to think for yourself.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Tharindu Dissanayake.
275 reviews455 followers
September 24, 2020
"a great founder can bring out the best work from everybody at his company."

Books on business development and entrepreneurship - the good ones - usually have one thing in common: they require slow, patient reading so that the reader will have sufficient amount for time to let the principles sunk in. But in Zero to One, things are different. One could read the entire thing very quickly in a few hours, while retaining most of the contents.

"Monopoly is the condition of every successful business."

By incorporating the author's own personal experiences as well as his system of belief, this book provides an interesting analysis over a broad range of topics. To me, this is the first time a start-up was evaluated using these seemingly mutually exclusive indicators: monopoly, creativity, passion, sales, innovation (instead of iteration), founder characteristics etc.

"Winning is better than losing, but everybody loses when the war isn't worth fighting."

Given how quickly one is able to read this book, it is easy recommending this book for anyone interested in start-ups, for you will definitely be able to share the author's unique interpretation of the business world.

"A good startup should have the potential for great scale built into its first design."
Profile Image for Tanu.
286 reviews244 followers
January 9, 2023
Beginnings are special.

To shape the future, Zero To One is an exercise in questioning and revising established wisdom. And what we're all about is thinking about thinking.


This surprised me because I was expecting more startup advice. Even though I disagreed with many of the book's points, I thoroughly enjoyed it. More fundamental stuff, far deeper theories. Secrets, after all, are the biggest competitive advantage.

Grab your copy here.
Profile Image for Otis Chandler.
385 reviews112k followers
January 8, 2019
A fascinating book, great for investing and entrepreneurs. I like how he really focuses on contrarian thinking, and his mental models for it. But only giving it 4 stars because I wish he went deeper there, with more examples. But this quote is gold:

"The most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself."

Jeff Bezos says this often - to really create something new and innovate, copying others doesn't typically work. What works is Customer Obsession - focusing obsessively on solving problems people have. If you do that, you have a chance to create something truly innovative. If you are focused on competition - the "hot space", the "hot technology", the "hot market" - you likely will create something marginal. Goodreads was born and evolved this way - by maniacally focusing on solving problems for book lovers.

One of the more interesting points in the book, is that we live in a competitive society, and that causes us to over-optimize on the wrong things. We instead focus on beating the next guy or company instead of truly innovating, or focusing on what really matters to humans. In each company our goals and career growth define our pay, and thus we have to beat our coworkers, and our competitors to be judged successful. But even worse, competitive thinking is not creative thinking, and so it tends to be very incremental and built on past ideas, rather than creative and innovative. It also tends to be short term vs long term. Two quotes around this:

"More than anything else, competition is an ideology—the ideology—that pervades our society and distorts our thinking. We preach competition, internalize its necessity, and enact its commandments; and as a result, we trap ourselves within it—even though the more we compete, the less we gain."

"Rivalry causes us to overemphasize old opportunities and slavishly copy what has worked in the past."

Another point I liked that sounds obvious but is actually fairly contrarian in practice is that startups are most successful when focused on small markets, but ones that have high concentration, so the product can grow quickly in it. Most MBA’s will ignore these markets because they are so small. In Goodreads’s case, our initial set of reviewers were not a huge number of people, but they were very concentrated in the 2007 era blogging platforms - they had all their friends on their "blog rolls", and thus when they discovered us we grew rather quickly in those communities.

"The perfect target market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors. Any big market is a bad choice, and a big market already served by competing companies is even worse. This is why it’s always a red flag when entrepreneurs talk about getting 1% of a $100 billion market. In practice, a large market will either lack a good starting point or it will be open to competition, so it’s hard to ever reach that 1%.">

I loved the section on how in technology sales is often underestimated. This is in part because nerds have a natural aversion to sales, preferring to think all problems can be solved by technology. It turns out, they are only half right - good sales is half the battle, sometimes more. Another part of this stems from how nobody likes to think they are being "sold to" - for this reason, nobody whose job it is to sell has the word "sales" in it anymore - now we have account executives, BD, investment bankers, politicians, etc.

Tips to remember before investing in a company:
- How well do the founders know each other, will they work well together. Study them.
- How much does the CEO pay himself - shouldn’t be too high
- Are they trying to compete in a marginalized way or trying to invent something new?

I have noticed a pervasive sentiment among a number of people who work in technology that "all the problems have been solved, or will be by large companies". Peter is optimistic on this front, saying
"there are many more secrets left to find". Interestingly, he seems to focus more on scientific innovation in his list than informational or marketplaces.

But I liked this quote perhaps best - it really summarizes what I took from the book. Doing something different *is* likely whats going to truly help society the most, AND create value. That is an interesting thing to ponder!

"Doing something different is what’s truly good for society—and it’s also what allows a business to profit by monopolizing a new market. The best projects are likely to be overlooked, not trumpeted by a crowd; the best problems to work on are often the ones nobody else even tries to solve."
Profile Image for Sindy Li.
37 reviews44 followers
August 24, 2017
I heard about this book when it came out and thought that there was no way I would read a book on startups. Not that I don't see great things coming out of some startups, but I am not the only one who has developed a fatigue of the many random startups founded by fellow Silicon Valley dwellers who are engineers, MBAs, or a little bit of both, and of the many other Valley dwellers who claim they want to do a startup without knowing what it will be about!

After my dad bought a copy in Taipei I decided to take a look. I ended up enjoying it much more than I expected. This is a book of solid, sensible advice on startups, coming from economic principles and common sense. (I have no experience and little knowledge of startups, so I am merely speaking from an economist's perspective.) I wouldn't generalize Thiel's wisdom to fields outside of startups (just like the case with Paul Graham) -- indeed he made some claims that were not well thought out -- but the main points of the book were valuable. I would recommend it especially to those currently or thinking of working in a startup, and hopefully this will lead to less and on average better startups being founded.

Below are a few ideas I liked from the book. They are not necessarily original but are pretty good. Note that I read the Chinese version and translated the phrases back into English so they are probably different from the book.

Chapter 1: The difference between horizontal progress/globalization and vertical progress/technological innovation. The latter is needed to solve problems challenging our future. (However the former is not trivial!)

Chapter 3: Innovation and unique technology that the market demands give you profitable monopoly power. Usually economists talk about some extent of monopoly power (e.g. patents) encourages innovation, but Thiel was looking at it from another perspective: that of an entrepreneur choosing which type of business to start. His answer is to choose one that makes differentiated products (that the market demands) and gives you monopoly power.

Chapter 4: Again, competition vs. monopoly. Traditional businesses provide similar products and compete by cutting prices/costs, advertising etc.; innovative businesses make products that no one else makes.

Chapter 5: What are the features of a business that can create and sustain monopoly power, growth and cash flow? 1. Unique technology (at least 10 times better than the existing alternative--otherwise it won't be noticed--or entirely new products). 2. Network externality. 3. Economies of scale. 4. Brand. How to create one? Start by monopolizing a small market (that needs to actually exist, unlike the market of British food in Palo Alto) through winning the most important group of users in this market, then expand in size or variety (i.e. into related markets). Don't focus on DISRUPTION; make the pie bigger instead of playing a zero sum game.

Chapter 6: Have a purpose, a vision and long-run planning, instead of a lean startup and minimum viable product to be driven by whatever comes up on the way. This idea is related to the one on an "authoritarian" business presented in the last chapter. (The philosophical discussion in this chapter is not particularly great.)

Chapter 7: Power law. As a venture capitalist, don't simply pursue diversification; choose a few businesses to invest in and choose them carefully so all of them have great (expected) potential. (Wait, did anyone derive optimal investment rules under power law distribution?)

Chapter 8: (I like this one a lot.) All great business have "secrets". A world without secrets is boring, stagnated and has no room to improve upon. Our world is full of injustice and inefficiency, so it cannot be one without secrets. What prevent us from exploring these secrets are gradualism, risk aversion, inertia and belief in equilibrium ("flatness" or perfect efficiency of markets). Only those who see secrets can grasp hidden opportunities, lead to Scientific Revolutions and found businesses like Airbnb, Uber, Lyft etc. How to find secrets? Look where no one else does; choose the path less traveled. That's why it's (kinda) important to have contrarian views. (Though I think it's more important to be thinking than to have contrarian views for the sake of it. Thiel seems to agree by saying, at the end of Chapter 2, that the most unique way is not to be different from everyone else but to think for yourself.)

Chapter 9: According to power law, there are a few things that are crucial to the entire business, e.g. its foundations. Make sure you choose founding partners who are really passionate about the business and you enjoy working together. (Stuff on the size of the board, stock as incentives etc.) You are not only trying to create new things at the founding stage of a startup; if you are successful, you should have created a business that stays creative.

Chapter 10: The company doesn't attract employees (or create a "culture") by providing benefits like free food, free laundry etc. It should attract employees by what it does and who the team are. A company should be its own culture. It should be like a cult (rather than a consulting firm with no loyalty or identity), but one that is not extreme. (In Chapter 8, the HP example shows that once a company is managed in the conservative "MBA" way to optimize for bureaucratic functioning, innovation dies.)

Chapter 11: Marketing is important. Marketing influences everyone, especially those who think they are not influenced. The best marketer doesn't look like one. Different ways of marketing, from viral marketing to complex sales. Make sure you have a viable marketing strategy for your product. It's great if your customers can market for you, e.g. through network externality (like PayPal).

Chapter 12: Humans and computers should be complements (e.g. PayPal fraud detection, Palantir helping intelligence experts) rather than substitutes. (Great idea, and makes sense in some way--there are things that one is good at while the other is not--but in practice they are also substitutes in many ways which have unfortunate implications for employment.)

Chapter 13: The failure of most clean technology firms was a business rather than political one. How Tesla succeeded while many others failed on 7 dimensions: engineering, timing, monopoly, personnel, marketing, sustainability, secrets. The fallacy of social entrepreneurship. (I think businesses that generate positive externalities are great but I agree that they must be self-sustaining and that being a "social enterprise" shouldn't be an excuse to not pursue commercial viability.)

Chapter 14: Many (tech) entrepreneurs are "weird". Innovative tech companies are usually authoritarian with charismatic leaders like Steve Jobs. Society should be more tolerant of seemingly weird or extreme entrepreneurs, because we ned extraordinary people to lead companies in order to avoid the slow progress of gradualism. However, GLADLY, Thiel also advises such leaders to remain cautious, not to over estimate their power or become "prime movers" of Ayn Rand who do not realize that their success relies on other people.

Lastly, I noticed one thing: most women who showed up in illustrations were (at least) half naked (model with Richard Branson, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga etc.). It's true that female entertainment celebrities usually appear with much less clothes than male ones, but having such pictures in a book on startups was quite annoying for a female reader, and probably distracting for a male one. Peter Thiel has just revealed another problem of Silicon Valley--sexism--in his book, except this time he did it not by words, but by action.
2 reviews2 followers
January 25, 2015
I'm sorry. I don't know why all the rave. This book is full of pontification and cliche. And sometimes shameless ones. Not to mention the every now and then judgmental categorical commentaries. I had to return the audio book half way thru. Total lack of nutrition.
June 13, 2020
Q:
All Rhodes Scholars had a great future in their past. (c)

So, 'stagnation or singularity'? Which one's it going to be?
A sneak peek into the world as the PayPal & Palantir guy sees it.

Q:
...the seven questions that every business must answer:
1. The Engineering QuestionCan you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
2. The Timing QuestionIs now the right time to start your particular business?
3. The Monopoly QuestionAre you starting with a big share of a small market?
4. The People QuestionDo you have the right team?
5. The Distribution QuestionDo you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
6. The Durability QuestionWill your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
7. The Secret QuestionHave you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?
(c)
Q:
WHENEVER I INTERVIEW someone for a job, I like to ask this question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” ...
It’s intellectually difficult because the knowledge that everyone is taught in school is by definition agreed upon. And it’s psychologically difficult because anyone trying to answer must say something she knows to be unpopular. Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius. (c)
Q:
if nothing about our society changes for the next 100 years, then the future is over 100 years away. If things change radically in the next decade, then the future is nearly at hand. (c)
Q:
... progress can take one of two forms. Horizontal or extensive progress means copying things that work—going from 1 to n. Horizontal progress is easy to imagine because we already know what it looks like. Vertical or intensive progress means doing new things—going from 0 to 1. Vertical progress is harder to imagine because it requires doing something nobody else has ever done. If you take one typewriter and build 100, you have made horizontal progress. If you have a typewriter and build a word processor, you have made vertical progress. (c)
Q:
And whatever the cultural fascination with Nirvana, grunge, and heroin reflected, it wasn’t hope or confidence. (c)
Q:
In this kind of environment, acting sanely began to seem eccentric. (c)
Q:
... the opposite principles are probably more correct:
1. It is better to risk boldness than triviality.
2. A bad plan is better than no plan.
3. Competitive markets destroy profits.
4. Sales matters just as much as product. (c)
Q:
What if we frame Google as a multifaceted technology company instead? (c)
Q:
Monopolies drive progress because the promise of years or even decades of monopoly profits provides a powerful incentive to innovate. Then monopolies can keep innovating because profits enable them to make the long-term plans and to finance the ambitious research projects that firms locked in competition can’t dream of.
So why are economists obsessed with competition as an ideal state? It’s a relic of history. Economists copied their mathematics from the work of 19th-century physicists: they see individuals and businesses as interchangeable atoms, not as unique creators. Their theories describe an equilibrium state of perfect competition because that’s what’s easy to model, not because it represents the best of business. (c)
Q:
“So, Peter, aren’t you glad you didn’t get that clerkship?” With the benefit of hindsight, we both knew that winning that ultimate competition would have changed my life for the worse. Had I actually clerked on the Supreme Court, I probably would have spent my entire career taking depositions or drafting other people’s business deals instead of creating anything new. It’s hard to say how much would be different, but the opportunity costs were enormous. All Rhodes Scholars had a great future in their past. (c)
Q:
According to Marx, people fight because they are different. ... The greater the differences, the greater the conflict.
To Shakespeare, by contrast, all combatants look more or less alike. It’s not at all clear why they should be fighting, since they have nothing to fight about. ...
In the world of business, at least, Shakespeare proves the superior guide. Inside a firm, people become obsessed with their competitors for career advancement. Then the firms themselves become obsessed with their competitors in the marketplace. Amid all the human drama, people lose sight of what matters and focus on their rivals instead. (c)
Q:
One gets the sense that this Shakespearean saga won’t end until the apes run out of shapes.
The hazards of imitative competition may partially explain why individuals with an Asperger’s-like social ineptitude seem to be at an advantage in Silicon Valley today. If you’re less sensitive to social cues, you’re less likely to do the same things as everyone else around you. (c)
Q:
No one gets into Stanford by excelling at just one thing, unless that thing happens to involve throwing or catching a leather ball. (c)
Q:
... in exchange for better insurance contracts, we seem to have given up the search for secrets about longevity. (c)
Q:
A business with a good definite plan will always be underrated in a world where people see the future as random. (c)
Q:
... when thinking about what kind of company to build, there are two distinct questions to ask: What secrets is nature not telling you? What secrets are people not telling you? (c)
Q:
Strong AI is like a cosmic lottery ticket: if we win, we get utopia; if we lose, Skynet substitutes us out of existence. (c)

Ok, these, I almost docked a bunch of stars for:
Q:
One 40-something grad student that I knew was running six different companies in 1999. (Usually, it’s considered weird to be a 40-year-old graduate student. Usually, it’s considered insane to start a half-dozen companies at once. But in the late ’90s, people could believe that was a winning combination. (c)
March 4, 2019
Singularity
In business, we don’t get the panacea methodology guaranteed to deliver a market-dominating business or monopoly, and the methodology for the next big thing, likely hasn’t been defined yet. We need to look at each business from multiple perspectives and I do believe Peter Thiel provides another unique perspective – not a replacement perspective but an additional one. The research shows that disruptive innovation typically comes from new start companies and they tend to dominate a new market niche until they grow dramatically or are acquired. Iterative innovation in specific markets tends to be dominated by the incumbents, which are usually large multinational companies if the market is lucrative. So I agree with Peter Thiel, that new start businesses need to consider an order of magnitude value step change over existing solutions, to succeed, which is the zero to one transformation.
Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1. The act of creation is singular, as in the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange.

Zero to One suggests a very different method from the lean-agile approach proposed by Steve Blank and Eric Ries in The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Lean Startup respectively. They suggest that Customer Discovery, Validation, Creation and Building are the cornerstones of the startup approach.

I believe we need to start with a vision of what a successful business would look like, and we need to see that it will be significantly different (10x) from existing competitive solutions. How do we get there? By understanding and executing a market entry path that is iteratively to build, test & learn. I would also question Thiel’s suggestion that only technology enables that step change. In the cited case of Facebook, there were multiple solutions offering social media platforms and it appears the leadership and marketing of Facebook, were more the decisive factors. We could even argue that Facebook is an example of the Eric Ries approach.

The example of Paypal and Thiel’s insights into the economy and the investment community around the DotCom boom and bust were very interesting. The investor expectations are a constant challenge as I’ve heard from one investor that he wouldn’t get out of bed if a company wasn’t turning over €40million in 3 years and another saying if you showed me figures like that I’d think I was working with unrealistic idiots.

After the main point of vertical innovation is made, the book rambles and while the discussion points are interesting you often wonder what this has that to do with the main premise of the book. The book does feel a little unstructured and elements seem to be included as they were part of a lecture series rather than an integral part of a framework for achieving that 0 to 1 impact.

I would recommend reading this book as it may encourage and inspire you to consider where you want to go with the company and its core solutions. It does, however, need to be tempered with the knowledge that other approaches exist and Peter Thiel may be wrong, at least in parts.
Profile Image for Daniel Clausen.
Author 9 books454 followers
July 31, 2017
It starts with a simple and elegant thesis: a new idea is a singularity that changes the world.

The best paths in business are new and untried. For this reason, there can be no definite road plan toward their creation. Every formula for innovation is new and unique.

Buried within a book on business and startups is a deep thesis about the relationship between technology, society, and our historical moment. From the beginning, I assumed this was a book written by an MBA or computer scientist, but instead it was written by a philosophy major and law school graduate -- these influences showed. There is a subtlety and thoughtfulness that are rare in the business book sludge.

This thin book seemed both small and abnormally huge at the same time. It vacillated between talking about building a startup company that could dominate a small market segment and discussing innovation as the salvation of the world.

Thus, the book is both about how to start a company and how to save the world: entrepreneurship as business; entrepreneurship as social salvation.

In the author's own strange but beautiful philosophy startups are a kind of salvation from societal decline and stagnation. This makes the book more interesting and important. But because the book is mostly about starting a company, the author's societal thesis and its grand, sweeping arguments about technology, the role of leaders, the plague of bureaucracy, and the macro-history of innovation are left untested and underexplained.

And yet...these aspects of the book are the most intriguing because they are the least explained and most controversial.

Thus, you either had to tentatively accept the underlying theory or if not, bracket it, to make your way through the rest of the ideas about start ups.

If Mr. Thiel, however, were to write a follow-up book outlining his underpinning philosophy, here is what he should address.

1) Zero to One makes the case for "definite optimism" -- having a plan and using resources to deliberately follow that plan. In some cases, it even seems like he is advocating this approach on a large scale. Since the book challenges many of the lessons of "libertarianism" (on the right) and "social justice/rights" advocates (on the left), I would like the book to address some of the great works in both of these genres -- James Scott's "Seeing Like a State" which argues against large-scale state planning; "The Tyranny of Experts" written by William Easterly, which has interesting ideas about when not to use expert advice; Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Black Swan" which makes the best case for "optionality" and small-scale tinkering.

2) Since it rails against bureaucratization but also lauds grand projects like the canalization of large parts of the world, the space program, the Manhattan project, the interstate highway program, and the Empire State Building, I would like the any follow-up to address how a "definite optimism" future of the world can possibly work without large-scale bureaucracies. I would also like the author to explain how the European Union is not a "definite optimist" project.

(I wonder also if there is a historical process to the American loss of "definite optimism". One perhaps that begins in Vietnam?)

3) I would like this follow up books to address the difference between large-scale entrepreneurship, which relies on large bureaucracies implementing projects and small-scale tech entrepreneurship that rely on small teams. Is he suggesting that large engineering projects should be broken up into small teams? Is there a process aspect that I missed? Does innovation start with small teams and then move toward a bureaucratization stage (in the scaling up stage)? Since the pre-1970s "definite optimist" US employed bureaucracies extensively, this is a question that I would like answered. Or at least a more nuanced theory used in its place.

4) I would also like the author to address in more nuance the difference between technologies that are a result of creative discovery (see Nassim Nicholas Taleb) versus those that are the result of deliberate planning. I would also like the author to take on Nassim Taleb's thesis that most innovation is a process of creative discovery, not deliberate planning.

This is a wish list. I doubt I'll ever see Peter Thiel's full underlying philosophy explained, tested, or fleshed out, but it would make a very good book. Probably a big one, too. (One, I'm sure, he's too busy to write.)

Top Ideas I took away from the book:

Dominate a Niche Market (then grow from there):
It's okay for a company to meet a macro-need, but all great startups need to start by carving a niche and dominating a small market (Facebook with the Harvard social scene; Paypal with eBay).

Build a Small Team:
Innovation happens best when planned in small groups rather than individually or in large organizations. Individuals are best for idiosyncratic creations like novels and comic books. Large groups usually do things like bureaucracies, at a snail's pace. Small organizations maintain focus and flexibility.

A Start-Up is Like a Cult (Organized around an Idea about How to Change the World, not a Crank Idea):
The interesting thing about start ups is their "cult-like" status (to the point of ignoring their family and friends, and gaining social value from interactions with each other). Start ups share the aspects of a cult because they believe fanatically they are right about ideas others are wrong about.

On Sales:
No one likes salespeople, but everyone is a salesperson. The better you are at not looking like a salesman, the better you are at sales.

On the Destructiveness of Competition:
*The more we compete, the less we gain. Competition is stupid and unhealthy. All industries with heavy competition have very low-profit margins. War is costly and destructive. When deciding whether to fight, there is no middle ground: either don't throw any punches or strike hard and end it quickly.
*In business, pride and honor get in the way of this truth. *Avoid direct competition altogether!
*Most brave people are willing to fight for almost nothing at all. (This might make them ideologically anti-business.)

The 10x Rule:
For an existing technology to be a monopoly it must be about 10x better than its next competitor.

Dominate a Niche Market:
It's better to dominate a small market than try to gain a small percentage of a large market.

Between the Easy and the Impossible is Your Target:
Between easy truths and unknowable truths are very difficult problems. These are the ones most satisfying. If you don't believe in these, you are especially prone to fundamentalism. Fundamentalism attributes all great problem-solving to an outside force: the market, the environment, God.
Profile Image for Maria Clara.
962 reviews476 followers
April 5, 2018
Interesante. Instructivo. Me ha gustado salir de mi zona de confort y embarcarme en esta aventura.
Profile Image for imane.
463 reviews378 followers
February 10, 2017
الكتاب صعب و ممل لكنه مفيد و موجه للسوق الغربي حيث الابتكار و الاختراع لان دول العالم الاول تسير في خط تقدم راسي عكس الدول النامية التي تسير في خط افقي و تعتمد على التقليد فقط. التقدم الافقي هو تقليد الدول المتقدمة وهذا ما يسمى بالعولمة اما التقدم الراسي هو التقدم التكنولوجي وهو يعتمد على الشركات الناشئة لانها قادرة على الابتكار و الاختراع. الشركة الناجحة هي التي تستطيع احتكار السوق بمنتوج جديد و هذا يسمح لها بتحديد الاسعار التي تريد وجمع ارباح تمكنها من تطوير منتوجها باستمرار عكس الشركات التي تعتمد على التقليد لانها مضطرة دائما لخفض الاسعار من اجل الصمود في وجه المنافسة. ثم تطرق الكاتب لمواصفات الشركة الاحتكارية تميز المنتوج توقيت المشروع الاحتكار فريق العمل المناسب التوزيع الاستمرارية السر
.......
Profile Image for Todd N.
334 reviews231 followers
September 29, 2014
Even worse than the self-help section of the bookstore, you need to go into the entrepreneur part of the business section of the bookstore to find a copy of this book.

Unless you are one of those Twitter jerkoffs who is tweeting about your startup or -- worse -- your insights on the latest VC trends, you will probably want to wear a disguise when procuring a copy of this book. But it's totally worth it.

This book is a refinement, with new ideas added, of notes from a class (CS183: Startup) that Mr. Thiel taught at Stanford. A student, the co-author Blake Masters, took notes on this class that have become semi-legendary here in the Valley. They are on the web here for those of you who aren't familiar with the Google brand Internet searching tool: http://blakemasters.com/peter-thiels-...

Although Mr. Thiel is mainly known for investing in the creepy Facebook and for co-founding the infuriating Paypal and the ultra-creepy Palantir, and thus being the main reason I can't park in downtown Palo Alto, I feel like I mainly know him from the character sketches in George Packer's excellent book The Unwinding.

I also feel like I know him from the Peter Gregory character -- the billionaire who becomes fascinated with the sesame seeds on Burger King's products -- on Mike Judge's excellent TV show Silicon Valley. In fact, I couldn't help but start out reading this book in that character's voice.

Mr. Thiel starts right out by revealing his main interview question: "What important truth do very few people agree with you on?" Despite ending with a preposition, this is such a good interview question that I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to joke my way out of it. (It's a thing with me.)

To be truthful, I have a bunch of answers to this question, but I learned at a young age to keep them to myself out of self-preservation. If I hadn't already read this question in a book, had Mr. Thiel asked me this I probably would have hugged him and started sobbing and thanking him.

After composing myself, my reply would start with something like, "Can you be more specific by narrowing it down to a particular area? Maybe, say, education, economic literacy, technology, individualism, or UFO research?"

Anyway Mr. Thiel then lists some of the lame answers to his question that he has gotten in the past, so that we can snicker together at the way original thinking is beaten out of us by the education system. (This is one of his main Important Truths -- check out his Thiel Foundation.)

And then Mr. Thiel is off and running, taking us through a quick tour of some of his original thinking, though I must point out that some of it is clearly just straw man arguments and some struck me as just being contrarian. [[[Quick aside: Memo to everyone who just graduated from college: contrarian thinking is not the same as original thinking. It's true. I looked it up.]]]

But a few clunkers here and there is fine with me. Hell, I'm happy to pick up a book with even two or three original thoughts in it -- though I've had a pretty good track record with books lately I must say.

Oh, and I really, really hate the whole entrepreneur worship thing here in Silicon Valley (put that Important Truth in your pipe and smoke it), so be sure to rip out the chapter that draws a line from Odysseus through Jimi Hendrix to Bill Gates. There might have been some good points in this chapter, but my monocle popped out when I gasped and I couldn't make out the words, just some of the pictures.

On the other hand, I loved the section lumping together the Unabomber, hipsters, ecologists, cult members, and free market economists due to their adherence to the same "trichotomy": (1) easy questions that anyone can answer, (2) challenging questions that have all already been answered, and (3) hard questions that we'll never answer so we just have to leave it up to [God/the free market/Gaia/misc. higher power.]

At least the Unabomber and hipsters offer solutions. The former wanted to blow up the world and start over again on the challenging questions. Hipsters want to go back to the simpler days of groovy facial hair and vinyl records. I didn't say they were great solutions.

This kind of observational stuff is gold. I'm pretty sure Louis C.K. could get 30 minutes out of this easily because I just need the concept, and I can reverse engineer a comedy routine in my head. I'd do it, but then I'd have to give 20% to Founders Fund.

I also loved his take down of the solar market, especially Solyndra. I knew there were ways to attack it without resorting to political. Too bad the entire press is too stupid to do that. Not Mr. Thiel, who applies his startup rules from the first half of the book to the solar industry to handily show its foolishness. Then he applies them to his bro Elon Musk's company Tesla to show how eco-friendly business is done right.

And need I mention that Solyndra's CEO wears a suit. So there. Actually, that Important Truth seems a tad lazy, doesn't it? Plus half the Google images for both Messrs. Musk and Thiel show them wearing suits. Oh well. I guess when it comes to Internet billionaire entrepreneurs it's, "Do as I promulgate, not as I do."

Highly recommended. It's like sticking your head in a prism and watching the world get reflected in strange new ways. At the very least, it's the closest you're going to get to having Warren Buffett explain how to invest in tech stocks.

If Mr. Thiel wants to hang out on University Ave. and make fun of passers by with me, he's welcome to any time. I'm sure he will find it sharpens the mind.
Profile Image for Melissa.
58 reviews
November 24, 2014
This book had nothing insightful or unique to offer. I found myself nodding in common sense to many of the points. It reads like college notes (what it is based on) but I would've asked for my 3 credits back. Skip it!
Profile Image for Brian Yahn.
310 reviews593 followers
September 17, 2017
I kind of dismissed Peter Thiel as an idiot after his very public support of President Trump, but that was a mistake.

The premise of Zero to One is enlightening. We always think of business in terms of cut-throat competition. But Thiel makes a very convincing argument that most successful businesses avoid competition whenever possible. The natural extension of that is one should only found a business with a clear path to monopoly. For me, at least, it kind of turned everything I thought I knew about corporate America inside out.

What I found most enjoyable about this book, surprisingly, is the writing. Thiel has a voice that's a strange mix of robotically authoritative yet somehow poetic. The way he weaves analogies and images together to make a point is incredibly artistic.

I'll never be able to understand why he decided to support President Trump, but I'm convinced of one thing: Peter Thiel is a genius.
Profile Image for Jason.
19 reviews8 followers
December 3, 2014
Peter Thiel's book is definitely worthwhile reading.

He has some fantastic points about start-ups, working environments for new and small businesses and a strong level of conviction for his methodology and beliefs which is nice to read.

That being said, he's self indulgent in parts of this book - perhaps his choice as a self-made billionaire (I don't know) - and more importantly he spends a lot of time focusing on all the great achievements of his inner circle. There is in fact life beyond silicon valley.

Read it, but don't glorify it.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 6 books592 followers
January 13, 2017
Lately Thiel has been in the news and one would expect, based on a cursory examination of his backstory and current infamy, a work of diabolical genius or at the very least one with a bit of an edge. That said, the most surprising part of the book is its extreme banality.
Profile Image for Abdullah.
22 reviews27 followers
December 23, 2016
يعتبر مؤلف الكتاب "بيتر تيل" خريح القانون من جامعة ستانفورد الأمريكة من أشهر رياديي الأعمال والمستثمرين الذين استطاعوا أن يجتازوا انهيار شركات التقنية في أواخر عام 2001م أو ما يسمى بـ فقاعة الدوت-كوم أو شركات الانترنت. أسس بيتر مع آخرين شركة باي بال في عام 1998م قبل أن تنتقل ملكيتها في عام 2002م إلى شركة إي-باي في صفقة استحواذ بلغت قيمتها 1,5 مليار دولار. وفي عام 2004م بدأ بيتر أول اسثماراته في الشركات الناشئة من خلال شركة قوقل الناشئة في ذلك الوقت، وقد تولى فيها منصباً إدارياً تنفيذاياً. وفي نفس العام أسس شركة "بالانتير" المتخصصة في تحليل البيات والبيانات الضخمة والتي تقدم خدماتها بشكل أساسي لوكالة الاستخبارات الأمريكية. قُدّرت قيمة بالانتير عام 2015م بـ 20 مليار دولار ومن المتوقع قريباً أن تحقق عوائداً مالية تصل إلى 1 مليار دولار.

في ربيع عام 2012م، دعت جامعة ستانفورد بيتر تيل لتدريس مادة في علوم الحاسب الآلي عن الشركات الناشئة وريادة الأعمال، و بحماس قبل بيتر الدعوة مدفوعاً برغبته (كما هو هدف الجامعة) في نقل خبرته العملية إلى الطلاب و المساهمة في تحرير رؤيتهم من المسار الأكاديمي الصرف إلى أفق أوسع وأرحب في عالم الأعمال. وعلى طول الفصل الدراسي، بادر أحد طلاب المادة المجتهدين ويدعى "بليك ماسترز" بتسجيل الملاحظات في كل محاضرة و نشرها أون-لاين على الانترنت ليستفيد منها بقية الطلاب، ولكن المفاجأة أن هذه الملاحظات لقيت رواجاً و اهتماماً كبيراً جداً من طلاب الجامعة و غيرهم خارج أسوارها حتى بعد مرورعدة أشهر على نهاية الفصل الدراسي مما حفز كل من بيتر و بليك على إعادة ترتيب هذه الملاحظات و إصدارها في شهر سبتمبر عام 2014م في هذا الكتاب المعنون بـ "من الصفر إلى الواحد: ملاحظات حول الشركات الناشئة أو كيف تبني المستقبل".

احتوى هذا الكتاب على 14 فصلاً في موضوعات عديدة و شيّقة تدور حول ريادة الأعمال و كيفية بناء الشركات الناجحة. لم تكن دليلاً عملياً أو خطوات متسلسلة يجب اتباعها لتحقيق النجاح، فليس لأي شخص مهما كان ناجحاً أو منظّمة ذات اهتمام أن تبني مثل هذا الدليل، لأن الإبداع أو التجديد أو النجاح ليس له معادلة واحدة، فكل فكرة إبداعية هي بالضرورة جديدة و فريدة. وبالرغم من ذلك يرى المؤلف من خلال خبراته و تجاربه أن كل رياديي الأعمال الناجحين وجدوا القيمة الجديدة لأعمالهم في المجالات الغير متوقعة عن طريق التفكير فيها كمبدأ أولي وليس مجرد معادلة جاهزة يتم تحقيقها مرة بعد مرة عن طريق التكرار أو التقليد بمعطيات مختلفة، ومن هنا تنطلق فلسفة الكتاب في البداية من الصفر من اللاشي بفكرة فريدة تنتقل بعدها إلى الواحد كبداية لما بعده في تطور رأسي، وليس من الواحد بالاعتماد على فكرة سابقة وتطويرها إلى ن في تقدم أفقي (من 0 إلى 1، مقابل، 1 إلى ن).

ناقش بيتر في هذا الكتاب الكثير من الأفكار والقضايا المؤثرة في تأسيس الأعمال، وحاول أن يصيغ خبراته في نظريات تخصه و بفلسفة خاصة قد تشعر معها بنرجسيته ومحاولته تقديم نفسه في المقام الأول كمنظر في ريادة الأعمال والاستثمار والتفكير الاستشرافي للمستقبل، ولكن بالتأكيد لم يؤثر ذلك على جودة المحتوى و رشاقة الأسلوب.

من بين ما أثار اهتمامي مايلي:
- الدروس المستفادة من انيهار أسواق التقنية في عام 2001م أو ما يعرف بـ كارثة فقاعات الدوت-كوم، والتي لاتزال تؤثر في قرارات السوق ورواد الأعمال والمستثمرين، وفلسفة المؤلف في تحليلها والاستفادة منها.
- فكرة بناء قيم الشركات الناشئة وضرورة الاستحواذ على هذه القيم، وأن جميع الشركات الناجحة غير متشابهة.
-المنافسة مقابل الاحتكار، وفكرة أن المنافسة بالغالب تدمر هامش الربح خصوصاً إذا أخذت الطابع الشخصي، بينما أن الاحتكار الجيد وبالطريقة المثلى يعد من أهم شروط النجاح.
- أديولوجيا المنافسة ودور التعليم والتنشأة في ذلك. هذه الفكرة محفزة جداً لإعادة النظر في بعض السمات والسلوكيات التربوية.
- البداية صغيراً و بناء سوق محتكر ومن ثم التوسع التدريجي بالاعتماد على النظرة بعيدة المدى وليست القريبة، وأهمية بناء علامة تجارية خاصة.
- أهمية التخطيط و صنع المستقبل. أعجبتني جداً فلسفة استقراء المستقبل وتصنيف الناس حيالها ما بين صاحب رؤية متفائل وصاحب رؤية غير متفائل، وكذلك شخص لايملك الرؤية لكنه متفائل أو لايملك رؤية وغير متفائل. ناقش المؤلف هذه الأصناف وسلوكها في التخطيط و صناعة مستقبلها. ومن خلال ذلك خلص إلى نتيجة أن كل رائد أعمال ليس مقامراً ولكنه يعمل على صنع مستقبله.
-الإيمان بوجود أسرار كثيرة في هذا العالم لم يتم اكتشافاها بعد، وباعتبار أن الأفكار إما أن تكون سهلة أو صعبة أو مستحيلة فإن الأسرار والأفكار الغير مكتشفة كونها موجودة أصلاً فاكتشافها صعب وليس مستحيلاً. وكل ريادي أعمال يظن أن فكرةً ما صعبة هي مستحيلة فإنه لن يبادر أبداً بمجرد المحاولة لإنجازها.
- أهمية التأسيس السليم من البداية باختيار الشركاء والمستثمرين وفريق العمل المناسبين والمتناغمين، و كيفية توزيع الملكية القانونية و مسؤولية الإدارة و أيضاً حوكمة الشركة. وكذلك الفرق بين منح فريق العمل أسهماً في الشركة أو منحهم رواتب شهرية.
-أهمية أن يكون التخطيط للتوزيع والمبياعات من ضمن أساسيات خطة المنتج أو الشركة.
- علاقة الانسان بالآلة وهل ممكن أن تكون التقنية سبب في البطالة.
- فلسفة الذكاء الصناعي وهل من ممكن أن يكون خطراً يتعاظم إلى الحد الذي نفقد السيطرة عليه ليتحكم بنا وبعالمنا.
- سبعة أسألة مهمة و جوهرية يجب على كل ريادي أعمال أن يجيب عليها قبل البدء في مشروعه:
1- هل لديك فكرة تقنية جديدة أم أن مشروعك إمتداداً لأفكار سابقة؟
2- هل الآن هو الوقت والتوقيت المناسب لبدء مشروعك؟
3- هل مشروعك يستهدف في البداية شريحة صغيرة أم كبيرة من السوق؟
4- هل تمتلك فريق العمل المناسب؟
5- هل لديك الخطة الكافية للإنتاج وأيضاً بيع و توزيع منتجاتك؟
6- هل مشروعك قابل للاستمرار وتستطيع الدفاع عن وضعه السوقي لمدة 10 إلى 20 سنة قادمة؟
7- هل حددت و اعتمدت في مشروعك على فرصة فريدة لم يرها غيرك؟

أعطيت النجوم الخمس كتقييم لهذا الكتاب لأنه من نوعية الكتب التي قد لا تتفق معها بشكل كامل لكنها في المقابل تحفز على التفكير و توسيع دائرة الأفق و مراجعة بعض المعلومات والقناعات وليس بالضرورة لتغييرها ولكن لتجديدها وإعادة النظر فيها. أنصح و بشدة بقراءته خصوصاً لريادي الأعمال والمستثمرين أو من له اهتمام بهذين المجاليين، أو اهتمام بشركات التقنية بشكل عام.
104 reviews101 followers
July 22, 2014
[Note: this review was written for an advance copy, so there may be minor differences between references made here and in the first edition.]

Contrary to my own expectation, I quite enjoyed Peter Thiel's newest book. Though put off by some of Thiel's contrarian (and in some cases, delusionally bullish) opinions, after reading Blake Master's notes from Stanford's CS183, I was pretty excited for their latest collaboration. While the latter half of the book is chock full of startup advice, the first half reads more closely as an explanation of macroeconomic trends Thiel's noticed over years in the trenches.

Some assorted thoughts:

(1) In the very beginning of the book, Thiel shares his answer to the central question: "What important truth do few people agree with you on?" (and the corollary: What valuable company is no one building?). He takes a very binary approach to the question, siding on the side of technology in the "globalization v. technology" debate. This was one instance that recurred a few times throughout of Thiel seemingly viewing the world as more binary than it is, ignoring questions like "Could increased globalization lead to technical advancement?".

(2) Thiel frequently references the characteristics of "great companies" and the importance of resilience and creating value in a crowded world (and more importantly, capturing that value). In this way, he sounds like Charlie Munger, who talks about the importance of capturing value in his commencement address on worldly wisdom. Great stuff.

(3) There are more than a couple of strawman arguments Thiel makes (and recognizes, I'm sure, as a trained lawyer), including a particularly impassioned ramming of the lean movement, without recognizing the possible justifications for it (instead bucketing it into some dogmatic way of thinking Thiel has no time to address) -- while I stomached it, it still annoyed me a bit while I was working through the book.

(4) Likely my favorite bit of the book was Thiel's bit on our indefinitely optimistic vision of the future, where he said: "... in an indefinite world, people actually prefer unlimited optionality; money is more valuable than anything you could possibly do with it. Only in a definite future is money a means to an end, not the end itself."

While there's plenty that bugged me about this book, I'm still really glad I read it. Throughout my reading, Thiel's contrarian-as-hell opinions gave me a fantastic mental sparring session. Which, I'm sure was one of his intentions (maybe even more so than being right).
Profile Image for Anna.
872 reviews36 followers
May 6, 2015
“ZERO TO ONE EVERY MOMENT IN BUSINESS happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”
Peter ― Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

It is always a useful experience to read the thoughts of a successful entrepreneur and mentor. According to the book notes, this work is a compilation of notes from a lecture series.
This is a must-read, filled with so many great insights and take-aways, and it is definitely becoming part of my permanent bookshelf!

"Every culture has a myth of decline from some sort of golden age, and almost all peoples throughout history have been pessimists. Even today pessimism still dominates huge parts of the world. An indefinite pessimist looks out unto a bleak future, but he has no idea what to do about it. This describes Europe since the early 1970's, when the continent succumbed to undirected bureaucratic drift. Today the whole Eurozone is in slow-motion crisis, and nobody is in charge. The European Central Bank doesn't stand for anything but improvisation: the U.S. Treasury prints "In God We Trust" on the dollar; the ECB might as well print "Kick the Can Down the Road" on the euro. Europeans just react to events as they happen and hope things don't get worse. The indefinite pessimist can't know whether the inevitable decline will be fast or slow, catastrophic or gradual. All he can do is wait for it to happen, so he might as well eat, drink, and be merry in the meantime: hence Europe's famous vacation mania."

"Sometimes you do have to fight. Where that's true, you should fight and win. There is no middle ground: either don't throw any punches, or strike and end it quickly."
Peter ― Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Profile Image for Rahul.
285 reviews19 followers
April 26, 2019
Great insight provided from one of the earliest and biggest tech entrepreneur not only for the start-ups but for life. This book gives one very small but the most fundamental rule if one need to do something completely different and new and amazing thing in his/her lifetime whether it is about starting a business or writing a book or making a signature dish etc. The rule is " Start something from Zero ie. from the very foundation of the work and not from the One ie. that has been created in the past itself , if you really want to create something that is new & 100% original and get the value you dream". Most of us always follow tried and tested methods of pre-defined success and follow it and stuck in middle like many others rather than creating our own original success story , giving the word Success the meaning we want to give. Rather than copying and innovating , we should try doing and making something damn new, than it will create the real and best difference and will be of the Greatest Value.
Profile Image for Mustafa Nuwaidri.
377 reviews138 followers
January 4, 2019
كتاب مهم في مجال انشاء الشركات تكمن أهميته من أهمية كاتبه الذي لديه خبرة ونجاحات في مجال انشاء شركات عالمية على مستوى عالي مثل بايبال وغيرها من الشركات التي تطمح لتغيير طريقة الحياة حولنا،

نتعرف في هذا الكتاب على هذه الرؤية النفاذة نحو اسس الشركات الريادية التي تخلق قيمة جديدة .
يدعو الكاتب الى ان لا تؤسس مشروع يشبه الاخرين، ان تصنع سوق جديد لتشغله وحدك وهذا هو ما عناه بعنوانه "من صفر الى واحد"، بين لنا الكاتب ان الاحتكار ليس بالضرورة هو امر سلبي، شركة جوجل مثلا تحتكر سوقها وبذلك تستطيع ان تطور من خدماتها واداءها بكل راحة
وان المنافسة وهي عكس الاحتكار هي داء التجارة، وانك يجب ان تهرب من المنافسة

اما اذا اردت ان تنضم الى سوق فلا تدخل السوق الكبير فجأة وحاول احتكار مجال صغير جدا ومن ثم توسيعه

الكاتب يجول بنا في مراجعة تاريخية وتحليلية عميقة للواقع الاقتصادي والاجتماعي في امريكا على طول العقود الماضية وبذلك يستشرف المستقبل.
ويؤكد بأن الروبوت أو الكمبيوتر هو حليف واداة للبشر وليس بديلا عن البشر.. وان المشاريع التي نعتمد فيها على هذه الالة بذكاء سوف تصل بنا الى انجازات كبرى

الكتاب يستعرض سمات الشخصية المبدعة التي تؤسس افكارا كبيرة ويقيم الكثير من الشخصيات العالمية.. هو كتاب قيم فعلا للمهتمين، ولكن من جهة أخرى يبدو الكتاب غير مفيد كثيرا لصغار رياديي الاعمال، حيث هناك فجوة بين نظرة الكاتب العالمية والنظرة البسيطة الواقعية لصغار التجار وان كان هناك مبادئ مشتركة
Profile Image for Hamidreza Amiri.
30 reviews18 followers
February 20, 2019
اگر کسی میخواد بدونه که توی سیلیکان (به قول رفقا که درستتر میگن: سیلیکون :دی) ولی چی میگذره و چی شد که به اینجا ر��یده تا الان، این کتاب قطعا کمکش میکنه.
روایتی از جنگی تمام عیار از ایده ها و تبدیل صفرها به یک ها.
روایتی از شکستهای بزرگ.
روایتی از اینکه مافیای پی پل چجوری الان دنیای تکنولوژی رو فهمیدن و ساختن.
واقعا از دید روشنگرانه و غیرمتوهمانه و واقعی پیتر ثیل به دنیا (لااقل بخشی از دنیای کنونی ما) لذت بردم.
Profile Image for Aaron Wolfson.
97 reviews34 followers
September 21, 2014
Prior to this book, which has received enormous buzz and effusive praise, for whatever reason I thought of Peter Thiel as a stuffy businessman rather than a brilliant thinker. I associated him more with his investing career than his experiences as a founder of Paypal and Palantir. In this book he wears both hats, and he also takes turns as a historian, futurist, and cultural psychologist and anthropologist. His ideas and prescriptions are as wide-ranging as they are concrete and actionable. From the ideal size of a startup's board of directors to the future of humanity, Thiel holds very little back and mostly manages to tie all this theory together into a practical, coherent worldview.

The biggest theme in the book, as the title aptly suggests, is that ambitious people should strive to create new things in the world that have the potential to move humanity forward by an order of magnitude. We should be creating one of something where there were zero before -- as opposed to going from 1 to n (or more aptly, from n-1 to n). The highlighted examples of going from 0 to 1 include Google, Facebook, SpaceX, and Paypal. Examples of going from n-1 to n include the myriad of cleantech companies started in the past several years, as well as restaurants, consultancies, and law firms.

Thiel uses recent history to persuasively argue that the world (and especially the USA) is stuck in a cycle of n-1 to n thinking which is based on its particular outlook on the future. He divides the world's attitudes toward the future into four categories, along two axes -- indeterminate vs. determinate, and optimism vs. pessimism. A determinate outlook says that we can affect how the future turns out, while an indeterminate outlook says that things are more or less left to fate. You can be either optimistic or pessimistic about either of those views. America, Thiel says, has since the 1980s been stuck in a malaise of indeterminate optimism -- we still feel that the future will be better than the present, but we have no idea how it's going to happen.

Thus many of Thiel's ideas in this book are a bulwark against indeterminism and a call to determinate optimism. We can use powerful tools like

the complementarity of humans and computers
the benefits of having a monopoly (as opposed to profit-draining pure competition)
the secrets about people and our world that are yet to be discovered
the excitement of a conspiracy to change the world

to make and execute bold plans that have the potential to fulfill our optimism about the future. And the way to do this is through a startup. The second half of the book is mostly an overview of what works and doesn't work when you are trying to do something as audacious as take the world from 0 to 1. This culminates in Thiel's seven big questions that a startup must ask itself in order to pull this off:

1. Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
2. Is now the right time to start your particular business?
3. Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
4. Do you have the right team?
5. Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
6. Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
7. Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don't see?

If you want to read something clear and comprehensive, that's not afraid to question received business wisdom and make bold prescriptions for creating new companies, new products, new industries, new anything, and above all will make you think, you've come to the right book.
Profile Image for K's Corner.
62 reviews1 follower
February 23, 2015
3.5 stars. An interesting read with some interesting and thought-provoking insights for tech startups and some not so that just come across as opinionated commentary.
Profile Image for Chip Huyen.
Author 6 books3,067 followers
July 27, 2019
This definitely goes to my list of must-read books.
Profile Image for Andrej Karpathy.
110 reviews3,283 followers
May 25, 2015
There are several good parts in this book and I've felt some of my views shift as a result of reading the book (which is all you can ask for).

A lot of Peter's arguments are supported with examples and anecdotes which is great because it grounds the discussion, but I also kept thinking that some seemed cherry picked. In a pool of 20 successful companies it seems it would be easy to always find the one that fits a narrative.

Regardless, interesting read; These are useful ideas to be aware of.
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