20 Lessons from Zero to One

1. You don’t have to invent a new product to start an innovative company.
Just improve 10% of an existing product and start from there.

2. Choose your business partners/co-founders wisely. It is as important a decision as marriage and can cost you as much as a divorce. Both financially and emotionally.

3. AI does not mean wiping out humans from the workplace. AI will bring a sophisticated design to work and compliment the business processes. However, how that complementarity will be shared is a burning question. In The Matrix, weren’t humans complementing the AI in terms of functionality?

4. All great companies are based on a secret that’s unknown to the others, except the inner circle (this term always reminds me of the small council in GoT).

5. To make a healthy company, sales and marketing are almost as important as designing a great product.

6. “The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.”

7. “The total net profit that you earn on average over the course of your relationship with a customer must exceed the amount you spend on average to acquire a new customer.”

8. “A product is viral if its core functionality encourages users to invite their friends to become users too.”

9. If you don’t see any salespeople in your company, you’re the salesperson.

10. Ideally, your board of directors should have 3 people or lost, at most it should be 5. Otherwise, it will be difficult to make decisions.

11. “Sales is the opposite of engineering, it is an orchestrated campaign to change surface appearances without changing the underlying reality.” — This was a rather new way to look at sales for me.

12. Every person should have defined responsibility. This reduces conflict. Most fights happen inside a company when colleagues compete for the same responsibilities.

13. Never outsource recruiting. It is a core competency of the company and you should handle it very carefully. One bad seed can ruin the entire grain.

14. Employ people who enjoy working with each other. Equally important, they should be excited about working with you.

15. Purpose beats perks. The opportunity to do irreplaceable work on a unique problem alongside great people easily beats free laundry pickup or pet daycare.

16. We need to always see this world as new, as fresh; just like our ancients who saw this first. Without having this freshness in our eyes we cannot re-create this world or preserve it for the future.

17. 7 Questions every tech company must answer:
a. Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
b. Is now the right time to start your particular business?
c. Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
d. Do you have the right team?
e. Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
f. Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
g. Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

18. If a CEO is looking for a fat salary, doubt his ambitions: do they serve his company or do they only serve him?

19. Figure out these three things and who does who?
a. Ownership: who legally owns the company’s equity?
b. Possession: who actually runs the company on a day to day basis?
c. Control: who formally governs the company’s affairs?

20. If you’re a monopolist, downplay your monopoly status to avoid scrutiny.


Quotes to remember and ponder over:
Perhaps every modern king is just a scapegoat who has managed to delay his own execution.

The single greatest danger for a founder is to become so certain of his own myth that he loses his mind. But an equally insidious danger for every business is to lose all sense of myth and mistake disenchantment for wisdom.

Indefinite fears about the far future shouldn’t stop us from making definite plans today.