Review of Peter Thiel’s Zero to One
Zero to One is a refreshing intellectual deep dive into the motives behind entrepreneurship.
It’s full of unique, practical insights, and discusses success in terms of human nature and culture. Along with business strategy, Thiel outlines how successful innovation shapes society and shares an intriguing vision.
Bottom line: This book was worth my time and refined several core beliefs. It made me ask hard questions which, as an entrepreneur, I believe are critical if you want to be honest and prepared.
I like the organized format which reads well linearly, but also allows you to read chapters in the order they interest you most, making key takeaways accessible to review and share.
It’s short enough to finish in a week, and deep enough to cover the entire lifecycle of a company.
Here are the seven questions Thiel writes “Every business must answer:”
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?
These are from the “seeing green” chapter on profitability, and form a basis for much of the content.
Rather than offer scripts or formulas, Thiel discusses the logic of starting a company that will make a truly meaningful and unique impact on the world. Blake did a great job of adapting and presenting the contents, many of which were delivered when Thiel taught at Stanford.
Most startups fail. Keeping in mind that companies growing 1000x often carry entire portfolios, Peter gives a good argument for successful moonshots and grand visions. He also highlights the dangers of trying to disrupt entrenched competitors and avoid extra resistance and burn rates on marketing.
This was one of the many reasons Tesla was successful; it didn’t initially aim to compete directly against the big 3. Rather, Tesla began by making powertrains, then started with high end luxury models to which no solid alternative existed. It also serves as an OEM for other manufacturers, which is a nontraditional strategy that has worked well.
There are further arguments against competition where Thiel shares his inner thoughts for merging PayPal and Elon Musk’s X.com. His strong argument for monopolies are both for novelty and to develop early market dominance should competitors arise later. This strategy goes beyond first mover advantage in several interesting ways. I found a Monopoly Index by Forbes that showed these types of companies outperforming the Dow and S&P by 33%, which was a pleasant result of some due diligence.
The title means “create true newness.” If you go from 1 to n (n being an integer), generally, you create incremental value (like faster solar charging or curved screens). Even if you make a product that’s a 3x improvement over a market leader, you aren’t creating anything truly new, and well funded competitors are likely to catch up.
Going from 0 to 1 means starting at ground zero and building a new foundation. This is similar to Blue Ocean Strategy, but discussed at a more fundamental level.
• Blake’s succinct, direct writing style. Little fluff; you get to the point quickly.
• Good amount of evidence, examples, stories, and visualized data. No streams of consciousness and minimal filler, if any. This book is very credible.
• You see into Thiel’s investment logic as he discusses the reasoning behind VC decisions in depth. This is helpful for anyone who wants to be better prepared for a successful raise; it’s good to see deeply into both sides of the story.
• Zero to One has a variable scope and can feel like multiple books in one. It looks at economics, globalization, artificial intelligence, and historical trends along with founder characteristics and the qualities of great salespeople. In some areas, I would have liked to see more connection between micro and macro. Others were strongly linked, but went into slightly less depth. The shifting balance isn’t that big of a deal, especially if you find variety refreshing.
• Philosophy over formulaic. If you want to become a more savvy entrepreneur and learn how to make more effective decisions, read this book. If you’re at the stage where you want a more prescriptive “how-to” guide, check out Lean Startup or Paul Graham’s essays. If you like diving really deep into the mind of a founder across many life experiences, check out Tony Hseih’s Delivering Happiness. Zero to One definitely has high merit to join the ranks of many respected thought leaders.
This book teaches you more how to think, less what to think. Given that, its usefulness will be compounded and, in many cases, timeless.
This review first appeared on Amazon.