Book Review: Zero To One

What would it be like to have coffee with Peter Thiel (the author + founder of Paypal), John Maynard Keynes, and ‘insert cliche philosopher name here’?

That’s what this book feels like, and it’s a beautiful recipe for a delightful and thought-provoking read. It deviates from your normal book on entrepreneurship (thankfully) and challenges assumptions that many (Roy) take for granted.

It starts off asking “what valuable company is nobody building?” It continues to dive into deeper macro thinking on commoditization, globalization, the .COM crash, the clean-tech crash, what makes a ‘happy company’, and how computers/robots will never replace humans.

Somehow Thiel touches on vast subjects and does each enough justice without getting bogged down so that he can continue to make his point. I especially enjoyed his take on competition, and how if you are in fierce competition, you are likely losing, even if you are winning. “Winning is better than losing, but everybody loses when the war isn’t worth fighting for.”

This book will make you wiser, and you should read it. You can buy it here.

“Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something to the 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.” -Peter Thiel

Some of the nuggets in the book I enjoyed thinking about are:

  • At the macro level, the single word for horizontal progress is globalization
  • Spreading old ways to create wealth around the world will result in devastation, not riches. In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable
  • A ‘startup’ is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future
  • What the VC world looks like…and how he passed up on any investment where the founder wore a suit
  • No company has a culture; every company is a culture
  • Proprietary technology needs to be 10x better than the closest substitute to succeed
  • Avoid competition as much as possible…have the last mover advantage!
  • The 7 questions every company must ask themselves:
    • Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
    • Is now the right time to start this business?
    • Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
    • Do you have the right team?
    • Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
    • Will your market position be defensible in 10-20 years?
    • Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?
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