Entreprising Notes pages are for my thoughts as I progress through a book… You can check out the Review page here, which is about grading the book as fairly as possible.
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Zero To One – Chapter 1 and Chapter 2
December 5, 2019
Chapter 1: The Challenge Of The Future
Chapter 2: Party Like It’s 1999
These chapters remind me of Carl Hodges again… I’ve mentioned him here on Entreprising before.
He once asked me, “Do you know any evolved persons?”
The thing is, evolved persons wouldn’t appear to be evolved at all; they would appear to be abnormal or even flawed.
In the same way, Peter Thiel is suggesting that building the future is best done by finding contrarian truths, known to the few among the many.
It’s like the evolved person question.
How is your thinking evolved beyond the other people with whom you’re surrounded?
Or as Thiel puts it…
Zero To One Chapter 2 Quotations
If you can identify a delusional popular belief, you can find what lies behind it: the contrarian truth.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 2, Page 12
The most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 2 Page 22
His point is that the future will be different from the present, and you don’t get to different by thinking the same.
Therefore, to build the future as an endeavor, you have to find different thinking…and to that end, people who think differently.
I like this, and I think he’s right.
But I’m pretty sure that we’re not all of us capable of thinking differently.
And Thiel does nothing for those who can’t.
It took me so long to apprehend the distinction between starting a business and founding a startup. And that delayed understanding cost me a lot of time, energy, and money…
And the best explanation of that distinction I’ve found is in Steve Blank’s work.
The reason I associate it with Zero To One is because I think it’s so easy to get caught up in reading success stories about PayPal and Facebook, etc.
It makes for very popular reading.
But I’ve experimented with many people over the last five years to see if I was the only person conflating starting a business and founding a startup.
And I think knowing that difference is so important to getting the most out of the business books you’re reading, such as those on The List.
For instance, if you know that you’re starting a business – not founding a startup – you can borrow from business books what works. You don’t have to invent something brand new (from 0 to 1) for your business to work.
But you can take inspiration from startup books, because you don’t have to do everything the way it’s all been done before.
There’s room for the hybrid.
And you don’t have to feel bad if you’re not building the future a la Thiel’s work.
Contributing to the fabric (sameness) of business is a valid pursuit as well…
If not purely based on the ideal of self-determination, then by recognition of sameness as the foundation that makes different possible.
I think Thiel’s dive into relationships of globalization and technology with future building in Chapter 1 is worth a couple reads and some contemplation…
In Chapter 2, some thinking on Thiel’s four contrarian truths is a good idea.
Zero To One – Chapter 3 and Chapter 4
December 6, 2019
Chapter 3: All Happy Companies Are Different
Chapter 4: The Ideology Of Competition
I’m not sure I would have written these chapters separately. But never mind that technical choice…
The ideas being entertained here are competition drives sameness, and the future is dependent on different. Therefore, competition is the enemy of the future.
This follows a solid thread from the first two chapters, no doubt.
Zero To One Chapters 3 and 4 Quotations
…every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 3 Page 34
For the sake of being clear, I would change that statement to: Every startup is successful exactly to the extent that it does something valuable others cannot.
Because, as he also states later in the text:
Winning is better than losing, but everybody loses when the war isn’t one worth fighting.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 4 Page 40
Just because your startup/company can do something others cannot, does not mean what you do is valuable.
But Thiel is so focused on shifting attention away from the original question of the chapter, “What valuable company is nobody building,” to avoiding competition, that premise gets lost.
Still, it’s so fundamental that what you’re doing, different or not, is valuable to other people – enough that they pay you more for it than it costs you to deliver…
Perhaps Thiel would refer me to the startup accounting from the next chapter to explain why that’s not true… Fine.
It just reinforces my thinking that Steve Blank’s work should be treated as a prerequisite to Zero To One…
Thiel is presenting dogmatic thoughts on startups while intentionally refraining from teasing out his own nuance.
Thiel says that most books are 30-page essays expanded into 300 pages to make a book.
And he wanted to do the opposite. To take Blake Master’s notes of Thiel’s lectures at Stanford as a foundation, and then condense his thoughts into a carefully curated 200 pages.
He then had them published as a broadly targeted book. (I say it’s broadly targeted not just because it’s so popular, but because he fails to qualify his audience for his reader.)
Ultimately, I think Thiel wrote this book for himself and others like him.
Not all of his readers will know what’s being left out. He did them no favors by condensing his thoughts.
For these chapters, I would send the reader working to build a business (as opposed to founding a startup) to something like Jack Stack’s Great Game Of Business.
Perhaps it’s not quite as exciting as exploring the valuations and growth trajectories of the startups that Thiel has founded and funded.
But instead of presenting competition as the enemy, it embraces the ideology of competition and addresses what everyday people can do to succeed in competitive landscapes.
Or, if the reader is among those wanting to found a startup the likes of PayPal, etc., I would send them to Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, for a more thorough treatment of the type of differentiation from competition that Thiel is prescribing.
I think the takeaway here is that competition exists, but it can’t be your focus if you’re going to win.
And I do think that is something we can all benefit from contemplating, regardless of whether we’re playing on the field of business or the field of startups.
Or even if we’re straddling the two.
Zero To One – Chapter 5: The Last Mover Advantage
December 7, 2019
I think this chapter was named prematurely…
It would be more appropriate to call it “Characteristics Of Monopoly Companies,” or “Goals And Tactics Of Monopoly Companies.”
Really, the last mover advantage isn’t approached in topic until the very end of the chapter, and it’s almost a side note.
Which is interesting, because Zero To One is describing that great jump from nothing to something.
And being the last mover implies you’re not moving from nothing to something, but something to something greater…
Albeit, great enough to be the future-building difference in that category.
I liked this chapter overall, even as it is the lowest-scoring chapter thus far.
Zero To One Chapter 5 Quotations
Simply stated, the value of a business today is the sum of all the money it will make in the future.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 5 Page 44
The perfect target market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 5 Page 54
What I liked about this chapter has everything to do with what I like about startups in general.
If, as Thiel says, the value of a business is all the money it will make in the future (discounted to reflect the value of cash in hand versus cash earned in the future)…
Then what makes startups exciting is being able to buy that future value at the present discount.
What’s funny is that in the same chapter, he manages to point out the risk of overlooking pitfalls to generating that cash in the future, while still nonchalantly presenting cash flow projections as something akin to the truth.
Even while offering a demonstration of his own projections falling short for PayPal…
Look, I know he knows what he’s talking about.
I’m just pointing out that not everyone does.
Especially when it comes to startup financials…
I actually think Eric Ries does the best job of discussing startup financials in The Startup Way.
At least as far as mitigating risks for startups.
But maybe Thiel will surprise me in future chapters. I’ll let you know.
I know Thiel says that his list of four characteristics of a monopoly isn’t a checklist.
But I’m gonna pretend it is, because we all know I love a good checklist.
When thinking about the monopolistic nature of your business, consider your advantages in terms of:
- Proprietary Technology
- Network Effects
- Economies of Scale
Zero To One – Chapter 6: You Are Not A Lottery Ticket
December 9, 2019
A bit of rain here in Tucson this morning, so I caught up with a listen of Chapter 6 this afternoon on my walk.
This is my favorite chapter thus far. It also scored the highest in the rubric…
Those two things don’t always go together; in fact, what I love about The Rubric is I’m often surprised at how a chapter scores.
What I loved about this chapter is Thiel gets in the groove of expounding his thesis.
Zero To One Chapter 6 Quotation
Finance epitomizes indefinite thinking because it’s the only way to make money when you have no idea how to create wealth.Peter Thiel, Zero to One – Chapter 6 Page 70
What I realized from the last chapter to this chapter is that my critique of Thiel’s reasoning embodied the “indefinite optimism” at which he was preparing to take aim.
I am humbled.
In Chapter 6, Thiel moves the reader quickly but deftly through the historical, political, and philosophical prerequisites to understanding his view that paradigmatic shifts will be required to build the future.
Honestly, I can’t wait to tease out his arguments in an Entreprising Guide.
But before I do…
I have an advantage when reading Thiel, as I also studied philosophy as an undergrad.
So when he goes on about Rawls, and the veil of ignorance, I’m drawing on experience as a teaching assistance in a class called Digital Ethics.
To demonstrate the veil of ignorance, we asked the students a series of questions, and had them write their answers.
Then we passed out little bits of paper with personal histories/circumstances written on them. The students were asked to pretend they were the person the paper described, and then to answer the same questions.
Then they were asked to pretend they didn’t know their personal histories or circumstances, and to answer the questions again.
I think the point was made well enough in the classroom. Your background and circumstances matter a great deal as to how you think and feel about the state and its role in your life.
No surprise there.
But to Thiel’s point, you won’t get zero-to-one thinking by studying Rawls.
Thinking in terms of fairness breeds globalization, not technology.
You get copycats and proliferation of … hopefully mediocrity … instead of the ideal Thiel puts forward at the beginning of the chapter:
…a definite person determines the one best thing to do and then does it. Instead of working tirelessly to make herself indistinguishable, she strives to be great at something substantive – to be a monopoly of one.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 6 Page 62
As for my takeaway for this chapter, I’m keeping the list of worldviews…
- Definite Pessimism
- Indefinite Pessimism
- Definite Optimism
- Indefinite Optimism
I’m going to let these hang out in my mind overnight and into tomorrow and see how they feel.
Zero To One – Chapter 7: Follow The Money
December 10, 2019
To be honest, I’m sitting down to write this on December 13th …
Even though I listened to it on the 10th.
Along with the 8th chapter (but that was by accident – I only ever mean to listen to one chapter at a time).
That’s the thing with Zero To One… The chapters are so short and packed, it’s easy to miss the transition from one to the next, and before I know it, I’m two chapters in … and the work of Entreprising one is enough.
It’s okay. First world problem, I know.
Okay, so first thought on this chapter is that Thiel probably should have named it “The Power Law,” or “The Power Law Advantage.”
The thing is, when I go back to find something from this chapter, I’m more likely to remember that it’s about the power law than I am to remember that the power law stuff is in the chapter called “Follow The Money.”
But I get it; he named it so because if you do follow the money you’ll discover the power law empirically.
Zero To One Chapter 7 Quotation
When you choose a career, you act on your belief that the kind of work you do will be valuable decades from now.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 7 Page 90
I love the logical thread Thiel presents after that quotation.
It fits whether you’re thinking about founding a startup or changing careers or even just going to college.
And it seems to me to be a bit less known, if not the kind of secret that Thiel talks about in Chapter 8.
You are continuously investing your time, your energy, your resources (including money).
Every decision matters.
And those decisions about how you’ll spend a significant amount of your time, energy, and resources matter even more.
But we don’t market those heavy-hitting decisions that way, at least not at one of the most critical junctures of a young person’s life.
Majoring in a course of study at college.
As Thiel rightly points out, the catalogs at universities across the United States make it seem like you can pick any course of study, excel, and do well not just at school, but in life after school.
And he’s also right when he says that’s utterly false.
I knew Thiel was weary of college and pursuing a college degree as a matter of fact; but I was happy to see this reasoning unfold.
And that he tied it back into startups, and reorienting investments toward the substance and potential value they represent, well that was icing on the cake for me.
My association for this chapter goes along with the next chapter – which is why I don’t like to listen to two at a time. At least not for this book.
Check out my notes for Chapter 8.
The ponder-worthy concept I’m taking with me from this chapter is choosing something to sink my teeth into; to get really good at and invest in because it will have value for decades.
Can I be done with hedging? Or has it been thoroughly beaten into my worldview?
Zero To One – Chapter 8: Secrets
December 11, 2019
Again, writing this on the 13th of December, even though I listened to it on the 10th.
I’ve since gone back and re-read it for the grading.
And now again for the notes.
Not my most efficient week of Entreprising.
Anyway, let’s get to it.
I have to say, this book is probably the one I want to untangle the most of all the books I’ve graded from The List.
I get a sense, growing with every chapter, that there’s so much going into each sentence that I want to unpack.
On the one hand, that’s amazing.
On the other, it suggests that had Thiel taken the time to expand his thoughts a bit more in the pages, perhaps it wouldn’t take so much unpacking.
But what stands out in this chapter the most is Thiel’s own embodiment of what he called definite optimism in Chapter 6.
The actual truth is that there are many more secrets left to find, but they will yield only to relentless searchers.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 8 Page 102
This chapter is part observation, part explanation, and part call to action.
Thiel is making the case that there are secrets on which we can build great companies in the future, and we should be seeking them out.
He’s right. It’s a kind of optimism that is absent in a great deal of companies… and lives for that matter.
At least as far as Thiel’s critique of our educational system, I’m reminded of the work of John Taylor Gatto.
How we educate our children in public schools right now absolutely feeds into the incrementalism Thiel rebukes.
And Gatto delineates precisely how it’s happening; how it’s done.
I know, as a parent, I’m concerned about the education my daughter is receiving. Especially the weighting of every subject and skill the same…
From asking myself about my own “strengths of value,” such that the pursuit of a career in one of my strengths might yield value decades from now, I was also curious about Illy’s strengths.
I’m just tucking into mine; but to see Illy through her own eyes was an interesting experiment for sure!
Now to feed her strengths…
In the meantime, I’m going to be pondering the four social trends Thiel says are antithetical to finding secrets:
- Risk Aversion
Zero To One – Chapter 9: Foundations
December 13, 2019
Phew! I skipped the morning walk and opted to walk in the very sunny afternoon…
Chapter 9 of Zero To One was just okay.
Actually, it was kind of boring.
Let’s just get to it.
Thiel’s Law: A startup messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 9 Page 107
I think this chapter has the least value to offer out of any of the other chapters.
It’s not that I don’t think Thiel is right; it’s just one of those things that while incredibly important and necessary, isn’t that sexy to talk about.
Make sure you have the right people with the right incentives to move the startup/company forward.
As Thiel notes, this isn’t the easiest task in the world. I just don’t think you’re going to learn how by his musings.
Because the “marriage” of founders is a big deal in this chapter, I was reminded of a startup for startups I encountered years ago…
A matchmaking site for founders called FounderDating.
It came to my attention when I was chairing the Entrepreneurship Track at the first TENWEST Impact Festival in 2015, where I planned something akin to speed dating for founders.
The thing about startup life that Thiel touches on in this chapter, and is perhaps more important than his lack of emphasis here implies, is that in startup mode, you’re unlikely to be with anyone more than your cofounder(s).
More than you’ve ever been with your significant other, etc.
If you’re founding a startup, you might not have all the time for proper courtship and risk mitigation of a partner…
But don’t say you weren’t warned about the risk you’re taking by jumping into a startup with an unknown co-founder.
I’ll be pondering the three likely sources of misalignment in any company for a bit:
Zero To One – Chapter 10: The Mechanics Of Mafia
December 14, 2019
I spoke too soon. Yesterday, I wrote:
I get a sense, growing with every chapter, that there’s so much going into each sentence that I want to unpack.
That was with regards to Chapters 1 – 8.
Chapters 9 and 10 have not proven to be that packed; they’re short and to the point.
Which is not a bad thing; just not a whole lot to unpack.
If the rest of the chapters were written this way, Zero To One wouldn’t need unpacking at all.
Anyway, let’s get to it.
Zero To One Chapter 10 Quotation
“Company culture” doesn’t exist apart from the company itself: no company has a culture; every company is a culture.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 10 Page 119
I have spent a fair amount of time in my operations/management career on the challenge of creating effective cultures in organizations.
It’s my favorite!
Thiel makes an important distinction here between having and being a culture as an organization.
But he focuses on a compelling mission, and hiring similar people as the way to do this.
Compelling mission, check.
Similar people? Eh. He gives no tangible way to do this.
Thiel did good work building culture at PayPal; the PayPal Mafia.
But this chapter begs the question of whether he knew how he was doing it.
Allow me to explain.
A long time ago I was a teacher… an instructor by trade.
And after a few years of teaching advanced classes, I was afforded the opportunity to teach a beginner’s class.
I was terrible at it! (At least at the start.)
I’d forgotten what it was like to be a beginner.
I’d forgotten what it was like to not even have the vocabulary to articulate what I would come to understand as the principles of my field.
Thiel is not good at presenting culture-building to a beginner.
He’s lost touch with the perspective, and the shift of perspective, he had as a beginner himself. Before he knew what he now knows and is trying to lay bare for the reader.
Again, it’s not wrong. It’s not bad.
It’s just chock full of distinctions, nuance, and assumptions that a beginner won’t notice.
The compelling mission driving the startup, and the buy-in necessary is definitely a start.
But as for a strategy to hire “similar people” with the diverse skills necessary to move a startup forward, I would say has to do with core values.
This is from the “business world,” but I think it applies.
And for that I have two treatments that I’ve enjoyed and to which I’ve gone back a dozen times each.
To be up front about it, both are written by consultants – the kind of consultants that Thiel suggests aren’t helpful to startups.
And, I’ve made my own thoughts on the distinction between startups and businesses well known in the notes on previous chapters of Zero To One.
But I haven’t seen a startup-focused book deal with this even-Thiel-mentioned critical aspect of building the foundations of a startup (the ideal team – the “mafia”) done as well as Wickman and Harnish do it.
As I said, this chapter, like the one before it, wasn’t heavy on concepts.
So instead of my takeaway here, I’m going to do a giveaway!
In my consulting world, one of the first things I do with entrepreneurs (startup or business) is nail down their core values to help with hiring, firing, and conducting business at all levels.
I credit this exercise as the foundation of the cultures I’ve built with teams over the years.
But laboring over this exercise can cause dread and procrastination… ugh.
So I’ve created a tool to make the first iteration of your Kickass Core Values a simple, 30-minute exercise.
If you’d like access to my 30-Minutes To Kickass Core Values tool, send me an email titled “Core Values Tool” to email@example.com.
Zero To One – Chapter 11: If You Build It, Will They Come?
December 15, 2019
I loved Field of Dreams. It was one of our family favorites growing up, and I’ve probably seen it 20 times… Maybe more, as we owned it on VHS long before there was endless streaming on Netflix.
I don’t know that I consciously had “if you build it, they will come,” in my head when I founded my first and only startup.
But it’s a good descriptor of my non-plan plan given my limited ideas on how I was going to get my products/services sold.
I was called out on my field dreaming pretty early on by a mentor… And if you are such a mentor, I’d like to warn you:
If you tell them, they still won’t know.Tonya Aiossa, from personal experience.
Yep, that’s right. I was challenged, but I was so new and eager and hopeful, that it didn’t register.
The statement was, “Oh, you’re going with if you build it, they will come, then?” It was commentary on my plan to rent commercial space and make a go of it without any reason to think I’d have the money to fund it.
But this would-be criticism was mitigated and dismissed as a “well, I guess I’ll let you fall to learn your lesson.”
Not that I mind all the lessons I’ve learned having fallen.
But I do think if you take the time to point out the flaw in the Field of Dreams logic, you can help set someone up to learn even better lessons.
Maybe you can be the difference between zero hanging at zero, and zero going to one.
I think that’s what Thiel was attempting in this chapter.
Zero To One, Chapter 11 Quotation
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.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 11 Page 129
Invented a way to sell it? I have to invent that, too?
Yes. That’s called growth hacking. Because it’s not typically possible to advertise and market your way to a product/market and message/market fit.
Attention costs money, in general.
New attention costs much, much more.
But attention, and new attention specifically, is fickle af.
As Thiel comments later in the chapter, startups should not try and compete with the polished advertising campaigns of established brands/companies.
This is a worthwhile chapter, for sure.
I haven’t read it, yet, but Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday comes to mind.
I’ve read another book by Holiday just recently, The Perennial Seller, and while I haven’t graded/reviewed it yet, I did like it. I thought it was worth the read, if only getting permission to focus on making something great.
Growth hacking as a concept exists because Thiel is right; you have to build in your distribution as part of inventing your “one.”
Thiel is also right about everyone being in sales. I’ve often said instead of sending my kid to college, I’ll have her sell cars until she can prove she can make a living at it. (I did, and it’s one of the best things I ever did…)
But I did comment that his 9th chapter, on innovation accounting, was worth the cost of the book and the time to read it several times over.
Thiel talks about the “two metrics that set the limits for effective distribution.”
- Total Net Profit
- Customer Acquisition Cost
I’ve come to think of total net profit being AFTER you deduct the customer acquisition cost. I think that’s what Thiel is trying to say when he says, and I’m paraphrasing: Your Customer Lifetime Value “must exceed” your Customer Acquisition Cost.
Anyway, my first introduction to “innovation accounting” was my during my startup incubator at Startup Tucson in 2015.
My cohort was asked to generate some basic numbers on a spreadsheet, and I got irritated at having to keep recalculating everything based on different variables.
So I modeled out the whole damned thing in Google Sheets.
Later, I was told what I had done was to create something called a sensitivity analysis. Although I have yet to see a sensitivity calculator like the one I built… Just sayin’.
Still one of the things of which I’m most proud…
Wanna see it? Email me with the subject line “Sensitivity Analysis” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zero To One – Chapter 12: Man And Machine
December 15, 2019
We’re in the home stretch. I kind of feel like this book is taking forever. lol
This chapter was enjoyable.
It’s easy to be lured into fear when box office hits like The Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger tell us artificial intelligence is out to get us.
But Thiel makes a solid case for why, instead of fearing technology, we should be focused on making it our bitch going forward…
At least for the foreseeable future.
Elon Musk, whom Thiel mentions several times in Zero To One (they both exited well from PayPal after their startups merged), seems to think AI isn’t so benign.
But I’m inclined to agree with Thiel, here.
Zero To One Chapter 12 Quotation
Properly understood, technology is the one way for us to escape competition in a globalizing world.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 12 Page 144
If you recall from previous chapters, Thiel says competition is to be avoided as it acts like blinders on a horse… Focusing us on trivial gains rather than the kind of gains realized when we move from zero to one.
Therefore, if technology is able to render competition inconsequential by complementing human efforts, it is a key ingredient in building the future.
Also remember, the future according to Thiel has nothing to do with arbitrary measurements of time, rather, it is the difference between now and then in human experience.
If literal tomorrow brings a huge difference in human experience, then tomorrow is the future more so than 100 years from now if no such difference comes to pass.
This chapter reminds me of something I realized with the introduction of the iPhone to market in 2007.
My friend had twin boys that week, ahead of the release of the phone.
And I didn’t have my Illy, yet, either.
These children were born in the future we now experience as the present. The future not defined not by the year, but by the technology.
The thing is, I don’t know anyone else talking about this topic. If you do, please send suggestions/recommendations to me at email@example.com.
There aren’t any cute lists in this chapter to ponder.
But something about Thiel’s writing reminded me of a frustration I had managing a small software firm for a few years…
Customers were so focused on automation, they were apt to forget the software was a tool, a means to an end, not the end.
I think this is evidence of the kind of ignorance to the complementarity of technology that Thiel is getting at. When people try to replace people with software, they push up against the limitations of technology very quickly.
With that in mind, and as a software geek, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite pieces of software…
It complements my human efforts every day.
Airtable. (Yes, that’s an affiliate link.)
It’s free to sign up, and their freemium model is quite generous. And if you sign up through my link, I get $10 off my bill. So it’s a really easy way to support my work.
Plus, Airtable is amazing! If you’d like a tour of my Entreprising Airtable Base, shoot me an email with the subject line “Show Me Airtable” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zero To One – Chapter 13: Seeing Green
December 15, 2019
Y’all, we are so close.
This chapter was another just okay.
Mostly, I had a problem with Thiel’s Musk and Tesla fanboyhood…
Although I have to give Thiel some credit, as this book was written long before Musk’s crazier stunts at Tesla and on Twitter.
So let’s just get to it.
Zero To One Chapter 13 Quotation
Only when your product is 10x better can you offer the customer transparent superiority.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 13 Page 155
Given that this chapter is taking everything we’ve learned in the chapters before it and discussing it in the context of the cleantech bubble, none of the quote-worthy sentences were different enough from sentences I previously quoted…
That’s okay though – because as I heard the narrator utter the words “transparent superiority,” I knew I had to quote this sentence.
Incremental improvements don’t make for transparent superiority.
As Thiel was going on and on about Elon Musk and Tesla, I couldn’t help but remember some articles I’ve read about both from Sovereign Man, Simon Black.
Like this one he wrote last week.
Thiel seems (to me) to have a better head on his shoulders than Musk, anyway.
But it’s worth surveying contrarian thoughts on the matter, too.
Not to mention, if this story is true, it’s hard to see why Thiel still considers Musk a friend. Eek.
Yay! Another pretty list. This time of questions to ask about a zero to one startup:
- The Engineering Question
- The Timing Question
- The Monopoly Question
- The People Question
- The Distribution Question
- The Durability Question
- The Secret Question
If you want a more exhaustive list of questions to rate a business idea, Will It Fly? by Thomas K. McKnight (not to be confused by the Will It Fly? by Pat Flynn) is not executed well, but it is on the right track.
Actually, I think it needs a rubric calculator of its own… The book should have been a companion to a tool.
Still, lots of factors to get you thinking.
Zero To One – Chapter 14: The Founder’s Paradox
December 16, 2019
We did it!!!
I finished Zero To One by Peter Thiel this morning.
Unfortunately, the last chapter wasn’t that great.
For starters, Thiel says this chapter is about why it’s both “powerful” and “dangerous” to have a “distinctive individual” at the helm of a company.
Really, the chapter is persuading the reader to go easier on the idiosyncratic founders that baffle us.
I guess this in part explains the fanboydom of Elon Musk in previous chapters?
This time, his logic almost entirely relied on anecdotal evidence; a bunch of cobbled together reminders of famous founders of the past…
Which is fine, I guess. I don’t disagree with his conclusions so much as I lament he offered no help in discerning the crazy from the crazy good.
I guess I’ll just give him the benefit of the doubt here, though, since he did a good job of giving us lenses by which to assess good startup ideas, the real zero to one ideas, previously.
Let’s get started…
Zero To One Chapter 14 Quotation
Founders are important not because they are the only ones whose work has value, but rather because a great founder can bring out the best work from everybody at his company.Peter Thiel, Zero To One – Chapter 14 Page 190
Okay, I like this quotation. But there’s a problem within it. Do you see it?
Founders are important…because great founders…
Should read: Great founders are important because they can bring out the best work from everybody at their companies.
He’s calling for tolerance of idiosyncratic founders in general, not just great founders.
And yet, that’s only on the hope they can do what great founders can do.
The alternative hypothesis Thiel pretends to entertain is a professional leader vs. founder. The kind of CEO who is often called into replace a “distinctive individual” at the head of a company whose product/market fit has been established, but whose become the “scapegoat,” as Thiel calls it.
If Thiel had just delineated the fine line he’s defining in this chapter, I’d be good with his logic.
But he falls very clearly on the side of the founders; which isn’t surprising, it’s just not so clear in the logic.
Regardless if the danger posed by allowing a company to continue to be led by its founder is external (they become the scapegoat) or internal (what he calls distinctive, I call idiosyncratic), the danger exists or Thiel could have just dismissed it.
A general plea for tolerance doesn’t work to mitigate the risks of millions and billions of investment dollars.
This reminds me of a founder I worked with in the early 2000’s.
Perhaps Thiel would call him distinctive. I would call him idiosyncratic.
I remember he was talking about making a purchase, with an investor’s money, and he used the word “just.”
“It’s just $10,000.”
As if it wasn’t important because the investor clearly had lots of $10,000s. (The investor was not present to hear this.)
Using the word “just” with regards to amounts of money should be reserved for the person who owns the money, don’t you think?
Anyway, Thiel is specifically exploring the zero to one hypothesis for this book. The idea that you can go from nothing to something by inventing new technology, and that the world needs that kind of invention to make it safely to the future.
In this last chapter (and he’s alluded to it before), it seems he’s assuming that a founder’s ability to go from zero to one has to happen within the same startup/company.
Never mind that he keeps conflating the words startup and company, Thiel clearly knows founders don’t need to do all their founding from within one startup.
He went from PayPal to Palantir.
Elon Musk from PayPal to SpaceX and Tesla.
It’s not like PayPal isn’t still kicking ass.
There is clearly an alternative to zero to one’ing over and over in the same company. It’s called an exit, and moving on.
And there’s a whole book devoted to the professional leaders who can take a “one” from good to great, precisely by – if formulaically – eliciting the best work from everybody in the company.
It’s called Good to Great by Jim Collins, and I highly recommend it.
Given there aren’t any cute lists, and it’s the last chapter of the book (tada!), my takeaway for this chapter is the call to arms that is the rhetoric of this text.
- Think for yourself.
- Create brand new things.
- Go from zero to one.
Okay, peeps! That’s it for this book’s notes. I’ll see you over in the Review shortly.
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