Zero to One

Zero to One (2014) by Peter Thiel is a book on startups by one of the founders of Paypal and one of the cofounders of Palantir. The book is an expansion of lecture notes on a series of lectures that Thiel gives at Stanford on startups.

In the book Thiel describes how he likes to ask people what is something the believe that most people believe the opposite. It’s the sort of thing you should use to start a company. Thiel also points out that the best companies are near monopolies in a certain area. They avoid competition and from that make huge profits. Thiel describes businesses that are in hugely competitive areas like restaurants as being the opposite of businesses like Google, Apple or Microsoft. It would be interesting to see what fast food business founders think of this point.

Thiel describes what he thinks founder have, how they tend to be highly exceptional and what can make startups really work. The book also has an interesting chapter on how green energy startups have tended to fail with the notable exception of Tesla, founded by another of the Paypal founders.

Thiel also looks at the small role that luck plays in successfully founding companies and points out that serial founders make the luck hypothesis fairly unlikely. He also looks at the returns from venture funds and the small number of companies that make them work.

The book is fairly short and easy to read. It’s the notes of someone who has started up multi-billion dollar companies and who has an intimate knowledge of Silicon Valley where so many of these type of companies have been founded. It’s somewhat disjointed, the fact that it is extended lecture notes does come though but there is a still enough of a theme running through the book to hold it together.

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