Book Review of Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

COVID-19 made me rethink a lot of things in life. To bring new ideas into my mind, I had the "Zero to One" book on my bookshelf for a while, and I thought it was a good time to grab some new thoughts. I was also hoping that the book could inspire and energize me about some perennial and natural questions of being a human: what do I want to do in my life amid all this craziness that is happening worldwide?

I had Zero to One book because the author, Peter Thiel, is a successful technology entrepreneur, and also, he is an LGBT entrepreneur. As a side note, another very successful and public business figure is Apple's CEO, Tim Cook. Both are somehow role models for me. I say somehow because it's definitely interesting to know that gay people can also be very successful in life. Knowing their path shed potential paths for success, it is compelling to have role models for teaching us what is possible out there. However, I don't believe we need to take agree with everything they have done either. For instance, some decision made by Mr. Thiel, such as supporting Trump election, is a bit tasteless. Still, having prominent and influential gay figures in the media helps many people struggling with their own identity.

I'm not advocating that people have to put flags in their shirts and in their resumes, but for many people, the opportunity to get a job or promotions is denied by who they are and nothing else.

The other main reason that drew me to Thiel's book is the focus on technology, innovation, and startups. I've been working in startups for a long time, and I have been shy lately to entertain to have my own company. With COVID-19, I wanted to revisit many dreams and wishes and re-evaluate how they fit into my life.

The book starts with Peter Thiel stating that his book is not about building startups or it's a recipe book for success; the book is more like a summary of beliefs, facts, and anecdotes of his life experience. The overall tone is pragmatic, and most of his ideas are well balanced, comparing the pros and cons of decisions he made and showing the reader what the obvious choice was. The book was written in 2014, and that was before Trump, COVID-19, TikTok, and many other interesting historical facts. One of the most surprising things is that if you had read the book before the Hillary/Trump election, you would build a different image of Peter Thiel.

I read the book in 2020. It gives me a different perspective and interpretation of the author. I'm shocked that a well balanced and pragmatic smart mind had ever considered supporting Trump at all.

Even though Peter Thiel mentioned that he will not support Trump's reelection campaign, his previous support taints his legacy. That is why it is so fascinating to read the book in a totally different context and reality.

I cherry-picked some of the main ideas from the book:

  • Competition is harmful to build a sustainable and very profitable business.
  • His belief is that having "Last Move Advantage," a euphemism for Monopoly, is the way to build a very successful company.
  • Companies lie about who they genuinely are: successful monopolistic companies will preach they are suffering in a very competitive world. Meanwhile, not so successful companies will defend that they are unique among their space's many competitors.
  • People and companies fit into the following groups: definite optimistic, indefinite optimistic, definite pessimistic, and indefinite pessimistic.
  • For society to move forward and grow, it relies mainly upon technological development.
  • The Power Law is essential for growing business; it exists everywhere.
  • Sales are as crucial as the product; don't expect to build, and people will come you.
  • You, as an individual, are not a lottery ticket. If we plan for the future, that is the only control we have to make it happen.
  • To find profitable business ideas, we have to consider the following 3 concepts: conventions, secrets, and mysteries. You want business ideas that fall into the secret group. Peter uses Tesla as an example of how the "secret" works.
  • Building a healthy and successful startup requires the founders' full commitment and the early employees' team. It cannot be compromised.
  • Green-tech is hard and expensive to invest in, but it is also vital for the world.
  • Entrepreneurs may be considered as crazy or genius; something is different in that kind of people.

The summary is my interpretation of the ideas of the book. But when you review those ideas in the context of COVID-19, most of them are still standing well. Building a healthy startup requires a very driven personality with reasonable beliefs. Most thoughts above are not affected by what happened from the time when it was released in 2014 to 2020. It is also true that it is not a book about a recipe you follow, and you can become successful. That is why the author was ground to earth from my perspective.

This is my quick review of the book. I will pick some of the ideas above, write other posts, and contextualize them to the reality I live. Thanks for reading and stay tuned.