Book: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Just finished it – thought provoking, but a strong dose of capitalism.

For example, he feels monopolies are great – which is true, if you are the monopoly – but he also feels they are good for mankind, which is a bit tougher to handle.

In line with that, businesses should avoid competition, which saps energy. The goal is to get a ’10X’ product or service that is so game-changing that it lets you start a monopoly, focusing all your energy (energy you saved by not competing). Comparing airlines to Paypal (many examples involve Paypal, which he cofounded) and Google, he illustrates how airline competition has driven prices and revenues down, whereas being the dominant company in the field means money a-plenty.

Despite some odd views (posts such as this, this, and this do a far better job of reviewing the book and author than I could), the book is an interesting read from someone who was involved in a successful tech startup.

The most useful point for me? A seven-part questionnaire on whether a business is good to go – reproduced here so I can look it up later:

  1. The Engineering Question: Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  2. The Timing Question: Is now the right time to start this particular business?
  3. The Monopoly Question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  4. The People Question: Do you have the right team?
  5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
  6. The Durability Question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
  7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

The book goes into more detail on this, but the idea is that if a business cannot satisfactorily answer these seven, it will have problems. Of course, this is in the context of delivering an ‘over the top’ product leading to that monopoly he discusses.

In summary: If you like to read about business, it’s a worthwhile read. And definitely, if the idea of an empty playing field and quantum-leap product development appeals to you, it will be very informative.

Zero to One Notes on Startups... *Uncorrected Proof* by Peter Thiel / PB
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