Favorite excerpts from Peter Thiel’s Zero to One

If you haven’t already, you need to pick up a copy of Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. The book was so good I read it in one sitting. Just want to share some of my favorite excerpts below.

“…most people think the future of the world will be defined by globalization, but the truth is that technology matters more. Without technological change, if China doubles its energy production over the next two decades, it will also double its air pollution. If every one of India’s hundreds of millions of households were to live the way Americans already do—using only today’s tools—the result would be environmentally catastrophic. In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable.”

“New technology tends to come from new ventures—startups. From the Founding Fathers in politics to the Royal Society in science to Fairchild Semiconductor’s “traitorous eight” in business, small groups of people bound together by a sense of mission have changed the world for the better. The easiest explanation for this is negative: it’s hard to develop new things in big organizations, and it’s even harder to do it by yourself. Bureaucratic hierarchies move slowly, and entrenched interests shy away from risk. In the most dysfunctional organizations, signaling that work is being done becomes a better strategy for career advancement than actually doing work (if this describes your company, you should quit now).”

“The perfect target market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors. Any big market is a bad choice, and a big market already served by competing companies is even worse. This is why it’s always a red flag when entrepreneurs talk about getting 1% of a $100 billion market. In practice, a large market will either lack a good starting point or it will be open to competition, so it’s hard to ever reach that 1%. And even if you do succeed in gaining a small foothold, you’ll have to be satisfied with keeping the lights on: cutthroat competition means your profits will be zero.”

“The power of planning explains the difficulty of valuing private companies. When a big company makes an offer to acquire a successful startup, it almost always offers too much or too little: founders only sell when they have no more concrete visions for the company, in which case the acquirer probably overpaid; Definite founders with robust plans don’t sell, which means the offer wasn’t high enough. When Yahoo! offered to buy Facebook for $1 billion dollars in July 2006, I thought we should at least consider it, but Mark Zuckerberg walked into the board meeting and announced, “Okay guys, this is just a formality, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. We’re obviously not going to sell here.” Mark saw where he could take the company, and Yahoo! didn’t. A business with a good definite plan will always be underrated in a world where people see the future as random.”

“On the inside, every individual should be sharply distinguished by her work. When assigning responsibilities to employees at a startup, you could start by treating it as a simple optimization problem to efficiently match talents with tasks. But even if you could somehow get this perfectly right, any given solution would quickly break down. Partly that is because startups have to move fast, so individual roles can’t remain static for long, but it is also because job assignments aren’t just about the relationships between workers and tasks; they’re also about relationships between employees. The best thing I did as a manager at PayPal, was to make every person responsible for doing just one thing. Every employee’s one thing was unique. Everyone knew I would evaluate him only on that one thing. I had started doing this just to simplify the task of managing people, but then I noticed a different result: defining roles reduced conflict. Most fights inside a company happen when colleagues compete for the same responsibilities. Startups face an especially high risk of this, since job roles are fluid at the early stages. Eliminating competition makes it easier for everyone to build the kinds of long-term relationships that transcend mere professionalism. More than that, internal peace is what enables a startup to survive at all.”

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pageEmail this to someone