Casual Book Review: Zero to One

by Blake Masters and Peter Thiel

A Casual Book Review

In my previous review where I talked about Obama’s autobiography, I was captivated by the scale of change a single individual could bring about from their government’s highest office. However, one can’t help but notice that change brought about via a democratic process is often slow and arduous. This is because well-functioning democracies have lots of checks and balances explicitly designed to slow down big changes. And for the record, I think that’s mostly a good thing. But it begs the question:

How can you bring about big changes fast?

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future is a book that attempts to answer this question. It is written by the American entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel, co-written with Blake Masters.

Thiel argues that not nearly enough people are innovating towards fundamentally new solutions to problems; and too many people are busy restructuring or slightly modifying old solutions to perform a little better. If you and your competitor are both doing the latter, Thiel says, you will be forever stuck in an endless loop of marginally good and bad quarterly reports. Your time would be better spent creating something truly fresh, something that gives you a 10x advantage over your nearest competitor, granting you in essence a monopoly business. If, like me, even the use of the “m-word” triggers you, don’t be alarmed. He goes on to argue that monopolies obtained by competitive advantages are only temporary, and you will eventually be overtaken by the next true innovator.

Unless of course, you beat them to it.

If the claims above are already raising your eyebrows; if your soul demands evidence of such fundamental laws and your mind is already veering towards counter-arguments and exceptions, I’d like to recommend you read the book. There was a lot in it that I disagreed with, and a lot I haven’t made up my mind about. But I must say that Thiel was thorough and concise. The book is short enough to get through in day, and certainly packs a punch.

If you’re already curious to learn more about startups and listen to crazy stories about innovation, this is book is for you as well. Filled to the brim with firsthand accounts of many startup adventures, paired with an in-depth analysis of their inner structure, Thiel brings to light more than a few ‘secrets’ about building an ultra-successful company from the ground up.

The book has so many provocative claims that frankly it’s hard to pick just one to add here, but I think the following perfectly captures the thesis of the book in a nutshell:

EVERY MOMENT IN BUSINESS happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network.

If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.