Book Review: Zero to One

Book Review: Zero to One

There is a whole genre of books that have emerged out of the recent infatuation with tech startups; from biographies of Zuckerberg to about a billion cookbooks for success.  I picked this one up because I think Thiel is an interesting guy, a bit Jobs-like in his belief that the technology and even the company are just part of the story.  Jobs tended to believe that art was the other half, Thiel would favor philosophy  This book definitely picks up on that theme.

When Thiel talks about technology and innovation, it’s really hard not to get excited.  He makes some great arguments about why innovation should be able to roam free.  In one, he looks at the paranoia that machines will replace humans.  He makes the very logical point that machines increase our output, but don’t compete for the same resources.  Look beyond the personal element of YOUR job, if machines double the GDP without upping the number of people at all, then it stands to reason that we’ll all benefit in the long run.  He also argues for the allowed existence of monopolies in emerging technology.  He makes a great point that innovation is really driven by the goal of being so much better than the competition that the competition can’t really compete at all.  If we limit the possibility of that, we limit the possibility of innovation.  Besides, the only thing that can topple a truly innovative idea (besides corruption or poor management) is an innovation that outdoes it.

His ideas on starting a company and building a team are as good as you’d expect from a guy that has started two separate $1B companies and formed a team at the first one that has gone on to start 7 total $1B companies.  He has a great discussion of how companies are built on secrets and how great founders find a way to make those secrets known to a small group of overwhelmed customers first, then the rest of the world.  He also lays out the aspects that make a great founding team; a connection that goes beyond professionalism, being conspirators, and hoodies (something that makes you different from everyone else).

The only chapter I didn’t find interesting was the last one.  I feel that Thiel has something to say about what makes a great founder, but I don’t think he says it in the last chapter.  He shows charts about distributions and compares founders to royalty, but never quite gets around to making his point.

Overall this book is a definite read for the aspiring entrepreneur.