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Zero to One
Cover of Zero to One
Zero to One
Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER


If you want to build a better future, you must believe in secrets.

The great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. In Zero to One, legendary entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel shows how we can find singular ways to create those new things.

Thiel begins with the contrarian premise that we live in an age of technological stagnation, even if we’re too distracted by shiny mobile devices to notice. Information technology has improved rapidly, but there is no reason why progress should be limited to computers or Silicon Valley. Progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business. It comes from the most important skill that every leader must master: learning to think for yourself.

Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace. They will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.

Zero to One presents at once an optimistic view of the future of progress in America and a new way of thinking about innovation: it starts by learning to ask the questions that lead you to find value in unexpected places.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER


If you want to build a better future, you must believe in secrets.

The great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. In Zero to One, legendary entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel shows how we can find singular ways to create those new things.

Thiel begins with the contrarian premise that we live in an age of technological stagnation, even if we’re too distracted by shiny mobile devices to notice. Information technology has improved rapidly, but there is no reason why progress should be limited to computers or Silicon Valley. Progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business. It comes from the most important skill that every leader must master: learning to think for yourself.

Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace. They will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.

Zero to One presents at once an optimistic view of the future of progress in America and a new way of thinking about innovation: it starts by learning to ask the questions that lead you to find value in unexpected places.

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Excerpts-
  • Preface Preface

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

    Of course, it’s easier to copy a model than to make something new. Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1. The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange.

    Unless they invest in the difficult task of creating new things, American companies will fail in the future no matter how big their profits remain today. What happens when we’ve gained everything to be had from fine- tuning the old lines of business that we’ve inherited? Unlikely as it sounds, the answer threatens to be far worse than the crisis of 2008. Today’s “best practices” lead to dead ends; the best paths are new and untried.

    In a world of gigantic administrative bureaucracies both public and private, searching for a new path might seem like hoping for a miracle. Actually, if American business is going to succeed, we are going to need hundreds, or even thou­sands, of miracles. This would be depressing but for one cru­cial fact: humans are distinguished from other species by our ability to work miracles. We call these miracles technology.

    Technology is miraculous because it allows us to do more with less, ratcheting up our fundamental capabilities to a higher level. Other animals are instinctively driven to build things like dams or honeycombs, but we are the only ones that can invent new things and better ways of making them. Humans don’t decide what to build by making choices from some cosmic catalog of options given in advance; instead, by creating new technologies, we rewrite the plan of the world. These are the kind of elementary truths we teach to second graders, but they are easy to forget in a world where so much of what we do is repeat what has been done before.
     
    Zero to One is about how to build companies that cre­ate new things. It draws on everything I’ve learned directly as a co-founder of PayPal and Palantir and then an investor in hundreds of startups, including Facebook and SpaceX. But while I have noticed many patterns, and I relate them here, this book offers no formula for success. The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innova­tive. Indeed, the single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.
     
    This book stems from a course about startups that I taught at Stanford in 2012. College students can become extremely skilled at a few specialties, but many never learn what to do with those skills in the wider world. My primary goal in teaching the class was to help my students see beyond the tracks laid down by academic specialties to the broader future that is theirs to create. One of those students, Blake Masters, took detailed class notes, which circulated far be­yond the campus, and in Zero to One I have worked with him to revise the notes for a wider audience. There’s no reason why the future should happen only at Stanford, or in college, or in Silicon...
About the Author-
  • Peter Thiel is an entrepreneur and investor. He started PayPal in 1998, led it as CEO, and took it public in 2002, defining a new era of fast and secure online commerce. In 2004 he made the first outside investment in Facebook, where he serves as a director. The same year he launched Palantir Technologies, a software company that harnesses computers to empower human analysts in fields like national security and global finance. He has provided early funding for LinkedIn, Yelp, and dozens of successful technology startups, many run by former colleagues who have been dubbed the “PayPal Mafia.” He is a partner at Founders Fund, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has funded companies like SpaceX and Airbnb. He started the Thiel Fellowship, which ignited a national debate by encouraging young people to put learning before schooling, and he leads the Thiel Foundation, which works to advance technological progress and long- term thinking about the future.

    Blake Masters was a student at Stanford Law School in 2012 when his detailed notes on Peter’s class “Computer Science 183: Startup” became an internet sensation. He is President of The Thiel Foundation and Chief Operating Officer of Thiel Capital. 


Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 11, 2014
    In his first book, PayPal cofounder Thiel presents a series of musings—for example,“Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1”—rather than a cohesive narrative. He begins with promise, drawing a strict distinction between horizontal progress—making more of what already exists in the world—and vertical progress—creating something entirely new. To accomplish the latter, he proposes, more businesses need to think like startups. From there, the text sprawls wildly from one subject to the next, with periodic references to PayPal’s evolution as the main recurring motif. His provocative central premise is that successful businesses should strive to be monopolies—that readers should build something singular and exciting enough that it will be the only one of its kind. Though the book is presented as an instructional guide, it gives the reader little to take away. A brief meditation on the lessons of the dot-com bust (“make incremental advances,” “stay lean and flexible,” “improve on the competition,” “focus on product, not sales”) offers standard truisms rather than practical insights. Thiel touches on how to build a successful business, but the discussion is too abstract to offer much to the next Steve Jobs—or Peter Thiel.

  • Kirkus

    September 1, 2014
    Legendary startup icon and venture capitalist Thiel and Masters reveal how they succeed with startups and why business school graduates most often do not. Known as a co-founder of Paypal and early investor in Facebook and SpaceX, billionaire Thiel and his former student, Masters, are not offering tips on becoming superrich. Surprisingly, they are contemptuous of finance, which they call "the only way to make money when you have no idea how to create wealth." They offer an older model of business based on the potential earnings foreseeable as a by-product of the transformations associated with leaps in technology into unserved spaces in human activity. Paypal and Facebook are good examples. The authors distinguish their own thinking and methods from the orthodoxies of the financial and business communities. Lively and often acerbic, Thiel and Masters leave many of today's business shibboleths trashed along the way. They are unabashed proponents of monopoly to control and secure profit for reinvestment, and they assert, agreeing with thinkers like Walter Lippmann, that "[c]apitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition all profits get competed away." In their view, monopoly is how technological innovators successfully change the rules with order-of-magnitude improvements instead of incremental advances. Thiel and Masters provide rules of thumb and case studies drawn from experiences, all bound up with their radically different business methods and practices. Their views on viral marketing and the importance of sales will be of interest to aspiring entrepreneurs, as will their dismissal of current ideas of market and technological disruption. They don't hide their dislike of the use of stock options as incentives for business leadership. Forceful and pungent in its treatment of conventional orthodoxies-a solid starting point for readers thinking about building a business.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2015

    In this thought-provoking read, the authors ask readers to reconsider entrenched ideas about how we look at the economics and philosophy of small business.

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from September 15, 2014
    A self-professed contrarian and proud of it, PayPal cofounder Thiel riffs on a series of his lectures given at Stanford. His major contention? That copycats are not what America needs, calling for, instead, those entrepreneurs who'll challenge convention and build a different, better world. As proof, he dissects, in some details, the dot.com boom and contrasts its faux learnings (e.g., make incremental advances) from the truthbetter to risk boldness than triviality. Why monopolies, beginning with small market/niche domination, will win. The mechanics of cofounders and establishing a company cult. An investigation into the failures of clean techwith one notable exception: Tesla. The one question to ask: What valuable company is no one building? Thiel pokes at and prods every corner of business, from recruiting to advertising and competition, never shy about his opinions. Two samples: Too many people are starting their own companies today and All Rhodes scholars had a great future in their past. Irreverent, with the disclaimer that truth can be stranger than fiction.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • The Economist "Crisply written, rational and practical, Zero to One should be read not just by aspiring entrepreneurs but by anyone seeking a thoughtful alternative to the current pervasive gloom about the prospects for the world."
  • The New Republic "An extended polemic against stagnation, convention, and uninspired thinking. What Thiel is after is the revitalization of imagination and invention writ large..."
  • - Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook "This book delivers completely new and refreshing ideas on how to create value in the world."
  • - Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla "Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and Zero to One shows how."
  • - Marc Andreessen, co-creator of the world's first web browser, co-founder of Netscape, and venture capitalist at Andreessen Horowitz " Zero to One is the first book any working or aspiring entrepreneur must read--period."
  • - Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO, GE "Zero to One is an important handbook to relentless improvement for big companies and beginning entrepreneurs alike. Read it, accept Peter's challenge, and build a business beyond expectations."
  • - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan "When a risk taker writes a book, read it. In the case of Peter Thiel, read it twice. Or, to be safe, three times. This is a classic."
  • - Fortune "Thiel has drawn upon his wide-ranging and idiosyncratic readings in philosophy, history, economics, anthropology, and culture to become perhaps America's leading public intellectual today"
  • - Tyler Cowen, New York Times best-selling author of < "Peter Thiel, in addition to being an accomplished entrepreneur and investor, is also one of the leading public intellectuals of our time. Read this book to get your first glimpse of how and why that is true."
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