by ADN

October 22, 2014

ZeroToOneZero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future Hardcover – September 16, 2014

by Peter Thiel (Author), Blake Masters (Author)

ASIN: 0804139296

As Autism Daily Newscast reported here, Peter Thiel made a number of thought-provoking statements during the promotional conference of his book, “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future“. In his book, Thiel suggests that people without an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often walk out on ideas, that might at first seem strange, which becomes their weakness. Thiel perceives that successful ideas are often the unconventional, strange ones.

We decided to do a more generic review of the book.

If all things were equal it would have been great to sit in on Peter Theil’s lectures. However, in this case  his latest book rightfully titled Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future serves as a great substitute. This is a book that was written to help condition the reader’s mind to know how to think, as opposed to telling the reader what he or she should be thinking. This is what makes the application of the main principles very useful and also timeless.

The book is a compilation of notes taken in class by co author Blake Masters when Theil was teaching at Stanford University, in California.Wondering what going from zero to one means in the context of the book? It simply means beginning at ground zero and trying to establish a brand new foundation. This is not the usual type of ‘how to‘ books. The reader is supposed to learn how to innovate new ideas, that no one else has ever thought about before. This is the only way someone will be able to invent brand new products and services.

Who is Peter Thiel?

He is the entrepreneur and investor who helped define a new era of online commerce when he co-founded PayPal in 1998, and was CEO until they went public in the year 2002. Then he went on to invest in Facebook in 2004 where is currently still one of the directors. He also helped launch the software company called Palantir Technologies. Peter has also along with his former Paypal colleagues funded many successful start ups including Yelp and LinkedIn.

At Founders Fund which is located in Silicon Valley which provided capital for, Theil is also a partner there. He is also the mastermind behind the Thiel Fellowship, which encourages the younger generation to put more energy into learning than schooling. The work of his Thiel Foundation should not be a surprise; it pushes advancement in technology as well as how to think about the long term future.

Who is Blake Masters?

He attended Stanford Law School in the year 2012. His highly detailed notes on Theil’s “Computer Science 183: Startup” class became a hit on the internet. He is now the co-founder of a legal research technology start-up called Judicata, based in San Francisco.

The two authors do not share any of their own ideas, for obvious reasons. Instead simple tools and frameworks are provided that make it easier to understand their concept. Readers are taken back to Peter’s Paypal days and he exposes the lessons he learnt both positive and negative. The majority of the principles and ideas may seem strange when they are initially presented. The others may seem way too obvious, but the argument is that  if applied, the reader will start visualizing a different world. Pay attention to the section on ‘start ups’ especially if you are an entrepreneur. This is the section where Theil lays out all his thought process models.

Readers will appreciate how the authors were able to use simple and straight to the point words, as well as concepts to put forward their thoughts in this book.  The foundation chapter should be read first. It is the core basis for Thiel’s law, which simply states that a start-up messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed. The book has a very linear format, and this makes it easy to skip through it and read chapters of interested once finished the recommended first chapter.

Thiel also outlines seven questions that every business should be able to answer, in the profitability chapter. No one is forced fed a bunch of formulas. Quite the opposite, questions are proposed that are designed to steer minds away from the normal, in order to open eyes to the endless possibilities. The authors want individuals to be able to start a company that will impact the world in a unique and meaningful way. Blake employs a direct style of writing that leaves no room for fluff and just gets straight to the point.  The visual data, real life examples, evidence and even personal stories make the book far more compelling.

Although overall this is an excellent book there are a couple of minor weak points. The book attempts to cover too many different subjects from salesman qualities to globalization to historical trends to artificial intelligence. It can feel like you are reading more than one book. A few of the examples could have been more concrete. Theil also seems lose focus in the last section of the book, were he tends to ramble on a bit more. The book could probably have done without the references to several pop stars including Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. But perhaps that is what makes it more marketable?

Zero to One takes one on a journey into the mind of one Silicon Valley heavyweight. It is loaded with information that is surprising and many provocative brilliant ideas. After reading this book the reader may have a different perspective of things. Perhaps he or she will find it easier to expand thoughts on different ideas as well as concepts presented. This is largely a business book, and it does a very good job at giving a good overview to the world of business. Still, the authors were able to subtly squeeze in a political lesson as well. Get a copy of this new age business book, and then afterwards consider purchasing a copy of Blake’s class notes as well.

Highly recommended for entrepreneurs and business people.


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