Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Peter Thiel, Blake Masters
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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.
to think hard to discover it. If you wanted in on Pythagoras’s new discovery, joining his strange vegetarian cult was the best way to learn about it. Today, his geometry has become a convention—a simple truth we teach to grade schoolers. A conventional truth can be important—it’s essential to learn elementary mathematics, for example—but it won’t give you an edge. It’s not a secret. Remember our contrarian question: what important truth do very few people agree with you on? If we already
showing for a third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. And whatever the cultural fascination with Nirvana, grunge, and heroin reflected, it wasn’t hope or confidence. Silicon Valley felt sluggish, too. Japan seemed to be winning the semiconductor war. The internet had yet to take off, partly because its commercial use was restricted until late 1992 and partly due to the lack of user-friendly web browsers. It’s telling that when I arrived at Stanford in 1985, economics, not
back home. Our product made that effortless, but the transactions were too infrequent. We needed a smaller niche market segment with a higher velocity of money—a segment we found in eBay “PowerSellers,” the professional vendors who sold goods online through eBay’s auction marketplace. There were 20,000 of them. Most had multiple auctions ending each day, and they bought almost as much as they sold, which meant a constant stream of payments. And because eBay’s own solution to the payment problem
U.S. solar energy market isn’t the relevant market? What if the relevant market is the global solar market, with a production capacity of 18 gigawatts? Your 100 megawatts now makes you a very small fish indeed: suddenly you own less than 1% of the market. And what if the appropriate measure isn’t global solar, but rather renewable energy in general? Annual production capacity from renewables is 420 gigawatts globally; you just shrank to 0.02% of the market. And compared to the total global
increase supply, drive prices down, and thereby eliminate the profits that attracted them in the first place. If too many firms enter the market, they’ll suffer losses, some will fold, and prices will rise back to sustainable levels. Under perfect competition, in the long run no company makes an economic profit. The opposite of perfect competition is monopoly. Whereas a competitive firm must sell at the market price, a monopoly owns its market, so it can set its own prices. Since it has no