ZERO to ONE: Notes on Startup, or How to Build the Future

Zero to One by Peter Thiel, this book is about the questions you must ask and answer to succeed in the business of doing new things, going from 0 to 1.

Startups operate on the principle that you need to work with other people to get stuff done, but you also need to stay small enough so that you actually can. Positively defined, a startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future.


The entrepreneurs who stuck with Silicon Valley learned four big lessons from the dot-com crash that still guide business thinking today:

  1. Make incremental advances – change the world, start with one step at a time
  2. Stay lean and flexible – plan is subject ti change, instead you should try things out, iterate
  3. Improve on the competition – competition proves that there’s a market opportunity
  4. Focus on product, not sales – the only sustainable growth is viral growth

Technology companies often lose money for the first few years: it takes time to build valuable things, and that means delayed revenue.

Every monopoly is unique, but they usually share some combination of the following characteristics:

  1. Proprietary Technology – should be at least 10X better than its closest substitute
  2. Network Effects
  3. Economies of Scale
  4. Branding

In order to get these four combination to work, you need to choose your market carefully and expand deliberately.

  • Start Small and Monopolize – Every startup is small at the start. Every monopoly dominates a large share of its market. Therefore, every startup should start with a very small market.
  • Scaling Up – Once you create and dominate a niche market, then you should gradually expand into related and slightly broader markets. Amazon shows how it can be done.

Every great company is unique, but there are a few things that every business must get right at the beginning. A startup messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed.

  • When you start something, the first and most crucial decision you make is whom to start it with. Choosing a co-founder is like getting married, and founder conflict is just as ugly as divorce.
  • Technical abilities and complementary skill sets matter, but how well the founders know each other and how well they work together matter just as much. Founders should share prehistory before they start a company together — other wise they’re just rolling dice.

“Company Culture” doesn’t exist apart from the company itself: no company has a culture; every company is a culture. A startup is a team of people on a mission, and a good culture is just what that looks like on the inside.

  • At PayPal, we set out to hire people who would actually enjoy working together. They had to be talented, but even more than that they had to be excited about working specifically with us.
  • You should ask yourself: Why would someone join your company as its 20th engineer when she could go work at Google for more money and more prestige?
  • There are two general kinds of good answers: Your Mission and Your Team! You will attract the employees you need if you can explain why your mission is compelling: not why it’s important in general, but why you’re doing something important that no one else is going to get done.
  • “Are these kind of people I want to work with?” You should be able to explain why your company is a unique match for him personally. And if you can’t do that, he’s probably not the right match.

Our task for today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better to go from 0 to 1. The essential first step is to think for yourself. Only by seeing our work anew, as fresh and strange as it was to the ancients who saw it first, can we both re-create it and preserve it for the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s