Zero to One

  • by Peter Thiel, Blake Masters
  • Narrated by Blake Masters
  • 4 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 network. If you are copying these guys, you aren't learning from them.
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.
Progress comes from monopoly, not competition.
If you do what has never been done and you can do it better than anybody else, you have a monopoly - and every business is successful exactly insofar as it is a monopoly. But the more you compete, the more you become similar to everyone else. From the tournament of formal schooling to the corporate obsession with outdoing rivals, competition destroys profits for individuals, companies, and society as a whole.
Zero to One is about how to build companies that create new things. It draws on everything Peter Thiel has learned directly as a co-founder of PayPal and Palantir and then an investor in hundreds of startups, including Facebook and SpaceX. The single most powerful pattern Thiel has noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas. Ask not, what would Mark do? Ask: What valuable company is nobody building?


What the Critics Say

"This book delivers completely new and refreshing ideas on how to create value in the world." (Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Seems Insightful Until You Think A Little Deeper

What made the experience of listening to Zero to One the most enjoyable?

I am a fan of Peter Thiel, and have read the notes from the Stanford course upon which this book is based. The course notes are better because they expound better on the broad concepts. In the end, the audiobook is certainly worth the price of purchase, but I fail to give it 5 stars because I know from these notes that Thiel can do better.

To summarize two broad concepts, businesses should pursue monopoly because that is where the lion's share of profit is made. Think about Google's monopoly in search (see my comment below about this), or Microsoft's former monopoly in operating systems. Thiel artfully demonstrates how profits flow in a Power Law to these types of firms. Good enough. I agree wholeheartedly with this concept, and Thiel does a better job of explaining it than a dry Econ 101 textbook, but at its heart, it's not new thinking.

The second broad concept is that a series of Power Laws dictate a range of commercialization activities, from the aforementioned profit flow to fundraising success to income to hollywood hits to you name it. This bears repeating because so many entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking that markets they are entering are more linear.

Both of the concepts are intertwined, and this is where Thiel could do better (he does do better in the course notes).

First of all, monopolies don't become such until one is made, and until that point, it is utterly non-obvious to the vast majority of others. Google's search monopoly, which isn't really a search monopoly but an advertising monopoly, was so unapparent that at the time of Google's founding, most of the smart money had decided that portals were the wave of the future. Only Google decided that building a better search engine was the way to go, and even they did not conceive of their advertising monopoly until many years later. Today, it appears obvious, but it discounts the incredible risks, the incredible execution, and yes, an incredible dose of luck to make it happen.

Second, the book glosses over (again, the course notes don't) another startling fact, which is that there are more powers laws at work to execute the creation of a monopoly. Some of these are:

1) Raising money. I know from experience that raising money requires years of nurturing contacts, and just appearing on an investors' doorstep to say, "I have a vision for a monopoly I want to create" will get you thrown out more often than not. Only a small number of people who are starting out have the ability to cross the chasm between getting funded and not. I would contend that having money to build out your monopoly is one of the prime factors to creating a monopoly. It's a chicken and egg problem.

2) Talent. The best talent wants to work with the best team, but how do you become the best team without having the money (see #1) or the yet-unborn monopoly? Thiel mostly discounts the role of luck, and I found that disingenous. Just take Thiel's own experience. How lucky was it that the two most formidable competitors in payments in 1999, headed by transformational leaders (Thiel and Elon Musk) were located within a few blocks of each other, making them capable of merging and becoming Paypal? How many payments companies might have rivaled Paypal if they were located next door to Elon Musk (not to mention Reid Hoffman and the rest of the mafia)?

3) Geography. Expanding on the concept of #2, there is a Power Law at work for people who are able to get into and afford Stanford Law? Without this, would Thiel be where he is today? Not to mention the founders of Yahoo, Google, Cisco, et al?

4) Buzz. Another chicken and egg problem is that of building buzz. Journalists only want to cover hot companies, but how do you become hot without building buzz? Only a small number of companies are able to cross this chasm.

In the course notes (but not the book), Thiel talks about 11 facets of building a company. You can miss on two or three of them. Otherwise, you are toast. It's threading about 8 needles at a time. These are the concepts that should have been expanded upon. To be fair, this would probably require a multi-volume set.

Thiel discounts the Gladwellian notion that any outlier success can be traced to some fortuitous events. Though I agree that these events are only obvious in hindsight, I'm not convinced.

To me, instruction about crossing these multiple chasms would be more helpful to those of us outside of the valley bubble. Not even "Crossing the Chasm" does a good job of that.

What about Blake Masters’s performance did you like?

He did an admirable job for not being a trained voice actor

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

My review tells the story. I was unsatisfied.

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- Mark Brandon

Mostly worthless drivel

This is your typical pop business book, slapping together the same tired examples to make some loosely related points, each either trivial yammering or overblown, unsubstantiated hype. The first hour is dedicated to zealous defense of monopolies, based on an extended false dichotomy with perfect competition.

If you're reading it to gather talking points for golf course or water cooler schmoozing, you'll get your money's worth. If you're interested in an exploration of the mechanisms of innovation in business, as the book promises, you'll be sorely disappointed.
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- Dave "I enjoy mostly classics, sci-fi, and sci-fi classics"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-16-2014
  • Publisher: Random House Audio