Zero to One

Summary Written by Andrea Fuller
"A Startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future."

- Zero to One, page 10

The Big Idea

Startups Inherently Question Business Norms

"…that is what a startup has to do: question received ideas and rethink business from scratch."- Zero to One, page 11

There is a lot of mystery and romance around working for or owning a startup. Why do some work when they seem to bunk conventional business wisdom, why do others fail when all success indicators seem perfect?

According to Peter if you understand the true business nature of startups by understanding where they lie within the grand scheme of all business, then you very clearly start to understand the why around which ones succeed and which ones fail.

In this case it’s understanding that a successful startup inherently isn’t going to conduct business as normal. It’s going to inherently rework standard norms and create a solution or product that goes against the grain.

That thought is a touch deceiving, but here is a perfect example to bring it to life. Uber. Who would have thought that the world needed any more hired drivers? Taxis and limos have been serving us all just fine for quite some time. Why would you think starting Uber would be a good idea?

The founders of Uber didn’t buy into the conventional wisdom that the hired driver industry in its long-standing format was the only way to do business. They saw a need for an on-demand service that could be driven (no pun intended) by your smartphone, and provide people with the luxury of a limo service for cheaper than a taxi fare. They also reinvented how the drivers were hired, paid and did their jobs.

Overall, a perfect example of ignoring doing business the standard way but instead “rethinking business from scratch.”

Insight #1

Find Your Secret, Find Your Success

"The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator."- Zero to One, page 106

If inherently startups are meant to rethink business from scratch, practically how do you do that? According to Peter Thiel it’s contingent upon you discovering your own secret. Secrets can be:

  1. natural – those you find in our physical world
  2. people – those behaviors, likes, dislikes that people have but may not want to share.

Discovering natural secrets are much harder to uncover, but Peter certainly doesn’t want to discourage people from looking. Creating a business shouldn’t be about making a quick buck, but rather about creating something that you are interested in and passionate about.

The people secrets are a little bit easier to discover because they involve observing human nature.

An example would be Airbnb. The people secret was twofold:

  1. People didn’t want to be forced to pay high hotel rates
  2. People who wanted to rent their room had a hard time doing so reliably and safely

Voila, Airbnb! There is a little more to it, but it began because the founders saw a behavioral desire for both customers and homeowners.

Finding your secret can be as simple as observing human behavior/desires and finding a way to deliver a product/service that fits it.

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Insight #2

A Good Culture is Inherent to the Mission

"…no company has a culture; every company is a culture."- Zero to One, page 119

There is a lot of talk these days about how to create the perfect company culture. This books discusses that shouldn’t be so much a concern, because it’s tied directly to the mission of the company.

If you hire a team that is bought in and committed to the mission the startup is espousing then the culture is built in. People who work for startups are a special breed; they are risk takers, they are good working in and amongst uncertainty, and most of all they are cause driven.

It all goes back to what a successful startup is: “…the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future.”

The key to creating that culture according to Peter Thiel is in finding and hiring likeminded people. Likeminded in the way they are committed to what the company is trying to achieve.

A startup that wants to be successful has to embody what a team really is. A group of unique people that work together, not because they are nice or saints, but because they all believe in a greater cause—the company mission.

A successful startup is successful because of a gimmick or cool new marketing strategy they gambled on and won. A successful startup is so because:

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Peter Thiel

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.

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