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Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups

Session 9

Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups

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Session 9

Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups


Executive Summary


Thiel is a billionaire entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. He co-founded PayPal and Palantir, made the first outside investment in Facebook, funded companies like SpaceX and LinkedIn, and started the Thiel Fellowship, which encourages young people to put learning before college.

1. Each moment happens once: You won’t learn anything new if you just copy those who have succeeded. Companies should not fine-tune best practices but find new and untraveled paths.

2. Entrepreneurship cannot be reduced to a formula. Rather, it’s about finding value in unexpected places. 

3. The best interview question: Thiel likes to ask what unique truth an interviewee knows that very few people agree upon. It’s a difficult question because the American education system is flawed and teaches linear thinking.

4. Four counter-lessons that contradict conventional Silicon Valley wisdom:

  • It’s better to risk boldness than triviality.
  • A bad plan is better than no plan.
  • Competitive markets destroy profits.
  • Sales matter just as much as product.

5. Progress comes from monopoly, not competition: Monopolies drive innovation and progress because a lock on years of profits “provides a powerful incentive to innovate.” E.g., Google’s dominance in search enabled and incentivized its investments in self-driving cars, wearable computers, and AI.

6. A company’s most important strength: According to Thiel, it’s a company’s team and how well its members work together. Founding a company is like building a house: you can’t build on a flawed foundation.

7. Technological progress will be made by “definite optimists”: The definite optimist has a concrete plan and strongly believes the future will be better than today. The indefinite optimist is bullish on the future but lacks any design for how to make it possible. The definite pessimist has a specific future vision but believes it to be bleak. The indefinite pessimist is bearish on the future but has no idea what to do about it.

Find Peter Thiel’s Zero to One here. Summary by Aaron Tao, 2021.



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