Zero to One

By: Peter Thiel - Read: July 3, 2022 - Rating: 9/10

The bible of starting a massive technology company. Anyone interested in startups needs to read this.

The first principles on (1) what to work on (2) how to work on it to create massive value and (3) how to capture part of the value to build a valuable company.

My Notes

Assorted notes from a small subsection of the book (didn't take notes/lost some of my notes on the rest):

  • You need to believe that there are still many secrets that still need to be found in the worl. This is a huge section for me, because he' right but I used to think in the exact wrong way he's describing for many years (i.e. there are so many people in the world that any good idea or insight is probably already taken/has been thought of before).
  • But more recently, over the past few years, I've switched over, having seen through working in web3 that there are indeed so many secrets and new ideas, even just in this single space.
  • The other sub point of this is understanding that change/innovation can be brought about by anyone.
  • Interesting point about VC - don't spray and pray (as almost all VCs do), just focus on “will this company be the 1 billion+ company? If not it's not worth investing. This also defines personal investment/time-allocation - you shouldn't spend your time doing something unless it's going to generate massive impact.
  • Thiel misses one key point which is that if you care to address something specific (ex: you have an emotional or personal reason to solve a specific problem), that is a good reason to work on it - but that should also be the only type of thing you work on.
  • Think about why the 20th engineer should join your team. Thiel says it's about having people aligned with the same mission. He also says you don't want to Bribe people with perks, but just get people who are actually aligned.
  • The CEOs salary is a benchmark in the company - it's either the lowest in the company as a sign of commitment, and everyone else gets paid more, or as a reasonable pay benchmark to cap salaries.
  • How do you assemble the PayPal mafia? People need to be extremely talented, but also gel together/like working together, and aligned on a specific goal. imo, this is why working on something ambitious that people can get behind is great. Building the founding team is extremely important.
  • Make everyone's role single and distinct. This prevents internal conflict from competition for the same responsibilities, and allows everyone to take ownership. Then individual optimization is not toward competition but toward excellence in your role.
  • Much welcome reminder for all engineers on the importance of sales and teaching people about what you build. Building isn't worth anything externally without selling it and spreading the word. This is why marketing and sales is incredibly important.
  • Key framing: think of distribution as central to the building/design of a product (or part of the product pipeline). Having a product that you don't distribute is having a bad product.
  • Viral products have core functionality that encourages other people to participate.
  • When setting up a distribution channel, the important thing to do is to get one channel right and do it well, not to attempt many (where often, none work).
  • You should always plan to be the last mover in your space/think about how you can achieve this. How can you create something so good that no one else can replace you?