Blessed By a Flu
I was down with a flu last week. Felt shitty but it was also a blessing of sorts as I got to spend a couple of days in bed reading a book. Gave me an opportunity to complete Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. It’s widely known that we only remember 10-20% of what we read in books. Even those we really like. I liked Peter’s book but not enough to re-read it anytime soon. So I think it’s a good idea to write a kind of a review. Will help me remember it and hopefully will help you decide if you should read it.
Peter Thiel is best known as a co-founder of PayPal. I’ve previously read some of his lectures on startup building. He’s pretty good at explaining the dotcom bubble and had a few convincingly practical ideas. And a few quite provocative ones - like his firm belief in the virtue of monopoly. So I was interested to see how all this is packaged in a book. Additionally - he’s been a lot in the media lately due to his famous support of Trump. I have a number of friends in the american technological bourgeoisie and for them supporting Trump is a clear no-no. Unsurprisingly Thiel’s haters camp grew quite a bit in the last year. Which made me even more curious. I’ve always loved provocators and disruptors of public opinion.
The goal of the book is to describe how to build something conceptually new. Be it a product or a company. Hence the name. The real creativity in Peter’s words is going from zero to one - to make something out of nothing. As opposed to taking something that already exists and improving or optimizing it. And he goes on to laying out his maximalistic views on to why it’s only this demiurgian creativity that is interesting or worth pursuing.
It starts with his idee fix of building a monopoly.The concept is pretty close to the blue ocean idea of Kim and Mauborgne. Just under a more provocative sauce. The great thing here is that Thel is the guy who actually created a kind of a monopoly in online payment. Which makes his story certainly more believabe.
In general that’s what I liked about the book - it is very believable. Thiel writes with passion. He truthfully says that small undifferentiated businesses are doomed to eternal fighting against ever-growing competition and low profit margin. And that he sees no point in opening such businesses. This certainly sounds insulting to many proud small business owners but that’s how Thiel sees the world.
He speaks with the same openness and passion when describing their founder team at PayPal. These are the people he’s very fond of - his lifelong friends. I could practically feel his nostalgia for the good old days. The way he depicts startups really made me myself contemplate an idea of abandoning consulting and finding a great startup I could join or co-found. This may still happen. Even though I know that great teams like the one he describes don’t happen everyday. And even when they do - bad leadership can easily blow all that greatness away.
And that for me is the selling point for Peter’s book. He reminds us why it is so great to work in a startup and also provides some criteria to help us decide which startups are worth joining.
He also does quite a good job destroying the myth of robot apocalypse in which computers will steal our jobs. He rightflly notices that technological progress didn’t help us work less. It just changed the type of work we’re doing. So the type of work will definitely continue changing. But not the amount of it. Humans have this inner necessity to create work. Even when they are fed, healthy and warm.
As I already said - I liked the book. It’s quite concise and lays out Thiel’s ideas in a clear way. Even though his ideas could probably be all described in a blog post. In a few places in the book I felt like Peter is trying too hard to explain things that are already clear. In other places he’s just repeating himself.
But all in all - it’s a sincere, non-boring story of a real geek who made it. And that’s what makes it inspiring and educational. I wouldn’t call it a must-read but it’s certainly worth a few hours of your time.