Zero to One — Peter Thiel, Blake Masters (2014)
Never during my undergraduate or postgraduate studies was I so inspired by a course that I shared my notes online, or in my blog (not that this prevented people from photocopying my mind-maps — you know who you are). Even if there was ever anything worth sharing, the professor had inevitably already published their opus. Blake Masters posted his lecture notes online on his Tumblr and it became a ‘sensation’ (in quotes because I don’t know what the barometer is for something to be deemed a sensation — in the US or otherwise). Soon after, the book form, Zero to One was born.
Yes, this book is about startups (or how to build the future) but I honestly think it’s a great primer on how to think about micro-economic theory in an entrepreneurial or innovative environment. Furthermore, it sets out some tick box requirements for a business to work. Even before that, it sets the scene for you on what could potentially motivate or inspire your own business/start-up idea. Thiel (and Masters in his blog account of lecture 1) asks the contrarian question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” and in fact, I think it’s impacted the way I think about VC sourcing, too.
‘Zero to One’ represents innovation, bringing something new to the world resulting in progress. This is not isolated to tech and applications of Moore’s Law, though these are the prevalent examples in the past few decades. The first creation is creating value, pushing a frontier. 1 — n is just repetition. Imitation is not progress (though I would argue that you could set about improving and iterating on what is already known and done). Thus the premise of the book is that to build an innovative business, one must identify a ‘zero’ and work to make it a ‘one’. Subsequently, not only must this create value but we ought to be able to capture some of this value; it must be viable. This is the cornerstone, and more topics are explored in the book.
Zero to One does not contravene ideas from other recent business cum entrepreneurship texts. The Lean Startup may give you a model for iterative development but Zero to One helps to provide that inertia, or at least gives you a starter for 10 points. I thoroughly enjoyed Zero to One and more or less read it in one sitting. It is tightly written but simultaneously light and full of trivia (no wonder I never blogged about my university courses). I now know that Pythagoras was a vegetarian, for example — my maths degree didn’t give me that one! Maybe if they’d been a smidgen more inspirational in the maths faculty I would have shared that on my blog far sooner. Firstly, I would like to recommend this to anyone studying economics, business, finance or entrepreneurship — a high complementary with your learning. Then, I recommend it to everyone else!