Peter Thiel’s Zero to One

I finished Peter Thiel’s Zero to One some weeks ago and found it fascinating. Thiel co-founded PayPal and Palantir, and made early investments in Facebook, SpaceX and LinkedIn. In the book he shows us what successful startups are made of.

Thiel compares doing new things (startups) with copying things that work (established companies). In the global scale, these correspond to technology versus globalization. With the recent decades’ focus on globalization, technology has been playing a second violin. Perhaps this is the reason why growth has slowed in developed economies.

What is missing? Ambitious plans. The world needs new Apollo programmes: ambitious goals with definite plans. For some reason, people in general have lost their their belief in planning. In startup world, you can see this in the lionization of lean startups.

Successful startups plan big. Thiel mentions seven things that lead to success. For example, Tesla has them all:

  1. Technology: So good that even its competitors rely on it.
  2. Timing: It extracted $465 million loan from government during the clean tech boom in 2010.
  3. Monopoly: It built a small but total monopoly with its roadster and only then expanded down market.
  4. Team: Strong in both technology and sales.
  5. Distribution: Tesla has its own network of retail stores.
  6. Durability: Strong brand and continuing innovation.
  7. Secrets: Tesla had the insight that fashion drove sales in clean tech. So they built a car that made their owners look both eco-friendly and cool.

I found the book really fascinating. For me the main takeaway was that to build something ambitious, you have to believe you have control over it. In agile software development circles, have we become trapped in our mindset of indeterminism and iteration?

One thought on “Peter Thiel’s Zero to One

  1. Matti says:

    >have we become trapped in our mindset of indeterminism and iteration?

    Yes. I also find agile developers / development enforcing customer to give up from her Apollo programmes claiming that “that’s waterfall”, “you don’t understand agile [we need to be able to charge more money from you by just making this project go on forever with our 2-week, definitely not 4-week, sprints]” and “let’s create an MVP [without really listening or aiming big]”.

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