Zero To One

Peter Thiel, ca. 210 pages, Virgin Books (2014)


  • Sinn und Werte
  • Haltung und Selbstorganisation
  • Innovation und Veränderung

In the 2014 published New York Times Bestseller, the co-founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, shares business principles for startups to innovate and successfully create the future. Principles, not formulas as he explains, as every innovation is by definition unique.

Peter Thiel defines future as the moments still to come and sees technology (0 to 1) to be the rescuer over other factors, like globalization (1 to n). Peter shares insight into the startup years in the 90ies and summarizes the learning into principles like: Every happy company is different. The dominant hint is to avoid competition, create a monopoly, even if it is in a small market. Monopolists can think about other things than making money. Some of his advices may save time and money not only for startups: do not get into rivalry. If you need to fight then ‘strike hard and finish quickly’ or ‘don’t throw any punches’.

Enterprise examples referred to are all Silicon Valley based and include PayPal, Google, Apple, Zygna, LinkedIn, Oracle, Groupon and Amazon. Start small, Thiel writes, invent something completely new, develop proprietary technology, leverage networks, seek for scale effects and finally brand for coolness. Definite optimism is described as the best foundation for making plans and to succeed. Knowing the power law and focusing on a few things versus the usually taught portfolio thinking in investment.

When it comes to cultural comparisons across the globe, the book seems to be static, US biased, if you will. Another criticism may be the partially used language, which can produce a too narrow thinking in its reader’s mind, like ‘companies exist to make money’ or xy -industry ‘war’ and is not serving the book’s intention to create new enterprises with a unique purpose. A bigger picture and innovation for the sake of a better future would have given the book not only principles but also a direction. Only in his last paragraph, Peter acknowledges that we have to start to make the world not just different but better.

Zero To On is strongest when Peter summarizes his experiences straightforward: ‘A startup is a team of people on a mission’ and ‘a company has no culture, but is the culture’. We recommend the reading because of the rich entrepreneurial expertise, which formes Thiel’s perspective. Some of his provocative questions like ‘What valuable company is nobody building?’ may help the reader to find his/her own answers and lead to a breakthrough innovation. His critical reflections on recent cleantech companies’ failures certainly inspire future founders to be more successful.

Tripl3Leader recommends the reading for leaders who plan to, or already started to lead a spin-off. Also for leaders responsible for breakthrough innovation in their companies who want to reflect on their technology, timing, market, team and durability. Finally, the book might be of interest for those of us who are selecting and acquiring promising startups.