Book Reviews

Book Review: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Recently I reviewed the book ‘Zero to One’ by PayPal founder Peter Thiel. You can watch it below.

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Here’s my notes for the making of the review.

this week it’s the great book about creationism. not the book of genesis. It’s Peter Thiel’s zero to one.
This video was delayed because I actually read this book twice in two weeks.
My mind was, in fact, blown. A term I don’t use lightly, or often.
First off – who is Peter Thiel? Perhaps he is most famous as a founder of Paypal, and an investor and advisor in Facebook.
In other words, he’s bloody rich, and powerful. And a law school grad, so don’t mess with him.
So, what is Zero to One? The term itself is talking about innovation.
To do more of the same is to go from 1 to n. To create something new is to go from 0 (nothing) to 1 (something).
The best example is that globalization is to go from 1 to n. Technology is to go from 0 to 1.
Thiel, like myself, is an unabashed technologist. He puts forward a compelling argument that technological change is what will guide the future – and what fueled the dramatic change in human existence between 1770 (the steam engine) and 1970 (the computer). We need technological breakthroughs otherwise we are screwed, environmentally speaking. If China and India simply copies the American consumption model, and the american fuel model, the world is doomed.
Since 1970, apart from computers and communication, pretty much nothing has really changed (I would argue that medicine has evolved, but perhaps not gone from 0 to 1).
The book is meant not as a playbook for creating a company, but, as inspiration and an identifier of the patterns of successful, world changing, companies.
Perhaps because of his legal training (or perhaps he was drawn to legal training because of this) Peter Thiel is a contrarian. He questions the beliefs of the majority – both socially, as in the question ‘What important truth do very few people agree with you on?’ – and the conventional lessons brought about by the belief that technology companies were defined by the dotcom bubble of the late 90s.
He brings up the 4 points that most modern business guru’s talk about:
  1. make incremental advances
  2. Stay lean and flexible
  3. Improve on the competition
  4. Focus on the product, not the sales
He counters with what he believes makes a powerful, lasting company
  1. it is better to risk boldness than triviality
  2. a bad plan is better than no plan
  3. Competitive markets destroy profits
  4. Sales matter just as much as the product
These four points are at the core of the book.
Because Thiel so strongly believes that massive technological change is needed to save the planet, being meek and incremental is just not going to cut it. A different way to sell  shoes online is not really an advancement.
In my mind he takes a straight shot at the likes of Eric Ries and the Lean Startup with comments like this:
“Leanness is a methodology, not a goal”
“Iteration without a bold plan won’t take you from 0 to 1″
But it is his ideas on competition and monopoly I find most interesting. Thiel believes that monopolies have a distinct advantage for not just the company, but society. And by monopolies he means Google, Apple or the days of IBM, AT&T etc. Because when a company has a monopoly they are free from the kingdom wars between rivals. They are free to invent. Competition, as defined by economists, reduces companies to faceless equals, providers of homogenous, replaceable solutions. If you are providing a homogenous solution then by definition you are not changing the world.
There is one piece of solid advice here:
The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: if you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.
I love the quote about the finance industry:
Finance is the only way to create money if you don’t know how to create wealth.
Thiel also argues against Globalization (as I said already about the adopting of western consumerism). Globalization means substitution – you take this job here and move it over there. It is a reshuffling of the deck, a moving of the chess pieces. Through technology though we can get complimentary advancement, not substitution.
The book is filled with valuable information. I believe that it is a business book that – true to the vision of the man behind it – is unique. Thiel is not someone who is on all these podcast shows that seem to swap guests – the very height on undifferentiated. I think Thiel is off creating a better future. This book has made me question everything about how I look at creating new businesses, and the scale at which I should be thinking. It has made me optimistic about the future, and that maybe, for some – too late for old people like me – the utopian vision of the future we had in the 1960s might happen.
This is not an operational book – I still believe that Drucker pointed the way there. But as Thiel says,
arguing over process has become a way to endlessly defer making concrete plans for a better future.
There is so much good stuff in here that I could quote it for days.
If you want to be inspired, and you want to take the high road to builder a better future, then you owe it to yourself to read this book. Many times.
And ask yourself this contrarian question:
What valuable company is nobody building?
Book Reviews

The Lean Startup – Book Review

Recently I went back and re-read ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries. It’s a hugely influential book that rightly had a big impact on technology startups. (I can be, but rarely is, applied outside of tech startups).
I made a video review, but below that are my notes.
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Ries wrote ‘The Lean Startup’ to pop the ballon of this myth
The after the fact rationalisation makes us think that startups just need ‘the right stuff’.
He does so with his 5 lean principles
  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere
  2. Entrepreneurship is everywhere
  3. Managed through a unit of progress called Validated Learning
    1. You think your idea is great. But you need to learn if the customer agrees.
    2. “the learning about how to build a sustainable business is the outcome of those experiments”
  4. You test each unit by going through the build measure learn feedback loop
    1. Each cycle gives you insight into what the customer wants
  5. You measure by using Innovation accounting
    1. You have to measure the right things
Lean Startup is really an extension and improvement on Drucker.
  1. Build a product
    1. Know who your customer is BEFORE
    2. Make an MVP
  2. Take a leap of faith and get started
    1. but know what you don’t know (like if people will pay for music in the case of the iPod)
  3. Test
    1. Attempt to attract the early adopters. They are used to bugs.
    2. Points to measure
      1. Registration
      2. Activation
      3. Retention
    3. When making improvements, the only way to know if it was successful is metrics. So test against baseline.
  4. Measure
    1. actionable
      1. has to have cause/effect so you can make improvements
      2. This is why ‘website visits’ is not a good measurement. You don’t know why (and you have a hard time even counting the hits).
    2. accessible
      1. everyone has to understand what the measurements really mean
      2. “What is a website hit? Nobody is really sure, but everyone knows what a person visiting the website is: one can practically picture those people sitting at their computers”
    3. auditable
      1. “We need to be able to test the data by hand, in the messy real world, by talking to customers. This is the only way to be able to check if the reports contain true facts. Managers need the ability to spot check the data with real customers. ”
  5. Pivot/Persevere
    1. Remember, you’re trying to build a business, not sell a specific product
    2. pivot
      1. Zoom in
        1. based on a single feature
      2. Zoom out
        1. make a broader product
      3. Customer Segment
        1. you’re solving for a different group of people
      4. Customer need
        1. you aren’t answering a need, but you found a new one
    3. A pivot needs to be tested
  6. Growth
    1. Check retention
Book Reviews

Bold by Peter Diamandis – Book Review

Rarely have I been as conflicted about a book as I am with Bold by Peter Diamandis. On one hand, there is some great advice in here and the requisite inspirational stories that modern business books seem to thrive on (though I am very, very tired of people using such exceptions as Uber, Twitter and Facebook).

But, large sections of the book seem to be written in some sort of white america futuristic bubble fantasy. Diamandis seems to extrapolate out that because some guys applied to the SpaceX prize that the world is turning into this level playing field.

You can watch my full book review here

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Book Reviews

Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth – Book Review

I’m a big fan of James Altucher. Sometimes his ‘I’m a screwup’ act gets a little tiring, but, set that aside and often he has some good advice. No exception to this is his book ‘The Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth’. Yes, it’s all over the place. Yes, it’s a bit crazy at times. But still I found it good.

You can watch the full book review here.

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Book Reviews

Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk – Book Review

I only discovered Gary Vaynerchuk (hereafter called Gary V) earlier this year (2015). He seems to have been around for a LONG time. He created his YouTube channel in October 2007. (I, for what it is worth – which is nothing – created mine in July 2006, so Gary’s claims of being an early adopter are not necessarily true. For the record – he DID something with his channel and I did nothing.)

Gary’s start came as ‘that wine guy’ who had a YouTube channel/show that showed taught you about wine. His personality, on camera at least, is a bit tough, rough and certainly not what you’d think a wine connoisseur would be. But he kept at it and today Gary sits atop a successful media company (VaynerMedia) and his lowly YouTube channel has at this writing over 136,000 subscribers. (I have 513 – at my level every one counts!)

Back in 2009 – long before I was paying attention, though I should have been – Gary V published Crush It. I review it in the video below. The verdict is a strong buy! The book is a how to manual on developing your online brand. And setting yourself free from working for other people.

Check it out. Subscribe for weekly book reviews and more (I publish 2 or 3 videos a week right now!).

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Book Reviews

The Millionaire Next Door – Book Review

Another book review – this time of the ever-popular Thomas Stanley/William Danko book, ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ which discusses how anyone, with perseverance and discipline, can attain wealth.

In it I also talk about the ‘Millionaire Next Door Wealth Ratio Calculator’

Book Reviews

The Obstacle is the Way – Book Review

As some of you have been asking what books I’m reading – especially as I said that the thing I liked so much about Tai Lopez is his recommendation to read more – I’ve started to do video book reviews over on my YouTube channel.

Here’s the first one. It’s of Ryan Holiday’s book ‘The Obstacle is the Way’.

I hope you like it. I’m trying to do one a week!