Zero to One by Thiel and Masters

The subtitle of this book is “Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.” I would say that I completely agree with that as an excellent title for what you will find within this surprisingly short book.

Personally, I can appreciate a concise read, and Thiel & Masters do that very well. There is just enough support for each claim, and the research is sound. Not to mention the fact that the thing has an index which I find all too uncommon.

You might pass this book up given what kind of companies we’re talking about within the covers.  I came up with several takeaways that would serve me and my small (even micro) businesses. I think if you have a business with employees and big plans, you will get something from this book.

The Start Up

If you are unfamiliar with the nuances of operations within the powerful start ups in Silicon Valley, and maybe even take umbrage with bringing pets or playing ping pong at work, you’ll learn a great deal. I appreciate how well they explain this, and frankly it’s thought provoking.

That fact now leads me to explain to you a little bit about what kind of start ups we’re talking about. The term “start up” commonly defines practically any new business. Even if that business isn’t really doing anything new.

New, is the focus of this book. To start up a business which hasn’t existed before. The epitome of the entrepreneur. Of course, you can split hairs a bit and say that you are doing something that isn’t new in a whole new way, and there’s no shade on that. One is no less an entrepreneur for creating Uber when we already had taxis to ferry people around. In that case, you could say Uber did create something truly NEW in terms of accessibility to riders.


Arguably, my businesses aren’t entrepreneurial on their face. I have an IT services business, slowly building a coaching program start up around my book, and I have some other ideas, but for the most part I’m going to be entering existing markets where others are. What the book helped me understand is that I can still be entrepreneurial with it, but I HAVE to do something NEW. New ways of delivering products and services, of hiring good people, and constantly improving.

That leads to the next part of this which is having control. While I have an IT services business, I don’t surrender any control to a franchise or have exclusive purchasing agreements. One’s ability to be an entrepreneur is controlled by those interests, and the more they control, the less entrepreneurial you can be.


Speaking of control, there’s a fascinating discussion on Competition. The position is that competition is bad. This runs counter to most of my beliefs about business, but I think competition itself and how we address it is more of what is negative. When we see another business as a competitor, we accept that they have a similar product or service and they serve the same customer. When that happens, we suddenly become a commodity broker. The points we compete on become shadows of what we do; price, added values, service speed, etc. Reduced to this, we also accept that we cannot be innovative. We can make variations on a theme, but the base product or service is fundamentally unchanged.

The entrepreneur must exploit the differences in customers between themselves and the competition for their start up. With that, and a healthy dose of separation based on those other qualities, one might be able to innovate themselves far away from the competition and create something unique.

Basic Needs

This is not a book you can use to build a zero-risk successful start up. However, the studies done here highlight the qualities of highly successful start ups and can be a great guide to setting yourself up well for success.

From business structure, founder and employee compensation, to the very thing you focus on building; analysis of the best companies is all here. So too are several stories of failures that we can take lessons from.

As we should all do, we need to plan for the future of our businesses, and this is well covered. Understanding how continuing operations should work, and even a succession or business sale plan has worked for others (and not so much) was very enlightening, even for some of the smallest businesses.

The Future

The book concludes with a culmination of many of the lessons within the book and how they will apply to our shared human future. We really have a future.

At times I’ve thought there’s probably not more amazing discoveries out there to find. It’s easy to think that because a discovery is only amazing AFTER it’s been found and finds application to our lives.

Historical moments are rarely acknowledged in the moment they happen. When I let go of the fact that I should see an amazing discovery and instead open my mind to the fact that any moment can yield it, I find more hope for our continued progress in making humanity greater.

Taking that one step farther, I’ve had thoughts about what a future might look like but I don’t tend to write them down because I have no idea on how to get there. I wanted to create the system, but I must accept that it is just as important to scratch out those thoughts in the hope they might inspire another to connect the dots and create that amazing new world.


I do hope you will pick up Zero to One and enjoy it as much as I have.

2 thoughts on “Zero to One by Thiel and Masters”

  1. Wade,
    I am enjoying your site and some of your content.
    There is an interesting grouping of books and other information.
    I am still stumbling through the site and learning what’s there and where it is.
    At least for me, when I took your survey (SurveyMonkey) it took me to their site and do I want to create a survey. I could not find away to get back to your site; other then closing SurveyMonkey and logging back into your site again.
    Thanks for all the resource links, as it brings much to explore.

    1. Thank you very much for the feedback – glad you’re enjoying the site! I’ll see if SurveyMonkey will allow a re-link to the website. Thanks again!

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