How to “Create Value in the World” with Zero to One
By Blake Masters, co-author of Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (Crown Business, September 2014)
What important truth do very few people agree with you on? It sounds like an easy question. It isn’t. Wrestle with it for a few moments and you may be tempted to give up, but don’t. Every great business—indeed, every way in which the future will be different and better than the present—is rooted in a good answer to this question. Contrarian truths may be hard to find, but in a world in which so much of what we do is to simply repeat what’s been done before, creating new value means thinking from first principles, not following the crowd.
Why read Zero to One in school? The book itself stems from a course that storied investor and entrepreneur Peter Thiel taught at Stanford in 2012. I was a student in that class. Peter told us everything he’d learned about innovation and building new things. I posted detailed course notes online and, for a while, reading those notes was the best way to learn what Peter knows about the world and how to change it. But while the notes captured the excitement in the room, the future won’t just happen at Stanford or in Silicon Valley. To start a wider conversation, Peter and I have refined and expanded on the best ideas from the class to make a richer, fresher, more readable text.
Equal parts practical business advice and big-picture insights on the future of technology and innovation, Zero to One is structured as a series of answers to contrarian questions: we explain, among other things, how competition destroys profits; why every great business is a monopoly; how “lean” thinking and hedging your bets can fail you; why founding moments matter most; and how the great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and valuable new things to create. The result isn’t a playbook or a set of formulas to follow, but rather an exercise in what college promises (and sometimes delivers): how to think for yourself.
Blake Masters was a student at Stanford Law School in 2012 when his detailed notes on Peter’s Thiel’s class “Computer Science 183: Startup” became an internet sensation. He went on to co-found Judicata, a legal research technology startup.