Zero to One summary
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Zero to One Summary Review | Book by Peter Thiel

Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

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Zero to One by Peter Thiel is a book about entrepreneurship and the power of innovation. It encourages readers to think outside the box and take risks in order to create something new that can have a positive impact on society. The book contains valuable advice for those looking to start their own business or make an impact in any industry. 

The first part of Zero To One focuses on how one individual can create value, even if it’s only small at first, by thinking differently than everyone else around them. Thiel highlights examples from his own experience and other successful entrepreneurs who chose not to follow conventional wisdom but instead followed their intuition when making decisions that propelled them forward towards success. 

The second part of Zero To One looks at different aspects such as competition, globalization and technology which are all key components of today’s business world; however he stresses why having a unique vision is critical for any entrepreneur wishing to succeed long term: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” This section also covers topics such as hiring great employees, building strong relationships between company founders/employees/investors etc., and understanding potential market opportunities through data analysis – all areas where sound judgment must be used alongside creative ideas so that companies can stay ahead despite intense competition from others striving toward similar goals. 

This book provides interesting insights into entrepreneurship while offering practical advice based upon real life experiences across various industries; making it essential reading material for anyone wanting to venture out into uncharted territory or simply searching for inspiration within themselves in order to achieve greatness!

About Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel is a highly successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He currently has a net worth of $2.5 billion and was ranked no. 328 on the Forbes 400 in 2018. He is one of the co-founders of PayPal alongside Elon Musk and other successful business people. Additionally, he is a co-founder of Palantir Technologies and Founders Fund. Born in Germany, Peter moved with his parents to the US at a young age and now lives in California with his own family.


Peter Thiel has an impressive record of creating successful teams that breed personal innovation. In Silicon Valley, the first business team he built has been given the title of the “PayPal Mafia.” Thiel’s first team has subsequently founded, co-founded, or invested in some of the world’s most successful tech companies. Together, they founded PayPal and sold it for $1.5 billion in 2002. Since then:

  • Elon Musk has become one of the richest men in the world. He has founded SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and Neuralink
  • Reid Hoffman co-founded LinkedIn
  • Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim founded YouTube together
  • Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons founded Yelp
  • David Sacks co-founded Yammer
  • Thiel co-founded Palantir

All of these companies are now worth more than $1 Billion each. The culture of this team was strong enough to excel after the sale of PayPal. Zero to One will outline how this level of success was possible.

StoryShot #1: To Imagine the Future, You Have to View the Present Differently

“Indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional in our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options. This describes Americans today. In middle school, we’re encouraged to start hoarding “extracurricular activities.” In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time a student gets to college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse résumé to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready—for nothing in particular.”

– Peter Thiel

The future is often one of the most fascinating topics for humans. We can only begin to imagine what the world could look like in 2100. However, we should not fixate on the characteristics of our future. Instead, we should consider all the progress required between now and then. The changes and progress in our present are what defines our future.

Peter Thiel outlines two types of progress: horizontal and vertical progress. Horizontal progress involves expanding existing ideas and innovations. One of the driving forces behind horizontal progress is globalization. Globalization allows ideas to be spread to more people. In comparison, vertical progress involves completely novel innovation, such as an idea that had never been actualized or a completely novel technology type.

Peter Thiel describes horizontal progress as going from one to ‘n’. In comparison, vertical progress is going from zero to one. Vertical progress is more challenging. You have to imagine something that doesn’t exist yet, but it has greater potential rewards. To imagine these future ideas, you have to think about the present critically. Peter Thiel sees critical thinking as an essential skill when he is hiring new employees. In fact, at every job interview, Peter asks interviewees whether there is a significant truth that few people believe. Peter believes that only those who can think outside established conventions can understand and change the future. 

StoryShot #2: The challenge of the Future

Peter provides an outline of the most important factors influencing our futures. Although globalization will lead to substantial changes, Peter believes that technology will have more meaningful impacts on our lives. Additionally, applying old approaches in a globalized format will only lead to destruction. Peter gives the example of Chinese air pollution. Globalization has made China a trading giant, but we are still using the same old ways of creating wealth. Therefore, China is polluting on a mass scale. Globalizing old ideas is not the best approach for changing the future. Peter suggests that technological innovation is a better option for changing the future. 

Resources are a scarcity on earth. Therefore, technology is one of the most critical tools for preserving our resources during an era of globalization. 

Startups are the gold-standard of innovation within the business world. Peter describes a startup as the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future. Hence, effective and economically-backed startups are integral to our future development.

StoryShot #3: How You Can Be the Architect of Your Own Future

One of the most common mistakes in business is thinking indefinitely. Humans tend to prepare themselves for all possible future events. However, the future has too many unknowns and variables to account for all possible future events. Therefore, a more effective approach is to make a focused effort to become the architect of your own future. Being the architect of your own future involves attempting to create the best future for you.

Peter describes future success as being a product of focus, dedication, and determination. You have to forget about the ideas of fate and luck. Those who are consistently successful create their luck through their actions.

Each startup will have optimal conditions to excel—specifically, optimal markets, time to launch, and time to pivot. Therefore, you need to make a conscious effort to identify your startup’s ideal conditions. Peter describes this as the future you are aiming to obtain. 

StoryShot #4: On “Lean Startup” Dogmas

“Even in engineering-driven Silicon Valley, the buzzwords of the moment call for building a “lean startup” that can “adapt” and “evolve” to an ever-changing environment. Would-be entrepreneurs are told that nothing can be known in advance: we’re supposed to listen to what customers say they want, make nothing more than a “minimum viable product,” and iterate our way to success. But leanness is a methodology, not a goal. Making small changes to things that already exist might lead you to a local maximum, but it won’t help you find the global maximum. You could build the best version of an app that lets people order toilet paper from their iPhone. But iteration without a bold plan won’t take you from 0 to 1. A company is the strangest place of all for an indefinite optimist: why should you expect your own business to succeed without a plan to make it happen? Darwinism may be a fine theory in other contexts, but in startups, intelligent design works best.”

– Peter Thiel

There are some popular thoughts in the startup community that were learned after the dot-com crash:

  1. Make incremental advances
  2. Stay lean and flexible
  3. Improve on the competition
  4. Focus on your product, not sales

Peter points out that the opposites are valid:

  1. It is better to risk boldness than triviality
  2. An imperfect plan is better than no plan
  3. Competitive markets destroy profits
  4. Sales matter just as much as products

StoryShot #5: Competition Is for Losers

Some books suggest that competition is healthy and helps your business to improve. However, Peter describes competition as brutal and that it cuts into your capital. Peter provides U.S. airlines as an example. These airlines serve millions of passengers and create hundreds of billions of dollars of value each year. Despite this, they make only 37 cents per passenger trip. In contrast, Google has a 100 times higher profit margin than the entire airline industry. The reasoning behind this is that many airline companies are vying for consumers’ attention. Google is by far the industry leader and does not have to compete, realistically, with another company. 

The importance of moving away from the idea of healthy competition is that competition means there will be no capital left for you. The rest of the capital ‘pie’ will be eaten by your competitors. Therefore, Peter emphasizes the importance of building a monopoly.

StoryShot #6: Building a Monopoly

Creative monopolists give customers more choices by adding entirely new categories of products. Microsoft had a giant monopoly in operating systems. Simultaneously, Apple’s iOS & Google’s Android emerged and overtook operating system dominance through a new approach. Monopolies develop our society, while competition just leaves us fighting over the same ideas and products.

Peter describes four characteristics that define durable monopolists:

  1. Proprietary technology
  2. Network effects (aka virality)
  3. Simple scalability
  4. Branding

Peter suggests that you attempt to incorporate each of these features into your startup. On top of this, Peter has two tips for achieving substantial growth by using a monopolization system:

  1. Start small and monopolize – It’s always a red flag when entrepreneurs talk about getting 1% of a $100 billion market. Huge markets like this will be near-impossible to infiltrate. Therefore, that 1% is far harder to reach than people expect. Additionally, even if you do succeed in gaining a small foothold, you’ll have to be satisfied with the stress of cutthroat competition and the likelihood of low-profit margins. With competition, your prices will be driven down. In comparison, once you create and dominate a niche market, you are in a stronger position. You can then gradually expand into related and slightly broader markets.
  2. Don’t disrupt – Directly challenging large competitors will reduce your profits. Peter provides the example of Napster vs. U.S. recording industry. Peter also provides personal insight from his time at Paypal. PayPal took some cash away from Visa, but overall it gave Visa more business than it took.

StoryShot #7: Why Monopolies Are Good

Monopolies are generally frowned upon within the business world. The first word that often comes to people’s minds when they hear the word monopoly is evil. However, Peter states that this is not true. Instead, monopolies are essential for innovation.

Firstly, a company having a monopoly does not mean this company’s competition is being mistreated. Instead, the monopolizing company is often just doing things much better than competitors. Alternatively, a company may have a monopoly as they can create something that other companies cannot copy. 

Monopolies help businesses to become more effective due to monetary injections. However, they also push other businesses to come up with truly innovative solutions rather than copying ideas. For example, if a company wants to compete in the search-engine market today, it needs to invent a better search engine than Google. And, if it does, it’ll be the consumers who benefit.


We rate this book 4.2/5.

Our Score

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