Zero To One


“When we think about the future, we hope for a future of progress. That progress can take one of two forms. Horizontal or extensive progress means copying things that work — going from 1 to n. Horizontal progress is easy to imagine because we already know what it looks like. Vertical or intensive progress means doing new things — going from 0 to 1. Vertical progress is harder to imagine because it requires doing something nobody else has ever done.” — Peter Thiel

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This book was written based on notes a student took from a Peter Thiel class on startups. This review will focus on ideas from the book that are valuable for startup communities.

The first idea comes from the book’s name: Going from Zero to One. Thiel elaborates that going from 1 to n in any field is not the hardest step. The hardest is going from 0 to 1, creating something new where before there was nothing. This act of creating something new, although difficult, is much more valuable and provides many more opportunities overall than just optimization.

Thiel also elaborates on monopolization of economic sectors. He explains that monopolies can be based violent, government made or creative. The latter, unlike the first two, are seen in a positive light, as engines for making society better by creating more consumer choices.

Simultaneously, Thiel views competition as not something inherently positive, but in reality, similar to war in being detrimental to both parties engaged in it. Thus, rather than being obsessed with competition, companies should recognize its destructive nature and focus on creating value to dominate their markets.

When Thiel says to monopolize the market, he advises to start small, in smaller but real markets, where there is no cutthroat competition and one can expand and develop in the future. Having a vision for 10–20 years is important, but solving specific real problems is as well.

The author also explores potential sources of conflict inside an organization. These can arise from misalignment between ownership (who legally owns the organization), possession (who is actually in control of the organization) and control (who formally governs the organization’s affairs). Thiel stresses the importance of internal harmony, stressing that while many times it an organization appears to fall due to external circumstances; the actual problem may have been internal strife.

Other ideas include definite vs indefinite thinking in organizations and the role they play in realizing grand visions, the role of founders in defining organizational culture and the concept of founding as not taking place in a point in time, but lasting for as long as the organization is creative.

The book is split in 14 chapters, in which Thiel shares insights and stories from his and his peers’ experience on founding companies for vertical progress.

Creators of zones and societies will find in throughout the whole book useful advice on choosing ideas, preparing foundations and running new startup projects

Policymakers and analysts can take a look at chapters 5 and 6 to understand how governments can benefit from last mover advantage and having a definite approach to issues.

Scholars and experts may read chapter 12 for a discussion of the complementarity of man and machine and how that will drive future technological development.

The book can be found here.

Written by: Francisco Litvay



Institute for Competitive Governance

The Institute for Competitive Governance is a nonprofit institution which studies special jurisdictions throughout the world.