Books: Peter Thiel’s 'Zero to One'


In Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel laments the state of technology innovation and offers insight for fixing the problem. Thiel has a reputation as a pessimist but a closer look at his thinking reveals more. His premise is that we must dedicate ourselves to building the future because progress isn’t a foregone certainty. He argues that we’re in an era of “indefinite optimism” when society assumes the future will be better but has few ideas of what that looks like and no clear vision of how to get there.

Thiel, who cofounded PayPal and now serves as chairman of Palantir, a data analysis firm, wants people to be action oriented toward making advancements for the betterment of humanity. The idea is to transform our outlook to “definite optimism” where the future is better because society has a clear vision of what it wants and the intent to build it.

Thiel sees technology as complementary to humanity and predicts the companies with the greatest successes will be ones that are “built ... to empower people rather than make them obsolete.”

Zero to One is also about roles and interactions of people with and within a startup. Thiel dismantles derogatory and simplistic notions of salesmanship. “Sales is … an orchestrated campaign to change surface appearances without changing the underlying reality,” he writes. Indeed, when done right, sales is a magical discipline because it is unseen. Good salespeople effortlessly manage relationships so it’s unapparent that work is being done. 

This book isn’t a “how-to guide.” Instead it offers insights on business philosophy, economics and management from one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs.Going from zero to one connotes creating something genuinely new. Thiel challenges us to more boldly plan and work today to create the new innovations that dramatically change the future. 

Eric J. Garcia is CFO of Immusoft, a Seattle biotech firm that has received support from Peter Thiel’s FF Science fund and the Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs.