Zero to One

Written on December 27, 2014. Written by .

This book has really good reviews, but I think it is mostly due to “success bias”: people have a tendency to overrate anything associated with successful people. There were very few original ideas in this book, if any. The main thesis is that we live in a time of technological stagnation and that entrepreneurs should look for businesses that do something new instead of iterating on existing business models. The technological stagnation assertion seems a bit absurd. He says that we haven’t seen much progress outside of computers and communications since 1970. The progress in computers and communications has been massive, and these are huge categories, so he’s basically saying “if you ignore all the amazing progress that we’ve made, we haven’t made much progress.” But even then, there has been a lot of progress outside of those two categories. And the idea that businesses should focus on totally new ideas is very vague and mostly meaningless. Google wasn’t the first search engine, Facebook wasn’t the first social network, Amazon wasn’t the first online bookstore, much less the first bookstore. Most successful tech startups are better described as iterating on existing technologies than doing something completely new. It’s hard to even think of examples of things that are completely new because everything builds on something else in some way. He has some good points, like the best businesses are monopolies (but that is just repeating Warren Buffet), and products don’t sell themselves (but that is more thoroughly explained by Crossing the Chasm).  He also makes wild claims without any justification like computers don’t compete with humans and AI won’t be a problem until next century. Also, I wasn’t too impressed with his character after reading that he made a blanket rule to never invest in people who dressed in suits for pitches. I would have hoped that the individuals with the power to create or destroy businesses would have a slightly more rational and discerning decision process. 

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