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4 Start-Up Lessons from PayPal Co-founder Peter Thiel’s Book, Zero to One

Whether you’re trying to build a new business or improve your daily life, Peter Thiel’s Zero to One is full of advice to help you achieve your goals. Here are the 4 most important lessons from the book.
by Rob Gillham | Jul 27 2022
Zero to One

Zero to One is a book for entrepreneurs and curious minds that challenges the opinion that there are no new ideas left to come up with. Written by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel together with venture capitalist Blake Masters, the book outlines how to forge new ideas in business, break through existing boundaries in life, and find distinct ways to create new groundbreaking products.


Zero To One has been labeled one of the best business books of all time and has sold over one million copies worldwide. It’s been recommended by Thiel’s former business partner Elon Musk, and the CEO of Meta Mark Zuckerburg has praised the book for offering new ways to create value in the world.

Do you want to learn the powerful ideas from Zero to One but don’t have the time? The Blinkist app can help. Blinkist gathers key insights from nonfiction books and shares them as 15-minute explainers you can read or listen to. Beyond Zero to One, there are 5,500 titles to choose from across 27 categories like personal development, psychology, and entrepreneurship.

“Blinkist encourages you to read more nonfiction books. The app contains cleverly written digests—called Blinks—where books are broken down into their main arguments.”
– The New York Times

The best part is, Blinkist is offering everyone its explainer of Zero to One for free. Want to know what to expect? Below, you will find examples of 4 key takeaways from Thiel’s book that you can use to take your ideas from 0 to 1.

Key Message 1: Think Vertical Progression, Not Horizontal (AKA Stop Copying!)

Imagine what the world will look like in 100 years. What do you see? If you imagine flying cars and paper-thin computers, then you’re trapped in the way of thinking that Thiel calls horizontal progress. So instead of expanding on existing ideas and innovations, you should aim for vertical progress to create something new. 

For instance, the invention of the smartphone resulted from vertical progress: we went from a world where the concept of a “smartphone” didn’t exist to a world where everyone had to have one in their hand. This is where Thiel’s idea of “going from zero to one” comes in. Think of a coordinate system. The x-axis represents horizontal progress – improving and copying – going from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4, or, in mathematical terms, going from 1 to n. The y-axis represents vertical progress – going from nothing to something or from 0 to 1.

Key Message 2: Thinking outside Established Conventions Is Your Key to Seeing the Future

Thiel recognizes that vertical progress is more complex than horizontal progress because predicting the future is something many people are incapable of. However, Thiel believes that we all can predict the future, and you can only do that if you can view the present critically. Thiel thinks this is such a crucial ability that, in job interviews, he asks candidates, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” Why? Because only a person who can think outside established conventions can see and change the future.

Many people try to prepare themselves for all possible future events. This approach is futile because the future holds far too many unknowns and variables. A more effective method is making an effort to achieve the one future for you.

Key Message 3: Don’t Get Copied: Create a Monopoly

Many people believe that competition drives growth. But according to Thiel, monopolies drive innovation. Think of Google. The company has a monopoly over the search-engine industry, having faced virtually no competition in the twenty-first century. Long gone are the times when Yahoo or AltaVista played a significant role in web search. Is this an unfair situation? Not necessarily; the prospect of achieving a monopoly doesn’t kill long-term competition. 

For example, if a company wants to compete in the search-engine market today, it can do that immediately. But it needs to invent a search engine that’s not just a Google rip-off. This new type of engine has to be different and way better than what Google offers. If it does, again, it’ll be the consumers who benefit.

Key Message 4: Don’t Just Have a Vision — Commit to It 

What do you think makes a typical start-up founder? Sure, many founders are adventurous and passionate, but there’s something else. You need originality in your founding team. That’s important because founders do far more than start a company and hire people: they provide a vision. 

Think about Apple. In its early days in the 1970s, Apple used to be a small but playful and highly innovative company. But as its products gained popularity, people at Apple felt the need to hire more managers. At some point in 1985, Apple kicked out its ingenious founder Steve Jobs. What was left was a company that had refined management strategies – but it lacked a soul.

In 1997, when Apple was just a few months away from bankruptcy, Steve Jobs returned. Driven by his vision of personal computing, he made a couple of radical decisions. In 2001, he introduced the iPod. Jobs made Apple the most valuable company in the world by following a carefully thought-out plan based on his vision. 

There are many more key ideas from Zero to One waiting to be learned, and Blinkist offers its explainer of the book for free. Here’s how the Blinkist app works.  

A Book Explained in 15 Minutes

For nonfiction books like Zero to One, Blinkist shares powerful ideas and breaks them down into short 15-minute explainers. In these explainers, you’ll get real-life case studies, actionable advice, and memorable metaphors, so you’ll walk away with everything you need to know about the book. Plus, you can read or listen to the Blinkist app, making it easy to fit learning into your day while commuting, cooking, or working out. 

“When we started, most apps were for social media or gaming. We wanted to do something different and build an app that would add genuine value to someone’s life.”
– Holger Seim, CEO of Blinkist

Apple Calls Blinkist One of the World’s Best Apps

Apple is a massive fan of Blinkist. The tech giant named Blinkist one of the world’s best apps and one of the top 20 apps for lifelong learning. Even Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, is a fan. He visited the Blinkist offices in Berlin to meet the team behind the award-winning app. 

22 Million Users Love Blinkist

As well as Apple, the likes of The New York Times, Forbes, and TechCrunch have praised Blinkist. Plus, the app has won awards from the United Nations and Google.

“As a productivity coach and one of the lifelong learners, I can’t tell you how happy I was to find Blinkist. If you enjoy nonfiction reading and are short on time, Blinkist will be your new favorite app.”
– Karen Trepte, HuffPost

But, most importantly, 22 million users around the world love Blinkist. And they’re not shy about it: the app has 94,000 5-star ratings and 10,000 daily downloads in app stores.  

What are you waiting for? Check out Blinkist today and learn more from great books like Zero to One, Atomic Habits, or Thinking Fast and Slow.

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