Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build for the Future: Review

zero-to-onePeter Thiel’s new business book “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future” offers an unintentionally grim view of the future. This sounds like I didn’t enjoy it, but that’s not the case.

“Zero to One” is packed with insight. Thiel, who founded PayPal, shares truths that have an audience beyond the entrepreneurs for which the book is intended. It works as a guide to starting a company and to getting ahead in the workplace. Its lessons can be applied by individuals who will never work in Silicon Valley or seek VC funding.

For example:

You should focus relentlessly on something you’re good at doing, but before that you must think hard about whether it will be valuable in the future.

Which is a thing nobody I knew did in college.

While I enjoyed Thiel’s nuggets of wisdom and the contrarian nature of the book, I could not bring myself around to acknowledging the validity of its central theme.

All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.

Do all “happy” companies earn a monopoly? I think it’s clear the answer is no. There are many happy companies that don’t have the market dominance of Google.

A happy company, according to Thiel, is narrowly defined as one that has escaped competition: a monopoly. Here we arrive at the reason this book has received so much attention. A capitalist is arguing that market competition is bad for business. Most capitalists will tell you that engaging in such competition is business.

According to “Zero to One,” businesses that cannot escape competition are doomed to some type of rapid or drawn-out failure unless they ascend as monopolies. Thiel assumes that monopolies occupy a higher state of being. But monopolies—like ancient Gods—have a way of feeling eternal until they no longer exist, and it’s the book’s largest failing that Thiel does not adequately address the shelf-life of the monopoly.

Monopolies—think of cable companies, for example—tend to provide maddening customer experiences in only a way that a company with no real competition can. They don’t innovate—think newspapers. They don’t anticipate change—think railroads. When profit margins are healthy, the incentive is to protect profit margins, not to defy the status quo and take risks. Lack of competition makes them flabby, and their dominance wanes over time.

Yet here is how Thiel describes monopolies:

Monopolies keep innovating because profits enable them to make the long-term plans and to finance the ambitious research projects that firms locked in competition can’t dream of.

Let’s rewrite that sentence and insert the monopoly with which my career was once associated.

Newspapers kept innovating because profits enabled them to make the long-term plans and to finance the ambitious research projects that firms locked in competition can’t dream of.

Let’s try another:

Eastman Kodak kept innovating because profits enabled them to make the long-term plans and to finance the ambitious research projects that firms locked in competition can’t dream of.

An another:

Xerox kept innovating because profits enabled them to make the long-term plans and to finance the ambitious research projects that firms locked in competition can’t dream of.

Obviously, none of them did so at a level that ensured their long-term dominance or even survival. Those three weren’t the only ones.

Thiel also does not address the fact that the federal government tends to bring the hammer down on monopolies, be they real or imagined. Antitrust lawsuits can drain a company of its market share and resources. Historically speaking, a monopoly is a company that’s waiting its turn to be sued by the federal government.

A company will either fail in the short-run, according to Thiel, or as a monopoly it will fail in the long-run, according to history. A more appropriate title: “Zero to One and Then Back to Zero Again, But Hey We Had a Good Run.”

Joe Donatelli is a journalist in Los Angeles. Facebook: joedonatelli1.


Book Review: ‘Rise of the Warrior Cop’ by Radley Balko

I began reading Radley Balko’s “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces” before the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and I finished it after tensions in that city peaked. Reading this book while Ferguson’s heavily-armed and clearly incompetent police aimed high-powered weapons at innocent citizens and journalists on a nightly basis added an additional layer of perspective to each heart-sinking news cycle. This was not a local problem. A Ferguson has the potential to happen anywhere.

Balko is a journalist who covers criminal justice, and “Rise of the Warrior Cop” is his treatise on the predominant trends in policing today: militarization, the dissolution of individual rights and the bad policy that makes it all possible.

Rise of the Warriot Cop by Radley BalkoTo his credit, Balko goes out of his way to empathize, when possible, with police. He does not categorize police officers as bad people but rather acknowledges that a militaristic mindset is the inevitable result of poorly-thought-out laws and terrible incentives. When police recruiting videos mirror army recruiting for action and adventure, you’re going to attract a certain type of cop. And when bad laws give that cop incredible powers in a system in which real punishment is seldom meted out to police who are overly aggressive or incompetent, tragedy ensues. It’s not a good cop’s fault that the system produces so many bad cops. Balko acknowledges this.

“Rise of the Warrior Cop” traces the history of policing from Rome to England to America’s founding. Following WWII, all three branches of the federal government embarked on a high-speed, bipartisan expansion of police powers—a trend that continues today. Balko recounts the history of SWAT teams, the erosion of the Fourth Amendment and the Castle Doctrine and explains how the War on Drugs and the War on Terror abetted police militarization.

“Today in America SWAT teams violently smash into private homes more than one hundred times per day,” Balko writes. “The vast majority of these raids are to enforce laws against consensual crimes.”

Such as drug sales and use.

“Rise of the Warrior Cop” concludes with the story of Cheye Calvo. On July 28, 2009, Calvo, who was the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Md., returned from walking his dogs, picked up a delivery package off his porch and went inside his home. Moments later the front door of his house was blown open, he and his mother-in-law had guns aimed at their faces and both of his dogs were shot and killed—by the police. Calvo committed no crime. The package, which contained marijuana, was intended for another party—not Calvo or anyone in his home. Police bungled the investigation and its aftermath. They aimed guns at an upstanding member of the community and an elderly woman and killed two dogs because they thought Calvo was the intended recipient of a substance that is now legal in two states. It’s an episode sure to enrage anyone with a sense of decency.

Calvo used the violent invasion of his home and death of his dogs to become a champion for reform, which is the theme of the final chapter of Balko’s book.

“How do we return to a more robust embrace of the Castle Doctrine, the Fourth Amendment, and an unbreachable divide between the police and the military?” Balko asks.

The author offers a number of sensible solutions. If the book has a flaw, it’s that as common sense as Balko’s proposed reforms may seem, they don’t seem possible to achieve in the current political climate. What is the incentive for lawmakers to reign in police power? Who runs a campaign and wins on that issue? It’s not impossible, but it hardly seems likely. It’s tough to fault Balko for not striking a note of total pessimism, but the magnitude of the challenge is understated.

“Rise of the Warrior Cop” is a must-read for anyone who serves in law enforcement, writes criminal law or cares about maintaining a civil society in which citizens and police live in harmony. Balko raises a question in desperate need of addressing: Are today’s police forces consistent with the principles of a free society?

Let’s ask the citizens of Ferguson, Mo.

Follow Joe Donatelli @joedonatelli and on Facebook


Buzzsumo on What Goes Viral

What helps a piece of content go viral?

Via Buzzsumo:

1) Long form content gets more social shares than short form content

2) Having at least one image in your post leads to more Facebook shares

3) Having at least one image in your post leads to more Twitter shares

4) Invoke awe, laughter, or amusement. Appeal to people’s narcissistic side.

5) People love to share lists and infographics

6) 10 is the magic number for lists

7) People tend to share content that looks trustworthy

8) Getting one extra influencer to share your article has a multiplier effect

9) Re-promote your old content on a regular basis

10) The best day overall to publish content for social shares is Tuesday

And now, because this post needs a photo if it’s going to go viral, here are some presidents playing cards.



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