Book Summary: Zero To One by Peter Thiel

On Startups

  • Successful people find value in unexpected places and they do by thinking about business from first principles instead of applying formulas.
  • Peter Thiel’s mandatory interview question –  “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”
  • Going from 1 to n is horizontal progress. An example is globalization where you take something that works at one place and replicate it elsewhere in the world.
  • Going from 0 to 1 is vertical progress or ‘technology’.
  • A startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future. Its hard to do it alone and impossible to do it in big organizations.
  • “How much of what you know about business is shaped by mistaken reactions to past mistakes?” A lot of people took away the wrong lessons thanks to the dot-com bubble.

Competition v/s Monopoly

  • Creating value is not enough – you also need to capture some of the value you create. For example, Google creates less value than airlines (monetarily) but airlines capture very little of what they create and Google captures a lot.
  • Competition destroys profit. Aim for monopoly. Capitalism and competition are opposed.
  • Both competitive companies and monopoly players are incentivized to bend the truth. Competition players will frame their market as an intersection of several markets to make them seem more relevant than they are. Monopolies will frame their market as a union of several markets to make them seem smaller than they actually are.
  • The competitive ecosystem pushes people towards ruthlessnes or death.  Paypal and X.com decided to merge because they were losing a lot of energy competing as opposed to building what they wanted to.
  • In business, money is either an important thing or everything. Monopolists can afford to think about things other than money. Non-monopolists can’t.
  • All happy companies are different (they found monopoly in a different way). All failed companies are alike – they failed to escape competition.
  • “All Rhodes scholars had a great future in their past.” Refers to how competition destroys individual potential.
  • In business, if you recognize competition as a destructive force,  you are already more sane than most. Use the clear head to build a monopoly.

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Book Summary: Flow: The psychology of optimal experience

The concept of flow

  • What is described in popular culture as being ‘in the zone’ or ‘in the groove’.
  • Makes use of an individual’s focused attention, referred to as ‘psychic energy’. Focused attention, not time or anything, is an individual’s most precious resource.
  • The labels applied to people (“extrovert”, “high achiever”, “paranoid”) really refer to the specific patterns that people have used to structure their attention. A paranoid person is paranoid because they focus a lot of attention and energy on worrying.
  • 8 conditions together leading to flow:
    1. Confront challenging but completable tasks
    2. Concentration
    3. Clear goals
    4. Immediate feedback
    5. Deep, effortless involvement (lack of awareness of worries and frustrations)
    6. Sense of control over actions
    7. Concern for self disappears (paradoxically awareness of self is heightened immediately after flow)
    8. Sense of duration of time is altered
  • Every flow activity transforms the self by making it more and more complex. e.g. the rock climber is a different person after scaling El Capitan at Yosemite. The chess player is a different person after playing a grandmaster tournament.
  • Most enjoyable activities are not natural – they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make.
  • Steps to achieving flow
    1. Set a goal.
    2. Concentrate your ‘psychic energy’ on achieving it.
    3. Pay attention to the feedback
    4. Make certain that the challenge is appropriate for one’s skill level.
  • The best moments usually occur when a person’s body and mind are stretched to its limit in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

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Book Summary: The hard thing about hard things by Ben Horowitz

TL;DR: This book is a great reference for the following things (some well-summarized in this YC talk)

  1. Various aspects of running an enterprise tech company in the valley.
  2. How to hire execs. Contains a comprehensive checklist of things one should think about hiring a VP of enterprise sales.
  3. How to handle performance reviews, firings, demotions.
  4. What a good HR organization should do, and help you with.
  5. How to design your organization (think of org. design as a communications architecture for the company).
  6. How to conduct effective 1:1s as an organization (followed by a great list of questions for a manager ask).
  7. Misc. tricky situations to handle as a founder – hiring from your friends’ company, promote from within or bring external candidates, when to sell etc.

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