List: Ideas of Peter Thiel

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Thiel was born in Germany, moved to US as a young child, is a Stanford philosophy BA, VC who was involved in Y Combinator, Paypal, has invested in Tesla and SpaceX, early investor in FB. He excelled in math as a youth and was a Valedictorian in his high-school graduation. Currently @ almost 3 billion net worth. The ideas outlined below are heavily paraphrased and modified.


  • People are fixated on the track or formula for entrepreneurship, even though there usually is no track and no formula. <…> If you try to imitate Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg – your are not following them.
  • Multiculturalism being against the western culture, does not usually take into consideration the fact that the very debate and notion of considering western culture as lacking in fairness (racist, sexist and so on) is enabled by the context of the western culture itself.
  • Competition is for losers. If you just want competition, open a restaurant in Chicago or Sanfrancisco. If you want results and success – be unique, find a unique approach. What are you doing that no one else does? <…> All books tell you how to compete better, my book tells that you should not compete at all. [This is the thesis in his book: “Zero to one”]
  • [When asked what does he believe that no one else does he said]: Everyone seems to think that capitalism and competition are synonyms, I think they are opposites <…> capitalism is also about profits, and in the world of perfect competition all of the profits are competed away.
  • A startup needs to do something better than anyone else in the world (the world because technology is a global business).
  • Each important startup is the first at something, it breaks the paradigm. What was the big idea behind facebook? It was real identity, not social networking (social networks existed before, there were those where you could pretend to be a cat, alternate reality social networks). What was the real innovation behind google: pagerank – search engines existed before (Joel Spolsky wrote that googles innovation was specific way of sorting, namely sorting the results of the search by the likelihood of being of interest to the customer and not bragging about the set size of the search query result).
  • What qualities does Thiel looks 4 in a person: a mix of contradictory qualities – an original and contrarian who can work well in teams.
  • Successful startup = team (synergistic, complementary talents) + technology (something new and value giving) + business strategy.
  • Contrarian questions: “What great company is not getting founded?” and “What great cause is nobody funding?”
  • One way to get wealthy is to (i) invent something of tremendous value to the world and (ii) capture some of that value. People often failed miserably at the 2nd. One example: the fraking industry probably produced more value for people (w/o consideration of) than silicon valley, however they made a fraction of the money. There is no necessary link between inventing something of tremendous value and reaping the rewards. The universe is not completely fair and to a large extent, completely not fair.
  • Value substance over status.
  • Trends are overrated, buzzwords indicate trends. If what you are doing can easily be described via buzzwords, it might be a “just another…”.
  • Do not mindlessly imitate – dare to think for yourself.
  • When you compete you get better at competing and at the thing you are competing in. That does not necessarily mean you get more successful or happy in the larger picture. [My own thoughts on this is that in business, relationships, careers we focus too much on being better than someone and thinking that results will come from “being better” or “conquering” while in the mean time we forget about the business, relationships, careers as the main goal. We are missing opportunities because we think we are not good enough by some arbitrary standard that is usually comparative and comparative so locally and so simple mindlessly that it becomes laughable when realized or disclosed].
  • If you are a monopoly, you will say that you are in a competitive business (that is why google never talks about search engines, the only thing they talk about is competing with apple in the smartphone market, Tesla in the autonomous vehicle market, never about search engines). If you are in a hyper-competitive market you would always try to present yourself as a “monopoly” or a “unique” player (the only british-pakistani fusion cuisine in the north part of town).
  • Technological progress = doing more w/ less.
  • You want to be contrarian and right. Don’t be a contrarian for it’s own sake.
  • Peter thinks about innovation (what he sometimes calls “technology”), and imitation (what he sometimes calls “globalization”). Developing countries do not need innovation (although they are certainly not prohibited to invent something of great value), but they definitely need imitation and copying to catch up to the developed countries. It is in this sense that he criticized google as not innovating while stockpiling cash. Sure google does (i) autonomous vehicles, (ii) chrome is the de facto no. 1 browser in the world, (iii) chrome OS can be mentioned and they invented the JS V8 engine (iv), but that is not innovation, that is competition in thiels view. Many companies develop autonomous cars, there are many browsers being developed and OS’es and JS interpreters.
  • Diversification vs. clarity of vision and purpose. If you diversify, it might just be because your vision of the future became muddled.
  • Taxes should be decreased w/ the focus on the competitiveness of the economy, not increased w/ the focus on the social problems internal to the countries (progressive taxation). Taxation should focus on consumption (goods and services) not on savings (which incentivises for short term thinking). Tax system should be simplified.
  • When asked the question: “how would you respond to people saying that you are a hypocrite having went to university and condemning US higher education” Thiel replied: “People would complain either way as a response to anti-education arguments. If I haven’t been to university they would say you don’t know what you have missed.” So it essentially does not matter. Complaints and accusations are not counterarguments.
  • [On AI impact on the job market]: “The history has never been of pure substitution. People are largely employed now just as they were largely employed two hundred years ago. […] AI will make certain sectors more efficient and then it will free up people to do other things. It’s mainly a game of complementarity, it becomes a game of substitution only if you have an AI that can do everything better than a human being”.
  • [On cybersecurity]: “The challenge with cybersecurity is that we have a system that is incredibly easy to attack, but incredibly hard to defend”.
  • [On cryptocurrency]: “Bitcoin is like gold, it’s a value store”.

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