"What important truth do very few people agree with you on?"
This is the question that Peter Thiel poses at the opening of his seminal book, “Zero to One”. Mr. Thiel, a Silicon Valley icon whose resume includes cofounding Paypal and serving as an early investor to Facebook is well suited to respond to this contrarian question.
Thiel’s response to this question, which he articulates through his book, is that while most believe the future will be defined by globalization, the truth is that technology matters more. To this point, he respectively differentiates the growth between technology and globalization as the difference between zero to one and one to many. With new technologies most often originating from new ventures, Thiel intensively focuses his attention on what he perceives to be gaps in logic in the startup world.
As a contrarian thinker, Thiel also takes aim at much of the dogma that exists in today’s startup community. In this regard, I found the book to be a rewarding read as many of the points raised forced me to critically analyze my assumptions and experiences from both before and throughout the fellowship. Many of the arguments in the book challenge the current thinking within the fellowship, however I would like to focus on one of the points regarding competition and connect it to the development of our ideas thus far.
To summarize his views on competition, Thiel paraphrases Anna Karenina in saying “all happy companies are different: each earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.” While a startup can either capitalize on the first mover advantage tactic by entering white space or by developing a solution that is a 10x improvement over its competitors, Thiel argues that monopolies are only won if these advantages are defensible. Thiel identifies this necessity for a successful endgame strategy as the “last mover advantage”.
In the course of our fellowship thus far, we have been encouraged to find white space in our ideating. In designing for people living with type two diabetes, finding white space is paradoxically challenging: in spite of the high degree of unmet need that exists, the overall size of the market draws many competitors. Beyond the careful positioning of our ideas to address and initially conquer smaller markets, we have intensively sought to understand and design for the patient’s perspective. Thiel highlights Apple as an example of design as a 10x improvement. While an audaciously lofty goal on our part, we are excited to move forward with our ideas, with our curriculum, and with each other as team, in order to achieve that monopoly and bring a solution from zero to one for our patients.