Lessons Learned from Reading Zero to One

Peter Thiel

One of the founders of Paypal and Palantir and investor in dozens of other well-known companies. Thiel wrote Zero to One after teaching a class at Stanford on startups in 2002. One of the students, Blake Masters, took detailed notes which helped form the basis for the guide. In 195 pages, I learned more from Thiel & Masters than through any single class at the Ohio State University

Monopoly vs Competition

One of the central themes of the novel is the concept that competition should be avoided at all costs. Thiel discusses the flawed teachings of Economics 101 and other old philosophies. Included is the realization, “Under perfect competition, in the long run no company makes an economic profit.” On the other hand, he describes monopolies as companies so good at doing their thing that nobody else can offer a substitute. Monopolies exist at the UNION of several large markets while non-monopolists exist at the INTERSECTION of various smaller markets. The competitive market pushes companies to be ruthless or die to globalization. Monopolies, contrarily, survive by caring for its employees, products, and impacts.

The Power Rule

Based off the “Pareto Principle” or 80/20 law, the power rule is, as Thiel describes it, “the law of the universe.” Applied to venture capital, the best investment in a successful fund outperforms all other investments combined. Applied to college grades, 80% of your final grade will come from 20% of your work and studying. In life, we have the option to diversify our careers and life to try and capture as much value as we can. Thiel argues successful people avoid this, developing something they’re good at with relentless focus. Don’t get caught up in the wave of acquiring more. Ask which things are taking 80% of the time only to provide 20% of the overall value, and work tirelessly to get rid of them.

Indefinite Life

From the Fountain of Youth to the Sorcerer’s Stone, we love searching for an extension on the short hundred-year life we’re given. Thiel looks at life expectancy tables started in the 19th century to make the claim, “society is permeated by the twin ideas that death is both inevitable and random.” Renaissance minds saw death as something to be defeated like a rival. While we don’t have the solution for eternal life (yet), this is a field which millennials have immense opportunity to create new businesses and make an impact on society.

Last Mover Advantage

This chapter is a play on the popular belief that the first entrant to a market captures a large market share. Thiel argues this is a tactic, not a goal. It’s more important to generate future cash flow. Be the one to make the last great development in a market and enjoy years of monopolized profits.

Thiel is a very controversial man. While I enjoy his thoughts on college education and business practices, I think he misunderstands Malcolm Gladwell’s argument for achieving mastery in Outliers

 

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Lessons from Bing Gordon

Lessons from Bing Gordon

Bing Gordon

Today the interns @Uptake got to meet Bing Gordon. Bing is a board member at Amazon, one of the founding members of EA, and also one of the founding members of Audible. He is one of the most conscious and insightful people I have ever met. He’s also made the Midas List of Venture Capitalists. Here are some of the lessons he taught us:

#1 Draft Pick

There’s only one number one draft pick in football. There are very few people who make it to the Football Hall of Fame. In order to be the best, see what the number one draft pick is doing, and learn to emulate the patterns that made them successful. In business the same principle applies. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have earned their place in the hall of fame. Uptake is currently the #1 draft pick. If you want to start a business that joins the likes of the stars, start emulating the patterns that made them successful (not the specific actions).

Rule of 7

Bing did a great job of describing what a level 10 productivity looks like for college students: It’s the night before your exam, and you’ve still got a term paper and calculus homework you’ve procrastinated on. At 10pm you get a text from your friend asking for help on the Chem homework (fuck! There was Chem homework?!) At midnight your friends force you to go out for a quick drink where you see someone looking at you from across the bar. IF you’ve been having a level 10 week, on Monday you’ve got an A paper, A on your calculus homework, finished the Chem, and have a date for next weekend. The rule of 7 says if you’re feeling below a 7, you need to have an intervention with yourself (help may be needed) to figure out what happened and how you can make the next week better.

Rule of 30%

Where do you want to be in 3 years? What are your goals you’d like to have accomplished by then? What’s stopping you from doing it in 2 years? The Rule of 30% says you can achieve almost anything in a time frame 30% shorter than you think it takes. Writing out a plan help make it possible. “What would it take to accomplish my goals in two-thirds the time I plan it to?”

Forever OKRs

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are Google’s system for setting goals to have better alignment in an organization. Bing recommends using industry benchmarks to improve your happiness and effectiveness in life. When you go negotiate your pay for an internship/job, ask “what did the best intern get paid last year?”, “What is the best intern doing that separates them from the rest?” Setting goals helps you to better evaluate where you are and what you need to do to make it to the next level in any area. Note: I’ve noticed Bing is a proponent of using information feedback to inform future decisions.

Women In Tech

Bing has two daughters, and addressed the issue of women in tech. Here’s some quotes from his talk with my takeaway in the parenthesis:

“Being apologetic is okay, just realize you typically have nothing to be sorry for, and it’s mostly you saying ‘please don’t hate me’” (Think about WHY you are apologizing, 80% of the time we do nothing worth apologizing for)

“Does this compensation match the best people in the company doing the same job? If not, why are you being evaluated as less than the best? You shouldn’t be” (I’d take this as a negotiating tactic during your next interview. Sheryl Sandberg says if you aren’t comfortable asking for yourself, understand your asking helps ALL women).

“Be obviously strong” (Dr Stephen Covey says embracing challenges is a step towards becoming successful)

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Hacking the College Body

Hacking the College Body

Exercise

In the transition from high school the Freshman 14 is caused by “changes in eating habits, living environment, and daily physical activity, and possibly increased alcohol intake” Exercise prevents weight gain, improves mental functioning, extends human lifespan, and improves overall happiness and well being. Despite this, a lot of us find it difficult to make exercise a priority. Good news! This is an easy fix. It won’t take much extra time, and the benefits will be unbelievable.

Exercise in College is Difficult

College students and time go together like water and oil. We’re constantly being pulled in multiple directions from all the new experiences our independence from parental guidance brings. 3-7 hours of school each day, study time, parties, clubs, research, and jobs give us plenty of reason to not make time for exercise.

Benefits of Exercise in College

Exercise makes every aspect of college easier. Students who exercise in college have higher grades. The calories burned and muscle gained lets us drink more at parties (with a side benefit of having a more attractive appearance). Exercise also decreases stress, so you can worry less, and enjoy these years more.

Time is Made, Not Found

After talking with graduate students who I meet around campus, and “real” adults I meet during my internships, I’ve found that everyone agrees you only get busier as time goes by. That being said, now is the perfect time to start building habits that will provide significant value to your life.  Dr Stephen Covey, in his novel, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Habit 1,says to be proactive, not reactive. You will never find more time in your life, you must be proactive and make time.

Accountability Partner

One of the benefits of college life is the density of people in the same, or similar, situation as you. Unlike the rest of the world, college is filled with 18-20’somethings without any major commitments or responsibilities. Developing the habit of exercise is hard, even if you’re excited to start now, I guarantee you there will be days when exercise will be the last thing you’ll want to do (eg. hangovers). Finding a friend to keep you accountable to exercise on a regular basis not only improves your chances of sticking with it, but they’re free! (please message me if your friends are not free, we need to have a talk).

Free Resources your School Probably Provides

Your university wants you to stay healthy! They know that healthy students improves the quality of its graduates. As a result, they provide lots of free resources to make sure your large tuition checks are going to good use. There are tons of options, and each school has different ones, so let me list off a few I’ve used and seen at the Ohio State University: Clubs (running, dancing, kayaking, rock climbing), yoga classes, fitness boot camps, weight loss programs, and some even offer free personal training.

Time-Crunched

I’m a nerd, and my type-A personality often leads me to schedule 25 hours each day. Rather than set aside 1-2 hours, I often do short, 5-10 minute workouts throughout the day. These include push ups, squats, russian twists, mountain climbers, and yoga. I use technology as my accountability partner and personal trainer. If you have an Amazon Alexa -enabled device, download My Workouts. You’ll be surprised how effective 2-3 breaks for exercise can improve your mood and keep your finals cram session going strong

Start Today

Literally right now, stop reading this and do a push up. To quote one of my favorite authors, Tim Ferriss, “Alleviating that performance anxiety… allows you to overshoot that goal, continually succeed, and sort of build that confidence and momentum” Don’t set high goals for yourself yet, just doing one push up at start of your day can set yourself up to build healthier habits, and will keep you from getting burned out. College students are great at hacking life, how have you hacked your college body?

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