Book Review: Zero To One by Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel is the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir. In “Zero To One”, he talks about various aspects of startups. The book has interesting points, although it come across as talking at a surface level, rather than going deep. Most of the examples revolve around the same companies and people, many of which/whom Thiel been a part of, or interacted with. This adds to the feeling of lack of depth in this book.

Some takeaways:

  • Successful companies create defensible monopolies. Competition erodes profits, and thus is not good for business.
  • Sales is a critical aspect of business, which is underappreciated, atleast by technical people. You may not like it, but everybody sells, including you.
  • Several of the “clean energy” companies collapsed. Among the reasons for failure were: lack of good business plans; lack of a solid moat; being undifferentiated; following the herd blindly; lack of technical leadership.
  • Contrast the above with Tesla, which is billed as getting all important factors right. Possibly some bias here: Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, was also part of PayPal.

 

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Rich get richer

Do the rich get richer? What are the mechanisms which aid, or oppose such a phenomenon, under normal circumstances?

  • Money: Since money is a requirement for various endeavours, the rich have more options at hand. They can take the costlier option when it is better, which the poor cannot. One example of this is durability. In some situations the more expensive option is long-lasting, and hence gives a longer term benefit.
  • Education: The rich can invest in better quality and longer education for their kids, which the poor cannot afford.
  • Health: The rich can afford a healthier lifestyle – food, environment, medical facilities – which results in better health and lifespan leading to higher productivity.
  • Information: The rich have access to better information, which is a big advantage in any endeavour in today’s world.
  • Adversity: Having money in the bank enables one to tide over a difficult situation – loss of employment, medical emergency, etc. Such situations have a bigger negative effect on the poor, who find it all the more difficult to recover and get back to their earlier standard of living.

 

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Advisor-Supplier conflict-of-interest

Would you trust a doctor whose clinic also has a pharmacy? The problem is that he is incentivized to prescribe drugs, and further, brands which his pharmacy usually stocks. As it is, doctors are incentivized to: (a) prescribe tests and procedures, (b) encourage periodic follow-ups, both of which bring in more cash. This happens especially in settings where the doctor gets paid for every consultation and procedure, as opposed to drawing a fixed salary. Here, the doctor acts as an advisor and supplier, leading to a conflict-of-interest.

Another similar situation is that of a car service center. The center is heavily incentivized to advise cleaning procedures, parts replacements and repairs, many of which can be delayed or altogether avoided. Being informed does help, but the system generally favours the center, as opposed to the car owner. Other repairmen, such as plumbers and electricians are in the same situation. Given a problem, they are incentivized to suggest a solution that involves more work and pay for themselves. Salesmen in shops are incentivized to sell items, not give you good advice. They can be commonly observed to downplay aspects of the item that would lead to a decision in favour of a model/brand not immediately available in store.

This is the advisor-supplier conflict-of-interest. One way to break this would be to separate the entities of advisor and supplier. If the doctor does not have a pharmacy, then he is better incentivized to prescribe the best drug of any brand, or even better, to not prescribe drugs at all. Research before purchase should be done independently using online material, experiences of purchasers, and other sources, while transaction with in-shop salesmen is best restricted to offers.

 

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Aspects of Task Completion

What are the aspects of a task that make it more likely to be completed?

  • Effort involved: An easy task is more likely to be completed. Make tasks as easy as possible.
  • Uncertainty: Tasks whose progress is predictable are more likely to be completed, than those that have unknown components in them.
  • Benefit gained: This is a complicated aspect. The benefit may be long or short term. In general, tasks with higher benefits, and in particular, those with short-term benefits, are more likely to be completed.
  • Habit: If a task becomes a habit, it is completed more often. Else, it is liable to be forgotten.
  • Sessions required: Tasks which require only a single session, as opposed to those spread across multiple sessions. One tends to lose focus over time, forget the task, etc.
  • Cost of non-completion: This is a very important aspect. If there is an immediate cost of non-completion, it is more likely to be completed. However, if the cost of non-completion is gradual, then it is likely to get postponed immediately.
  • Uniqueness: If a task is unique, then it is more likely to get completed than one which is repeated. A friend’s marriage happens only once, but visiting his home for lunch can be done anytime.
  • Novelty: If a task is boring, you may want to skip it.

These aspects can be used to design mechanisms to make tasks more complete-friendly. For example, a one time task, such as fixing the cupboard door does not have an immediate cost of non-completion. Hence this will be postponed indefinitely. Reduce the uncertainty involved by gathering information and the tools required, schedule a single sitting to complete it, and associate a reward with it.

 

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Search Autocomplete Analysis

When people want to know about something, they often turn to web search engines. These engines have an “autocomplete” feature, which attempts to complete a partial query. Using this, we can get some insight into what people are searching and thinking about at the current time.

The method is to enter a partial query in the search box, and see what suggestions turn up. Below are results of several such searches. First the partial query is given, followed by the autocomplete suggestions. Since I made these searches from Bangalore, the results will be biased towards India, and sometimes, Bangalore.

 

Travel

 

how to get visa for

  • dubai
  • usa
  • australia
  • germany from india

 

how to immigrate from india to

  • canada
  • usa
  • australia
  • uk

 

how to travel from mumbai to

  • goa
  • pune
  • pondicherry
  • manali

 

how to go to

  • coorg from bangalore
  • safe mode
  • next line in excel
  • nandi hills

 

how to make

  • christmas tree
  • fried rice
  • pizza
  • cake

 

where is

  • my location
  • india
  • my phone
  • mauritius

 

who is

  • santa claus
  • the president of india
  • the prime minister of india
  • sonam gupta

 

how to speak to

  • a girl
  • god
  • your crush
  • snapdeal customer care

 

how to convert black

  • money into white money
  • and white photo to color
  • money into white in hindi
  • skin to white skin

In the wake of demonetisation, converting black money into white takes precedence over whitening skin.

 

What trailers are people watching?

trailer of

  • dangal
  • raees
  • pink
  • force 2

 

What do people find it difficult to talk to other people about?

 

how to tell your classmate

  • you love her
  • that you love him
  • you like her
  • you like him

 

how to tell your colleague

  • they smell
  • you love her
  • likes you
  • you like him

 

how to tell your boss

  • you’re resigning
  • you are unhappy with your job
  • you are getting married
  • you don’t feel valued

 

how to tell your spouse

  • you’re pregnant
  • they’re fat
  • you are depressed
  • you want a trial separation

 

how to tell your child

  • you’re getting remarried
  • they are adopted
  • he has autism
  • santa isn’t real

 

Some more miscellaneous searches:

 

what to do while waiting for

  • joining letter
  • a love spell to work
  • baby
  • labor

 

how to get into

  • iim
  • google
  • iisc
  • mit

 

how to fix

  • blue screen error
  • parse error
  • damaged sd card
  • earphones

 

how to prepare for

  • exams
  • gre
  • cat
  • gate

 

how to apply for

  • passport
  • jio sim
  • pan card
  • aadhaar card

 

how to read

  • minds
  • a file in java
  • palm
  • ecg

 

As mentioned, search results are location specific. By changing the search url, we can get results for other locations as well. For example, google.com provides results primarily for the USA, google.co.in is for India, and google.co.uk is for the UK. Using this behaviour, we can contrast the searches in different countries.

First, lets establish that the results are indeed specific to location:

what is the weather in

google.co.in google.com google.co.uk
  • bangalore
  • delhi
  • mumbai
  • hyderabad
  • chicago
  • las vegas
  • new york
  • new york city
  • london
  • london today
  • benidorm
  • new york

That looks about right. Now we are ready to do some location-specific searches.

 

how to get a

google.co.in google.com google.co.uk
  • jio sim
  • job
  • job in google
  • passport
  • passport
  • bigger butt
  • boyfriend
  • job
  • mortgage
  • boyfriend
  • divorce
  • six pack

 

how to reduce

google.co.in google.com google.co.uk
  • weight
  • tummy
  • breast size
  • body heat
  • fever
  • stress
  • swelling
  • anxiety
  • body fat
  • blood pressure
  • stress
  • bloating

 

how to become a

google.co.in google.com google.co.uk
  • pilot
  • hacker
  • data scientist
  • model
  • notary
  • pilot
  • lawyer
  • model
  • pilot
  • midwife
  • teacher
  • social worker

 

how to find a good

google.co.in google.com google.co.uk
  • husband
  • job
  • friend
  • girl
  • therapist
  • man
  • doctor
  • realtor
  • builder
  • dentist
  • man
  • solicitor

 

how to contact

google.co.in google.com google.co.uk
  • narendra modi
  • amazon
  • google
  • jio customer care
  • amazon
  • facebook
  • uber
  • google
  • amazon
  • amazon uk
  • facebook
  • ebay

 

ideas for

google.co.in google.com google.co.uk
  • business
  • startups
  • projects
  • india
  • dinner
  • halloween
  • christmas
  • christmas gifts
  • christmas
  • dinner
  • halloween
  • tea

 

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Quotes on Life

 

  • The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.  – Václav Havel
  • As I grow to understand life less and less, I learn to live it more and more. -Jules Renard
  • One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night. – Margaret Mead
  • Just as a cautious businessman avoids tying up all his capital in one concern, so, perhaps, worldly wisdom will advise us not to look for the whole of our satisfaction from a single aspiration. – Sigmund Freud
  • Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. – Carl Sandburg
  • Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it, but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance. – Charles A. Lindbergh
  • Every increased possession loads us with new weariness. – John Ruskin
  • It is impossible to live pleasurably without living prudently, honorably, and justly; or to live prudently, honorably, and justly, without living pleasurably. – Epicurus
  • Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. – Jerome K. Jerome
  • Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for. – Joseph Addison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Choosing a Route for Commuting

Let’s say you travel to office by a flexible means of transport, that lets you choose the route on a daily basis. The simplest example is you drive your own car. Assume there are three routes for you to take:

  • Route A has a fixed travel time of 1 hour.
  • Route B has a variable travel time. 90% of the time the route is free, and you reach in 40 minutes. But 10% of the time, the route gets congested, and it takes 90 minutes. This has an expected travel time of 45 minutes.
  • Route C has an unknown travel time.

Which route do you take?

Well, it depends on the situation. If you simply want to minimize your expected travel time, pick route B. On the other hand, if you have a meeting to attend that’s starting in 75 minutes, you want to reach on time, so pick route A. This shows that we may not always want to maximize expected gain (or in this case, minimize expected cost), as measured directly by the variable under consideration, here travel time.

What about route C? We don’t know anything about it, so why pick it? The idea is that once in a while, you should try out new routes. It might turn out better than one or both of A and B. But you can’t pick route C when you have a meeting. At other times, with a small probability (say 5%), you should pick route C (or any route you haven’t tried before), and the rest of the time (95%), you should pick the best route you know. This is a good example of the explore-exploit tradeoff.

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