Startups are the only organizations that can create truly innovative products because they are not constrained by the bureaucracy and risk-aversion of larger companies.
It is now easy to start a new business, but most startups fail.
The future is defined by progress made during a given time, which can be categorized into horizontal progress (expanding on existing ideas, going from one to n) and vertical progress (creating something new, going from zero to one).
Increasing production and the availability of smartphones is horizontal progress. Inventing the smartphone is vertical progress.
Vertical progress is hard to predict as it requires imagining something that does not yet exist.
The ability to see the present differently is critical to predict the future. The author asks, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” in job interviews to test this ability.
Many people think indefinitely about the future, which means they try to consider all possible outcomes. This isn't helpful because there are too many unknown variables to account for.
Success is a product of focused effort. You need to be the architect of your own future.
Being exceptional in one specific subject yields more success than being mediocre at several subjects.
The success of a startup is largely determined by correctly identifying the ideal market and timing, and acting purposefully on it when the conditions are right.
Contrary to what many may suggest, monopolies are not inherently bad. In fact, they are good for society as they drive innovation and progress.
Monopolies arise when a company is doing something much better than its competitors so that its competitors can't survive.
Monopolies allow companies to invest in research and development without worrying about competition.
Consumers benefit from the superior product the monopoly provides.
Being a monopoly can be considered a precondition for highly profitable businesses, because you can set your own prices. If your product is comparable to those of your competitors, you'll need to lower prices to attract customers.
The airline industry is competitive and without a monopoly. In 2012, one passenger ticket generated only $0.37 of profit, while Google's profit is > 25% of its revenue.
Monopolies usually have four characteristics: technological advantage, network effect, economy of scale, and strong brand.
Technological advantage means their proprietary technology is much better (usually 10x better) than anyone else's.
Network effect means the more people use their product, the more useful it is (e.g., Facebook).
Economy of scale refers to the cost savings gained by producing something on a large scale instead of a small one (Nike can make shoes for much cheaper than a local shop).
Strong brand means people recognize it or trust it, and it can't be replicated (e.g., Apple).
The world still has many secrets to uncover. Secrets are important truths that most people don't know about or don't agree with. The fact that slavery is unacceptable, for example, was a secret at one point in history.
To maintain an advantage, you should seek and chase secrets. Tech companies' secret is having better technology than their competitors.
Hewlett-Packard's success in the 1990s was due to its innovative products, but it lost half its market value when it stopped inventing new products.
Building a successful company takes years of work. It might not make a profit until much later, but it still has value.
Value is calculated by the profit the company makes throughout its entire lifespan.
During the early days of PayPal, which the author co-founded, the author calculated the company wouldn't make much profit until ten years later, but the company obviously still had tremendous value.
Start small, expand incrementally. Focus on your special area of business. The narrower and more specific your target market is, the easier for you to have a monopoly. Expand your market to broader areas after you've achieved monopoly.
Amazon started by only selling books online. It expanded to sell other items only after it achieved a monopoly in the online bookstore business.
Building a solid foundation is crucial for start-ups to survive in the long run. Finding the right people, balancing owner interests, and instilling a strong culture are key components.
The founders should not only have skills and a shared vision, they should also have close relationships. The author has seen examples of companies failing due to weak ties between the founders.
A strong culture means the people in the company enjoy working with each other. It makes the company more effective.
Some founders may be more interested in building rather than selling. However, sales is a necessity in any business.
Distribution refers to the company's system of selling products. A good distribution considers the potential value of each client and assigns the appropriate resources to make the sale.
For example, the author's data analytics company, Palantir, would often have the author himself close deals that are worth millions.
Use proven sales strategies to help improve your sales. Don't avoid them because they might have a negative connotation of being manipulative.
One of the best ways to sell a product is to create a narrative around it that resonates with people.
To set up your startup for success, ask the seven questions below. If you have good answers to five or six of the questions, then you might succeed. If you nail all seven, then your success is pretty much guaranteed.
The Engineering question: Can you create breakthrough technology (10x better) instead of incremental improvements? E.g., email is > 10x more effective than letter mail.
The Timing question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
The Monopoly question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
The People question: Do you have the right team? I.e., does your team have the necessary skills (technical and non-technical) and relationships?
The Distribution question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
The Durability question: Will your market position be defensible ten and twenty years into the future?
The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don't see?
Founders of successful companies tend to be somewhat unusual. Four of PayPal's founding team built bombs as teenagers for fun.
Originality in founders is important. An original founder has a vision, which inspires people and is fundamental to a company's prolonged success. Steve Jobs is an example of a leader who's original and had a vision.