Zero to One

Zero to One. This was an audiobook, narrated by the primary author, Peter Thiel. Thiel was cofounder of PayPal, is a director at Facebook and is an economic advisor to Donald Trump. It was originally compiled as entrepreneurship lecture notes by Stanford student Blake Masters.

Hearing his voice added a deeper insight into the book’s content. I could feel the experience behind his words. I could peer into the inner life of a Silicon Valley elite. How he viewed the world and those in it, as an insider. Surely an intellectual too.

He sounded mild and even tempered throughout, yet not boring because he sounded present and somehow healthy. Punctuated by sub-communicative insights. A hint of contempt for another elite person or organisation. A crack of sympathy for the unfortunate. Sometimes I felt this was contrived. It was interesting to hear someone speak about Facebook for example as an insider who had authority over it.

On to the content. I wasn’t struck by any great structure of the ideas. Being an audiobook it was hard to picture how the book was structured, as would appear in the contents. That can mean that the content itself is better though, remaining in the organic units of lessons, rather than being “boxed in” to an overall pleasing layout or architecture of ideas when they needn’t be. That’s how the content seemed to me overall: organised into lessons rather than a system. Then again “notes” is in the title.

It seems to me that the two great contemporary entrepreneurship books are The Lean Startup and this. Having read the former I felt compelled to contrast the two. During listening and now. The former felt more procedural and systematic. Whereas this felt more concerned with principles and fairly high level advices; the reason being that if you understand the principles and essential pieces then you can apply them to many or all scenarios and the details sort themselves out or don’t matter so much. Different people tend to prefer detailed or high level thinking, but I think it’s good to read both.

I feel Peter is more boss than Eric Ries. Thiel’s references to Shakespeare, Goethe and Tolstoy were impressive but it’s a rare person who can also speak personally about the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg as well. The book did feel a bit like a shrine to Thiel’s greatness or ego. It’s almost as if he rejected or never learned the value of humility. I suppose he intends and does a lot of good overall though which sufficiently justifies egoism in my view. It doesn’t beautify it but in this case the book is beautiful.

As the name suggests, this is a book primarily for ventures doing something new. I think the most central business message he had was that one should aim to be a monopoly: because in competition profits get competed away. The easiest way to be a monopoly is create something new.

Aim for technology that is 10x better than the nearest competitor. This was a message to engineers. This was balanced and contrasted by the message that you need a good sales strategy as well to succeed. The best ideas don’t always win, they have to succeed in the market to do that.

Some parts were very practical advice. Such as the importance of suitable cofounders and company culture.

It got philosophical at the beginning and towards the end. The thought experiment that there are four possible outcomes for humanity. The concept of “the singularity” being the logical end to technological advancement. Interesting, however briefly covered, and something that I’d want to look in to further. It made me realise that science fiction is probably good to read if you want to be a tech entrepreneur; thinking and feeling in terms of technology that doesn’t exist yet.

The Lean Startup

This book is the most scientific approach to entrepreneurship I’ve ever seen. The whole thing seems so congruent and yet the book manages to stand up as being original. I had the sense that this book has become a deep part of the zeitgeist and at the root cause of much change; particularly in America.

I was impressed with the trenchant quality of the writing and believe this indicates that he knows entrepreneurship very well, but also it had the “closed system” quality of a programmer’s mind. Hence why everything just seemed to fit and resonate quite well.

This will take a few days to sink in. Then again, its lessons aren’t meant to be understood in theory, they are meant to be practised (as in the concept of Genchi Gumbutsu). I like that it presents entrepreneurship as a learnable system, and thus one can take a skills-centred approach to it and even consider it a profession. He seemed to reference Japanese companies a lot so I wonder if he didn’t miss valuable knowledge from other countries.

I would have to apply the ideas in this book to truly comment on its merit but given its reception; I’d say this was a very good entrepreneurship book to start with.

How I Became Self-Employed

This title sounds self-involved. I don’t intend it to be. It’s just that I remember how it used to seem impossible, so unlike I. Now that circumstances have changed it seems like the new normal. I have a hard time imagining going back. The thought of doing so feels like stepping back into a box. Not being able to sit up fully straight or relax your shoulders too much.

The truth is it happened by accident on my part. And in increments. There wasn’t really an inspirational moment of truth or boldness. Rather, there was a moment of insight that it was now the best course of action to take. Not to mention a surprisingly deep-seated preference for it I might add. It’s funny how you think these parts of you are lost forever or grown out of, and then they turn out to have just been sleeping and come back in full force.

It all started about 11 months ago with my first “graduate type” job. Working with Salesforce. It was as much or more to do with my father as it was to my personal quality. A bit of worthiness and nepotism both. It’s always about both suitablility and knowing someone in some measures though. Society prefers those who are high on the first and low on the last. As for suitability, my demonstrated ability to learn and self-teach new things (notably physics) was the most important part and I’ve come to see why. The entire 11 months has been a non-stop learning experience. It seems that not once have I sat back, sipped some tea by the fire and said that this is what the job description said it would be. Relaxed that I needn’t learn anything new to perform my job. As someone who very nearly went to medical school but chose this instead (due to lifestyle reasons), believe me when I say it’s no walk in the park intellectually.

A voice hidden amongst that preceding paragraph speaks the first essential part of having a business: actually having a service to offer people.

The next step wasn’t even my own. I called up a contact in the industry asking about his business and blog, then he offered me a job. Such is a high growth industry. But it wasn’t a job, it was an independent contracting role. Probably so he had less responsibility on his part. This required me to get an Australian Business Number.

A month later I connected the dots and decided that I was indeed self-employed. My Facebook employment status changing to self-employed was actually the only known event of something happening faster than the speed of light – the change occurring faster than the electrons which transmitted the signal. I’ve made sure to remind all of my Facebook contacts at least twice a week since then. My whole air changed.I decided that I was of a higher caliber than most (since they were employed rather than owning a successful business) and deserving of more space on public transport.

I decided that since it was the same work being done anyway and merely a different legal arrangement, I would insist on an independent contracting agreement in all of my roles henceforth. This may have been the happiest and most expansive month of my whole life. Such a shock it’s been to my system that it’s the only known event of a change in personality type in my life: from INTP to INTJ.

I’ve slowly and steadily inched forward in various ways. The moment to make a new move usually at the time that I’ve become grounded enough in the changes of the last round of “expansion”. Changing the business name to something sexy, setting up a business account, experimenting with bookkeeping, starting a website, getting G-suite. Today I started using Simpleology again because I found myself lacking a “dream catcher”: somewhere to catch my fleeting thoughts about what it would be good to do next. To my delight they now have an iPhone app but to my ire they have intensified the marketing psychology/influence aspect of it to monumental proportions.

One good thing about running a business is that it presents virtually unlimited potential for expansion. At least it feels that way. I’ve felt it deeply satisfying to be a jack of all trades: writing blog posts one minute, thinking about accounting the next, putting your public relations hat on when posting on Facebook, interacting from a place of greater groundedness and initiative with others. This is all in addition to the core work itself. It does seem to get a bit sickly when it stops presenting an opportunity for growth. It’s like an extension of who you are, a conceptual machine that molds like putty in your hands and seems real every time it edges forth into the world. Capable of dealing with it in ways that one never truly could, as only an idea can. All at once intoxicating and rousing, liberating and grounding.

The 4-Hour Work Week

As the title suggests, this is a book about cutting you51OWc0PhNqL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgr working hours down. A lot. But it’s also about earning enough income to finance your “dream-lines”. Location independently. Or in other words, living how you really want to. This is a book which isn’t for everyone. To accept its premises is to think outside of the box. Indeed, most people would read it and shake their heads in non-acceptance – it poses too much questioning of settled reality. Much of it is radical even by my standards. However, I don’t argue that it’s not possible. I merely think it’s not as straightforward as he seems to see everything. The secret to that straightforward, pragmatic thinking can perhaps be found through this book also, though.
This is one of the key texts of the location independent lifestyle. And there’s no lifestyle I would rather have than a location independent one, hence why I decided to read the book. Although Timothy Ferriss seems to emphasise intermittent “mini-retirements” and dream-lines rather than the “purist” digital nomad lifestyle of indefinite travel. Vagabonding. Both of these are deeply appealing, however.
I believe that Ferriss essentially gives two different methods of financially achieving the “new rich” lifestyle:
1) A remote work agreement or some other sort of location independent employment
2) A muse: start-up venture that exists solely to generate maximum income with minimum time investment
Of these two methods, the first is more within the common sphere of reality. However, it is also much more time intensive and not scalable by nature. Admittedly, the second seems pretty far out to me but I suppose it would be more graspable if a viable idea itself was more graspable. To his credit he does lay out a method, however, you really do need to be able to offer value to a niche market. This I struggled to imagine and the book lost me a little bit. He provides tons of resources one you get going, though; many B2B services which I had never heard of and hopefully will one day revisit.
The main body of the book is structured into four “steps”:
1) Definition. This mostly included the beginning thought process, defining dream-lines and doing the start-up
2) Elimination. Where you significantly reduce your time spent working through various means
3) Automation. Ferriss is very big on outsourcing personal tasks to overseas “Virtual Assistants” who work relatively cheaply, but automating through a computer is even better (cheaper)
4) Liberation. Once you’ve defined, eliminated and automated you are then able to liberate yourself in terms of location and do the travel that you wanted to
This book has a certain ethos which seems very original to me and not really fitting well with any other philosophy that I’ve seen. I suppose that’s because a fundamentally different lifestyle initiates new values and lines of thinking. For example, he seems to be big on minimalism in all things. He has a very regimented attitude about what’s allowed to disturb his attention or take up his time. Leanness of enterprise and ruthlessness with personal resources such as energy – “be pound wise and penny foolish”. He’s super pragmatic and analyses things deeply with an uncommon clarity of thought. Thinking and acting outside the box. Being uncaring of what people think is a priority. It fits the humanist zeitgeist of maximising quality of life, and even takes it a step further than anything else, to its logical extreme. When you work the standard 9 to 5 this ethos appears pointless (I’ve tried) because then you’d just end up reducing your work hours and income. You relearn to just show up, trundle along for 8 hours and go along with company culture. If you’re location independent or an entrepreneur then this ethos becomes very relevant, though, because no one is looking over your shoulder and true effectiveness becomes imperative.

Business Ownership and Gracefulness

I’ve noticed a rather subtle distinction between business owners and employees. The difference is in the way they make you feel. I think it stems from how they feel and identify themselves. Their experience of life and society.
The keyword is scarcity. When you work for a company you are forcibly shaped by the approval of your boss. Your ego is constrained and controlled. You are in a rat race with other employees for the prestige feeling but no one is allowed to have as much as they would like anyway except on their birthday. You have to hustle. Unless there’s a particularly good company culture you have to constantly bump into others, whip them out and measure dicks. You learn to treat people badly because you don’t get treated how you want to be treated. You learn to supplement your social value. We’re drifting ever further from wholesome goals such as happiness.
Compare that to being a business owner. There’s no question about it: you are at the top of the tree. You have the authority. You have a lot more freedom to present and communicate how you want. You can feel how you want to. Let yourself take up space and speak loudly. Your anxiety drops while others’ rises. Anyone who disrespects you needn’t be in the company for long. You’re in abundance. You simply don’t need to worry about all these social dynamics beyond not causing a lawsuit.
An abundance vs a scarcity of validation. In control vs out of control. Owning vs being employed. Leading vs following.
When you feel secure in your psychological needs, you behave differently around others. You aren’t threatened. You don’t need them for anything. You are basically free to treat them how you wish. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this dynamic is prerequisite to being truly graceful. That feeling of being hosted. Of sitting at the captain’s table. However, it is also a license to treat people authoritatively and punitively.
With employees, you often find these psychological needs in deficit. I notice this manifests most saliently as the vibe of being “in competition” with others in various ways. The senior employee who treats you like you’re less than them. You can’t really be at ease around them because they feel that their happiness depends on diminishing yours. They feel the need to bluntly take control rather than be civil and think win-win. You find them treating you disrespectfully and that is because they feel their lives are lacking something in general such as authority or freedom.
Of course, there are clear advantages to taking a job and not all jobs are created equal. There are clear disadvantages to starting a business such as the uncertainty and risk of it. You may find yourself in a scarcity of time, money and energy instead of social value.
I’m a big believer in civility. Social graces are what give people the psychological space to be happy and not threatened by you. If everyone in an organisation does that then there’s a much greater sense of abundance than a culture where no one is really winning except the biggest baddest dog in the fight. I believe the responsibility for instilling a culture like this falls in the lap of those in authority and ultimately the owners. Managers and owners ought to be very civil and hopefully it trickles down.
People with civil natures ought to be promoted whilst those without civil natures ought to be demoted or if highly competent stay in technical positions. Just the same as social intelligence. Perhaps there could even be a scarcity-abundance metric used to rate employees based on how people feel around them. Meditation and social skills would thus be incentivised. This way perhaps those who are employed may find their psychological needs met and in turn, they will be more graceful in their personal lives.

On The “Low Information Diet”

In The 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss describes something he calls the “low information diet”. It’s fairly self-explanatory: don’t immerse yourself in unnecessary information, so as to free up your attention and intellect for the truly important. The essence of it is captured by the following quote:

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the over abundance of information sources that might consume it.
– Herbert Simon
He sold me on the idea originally, but once I cooled off became more skeptical. Do I even want to have a low information diet? The answer seems to depend on my lifestyle at the time. To me, the ideal lifestyle is being able to do whatever you want, do work that you love and spend the rest of the time having sex. I’m certainly gunning for a life like this and if I had actualised it then no I probably wouldn’t want to concern myself with reading the news.
In my current lifestyle, though, where I work and am planted in my hometown; information is a means of escape. Reading the world news takes me somewhere else. Knowing about what’s going on makes me feel more in control. Learning and thinking make me feel sane.
Could it be that our preferences change based on the degree to which our needs are being met? Yes, most definitely. That seems to suggest that it’s best to actualise our true heartfelt desires primarily and then see what we care about after that, rather than taking our current whims too seriously. Easier said than done. The frustrating part is that we almost always need something of others to get what we truly need. Hence charisma, hence influence, hence social skills.
What kind of dark arts can bring us the life that we really want? What is required of us? I digress. The low information diet is something that can presumably enhance mental acuity but is most palatable when our life is such that we don’t feel the need to escape from it or supplement our feeling of self-determination.
And if possible, having specific questions answered by a knowledgeable person is better than wading through news and books ourselves, because it allows us to both reap the benefits of a low information diet and to have more trenchant and sagacious input.

What Is Internet Marketing?

Have you ever looked at people who make a living online and thought; what do they actually produce? Why do they only talk in generalisations and cliches but never seem to demonstrate what specifically is the source of income? Almost like snake-oil salesmen, the human embodiment of platitudes.
Or at least this is what I thought until recently when a huge lightbulb lit up. People like this are about marketing.
I majored in finance (with entrepreneurship and foreign exchange to China). This seemed to give me a good head for “optimising” things such as the use of time, energy and money. However when the prospect of starting a business loomed I was at a loss. Predicting or influencing buyers’ behaviour seemed completely beyond me, mystical even.
Simply wetting my beak in marketing content has restructured my understanding of what is possible. There is a predictable and learnable process which exists. Perhaps even a science.
Marketing seems to have been a gap in my knowledge which made business mystifying and my ideas flightless. Perhaps it was for you as well. Here is a podcast I came across which made the penny drop: podcast