Three Lessons by Peter Thiel

Klara Zietlow
3 min readMay 12, 2021
Peter Thiel on Fox News in 2019 I Getty Images

Peter Thiel has a lot of experience in innovation. As a co-founder of PayPal, Palantir Technologies, and Founders Fund, he has formed many unique opinions. He also wrote a #1 New York Times Bestselling book, Zero to One, which teaches the reader to rethink conventional wisdom and see the world differently than their peers.

Here are 3 lessons I’ve learned from watching him speak:

1. Competition is for Losers

People tend to speak of competition as if it’s something vital to success. It can be reassuring to know that there are others attempting what you’re doing. Yet, just because lots of people are doing something, that doesn’t validate whether it is good or not. You must take into account how much of the pie you’ll own, before the pie’s size. Aim for monopoly.

The example Peter Thiel uses often in his talks is a restaurant: they are undifferentiated from dozens of competitors and must fight hard to survive. Each restaurant is just a tiny sliver of a much greater pie.

These businesses are so focused on today’s profits, they can’t afford to think long-term. Competition goes beyond profits though; It makes you lose sight of what is truly valuable.

Since monopolies don’t need to worry about competitors, they can afford to care about things like employee welfare, high quality products, and social impact. This in turn will help to grow their business even more.

That’s not to say competition is exclusively detrimental. Competitors will push you to be better at your specific job, but it comes with the risk of losing sight of your end goal.

2. Make Sure There’s a Reason for your Company

You shouldn’t be founding a company just to found one. There needs to be a problem solved by your company and market for whatever you’re selling. If you’re just copying what successful people have done in the past, you’re not learning from them. They wouldn’t make the same company again because the world has changed.

You should be doing one thing uniquely well. So different from the competition, that it’s not even competition anymore.

If you want unconventional success, you’ll need to have an unconventional process. Try to find a “Secret Path” to get into your market. Having this advantage will also pull you ahead of your competitors, fast tracking you to monopoly.

Finally, the people in your company must align. Give your employees lots of thought before hiring. It’s best to have known them for a while (especially for a co-founder) so there won’t be any unexpected behaviors. Co-founders should complement each other and have different strengths to make up for each other’s weaknesses.

3. Don’t Dwell on Failure

This is one of his more controversial lessons. Peter Thiel says that failure is massively overrated and that you don’t actually learn much from failing. He reasons that the cause of failure is usually too complicated to break it down into something actionable so people will go after the wrong thing.

Even if you identify one cause, there are most likely many others that contributed which you won’t identify; These will cause you to fail again.

Thiel believes that dwelling on the past isn’t valuable because most failures occur as a result of 5 things: you work with the wrong people, your idea was bad, your timing was wrong, there was too much competition, or the product didn’t work.

Often the lesson people draw from failed startups is that they should try something less ambitious because their vision is impossible. This is the wrong takeaway. Basically, Thiel’s view is that failing is psychologically damaging and you should try to avoid/move past it.

Hey! I’m Klara, a 14-year-old extremely passionate about biomimicry, sustainability, and the future of food. 🌿 I love writing articles about interesting people and topics to share what I learn with the world! If you enjoyed this article, please give it some claps and follow me on Medium.
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Klara Zietlow

Passionate about the future of food and the environment. Likes animals too :)