What Startup Marketers Can Learn from Peter Thiel’s Zero To One Principle

To create outsized value, you must choose to do the things that create the most marginal value: value created minus effort paid.

I think one of the most promising mental models is Peter Thiel’s idea of zero to one innovation, as expressed in Zero To One. He argues that most wealth is created by companies which create markets and value out of scratch (0 to 1), instead of trying to compete for existing ones/optimize existing innovations (1 to x).

For marketers (and particularly startup marketers), that means it’s often more valuable to find new ways to build brand/build community/sell products rather than obsessively tweaking existing ones*.

As with markets and companies, opportunities to create awesome marginal value often require marketers to make leaps into unused and unexplored tactics, channels, and audiences. New ground typically is the most fertile.

What does that look like?

Starting Adwords when you have no paid search > optimizing an existing Adwords campaign.

Creating a podcast when you have no podcast > optimizing your blog content.

Starting up a TikTok account > becoming 5% better at Twitter

Creating a video series on a core content topic for your company > creating better thumbnail images for your YouTube channel

Launching the email series’ that are missing for your core products > shuffling images and fonts in your current one.

Don’t get me wrong – optimization has an important place. But it’s better at delivering long-tail results over a longer period of time, after you’ve gathered the “low-hanging fruit.” This is why typically only larger organizations dedicate whole roles and salaries to optimization expertise.

In a young, relatively resource-poor marketing organization, thinking like a zero-to-one entrepreneur entering a new industry will ensure you find the best opportunities. Go where there is little or no competition, or where you have never been before, and you are more likely to discover the real treasure troves of marketing effectiveness.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

*Now look – like all rules, this has its exceptions. If your optimizations can yield major results for little effort, that’s what you should go for. Just be wary of optimization for optimization’s sake, and you’ll be fine.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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