Book review Zero To One

5 08 2016

My buddy Jonathan Salomon recommended me to read Peter Thiel’s book “Zero To One” back in 2015 already and I only came around to finish it this week. Not only was I totally inspired by reading it, but also regretted not reading it earlier! It was an easy and fun read. Although the topics and main subject are very philosophical and ground-breaking (actually), the book is ‘light’ and easy to read with great examples to accompany the theories projected.

Zero To One by Peter Thiel

So, what was so inspirational and what did I learn? As an entrepreneur I love to read books written by other entrepreneurs and what mistakes they made and especially what makes the successful. Peter Thiel is one of the founders of PayPal and later on teamed up with fellow futurist and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk (a.k.a. Mr. Tesla). If you like reading books about successful entrepreneurs, business books and/or innovative/new theories, Zero To One is a must-read book for you!

Well, if you do not have patience to read this complete blog post, the takeaway secret of Zero To One is:

ALWAYS ASK THE CONTRARY QUESTION!
Most answers to the contrary question are different ways of seeing the future and therefore unlocking the future!

The book starts with Thiel explaining thath he asks every applicant during a job interview this particular quesions; “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”. A very simple quesion, but very hard to ask. I immediately tried to answer the question for myself and after a few moments of tranquilly thinking I came up with an answer. After finishing the book two days later, I re-asked myself the question and came up with another question. I advice you to answer this question for yourself now. At the end of this blog post you can read my initial and final answer.

Few chapters later he explains the Power Rule (of venture capital), which is all about exponential growth. The chapter can be summarised by the first paragraph where Thiel quotes an unverified saying by Albert Einstein: “compounded interest is the greatest mathematical eight wonder of the world”, “the most powerful force in the universe”, or even “the most powerful force in the universe.” His takeaway in this chapter is (page 86): “The biggest secret in venture capital is that the best investment in a succesful fund equals or outperforms the entire rest of the fund combined.”

In Zero To One Thiel also gives HR advice in chapter nine op page 113 where he believes in a strong team that is well knit and interact well. He even makes bold statements: “As a general rule, everyone you involve with your company should be involved full-time. Sometimes you’ll have to break this rule; it usually makes sense to hire outside lawyers and accountants, for example. However, anyone who doesn’t own fundamentally stock options or drawa regular salary from your company is fundamentally misaligned. At the margin, they’ll be biased to claim value in the near term, not help you create more in the future. That’s why hiring consultants doesn’t work. Parte-time employees doesn’t work. Even working remotely should be avoided, because misalignement can creep in whenever colleagues aren’t together full-time, in the same place, every day. If you’re deciding wheteher to bring someone on board, the decision is binary. Ken Kesey was right: you’re either on the bus or off the bus.”

Three quarters into the book Zero To One the author Peter Thiel gives a small handbook with seven questions for every business, which he thinks every entrepreneur/company should answer:

1. The Engineering Question: Can you create  breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
2. The Timing Question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
3. The Monopoly Question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
4. The People Question: Do you have the right team?
5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
6. The Durability Question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Obviously if one doesn’t have good answers to these questions, one will run into a lot of bad luck and most probably fail. Answering all seven positively will most probably lead you to fortune and success. And, getting five or six correct might work. A company that nailed all seven is Tesla according to the author.
In my opinion the seventh and last question, The Secret Question, is the most important question and is the main theme of the Zero To One Theory: ask the contrary question to find novel views & ideas. To go from zero to one, to make something from nothing and not copy something existing and make it slightly better. Thiel urges to find new ways to grow exponentially!

To finish this blog post, I said I would give you my answers to the question Thiel asks every applicant during job interviews: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”. As Thiel starts his book with this question, I initally answered the following before finishing the first chapter: “I believe that it is an important truth that retailer businesses that do not convert their traditional brick-and-mortar operation to an omni-channel business before the year 2020, will die. Especially businesses/companies that sell luxury products!” I beliee this is true and I am believing this already since 2008, hence we transformed our family business Ace Jewelers from a classic boutique business into the first luxury jewelry business to sell online and be authorised by premium luxury brands. In 2008 many people did not agree with me and unfortunately few people still today agree with me.
When I continued reading and finished reading this awesome book two days later, I noticed that Thiel is more of a philosopher than a mere businessman. He is a visionary, like his buddy Elon Musk. Really inspiring. What he means with this question is that we need to seek secrets that are hidden and contain the answer to a better future and the way to find them is by asking the contrary question… Most answers to the contrarian questions are different ways of seeing the present. So, looking at the big picture like he Thiel wants you to look at it, my answer became: “Why do people fear change? Because people are afraid of the unknown. To accelerate progress and innovation, one will need to both break dogma and take away ignorance.” So, therefore my answer to the question of what important truth do a few people agree with me on is: “Breaking dogma and fighting ignorance will propel innovation and progress.” In simple language: “We need to teach kids to think more out-of-the-box and basically give them space to grow-up like entrepreneurs. To teach that if one has different views, that does not make the outsiders and that there is no wrong if they do not copy/paste their parents/friends. Only being different can truly make society progress.” It seems my answer sounds simple and logical and obviously not a few people agree with me, but a majority… But, think twice… The majority loves their old rusty ways and are scared of change.
Like Thiel writes on page 63: “Every culture has a myth of decline from some golden age, and almost all peoples throughout history have been pessimists. Even today pessimism still dominates huge parts of the world.” But, I am positive and an optimist by nature and therefore really believe we are at the verge of a(nother) great change in society/societies and the world.



Book Review #AskGaryVee

10 04 2016

Today I finished reading “#AskGaryVee” by Gary Vaynerchuck a.k.a. Gary Vee, his forth book.

Way before #AskGaryVee came out, I have been a great Gary Vee fan since he started his video’s for his family’s wine business, back in 2006. Ten years later the family business in New Jersey (USA) is named WineLibrary.com with a very successful TV channel named: WineLibrary.tv. I strongly recommend you watch the first episode, the 500th episode en the 999th epsiode to find out what evolution Gary Vee made as a person and what revolution he created in the social commerce world!

In 2009 Gary Vee published his first book “Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion”, followed two years later by “The Thank You Economy” and in 2013 his third best-seller “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World” came out. As huge fan of Gary I obviously bought each book when it came out and inspired my own teams at work to read them too. All of us not only learned a lot from these books in the rapidly changing eCommerce world, but also got inspired to capitalize on our extreme passion at Ace Jewelers.

AskGaryVee by Gary Vaynerchuck book review

After Gary stopped at the 1000th episode of WineLibrary.TV in 2011, he hasn’t done a real video show anymore… Until he started The #AskGaryVee Show in the Summe of 2014. An awesome, pure and raw video show where Gary answers any question of the audience and inspires them uncut. Including Team Ace and me. A brilliant Q&A Show on YouTube with cutting-edge knowledge and information, free of charge! A must-see show. Four days ago he posted episode 197 on his YouTube channel. As this show became such a success and many viewers asked why he doesn’t summarize the best Q&A’s, he decided to do so by writing his fourth book… Guess what he named it… Right, #AskGaryVee 😉

I highly recommend you start watching some video’s  of the #AskGaryVee show, but when (like me) you are too busy ‘hustling’ (business-wise) and ‘crushing it’ (Gary Vee Style) and don’t have time to watch every episode, you have to get this book! He summarizes the best questions from the show in a 344 paged book that reads so easily, you can read it in a transatlantic flight or long train ride!

Still skeptical and do not want to take my word for it, no problem 😉 Let the content convince you, here are five takeaways from the book itself with my personal feedback on each of them:

  • Pages 132-134:
    Q: “What’s the best advice you can give salespersons in the social media/digital world age?”
    A: “… You want to be tactical, but you have to practice the religion of providing value first. How many people put out stories, give free stuff, or engage with people? Probably quite a lot. Now, how many do that without any expectations in return? Very, very few. Be one of these few. When you have no expectations people can sense it, and funny enough, the absence of pressure or obligation actually makes them want to reciprocate.”
    Feedback Alon: This is how I have been raised by my parents and totally feel Gary in this subject and view of life. I have always been thought to do everything to the best of your abilities, add value and do good without expecting any thing in return. Call it karma, but I truly believe in doing good and good will come to you. This goes for anything in life, so in business as well!
  • Page 150:
    Q: “What will the next big social network have to do to challenge Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram?”
    A: “There are two keys to the succes of a social network. 1. Win over the youth market. The network that makes Snapchat feel like it’s for old people will be the next social superstar. 2. Be extraordinarily useful. Instagram was just a place to post pretty pictures until people realized it actually made them better photographers. … In sum, if you’re trying to develop the next big platform, create something the youth of the world didn’t know it couldn’t live without.”
    Feedback Alon: In my previous blog post I wrote about the relevance of Blue Ocean Strategy, even ten years after the book was published. Gary basically says you need to create a blue ocean for your business and if that business has to do with social media, make sure you focus on the innovators and early adaptors in the market… The Youth!
  • Pages 158-159:
    Q: Will Facebook video become a rival for YouTube as a monetized video platform?”
    A: “It already has. … So I suggest that those of you out there doing YouTube shows should start doing Facebook shows, too. … I am not saying you should give up on YouTube. It’s still extremely relevant and important. But if you’re creating content for YouTube, throw it up on Facebook as well. Not with a link to the video – you won’t get the reach you want that way. Remember, native is the way to go.”
    Feedback Alon: This is a piece of really valuable information. At Ace Jewelers we have been investing the last five years in 100% unique in-house produced content: text, photo and video. We strugled with the question of dubplicate content and the effect it has on SEO/SEM.
  • Page 160:
    Q: “My little sister has Insta and Facebook but has no interest in Facebook. What do you think the future holds for Facebook?”
    A: “Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is an assassin. There’s a reason he bought Instagram and there’s a reason he tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion-he wanted teens. … Don’t ever count Facebook out. It’s going to be the infrastructure for over-the-top TV, of free Internet, or the best phone we’ve ever seen. Just you wait.”
    Feedback Alon: I think this question is on everyone’s mind! I was really surprised by this bit of feedback and gave Team Ace Online at Ace Jeweler Group the confidence to strengthen our efforts and investments on the Facebook platform. We also thought Facebook was losing momentum!
  • Pages 200-201:
    Q: “How do I create interesting content for a boring product or a stale industry?”
    A: “… Next, think outside your industry altogether. When I was still selling wine, people would always tell me about other retailers that were doing interesting things and suggest I go for a visit. You know what my answer was? “I don’t give a crap.” The truth is despite all my years in wine, I spent an amazingly little amount of time within the industry itself. The same can be said for the agency industry, even though  am working in it now. I’ve been to maybe six other agencies in my life. I don’t follow industry news. I try not to listen to what else is going on. … Taking an open, optimistic attitude will keep your content fresh and exciting, and allow you to change the world’s perception of your “boring” product.”
    Feedback Alon: I am a huge fan of thinking outside the box! Huge! I always say that we are prisoners of our own minds and that impossible does not exist. When I read this Q&A I really started thinking about this and discussed this with my own team at work. We work in a very old and traditional industry, with products described in The Bible: gemstones, diamonds and gold. So, sometimes we also get caught up inside ‘the box’… But, at Ace Jewelers, like our names says it: we want to excel, be the first and innovate. To innovate you have to map your own trail and be a trailblazer!

Hope this give you a little taste of what Gary Vee is about and what valuable insights and info he shares.

Finally, if you are an (future) entrepreneur and want to see what ‘hustling’ and ‘crushing it’ means by Gary Vee, make sure to check his autobiographic documentary styled Video Show “DailyVee” on YouTube.

In case you are a GaryVee Fan too and/or have seen The #AskGaryVee Show/read the book, please share your takeaways in the comment field here below. #ThankYou



Why the book Blue Ocean Strategy is still relevant

4 04 2016

Have you read the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim that came out in 2005 and create quite a buzz in the business world? Well, I did just when the book came out as a buddy of mine finishing his MBA at INSEAD recommended it to me. Now 11 years later I think it is still very relevant. What made me realize this, is when ING Bank asked to interview me for their homepage on the topic of books that inspired me…

Alon Ben Joseph describing Blue Ocean Strategy book

Although I love technology and everything digital, I am still very old school with somethings… I adore mechanical watches and physical paper books & newspapers. So, when I got asked by ING Bank to think of a book that inspired me as an entrepreneur, I went to my home office and browsed to all my (paper) books standing in my huge book case (collecting dust – huge disadvantage btw). When my eye fell on this book with a blue cover I read more than a decade ago, it clicked in my head. This book turned on so many lights in my head, I had to pick this one.

But, then a few seconds late, while holding the book in my hands and flipping threw it, I wondered if the theory/strategy described in this book still was relevant. I looked at when the book got released and it shocked me that more than 10 years have passed since it got introduced. This book and strategy created a buzz in the business world and not only for myself and our family business.

Before I jump to the interview and the reason I think a Blue Ocean Strategy is still a very relevant strategy, let’s give a quick executive summary of the theory:

“Blue Ocean Strategy was developed by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. They observed that companies tend to engage in head-to-head competition in search of sustained profitable growth. Yet in today’s overcrowded industries competing head-on results in nothing but a bloody red ocean of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool. Lasting success increasingly comes, not from battling competitors, but from creating blue oceans of untapped new market spaces ripe for growth.” (Source: Official website Blue Ocean Strategy)

Alon Ben Joseph's book review of Blue Ocean Strategy on www.ING.nl

Since the interview with ING Bank was done in Dutch a published on their website today (April 4th, 2016) for six weeks, I will translate the original text* here for my dear international readers as published via ING.nl:

Alon Ben Joseph, together with his brother Amir, runs the family business Ace Jewelers since 2012, although both have started in the company since 1998. Ace Jewelers has the most exclusive collections of jewels, watches and diamonds. Their main goal is to serve customers skillfully and friendly, both physically as well as digitally. Alon was responsible for the launch of Ace Jewelers’ eBoutique that they opened in 2008, the first luxury jeweller in the Netherlands to do so. 

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

When I think about entrepreneurship, I think about the following keywords:  creation (to make something out of nothing), relevance (adding value), creativity, leading and having fun. Since my early childhood I wanted to be an entrepreneur and even before I started working in the family business full-time, I already started an internet company. I am very fortunate to not only work in our family business Ace Jewelers, but also have had the ability start-up two more companies. Alle mentioned keywords are relevant for me on a daily basis and are the source of my energy and satisfaction.

What book has inspired you?

Many books have inspired me. Often auto biographies of other entrepreneurs, but a real eye-opener for was ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim back in the year 2005.

What did you learn from this book? And, how did it affect your daily operations?

It has been eleven year since the book been published and the theory launched, but it is still very relevant today.In a nutshell the book makes you see the market/economy in four quadrants. Three of these quadrants are oceans filled with blood, so-called: red oceans. Only one quadrant lacks blood in the ocean, hence a blue ocean. In case your company has a novel strategy that both deploys new technologies and penetrates new markts, then you are head of your competition and therefore the company will not bleed… Read: swim in a blue ocean.
What I have learned from this book is to think  ‘out-of-the-box’. To push boundries and redefine parameters. This book stimulated me to redefine the core strategy of our family business, to mutate from a classic brick-and-morter retailer to an omnichannel retailer. In 2007 we were the first luxury jeweler in the Netherlands and North West Europe that got authorized by the luxury brands to sell online. Ace Jewelers’ website and URL have been online since 1998, but we only got authorized to convert this to an eBoutique where we could sell online in 2008. Insights learned in this book redefined our core being and that made us an industry leader and trendsetter. Today our omnichannel strategy en the actual Blue Ocean Strategy  might not sound that modern or innovative anymore, but many retailers still have to make the transition in to a modern organisation to cater the novel wishes and demands of consumers today. So, this book is still very relevant and I highly recommend it.”

So, this is my short book review of “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim, a decade to late, but still so relevant. My next book review will be about the hard cover “#AskGaryVee Book” by Gary Vaynerchuck.
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* Original Dutch text published on ING Bank’s website:

Alon Ben Joseph runt samen met zijn broer Amir het familiebedrijf Ace Juweliers sinds 2012, maar is er al werkzaam sinds 1998. Ace Juweliers heeft de meest actuele collectie van sieraden, horloges en diamanten. Ze hebben als doel de consument vakkundig en vriendelijk te woord te staan, zowel in de winkel als digitaal. Alon heeft in 2008 de eBoutique geopend en was daarmee de eerste luxe juwelier in Nederland die online ging.

Wat betekent ondernemen voor u?

Als ik denk aan ondernemerschap denk ik aan kernwoorden als: creatie (van niets iets maken), zinnig (waarde toevoegen), creativiteit, leiden en plezier. Van jongs af aan wilde ik ondernemen en heb voor mijn toetreding in het familiebedrijf een internetbedrijf opgericht. Gelukkig heb ik de eer om nog steeds voor het familiebedrijf te werken, maar ook de kans gehad nog twee additionele bedrijven op te richten. Alle kernwoorden waar ik aan denk zijn dagelijks aan de orde en daar haal ik veel energie en voldoening uit.

Welk boek heeft u geïnspireerd?

Vele boeken hebben mij geïnspireerd. Vaak biografieën van andere ondernemers, maar echte eye-opener was voor mij, ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ van Renée Mauborgne en W. Chan Kim in 2005.

Wat heeft u van het boek geleerd? Wat ging u wellicht anders doen?

Inmiddels elf jaar later is het boek en voornamelijk de theorie nog heel relevant. In een notendop heeft het boek inzichtelijk gemaakt dat er vier kwadranten zijn waar ondernemingen in opereren. Drie daarvan zijn oceanen gevuld met bloed, rode oceanen dus. Slechts een kwadrant daarvan is bloedloos en dus blauw. Als je een strategie volgt die zowel een nieuwe techniek en nieuwe klanten/markten aanboort zal je de concurrentie voorblijven en dus niet bloeden… Lees: zwemmen in een blauwe oceaan. Wat ik van dit boek geleerd heb is om ‘out-of-the-box’ te denken. De grenzen te verleggen en de parameters te herdefiniëren. Wij zijn onder andere hierdoor de strategie van ons familiebedrijf gaan herdefiniëren, van een klassieke brick-and-morter retailer zijn wij veranderd in een omnichannel retailer. In 2007 waren wij de eerste luxe juwelier in Nederland en Noord-West Europa die geautoriseerd werden door luxe merken om online te verkopen. Toentertijd een unicum, omdat de luxe merken fel gekant waren tegen online verkopen. Wij waren online met Ace Juweliers vanaf 1998, maar konden pas daadwerkelijk in 2008 online verkopen. Door inzichten geleerd in dit boek, hebben wij onze hele organisatie aangepast en zijn wij voorloper geworden in ons segment en industrie. Vandaag klinken zowel onze omnichannel strategie en de Blue Ocean Strategy niet zo modern en innovatief meer, maar vele retailers moeten nog steeds de slag maken om hun retail organisatie mee te laten evolueren met de wensen van de consument. Dus het boek is een echte aanrader.”


Speaking at NetComm Suisse event

29 01 2016

A week after I spoke at the Webwinkel Vakdagen 2016 event in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I have been invited by NetComm Suisse, the Swiss counterpart of the Thuiswinkel Organisatie to speak during their event: e-Commerce and Digital meet Luxury Watches on Thursday February 2th, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Alon Ben Josep speaking at Netcomme Suisse event in Geneva

NetComm Suisse enables their members to build a strong community of e-Commerce operators. Through networking events, training, institutional relations and research into the digital market, the organization enables greater consumer confidence in e-Commerce and greater success for operators in the industry. They also engage proactively with the media and international institutions, providing information, concrete data and a voice for the wider industry, seeking above all to help build a more engaged and successful future for the Swiss eCommerce sector.

On February 25th, 2016 NetComm Suisse in collaboration with Fongit will host the “e-Commerce and Digital meet Luxury Watches” event. The event will look at the latest trends in digital and e-Commerce for luxury jewellery and watches industry. In this domain our speakers will share knowledge on:

  • Digital innovation, smartwatches, wearable jewellery devices
  • e-Commerce for the luxury industry
  • Online counterfeiting and digital reputation
  • Digital influence in purchase decisions
  • Start-ups to help solving industry problems

An increasing number of consumers is turning to the internet to get their purchase decision. In addition to that, upwards of 70% of people in Europe have shopped online, amounting to some 247 million consumers, with commerce between countries continuing to grow. As regards the luxury sector, e-Commerce represents an excellent opportunity for the industry, including the smartwatch sector, to open itself up to a global market filled with internet- savvy consumers, add this to Switzerland’s long history of watchmaking, perfectly blending a spirit of artisanship plus innovation, and the opportunities in this particular brand of digital innovation are clear to see.

As you might know I love to speak about my passions: fine watches, diamond jewelry and eCommerce. I am humbled that Netcomme Suisse has heard about me and booked me to speak during this event in Geneva next month. Together with managers from the Swiss luxury industry, companies like: Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Richemont, I will speak about my experiences in this industry we have built up with Ace Jewelers. I am also very curious to hear what experts from Facebook, eBooster and Deloitte, attending as speakers during this event have to share.

On that day I will travel from Amsterdam to Geneva and at 16.55 hours I will have the honor to speak about the topic: “Digital influence in offline purchase decisions.”

To attend this event, please register via this direct link: Eventbrite.



Webwinkel Vakdagen 2016

3 01 2016

As you might know I love to speak about my passions. As CEO of Ace Jewelers Group of Amsterdam,www.AceJewelers.com I have been invited to speak during the Webwinkel Vakdagen 2016 (#WWV16). I will speak about Customer Experience in the luxury industry on Wednesday January 20th, 2016 in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Alon Ben Joseph speaking at Webwinkel Vakdagen 2016

The Webwinkel Vakdagen, also know as WWV, is the leading event in the Dutch Internet industry and this is the 10th anniversary edition. In 2006 it was the first time I have attended and it is amazing to see how the fair has grown to an industry meet-up you can not miss! The title of my presentation is: Luxury Customer Experience, online and offline. I will elaborate on critical success factors of Ace Jewelers in creating the ultimate customer experience in the luxury industry we operate in.

Hope to see you at my lecture at noon on the 20th of this month.

For an overview of all my speaking engagements, please visit this page.