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.



Augmented Confusion

24 12 2015

Last week I encountered ‘augmented confusion’ on three different occasions. I am not sure if it is an actual term or that I made it up…

What I mean by the term Augmented Confusion is that I sometimes do not remember if I met a person in real life or it has been a digital connection and when we interact I am totally confused if I actually know who I am communicating with… Last week I received messages from people via different communication channels (LinkedIn Direct Message, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp) who addressed me on a very personal and informal manner. And, my initial reaction was: that I did not know if I have met the person contacing me before and I was confused if my mind was playing tricks on me (read: suffuring mild amnesia) or that due to active social media activities these people know so much about me (and interact on such an informal and personal level).

Augmented Reality providing additional information in real life.

Credit: vrworld.com

It is (as if) our digital life is blending/converging with our real (offline) life and adds to the confusion. Hence my word/term: augmented confusion. As I try to be as open and honest as possible, I asked these people whom reached out to me if we actually have met in real life. And, lucky me, I am (still) not suffering from amnesia… I indeed did not met them in real life yet. Apparently I am so active digitally and invest so much in marketing that people (think they) have a good impression of me. And, one of the three people that reached out to me said my reputation precedes me and it made them reach out to me for a business proposal. And, in my reply in that conversation I used the term ‘augmented confusion’ for the first time to explain my confusion and ignorance about our relation.

I mutated the term Augmented Reality, which means: “an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device.” ‘My term’ augmented confusion stayed with me and I was curious if it is an actual term. My google search did not yield anything worth mentioning. When we split the term and analyse both their meanings according to Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Augmented Reality provided by mobile smart devices.

Credit: businessinsider.com

– Full Definition of augment

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1:  to make greater, more numerous, larger, or more intense <the impact of the report wasaugmented by its timing>

  3. 2:  to add an augment to (see 2augment)

  4. 3:  supplement <augmented her income>

  5. intransitive verb
  6. :  to become augmented

aug·ment·er or aug·men·torplay\-ˈmen-tər\noun
The art of confusion.

Credit: theartofconfusion.blogspot.com

– Full Definition of confusion

  1. 1:  an act or instance of confusing<confusion of the issue>

  2. 2a:  the quality or state of being confused<try to relieve their confusion>b:  a confused mass or mixture <a confusion of voices>

con·fu·sion·al play\-ˈfyüzh-nəl, -ˈfyü-zhə-nəl\adjective
Augmented Confusion created by social media

Merry Christmas and a healthy & happy New Year!



#Selfie or #NotToSelfie

17 12 2014

I guess that selfies are not a trend, or a fading trend for that matter. Wherever I go, I see people (multiple or single) hold their smart phones (hardly any real cameras) in from of them (with or without a telescopic stick) and taking a picture of themselves. In the street, in shops (great way for social shopping), on public transportation (yes, I love the Amsterdam Tram system) and last, but certainly not least, in the gym (in front of mirror where girls and boys lift their shirt to show of their abs).

Yesterday our own in-house Ace photographer (of Ace Photo Studio) took a picture of me while I was not paying attention. A so-called snapshot, as I did not pose and he saw a moment and shot it. I liked the picture and setting so much, I posted it on my social media channels that same day.

This is the result:
Is this selfie of Alon Ben Joseph?

Now I was wondering, should this be considered a selfie of not?

And, to start a discussion, I was wondering if you #selfie or #dontselfie and why?



Speaking about the future of gold during Schone Symposium

31 10 2014

I have been invited by Umicore’s subsidary Schone Edelmetaal B.V. to speak during their Symposium on Monday November 3rd, 2014, which they are organising in honor of their 275th birthday.

Schöne Edelmetaal B.V. has been a household name in the world of precious metals since 1739. Having originally started out as inspectors of gold and silver at the Exchange Bank, they have grown into being the main supplier to the European mints. They got to where they are today by capitalizing on their rich history. But they don’t just live in the past, as they continue to go for gold. Since 2003 we’ve been doing that under the wing of Umicore.

Alon Ben Joseph speaking at Schone Symposium 2014

The title of my presentation is: “De gouden toekomst van goud”, which translates to: “The golden future of gold”. I have been invited by the management of Schone to inspire all their guests, partners, customers and employees. As I am: a jeweller, consultant, innovator in the jewelry industry with regard to multichannel retail, Shopping2020 Expert and Schone customer, they asked me to philosophize about the future of gold in the ‘New Economy’.

I have the honor to share the stage with TV personality Humberto Tan, Gold Expert Willem Middelkoop and Inspirator and consultant Richard van Hooijdonk.

Do you want to learn more about my personal view of the future of retail, the luxury industry and the consumption behavior of gold? Please visit Oak Consultancy‘s page.



Will ‘smart watches’ and ‘wearables’ kill the Swiss watch industry?

9 09 2014

The last two years I have been asked many times if I believe that the so-called ‘smart watches‘ and ‘wearables‘ will conquer the valuable ‘wrist real estate‘ from the Swiss watch brands on all of our wrists.

My answer is always and unconditionally: NO!

Sony Smart Watch on Alon Ben Joseph's wrist.

Ace Jewelers was the first Dutch jeweller to sell smart watches. Here is the Sony Smart Watch on my wrist.

I hear you saying: “This Alon is not objective! Not only is he a jeweller and salesman of watches, but also an enormous WatchFreak!” I am indeed guilty of selling watches and privately a huge watch fanatic, but I do believe that I am objective and able to give an answer to this question as I have always ‘lived’ in this industry (the watch industry) and also grown up with electronics.

As a little kid I (born in 1979) I grew up with the resurrection of the Swiss watch industry after it was hit hard in the 1970s. So hard, that it almost whipped out the complete Swiss watch industry (due to the Quartz Crisis). Hence, my first watch at an age of four (in 1983) was a Swatch (couldn’t even read time yet) and have worn the first Casio G-shocks out there. The feeling is creeping up that the complete watch industry (not only the Swiss, but also the Japanese, Chinese and German for that matter) is on the brink of another ‘Quartz Crisis’! (Read more about this crisis: Wikipedia, Haute Horlogerie Assocation and Calibre 11 Blog.)

Swatch watch 30th anniversary Limited Edition.

I still collect Swatch watches today. This is 30th anniversary limited edtion launched in 2013.

Do I think that this is true? No, I do not think we will have a huge ‘live-threatening crisis’ for the (luxury) watch industry on our hands, but I do think that the luxury industry (watches, fashion, cars, etc) are lagging, frozen in their old ways and will get hit… Hit hard. So, it might be a bold statement, but I do dare to say that the luxury industry and the watch industry in particular are on the brink of a huge revolution, after having a great, smooth and exponential growing evolution (for at least three decades)… We all know that (smooth) evolutionary periods are abruptly interrupted by (unexpected and) game-changing revolutions.

Why do I still sound so positive, if that is my opinion/view? Well, I believe that as society, consumer behavior and norms & value change, and they are changing faster than ever before, we will see that we will utilize our ‘wrist real estate’ better… We have two wrists 🙂 So, it doesn’t mean that consumers will throw away their mechanical watches and automatically swap it to a digital smart watch/device. I also expect that eco-friendly smart watches will not only be powered by, for example solar power, but maybe also by (kinetic) mechanical automatic movements… Hybrid watches… Remember the Japanese Seiko Kinetic movements or  the Swiss AutoQuartz movements made by ETA (and used by Omega, Tissot and Swatch for example)?
But, on the other hand, I do believe that the marketing and communication needs to change by the premium brands that manufacture ‘old school’ mechanical watches. As the newest generation that know how to use smart phones and tablet computers before they even know how to crawl or feed themselves, will not even want to wear anything (besides some 3D printed jewelry maybe) on their wrists, arms or any body part for that matter… The sole reason that the Swiss (high-end) watch industry recovered after the Quartz Crisis, is because watches become an even bigger status symbol that it was before the Quartz Crisis in the 1970s and that it gave the owner a romantic sense of feeling and nostalgia. I do not think this will fade with the growing usage of smart devices markets.

I have been walking around with the idea to write an article about this subject for quite some while now. As the editor-in-chief of my favorite (and the best trade magazine in the watch industry) Europa Star, Mr. Pierre M. Maillard, always writes such cutting edge and precise views about the watch industry, he triggered me not only to write my own two cents, but also share his article: Mechanical Intelligence” by P.M. Maillard for September 2014 edition of the English Europa Star Magazine. Although Maillard hardly refers to other articles in his own, he starts of with another article in this one:

An interesting article that appeared recently in The Economist (“The high-tech world of old-world watches”) offered a different take on the implications of the approaching tidal wave of smart watches. The premise of the article is that there is a great deal more innovation in the art of mechanical watchmaking than in supposedly “smart” watches.
According to The Economist, smart watches are no more than a new way of presenting and adapting existing functions and applications in “a mash-up of phone, activity-tracker and music-player.”
And despite the fact that almost two million were sold last year, Endeavour Partners in the USA found that one-third of buyers tire of them rapidly, and simply stop wearing them within six months.
The Economist takes the contrary view that true innovation is to be found in good old-fashioned mechanical watchmaking, stimulated by the “vast profits still made in and around Switzerland’s ‘watch valley’,” and by the “unexpected uses of untraditional materials, that may in time transform the industry.” quoting Maillard in the latest edition in Europa Star Magazine. He indicated that he is skeptical if “the new Messiah Apple” will succeed to kill off the Swiss watch industry single-highhandedly, as he continues:

Although some watchmakers dismiss out of hand any risk of being swallowed up by the technology monster, and others already fear for their lives, the true outcome will probably lie somewhere between the two.

Maillard warns the Swiss watch industry that “it must avoid seeking refuge in denial, as it did during the famous quartz crisis, which came close to sinking the entire industry. Arrogance is a poor counsellor. Nevertheless, the idea that everyone and everything should be constantly connected (because in addition to smart watches we should expect to see smart refrigerators, smart cars, smart baby’s bottles, etc.) will eventually be undone by its own ubiquity.” And, he finishes his great article with a positive note: “Not everyone wants to be permanently plugged in, and the number who do is probably diminishing. One of the virtues of traditional watchmaking is the mechanical poetry that connects us not to the internet but to the cosmos, to the mysteries of time and beauty. And therein perhaps lies its greatest strength.
UP by Jawbone

UP by Jawbone bracelet.

You might wonder what I do with my two wrists. Well, I often (but not always) wear two wrist watches, one on each wrist. It has nothing to do with telling time or having access to two different time zones simultaneously, but do so exclusively due to my obsessive love for the art of watchmaking. Yes, I do own pocket watches and no, I never wear them. And, yes, I do love technology and innovation too. It took me a while to decide if I do want to be a (volunteer) victim of the all new all connected world and I decided that I do and I decided to test a UP by Jawbone bracelet. I just ordered my first one on Amazon yesterday. But, I am also one of these consumers that Maillard refers to: I do not always want to be online. I think we all have this contradiction in us: we often are ‘stuck in this rat race’ of being on top of things all the time (read: super connected and online), where-as (for example in the weekend or during holidays) we embrace and cherish our (complete) downtime (read: unconnected and offline).

To conclude this article/post/my ‘two cents’: I do not think that smart watches like the iWatch by Apple and/or wearables like the UP by Jawbone will kill the premium watch industry. But, I do think that if the watch industry does not at least acknowledge and even better, embrace the new technologies and listen very carefully to the wishes of the (new generation of) consumers, many brands in this industry will perish. And, the gaps in the market will be filled by the Apples, Samsungs and the ‘many Kickstarter projects that we can expect’ of this world. A new generation has already grown up with touch screens, uses smart phones and tablet computers, and these kids will not automatically surrender their wrist to a ‘weird thing on your wrist with a strap that can only tell time’  (that maybe is possible indicated the date and if you are lucky has a chronograph)… They need a totally different method and argument of convincing to buy a watch that needs to be wound by hand, wrist movement, or even worst, can’t be charged by themselves as it has an old school battery inside….

Potential design iWatch by Apple.

When I wrote this article the iWatch was not launched yet, and this picture shows an impression of how it could look like.

So, for now I am going to unpack my new Jawbone UP bracelet, that I am going to wear on ‘the other wrist’, as my left wrist will always be reserved for old school nostalgic mechanical wristwatches. 🙂

PLEASE DO SHARE YOUR TWO CENTS ON THIS SUBJECT HERE BELOW.