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Bookworm: Before your startup, read up

The thought pops into your head at least four times per weekday: I can do this.

You can give good customer service; you do it every day. You’re good with numbers and people. You have more know-how than you know what to do with, and you can do this — on your own, for your own passion.

So you’re thinking of stepping out, going it alone and founding a startup. But before you close one door to open another, read “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel (with Blake Masters).

How does a business thrive?

It’s a question you’ve asked yourself while you’re thinking about your startup. How can your business get a leg up on success? The answer, says Thiel, is that it can’t … unless it invests “in the difficult task of creating new things.” The way to do that is not with a Me-Too business, but with technology, which is “miraculous.”

Think about it: Since the mid-20th century, “only computers and communications have improved dramatically.”

While there’s a lot of conflicting tenets in business, one key to building a “valuable company” is to figure out what nobody is doing, and do it. Another key is to create a monopoly, but not the illegal kind. Instead, you want “the kind of company that’s so good at what it does that no other firm can offer a close substitute.” That is the mark of a successful business but, to achieve it, you must know what a good one looks like. Then, start small and scale up carefully.

Don’t underestimate the competition, but don’t pay it too much heed, either. The danger is that competition “can make people hallucinate opportunities where none exist.”

When founding your startup, hire people who enjoy working together — people you like and that are alike in their interests. Much like a marriage, pick partners and board members carefully. Ward off instability by establishing who owns the company, who runs it and who governs it. Know how to quash competition within your workplace. Remember that you are a salesman. And then start looking for secrets. They’re everywhere, and they’ll be the basis of your new business.

Just before you open the cover of “Zero to One,” have a baseball glove ready. There’s a lot of info lobbed at you here — fast — and you’ll want to catch every bit of it.

The interesting thing, however, is that this isn’t so much a book of advice as it is a book of thought-pokers. Building a successful startup is not to be taken lightly, as author and PayPal founder Thiel subtly warns. There are dozens of things to understand, pitfalls to avoid, boxes to check when founding a business, and the authors don’t mince words when discussing them. That kind of caution — a demand to think first — is invaluable for all future moguls.

And if that’s where your aim lies, then this book will give you plenty to ponder. Just clear your calendar a bit and grab “Zero to One,” because you can do it.

“Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future” by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

c.2014, Crown Business $27 224 pages