Playing Chicken With Zero

“Sometimes you do have to fight. Where that’s true, you should fight and win.”
Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Start Ups, or How to Build the Future

Peter Thiel’s title references the extreme difficulty of making something from nothing, to making it to the other end or not. It’s a quantum step that is insanely demanding.

But in making that discrete step, the path will often skid around the wrong side of that binary. I always felt it was like playing chicken with zero.

COVID19 has absolutely devastated the Manhattan neighborhood I’ve lived in for 15 years. Everything from delis, dog stores, restaurants, bars, salons, and on and on.

But walking the streets yesterday I saw some familiar faces. It was clear that they were absolutely going to keep going or die trying. These guys were playing chicken with zero.

The sad truth is that on the way from zero to one, you will be closer to hitting zero a lot more often than is comfortable. There are more instances than I would care to remember where there were no more second mortgages available. No more personal assets to sell, no investor calls being returned. And oh yeah, payroll is next week.

This is not to glorify the people who are willing to play that game. In fact I don’t think most people should. Driving the long road from zero to 1, there are a lot of people who yield at 0.4. There’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s foolish to overly celebrate this mindset because I know most of these folks I saw yesterday who are playing chicken with zero will lose. It wouldn’t be a game of chicken if that possibility were not there.

I hate playing chicken. Especially with zero.

VI & XVIII @ MIT; GS; YC; LX. Nerdy asian kid from NJ, prankster, lifelong believer in how lucky I’ve been. Proof is my wife — that’s Q.E.D. real fast.