Audio: Peter Thiel visits BU to talk entrepreneurship (and backing Zuck)

BetaBoston's Scott Kirsner onstage with investor, entrepreneur, and author Peter Thiel, at Boston University's School of Management. (Photo courtesy of Rob Kornblum.)
BetaBoston's Scott Kirsner onstage with investor, entrepreneur, and author Peter Thiel, at Boston University's School of Management. (Photo courtesy of Rob Kornblum.)

Just sharing some audio I recorded yesterday at a talk Peter Thiel gave at Boston University’s School of Management; I moderated the audience Q&A afterward, which was a lot of fun. Thiel is on the road with co-author Blake Masters promoting his new book, Zero to One. I teased him a bit that his only tweet so far is a plug for the book… and his quick answer was that he went from zero to one tweets.

Thiel spoke about how entrepreneurs ought to look for white spaces and monopolize those new markets, rather than compete hand-to-hand in markets that already exist. (Like opening a restaurant, for example.) He said it’s a good idea to run away from most “trendy” spaces, like edtech, big data, or enterprise software-as-a-service. And at the end of his talk, Thiel said that we’re in trouble if we think that the United States as the “developed world” is done with progress.

“That is implicitly an anti-technological way to describe the world,” he said. “When we say that we live in the developed world, we are implicitly saying that we are living in that part of the world where nothing new is going to happen — things are done, finished, stagnant, and the younger generation should have reduced expectations from their parents for the decades ahead. This is a conception of our country and the developed world that we should resist very, very strenuously. I would end with the contrarian question that I think we should always return to: How can we go about developing our so-called developed world?”

During the Q&A, people asked questions about artificial intelligence, what he thought when he first met Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Thiel put the first outside money into the company), Amazon.com’s strategy, the mobile wallet Clinkle, and Google’s attempt to compete with Facebook with Google+. He was asked how his study of philosophy impacted his career. He discussed immigrants as entrepreneurs (Thiel was born in Germany) and whether entrepreneurs should make things that they want, or things they think other people want. Someone also asked him whether a “nice, honest guy” can “make it big.”

The audio is missing the intro and the first 15 seconds or so of Thiel’s talk — I was a little late in sitting down. The audience questions start at 23:30. You can click the “down arrow” at right to download the file for later listening.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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