Special thanks to Peter Thiel and Blake Masters. Errors and omissions are my own. Please note that I actually missed this class I was on my honeymoon! Valuations were psychosocial; value was driven by what people said it was.
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He figured he could make some money by ferrying goods and people around New York Harbor. He was right. The demand for effective transport, though—particularly military transport—increased dramatically. Vanderbilt, of course, was the sort of guy who thought seriously about the future, and the future, he thought, was steam power. So in he sold his fleet, leased a steamship called Bellona from a guy named Thomas Gibbons, and began to operate his ferry business 2.
But there was trouble on the water. The New York legislature had seen fit to grant a monopoly on steamboat service to a couple of guys named Fulton and Livingston.
Some operators, like Gibbons, respected the edict and stayed out of the water. Others, like Aaron Ogden, cowed and paid the Fulton-Livingston partnership for an operating license. But Vanderbilt was made of different stuff. He just wanted to build a great business. What good are rules when they stand in the way of building great businesses? Unsurprisingly, suits were filed. Initially, Vanderbilt paid the litigation no mind; he continued to provide excellent service and ruthlessly undercut his competition on price.
Vanderbilt, as merciless in court as he was in business, had helped his cause by hiring Daniel Webster —think Ted Olson and David Boies rolled into one—to represent Gibbons. Does the Vanderbilt steamship ordeal remind you of anything more… familiar? Say, much of Silicon Valley right now?
But cf. Of course, disruption is risky. Neither, apparently, do the bureaucrats in DC who are coming after Defense Distributed , ostensibly because they feel weak and techno-libertarianism scored too many points over the weekend, or something.
The best path is usually one that avoids head-on confrontation. So what should we do then this happens? Play by all the rules? Ask for permission? Or just build something great?
To ask the question, hopefully, is to answer it. What if anyone with a smartphone could instantly buy a pass and streamline their commute on a bus with wi-fi, air conditioning, and a comfortable seat?
Stewart H. Holbrook, The Age of the Moguls, 13
Zero to One: What You Can Learn From Peter Thiel's Philosophy of Progress
Zero to One