One of my favorite chapters of Peter Thiel’s Zero To One is called “Secrets”. It reads like a late night revelation, that wanders from the Unabomber to HP’s business failure in the 2000s to Fermat’s Last Theorem. Thiel outlines the premise that secrets about nature and/or people are essential to businesses. To quote:
The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.
I will confess: I have secrets. These secrets were discovered in the founding of my company, and are essential truths underneath my market. Some of these secrets are obvious when stated out loud, but somehow are still being ignored; others have recently been realized, resulting in the founding of a few new startups; and still others remain heretical to this day, and would receive derision in our market if discussed publicly.
Secrets are important to entrepreneurs. They are a foundational substrata on which you build your business. Secrets can drive your go to market plan, determine where to spend money, shape a product strategy, order the phasing of a roadmap, and change a sales plan. But for all their impact, secrets are also hidden from view. They are not part of your elevator pitch, do not appear on your website, rarely come up in talks with outside investors, and in some cases are not even discussed widely within your company.
Finding secrets is a non-linear process that combines luck, experience, intuition, observational skills, analytics, and experimentation. Some people have the product idea first, and discover their secrets later. My discovery of the secrets led me to the product idea.
If you are starting a business, look for the secrets in your market that matter. Prove the truth of your secrets through experimentation, and identify how to leverage these secrets in your business. As you build your business, never stop looking for new secrets. Like matryoshka dolls, sometimes secrets are nested in other secrets, waiting to be revealed.