If you’re on the same LSE stage that’s hosted Bill Clinton, you’re in the thinking man’s Rock ‘n’ Roll hall of fame. Thiel was the first investor in FaceBook, and remains Don of the “PayPal mafia”, which includes Reid Hoffman, Dave McClure, and the spacefaring Elon Musk. In LSE’s intimate hall, he was within eye contact of the audience, and didn’t falter under the scrutiny. Keynotes are often bereft of real substance, but this talk had even reluctant note-takers scribbling fast. Here’s just a sample of some of the more impactful concepts:

Don’t copy businesses that were successful.
Far too many entrepreneurs encourage people to follow in their footsteps, even though the key opportunities have now passed. Peter’s acid-sharp analysis made it clear that imitation of his past is empty flattery, and not sound business sense.

Capitalism isn’t competition – it’s monopoly, and everyone lies about
whether they have one.
If you’re trying to raise money, you’ll be claiming you’re cornering a market with your unique product. If you really are able to lock competitors out, you’ll be lying through your teeth to the government, to make sure they don’t take your golden goose away.

Cashflow after ten years is what counts
Don’t waste your energy chasing early revenues, as this isn’t the mark of success. This is perhaps the key differentiator between Europe and the Valley. Stateside investors are happy to wait for revenue to appear, and time and again, the long game pays off: Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.

Long and committed pre-history is a key entrepreneurial marker
A successful pitch does not start “we all met three weeks ago at a networking event because we wanted to start a company”. Longevity of passion for the niche and idea, and a strong bond with the team, are the foundations of a great firm.

Build Mars bases.
If you want to effect radical change, don’t work on intermediate goals like political or economic reform. Go straight for the prize. Peter’s former colleague Elon Musk certainly rises to the challenge.

The FDA is the most useless agency.
This I can relate to, having worked with firms chasing approval for their products. It’s a system that favours big pharma’s big money, not big improvements in healthcare. Too many off-patent treatments are therefore overlooked.

Education is in a bubble
The dominance of costly universities is comparable to the Church before the Lutherian revolution. We’re certainly seeing the rise of new ways of learning, like Coursera, which threaten to challenge the elitist education system.

That’s not to say I agreed with everything Peter said. One of his more controversial views is that the pace of technological change has slowed, with the exception of digital technology. That seems a little like winding back to the dawn of civilisation and saying ‘apart from this farming malarkey, nothing much is changing’. However, Thiel’s contrarianism is part of his trademark style. One of his key interview questions is “Tell me something which you know to be true, but that few other’s believe”. That’s a challenging approach which excites me, and I didn’t have to wait a second before being able to
answer the question for myself.

Thiel’s new book “From Zero to One” was being promoted at the event. The title principle is that the hardest step is the first, and all others are just refinements of that original move, as the idea globalises.

I’ve seen a lot of smart people and great entrepreneurs. Even among the very best, a tiny few are truly great thinkers. Peter Thiel is one.