Peter Thiel Lessons for Aspiring Thought Leaders

Why doesn’t my content get more views, shares or backlinks?

We could list a whole host of reasons, from poor on-page SEO to a lack of narrative or not enough promotion.

But it can always be simplified down to one cause…

Your content strategy breaks the golden rules of competing in a winner takes all market.

Be it Google search results, YouTube videos or shares on Facebook, in today’s world of a global borderless internet where digital content can be scaled from one person to a billion people with no additional cost to the content producer, a select few content producers will always come out on top.

winner takes all - google clicks shares and backlinksSource 1, Source 2, Source 3

And just like the winner-takes-all markets of the sports, film or music business, if your content doesn’t make it onto the winner’s podium then it is destined to get lost in the ever-growing sea on commodity content.

unicorn technique - winner takes all market podium

That begs the question…

If we want to thrive, not merely survive in the winner takes all thought leadership market then we should ask ourselves how can we apply the proven strategies of the worlds best winner takes all competitors, venture capitalists and technology companies, to how we produce content?

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The Unicorn Technique: From Zero To 1M Fans

Venture capitalists like Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal and Palantir, and billionaire startup investor, are in the business of dominating winner takes all markets.

They know the rules of the winner takes all game inside-out, as exploiting them is the primary way technology companies monopolise new disruptive markets.

“Competition is for losers” — Peter Thiel

Their investment philosophies are focused on identifying the highest potential ideas early and backing them hard so they stand the best chance of achieving unrivalled power in the market.

Principles that should form the basis of every content producers strategy.

Their grand strategy can be broken up into three phases: Ignition, Take-Off and Harvest.

unicorn technique - stages of startup power

  • Ignition: Establish the foundations of their differentiation and product/market fit.
  • Takeoff: Once product/market fit is established scale the business fast to capture market share and win the race to become the dominant player in the market.
  • Harvest: After market dominance has been established transition the company to harvest mode.

At each stage, the company has a toolkit of strategic tools they can use to build the 7 types of market power and emerge as the undisputed winner in their market.

“If your business does not have at least one of these seven Power types, then you lack a viable strategy, and you are vulnerable.” — Hamilton Helmer, Early Investor in Netflix

If you want to become a thought leader and harvest the returns of a content empire, then using a content-specific variation of these power principles will stack your odds of success overwhelmingly in your favour.

unicorn technique - stages of content power
Stages of thought leadership power

Every ultra-successful thought leader, from Jordon Peterson to Russell Brunson, has won this winner takes all game by using these principles to monopolise a set of disruptive ideas and spread them to the masses.

The Unicorn Technique is a strategy to replicate their success by thinking like a venture capitalist, and applying the lessons of Peter Thiel and other top VCs to the creation of disruptive thought leadership based businesses.

In this article, we will focus on the Ignition phase of the strategy, where our aim is to test the market with our ideas, establish content/market fit and create the initial base of true fans you will need to scale your reach.

As a founder, your first job is to get the first things right, because you cannot build a great company on a flawed foundation. — Peter Thiel

Ignition Step #1: Aim For Home Runs

If there is one single rule that you must follow in a winner takes all markets it is that you should act like baseball player, Babe Ruth, and swing big or miss big every time you step up to the plate.

Market power, and as a consequence huge profits, is most often achieved through the advantages gained by scale and being the undisputed market leader.

As a result, the best venture capitalists know that aiming for a single home run is better than 5 moderately successful investments. They focus on finding the ideas that most people think are crazy but if proven right the payoff is enormous. This article explains the logic.

unicorn technique - venture capital portfolio returns

“The biggest secret in venture capital is that the best investment in a successful fund equals or outperforms the entire rest of the fund combined.” — Peter Thiel

The Unicorn Technique applies the same logic to creating content. Like investing, your goal is to create a portfolio of content where each piece has the potential to be a home run.

Instead of spreading yourself thin with lots of undifferentiated content, you invest heavily in a handful of Unicorn Articles that communicate your ideas and enable you to create a new content category in your niche.

Some ideas will click with the market, others won’t. But the name of the game is to aim for those big successes.

And like the typical VC who only invests in 12–15 companies in each fund, you should focus on producing only a small number of very well developed pieces of content.

This constraint is often the hallmark of great investors and content producers alike. It forces them to be hyper selective of what content they produce, ensuring they invest everything in producing their best work and not yet another generic “Top 10 Songs to Play At Your Hamster’s Bar Mitzvah” post.

“If I could only do 12 posts this year what would I do? You’re definitely not going to do “5 Tips for whatever” filler stuff. It forces you to step your game up.” — Brian Dean, Backlinko

Putting all your eggs in only a couple of baskets might seem like a risky strategy, but research by Anita Elberse, Harvard Business School’s expert on the entertainment industry, has shown this VC inspired strategy is actually the least risky approach in a winner takes all market.

unicorn technique - blockbuster strategy

The Blockbuster Strategy, as it is known, is now the de facto strategy in today’s winner takes all entertainment industry and proven to be the most profitable over the longterm.

Instead of spreading themselves thin by producing lots of mediocre content, the top film and music executives make disproportionately big investments in a handful of blockbuster titles each year that have the highest chances of being a runaway success.

So when producing your thought leadership content, think like the best, think in terms of blockbusters that have the potential for massive market impact and which can define your career.

Ignition Step #2: To Be 10X Better, Create A New Category

“A company should start when they have a technology that’s 10X better than their closest competitor.” — Peter Thiel

In business, often the only way to get entrenched consumers to switch products is to create a product that is 10 times better to the nearest competitor in at least one dimension the customer cares about. Be it cost, performance, reliability, etc.

The exact same is true for content producers. If you want your content to get the backlinks and shares you need to rank your content in search engines or go viral on social media your content needs to be significantly differentiated from competitor content.

unicorn technique - 10X content versus competitors

This is ultimately why “produce great content” is the de facto mantra of content marketing these days. Content so great, that people feel compelled to like, share and link to your content.

But as Brian Dean of Backlinko rightfully points out, most content producers simply have no idea what “great content” actually means:

The bar [to create content that people will actually share and link to] is a lot higher than most people think. Most people create good content consistently, which is a huge waste of time. It’s much better to create something amazing that gets you over that bar and once you are over that threshold it all starts coming through, links and traffic start coming to you. — Brian Dean

Whereas most producers create commodity content that is only marginally better than competitor content, 10X content is so different it creates a completely new content category in your niche.

A new category should represent a marked change in the type of ideas and content being produced in the niche. Be it a new viewpoint, a different delivery or tone, better designed, more in-depth, etc.

A great example of this is Brian Dean himself, one of the leading SEO thought leaders, who was one of the first to produce extremely in-depth long-form “white hat” SEO guides when everyone else was producing short-form content about “black hat” SEO strategies.

“When I first started it was definitely 1,500 words plus [length of content he would write]. Which at the time, 2013 was pretty longform. I mean no one was doing that, because there was this idea that or almost a fear that if you went over 400 words nobody would read it because peoples attention spans are so short. But I realised from reading longer stuff that if its good and something I’m interested in then and want to learn about then I prefer long because I get everything I need on one page as opposed to having to jump around to different resources.” — Brian Dean

This approach, the Skyscraper Technique as Brian calls it, is the most effective way of out-competing competitors for the most competitive keywords.

However, Peter Thiel would advise another way…

unicorn technique - red ocean vs blue ocean content

Ignition Step #3: Target The Blue Ocean of Massive Impact Ideas

The Skyscraper method perfected by Brian Dean enables you to escape competition by radically improving an existing piece of content. However, Peter Thiel proposes a more effective way:

“The clearest way to make 10x improvements is to invent something new. If you build something valuable where there was nothing before, the increase in value is theoretically infinite.”

In startups, the best investors are always thinking in terms of where can they get the biggest ROI, what areas are the most overlooked and undervalued.

unicorn technique - red ocean blue ocean matrix v2

The Unicorn method targets the least competitive but most valuable segment of the content landscape. The empty Blue Oceans of new ways of seeing the world.

Red Ocean

The Red Ocean is the saturated world of evergreen “how-to” & factual content that dominates the search results for the majority of niches. Most content producers simply regurgitate the same advice and ideas that perpetuate the status quo.

This content is highly valuable but as content producers fight day and night to capture these keywords (spending $72 billion on SEO services in the US alone) it is by far the most competitive and commoditised type of content on the internet.

Here the smart content producers are forced to outcompete their competitors by building ever taller “skyscrapers” for the most competitive keywords using the Skyscraper Technique or finding the ever-decreasing number of overlooked keyword opportunities with the Buffett Keyword Technique.

Blue Ocean

Like the world of startups, the Blue Ocean of content, the most uncompetitive and valuable part of the market, is the realm of new ideas that challenge the status quo and disrupt the way we think about the world.

Here the competition is a fraction of the “how-to” & factual dominated red ocean content landscape and has a practically unlimited number of content ideas to choose from.

If your new ideas are successful then you are poised to become the dominant thought leader in the niche and reap the majority of the rewards.

Creating a new content category and a 10X improvement is exponentially easier when you embrace your contrarian side and think in terms of creating new ideas that challenge the status quo, not trying to find ways to outdo your competitors in terms of content depth, design and research.

Ask yourself questions that challenge the status quo. What do you believe about the ideas and conventions of the market that are untrue?

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”- Peter Thiel

You need to be “bold, brash and brave”, as Ryan Holiday describes in his book The Perennial Seller, to create something that stands any chance of being an impactful creative work that stands the test of time.

“The higher and more exciting standard for every project should force you to ask questions like this:

What sacred cows am I slaying?

What dominant institution am I displacing?

What groups am I disrupting?

What people am I pissing off?”

— Ryan Holiday

Because, in general, the potential impact of every idea is inversely proportional to how expected it is. Challenging the crowd with new ideas enables you to unlock huge thought leadership opportunities if the idea clicks with the market.

unicorn technique - impact of expected and unexpected

Not only are these rare and correct ideas more valuable, because the human brain is an amazing pattern-finding machine, sharing ideas and viewpoints that break ingrained patterns of the market are naturally more attention-grabbing and are primed for virality.

Ignition Step #4: Exploit the 7 Laws of Content Leverage

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” — Archimedes

Once you have your 10X ideas the next step is to turbocharge them so they have the best chance of spreading like wildfire.

In the case of startups, VC’s do this by investing millions into their companies so they can outgrow their competition and operate with no profits for years.

However, it’s unlikely you can spend millions to promote your article to the world so we’re going to have to exploit the 7 Laws of Content Leverage instead:

  1. OPA — Other peoples audience
  2. OPC — Other peoples credibility
  3. OPD — Other peoples distribution
  4. OPI — Other peoples ideas
  5. OPM — Other peoples money
  6. OPN — Other peoples network
  7. OPT — Other peoples time

The more sources of leverage you can apply to your content the faster you will grow your audience.

Unlike financial leverage which increases the risks as well as the potential for gains, the beauty of using the laws of content leverage is that you often gain huge upside without a proportional increase in risk.

Ignition Step #5: Compound The Asymmetrical Advantages

I’m looking for 5:1 reward/risk opportunities. Five to one means I’m risking one dollar to make five. What five to one does is allow you to have a hit ratio of 20%. I can actually be a complete imbecile. I can be wrong 80% of the time, and I’m still not going to lose. — Paul Tudor Jones, Billionaire Investor

The most valuable skill of every top investor is their ability to stack asymmetrical risk/reward opportunities in their favour. If they can make 10 investments each with a 1 in 10 chance of success but a billion-dollar return if they come off, then they will be very rich indeed.

unicorn technique - asymmetrical return

However unlike VC investments, where the success of one investment has little impact on the success of their other investments, every additional Unicorn article you produce stacks the odds of success ever more in your favour.

Whereas unsuccessful startup investments go to zero or barely return the money invested, every Unicorn article produced builds your audience, distribution channels, authority with Google and community sites, etc.

Compounding the asymmetrical advantages for each subsequent article and shortening the odds of producing a unicorn.

unicorn technique - compounding asymmetrical advantages

Not only does this approach stack the odds in your favour as time goes on, but it increases the strength of your brand and the likelihood that people will become true fans.

By creating a content portfolio exclusively of thought providing articles your readers will feel like they have hit jackpot and want to consume everything else you produce. Building your follower and email subscriber base very fast.

Ace The Ignition Phase

Research the early work of today’s most impactful thought leaders, Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, Jordon Peterson, etc. in the context of when they produced their original ideas and you will quickly see that they all followed a similar approach.

Instead, of trying to compete in the highly competitive red ocean of commodity ideas and content, they focused on sharing new ideas that challenged the commonly held view of the world and which ended up being home runs.

It is because the contrarian ideas they shared resonated with a section of the market that they built their initial fan base and stood out from the crowd.

So when building your own audience think:

  • Invest heavily in producing a select few unicorn articles that are capable of being home runs for you.
  • Create content that is 10 times better than your competitors by being so different that it creates an entirely new content category in your niche.
  • Focus your content on the blue ocean. Content that challenges the status quo and gives readers a new way to view the world.
  • Exploit the laws of leverage to expand the reach and virality of your ideas.
  • Stack the odds of success in your favour by compounding your asymmetrical advantages overtime with consistent unicorn content.

You only need one idea to resonate with the market for you to achieve breakthrough success as a thought leader. So be persistent and keep swinging for those home runs, because…

“Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.” — Steve Jobs.

Unicorn Technique Challenge — Previously, I have shared the Buffett Keyword Technique, a keyword research strategy that has enabled me to grow numerous company blogs from virtually zero traffic to 40–180k visitors per month.

buffett keyword method results

However, to validate this strategy, I’m going to publically document myself using the Unicorn Technique to build an audience from zero to 100,000 visitors in 90 days. If you would like to follow all my stats, successes and failures then sign up to my newsletter.

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