For the record, investor and serial entrepreneur Peter Thiel would still very much like to see more advancements in space travel and fewer apps coming from the minds of tech entrepreneurs.
But he acknowledges that pushing out new products made of atoms instead of bits can be tough for new companies still getting their footing.
It takes longer to introduce innovations in areas such as space travel or the biosciences than in, say, social media. The longer companies wait to put out a new product or service, the more likely they will be to enter a marketplace already flush with competition, Thiel said during a fireside chat with DCM Ventures general partner Jason Krikorian at DCM's CEO Summit Friday.
“I worry a lot more about the business models around these things,” the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir said. “The kinds of things that people would have defined as technology in the 50s and 60s” are complicated and challenging to create.
Software, on the other hand, is quicker to develop. Entrepreneurs pursuing innovation in the arena of bits, as Thiel put it, can more easily take on and dominate tiny markets. Monopolizing a niche from the get-go is an approach Thiel has long encouraged entrepreneurs to take.
In other remarks, Thiel spoke about the dangers of both failure and easy success. The PayPal founder has been known to criticize what he calls the glorification of failure in business. (Look no further than the "fail fast" motto that pervades tech startups.) The problem, as Thiel sees it, is that entrepreneurs who have failed become pessimistic, which makes them think smaller when they develop new business ideas.
PayPal was an ideal learning environment for its founding group because it was successful, but required a great deal of work to succeed, Thiel said. He referenced the accomplishments of members of the PayPal Mafia, such as co-founder of the online payments system Elon Musk, whose companies Tesla Motors and SpaceX have gone on to develop the kind of innovations Thiel is hungry to see.
And what if you're not lucky enough to hit upon million-dollar ideas like PaylPal, Tesla, or SpaceX?
"We all have successes and failures, but when you fail you need to find a way to not let it destroy your psyche," he said.