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11:01 pm
Mon February 13, 2012

Networking Tips from the Ultimate Networker

Originally published on Tue February 14, 2012 7:36 am

"Relatively few people should start companies," Reid Hoffman says bluntly. And he should know. As a co-founder of popular social networking website LinkedIn and an influential Silicon Valley angel investor, he has engineered several startup success stories — and now he has distilled his business wisdom into a book, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career.

"It's not everyone going and starting a company," he tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep. "It's everyone approaching their lives with questions like: How do I invest in myself? How do I become more capable at what I'm doing?" Hoffman says his book offers an answer to a question he once saw on a billboard in Silicon Valley. It read, "A million people in the world can do your job. What makes you so special?"

One crucial asset is at the core of Hoffman's company, LinkedIn: the professional network. "I think the really key thing is to realize that relationships are like alliances," he says.

With so many industries in upheaval, Hoffman insists that effective networkers behave differently today than they did 20 or 30 years ago. "Go out to lunch with different folks," he says. "Go out to lunch with people from other departments, from other companies, and explicitly address questions like: How do you see the industry changing? What do you think is happening? How do you do your job effectively? Is there anything I should learn from that in terms of how do I do my job effectively? That's how you adapt to the future, and you stay current."

Like many Silicon Valley executives, Hoffman has connections to the inception of PayPal, and he traces the modern startup boom back to the moment eBay purchased PayPal.

"There was a whole crew of very young entrepreneurial people who then went out and started other companies," Hoffman recalls. "Jeremy Stoppelman started Yelp. Max Levchin started Slide. I started LinkedIn. It was a mininova explosion of folks jumping out to doing other entrepreneurial activities."

Hoffman made a point of staying in touch with his old PayPal co-workers, and he credits his current success in part to the help he received from people in his network.

"When each of us started companies, we'd talk to each other," Hoffman says. "Part of the reason I think there's been such success from the PayPal crew has been that we were all really intensely helping each other with all of these classic entrepreneurial problems."

Borrowing Silicon Valley's term for products still in testing, Hoffman urges listeners to think of their careers as being in permanent "beta."

"You have to be constantly reinventing yourself and investing in the future," he says. "You're always investing in yourself. You're always adapting. You're not a finished product."

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's head to the private sector where not everybody is destined to start a business, but Silicon Valley executive Reid Hoffman argues that even employees should act like entrepreneurs. Hoffman's new book, "The Start-up of You," argues that people should adapt to changing jobs and actively work to change the jobs they do.

REID HOFFMAN: You're never a finished piece of work. You're always learning new, important things. And everyone should think about that - everything from themselves as a worker, to also companies to industries and even to countries.

INSKEEP: Hoffman argues you can learn how to change and grow by building relationships, networking. And by this, the founder of the networking site LinkedIn means a lot more than just posting your resume online.

HOFFMAN: Don't just always go out to lunch with, you know, a couple of your friends, but actually go out to lunch with people from other departments, from other companies, and explicitly address questions like, how do you see the industry changing? How do you do your job effectively? Is there anything I should learn from that in terms of how do I do my job effectively? Do you see interesting opportunities? And that's not necessarily always a question of job transition. It can be. Those kinds of talking to other people, building those relationships, are, I think, the things that everyone needs to be doing.

INSKEEP: You know, it's funny. I bet someone is going to listen to this and say, you know, if I went in to my boss at my workplace, and said, you know, I went out to lunch with this guy from another division, or another company entirely, and came up with this interesting idea, that they would say my boss doesn't want to hear that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOFFMAN: Well, then your boss is not really adapting to the modern world.

INSKEEP: Time to look for a new job at that point, I suppose.

HOFFMAN: Well, that would definitely be one potential consideration. I mean, just look at how industries are transforming, you know, in years not decades. What's your response to it? You know, are you just going to hope that somehow companies and governments are going to figure it out? You've got to take proactive responsibility for that. So, you know, part of what your prospective boss should get onboard with is getting the ideas about how to adapt and how the market's changing, how the industry is changing is critical for the organizations to survive and thrive. And also for individuals.

INSKEEP: You try to tease out the difference between meaningful and not-so-meaningful business relationships. What kind of relationships would you want to have?

HOFFMAN: Well, I think the really key thing for people is to realize that relationships are like alliances. You say, who are my allies in life? Who would I help and who would help me? And in those things, those are the folks who say: Hey, let's get together for a lunch on Saturday and let's talk about what are the ways that we can learn and be more effective.

INSKEEP: What do you say to people who just feel kind of creepy about that kind of activity?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOFFMAN: Well, I think there's a natural human instinct to think, doesn't that feel manipulative or something. And the answer is, well, actually, ask yourself the question. Just like, for example, in a friendship - how do I be a good friend? Right? Or, you know, how do I - how can I help people? How is this a genuine relationship? That's then OK. That's not manipulative. That's thoughtful. That's proactive. And the reason it's not creepy is because what you are being is genuine about caring for the other person, as part of thinking about how do we build this alliance.

INSKEEP: There is a whole collection of people and, and you, of course, are one who have gone on to big careers in Silicon Valley that have some past connection to PayPal - the software that people use to buy things online.

HOFFMAN: That's right, the so-called PayPal Mafia.

INSKEEP: Describe it.

HOFFMAN: PayPal was a really intense company founded by Peter Thiel and Max Levchin, and later added on by Elon Musk with the acquisition of X.com. What it was is all a bunch of young folks who built what's now become a global payments, you know, OS, a global payments service - operating system for OS, sorry, Silicon Valley speak. And what happened is the whole company kind of grew into this global phenomenon in a three-year basis, and was purchased by eBay.

And so, there was a whole crew of very young entrepreneurial people who then went out and started other companies, like Jeremy Stoppelman started Yelp. Max Levchin started Slide. I started LinkedIn. It was kind of like a little mini-nova explosion of folks jumping out to doing other entrepreneurial activities.

INSKEEP: And so, have you ended up having alliances with these people of the sort you've been describing?

HOFFMAN: Absolutely. We all knew each other. We all trusted each other. So, we started like - when each of us started companies, we talk to each other. We'd say, who should I approach for financing? You know, how shall I put my PowerPoint deck together to pitch venture capitalists? You know, who would be good people to get involved? You know of a good person to hire here?

And, you know, part of the reason I think there's been such success from the PayPal crew has been that we were all really intensely helping each other with all of these classic entrepreneurial problems.

INSKEEP: Reid Hoffman is co-author of "The Start-up of You." Thanks very much.

HOFFMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.