LinkedIn: The Missing Manual Worth Reading
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Socialnet. Within a few months of eBay’s acquisition of PayPal in late 2002, he assembled the initial team of employees and backers at LinkedIn, including two former colleagues from Socialnet, one former colleague from Fujitsu, and two investors from the now-famous “PayPal Mafia,” Peter Thiel and Keith Rabois. In fact, there’s a handy chart of PayPal alumni on page 159; by staying connected and investing in one another’s ventures, this group has generated an enormous wave of innovation at Web 2.0-era leaders like 500 Startups, Kiva.org, Slide, Square, Sequoia Capital, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, Yammer, Yelp, and YouTube. “Start your own mafia,” Hoffman advises. “When you are the creator and central node of a group, it’s like having a courtside seat at a basketball game: you won’t miss a thing.”
The longest section of the book, by far, is the chapter on networking and relationships. This is where Hoffman really geeks out about Dunbar’s Number, Stanley Milgram, the sociology of “weak ties” (those with people you don’t know all that well, but who nonetheless can end up referring you to the best job opportunities), and why you can exploit your third-degree connections on LinkedIn but not your fourth-degree connections. (For an introduction to go well, everyone in a chain needs to know someone at the beginning or the end of the chain.) To optimize the chances of coming across great career opportunities, Hoffman writes, you need to cultivate deep relationships with a small group of trusted peers, and at the same time maintain more casual information-sharing relationships with a broad network of acquaintances. The weak ties are important because your closest friends, by definition, travel in the same circles with you—it’s only people outside those circles who will be able to alert you to the out-of-left-field opportunities. “The best professional network is both narrow/deep (strong connections) and wide/shallow (bridge ties),” Hoffman says.
Again, Hoffman is a walking demonstration of the principles he’s espousing. On the strong-connection side, I’ll bet you didn’t know that Hoffman was a college friend of Peter Thiel (that’s how he ended up at PayPal after Socialnet), or that it was Hoffman who referred Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker to Thiel for Facebook’s first big financing. On the weak side, Hoffman reveals in the book that he gets about 50 investment pitches a day from entrepreneurs, but only pays attention to the ones that come by way of his extended network. “I have never funded a company directly from a cold solicitation and my guess is I never will,” he writes.
There you have it: If you want Greylock (where Hoffman is a partner) to invest in your company, you’d better find someone who’s a friend of a friend of Hoffman on LinkedIn. Of course, the book is full of other pieces of valuable advice. Here’s one that I like so much that I’ve already implemented it: “Schedule three lunch dates to take place in upcoming weeks: one with a person a few rungs ahead of you in your industry; one with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while; and one with a person from an adjacent industry whose career you admire. Do this even if you aren’t currently facing a pressing career question or challenge.”
Hoffman’s point is that serendipity isn’t totally serendipitous—you need to make room for it. Or as author Steven Johnson puts it: “Chance favors the connected mind.” Don’t read The Start-up of You if you’re just looking for tips on how to be “the CEO of your life”—that analogy is a little forced and a little creepy, as Hoffman seems to realize after a chapter or two. Do read it if you’re looking for ways to to reenergize your own connections.