Mark Levin’s business is biotechnology, so it’s no surprise he knew zilch about a tech company called LinkedIn as recently as two years ago. But these days Levin sounds like he can barely do his job without it.
“I’m not the most social media savvy person. I haven’t used a lot of these tools at all,” Levin says, referring to blogs and Twitter. “But I’ll never forget, the first message I got from LinkedIn was an e-mail from what looked like someone called link-a-din. I remember asking myself about Mr. Link-a-din. I was trying to figure out ‘who the hell is this person?’”
Levin, a founding partner of Boston-based Third Rock Ventures and one of the more prominent biotech venture capitalists in the U.S., was a LinkedIn Luddite two years ago. To some extent, he still looks like one: his profile contains no photo, no professional biography, and only tidbits of information posted about his employment history. But appearances can be deceiving. He says he has amassed more than 5,000 connections, and the number keeps growing daily. He says he spends at least a half an hour per day on the site, sifting through more than 100 incoming connection requests a week, and firing off dozens more requests to people he wants to get to know. LinkedIn’s algorithms have gotten to know his tendencies so well, the site is constantly suggesting new people in biotech and pharma companies that he might want to meet. He often does.
Levin became so obsessive at one point this year that LinkedIn temporarily shut down his account, until he called the company and assured them he’s a real person using the site for business. Just during a 15-minute phone interview with me on Friday, Levin said he got three new connection requests. One was from an MD that caught his eye immediately.
“About 18 months ago or so, I realized that is an extraordinary way to be in contact with people,” Levin says. “Our biggest challenge is to find great people. We don’t know everybody. And you can find a lot of great people here.”
While many in the tech press mock LinkedIn as an oh-so-boring compiler of mere resumes, it has become the indispensable online hub for networking in life sciences—an industry where relationships make the world go round. LinkedIn has a relatively puny user base of 187 million members around the world, compared to Facebook’s 1 billion, and there’s no question people spend way more time engaging with Mark Zuckerberg’s social network. But it’s also true there’s no question which site matters more to the life sciences. LinkedIn is the singular site for finding people in biotech, whether they are biologists, chemists, toxicologists, admin assistants, business development people, finance pros, or CEOs. There were more than 513,000 people in the LinkedIn database who self-identify as members of the “biotechnology” or “pharmaceutical” industry when I searched on those keywords Friday afternoon.
For journalists like me, this is an everyday reporting tool with almost as much value as Twitter, and possibly more. Even though I only use the basic free version of the site, it’s become an awesome clearinghouse of sources that I call on for help with scoops and analysis. I can slice and dice my network of 2,900 contacts by industry, title, location and more. It’s become a treasure trove of personal e-mails for sources, which I never have to manually update when people leave for new jobs, as they often do. It’s even turned into a place where people read a lot of my stories and the resource where I sometimes find new stories to pursue. In fact, I got the idea for this story by noticing that Levin and I have more than 500 connections in common.
Levin, as a venture capitalist, comes to the network … Next Page »
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