LinkedIn Co-founder Reid Hoffman's Best Advice

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman gives some entrepreneurial advice at SXSW.
Business Writers
March 13, 2012

You may fall totally in love with one idea of yours, but you shouldn't go exclusive.

That was PayPal veteran and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman's advice to the entrepreneurs (and partygoers) at Austin's South By Southwest.

Hoffman–who was promoting his new book, The Start-Up of You, with Ben Casnocha–said when he started his first company, his dad cautioned him about the uncertainty that comes with entrepreneurship.

"I told him, 'My first startup may be a risk, but I'm going to play it in a way that I'm able to do several of them and build several startups.' There's a good chance you'll succeed in one startup if you try three or four," Hoffman told the audience.

Hoffman's first startup SocialNet was founded before Mark Zuckerberg even started high school. It was not exactly a success on par with Facebook or Groupon (in which Hoffman invested), but it did help send him on his way to becoming, as he's currently known, "the most connected person in Silicon Valley."

Even with LinkedIn–which has over 100 million users and a market cap of $8 billion–Hoffman said he wasn't "all-in."

"I wasn't all in in a way–like promising everyone that social networking would be the biggest thing ever. But I said I would keep trying things until they eventually worked," he said.

Hoffman and Casnocha also discussed steps their book advocates taking to expand your entrepreneurial skill set.

Among them:

Plan to adapt. You know what they say about the best laid plans, right? You'll need a goal and a road map, but you should be ready to change it (pivot alert!) on a moment's notice. For Hoffman and Casnocha, this is known as Plan ABZ. Plan A is what you're doing and Plan B is the backup (which you should be running at the same time as Plan A, so that if you need to ditch Plan A, the transition is painless). Plan Z is the "lifeboat" option. At PayPal, the founders originally planned it to be a payment and encryption application for Palm Pilots. It only evolved into a payment system via email eventually–and its popularity among eBay users was completely unexpected. But the company was prepared to change its focus to this new audience.

Build a better network–but that doesn't mean unfriending the loose acquaintances. Yes, you need to nurture good relationships, and your LinkedIn network (and your real-world network) should not be so thick with near-total strangers that you can't keep up with what's truly important. Still, the people you know well will tend to be like-minded and accessing the same content as you. It's the weaker ties that add a fresh element to your network "feed," exposing you to potentially invigorating content and opportunities you'd never see otherwise.

Hoffman advised thinking of oneself in permanent beta. "OK, how do I invest in myself?' he said  "'How do I build soft assets? Skills, relationships, but also, how do I take an intelligent risk?' Small gambles, things that could lead to a breakout for you."

Wondering what Hoffman–who has a seemingly unerring nose for the new new thing–thinks is worth seeing at SXSW?

He spent less than 24 hours in Austin, he told USA Today, but said he'd heard good buzz about people search app Highlight.

"The party part of this I have zero interest in," Hoffman said of the festival.

"South By is a great convocation for [LinkedIn] and me as an investor and theorist," he says. "But if I want to party, I can invite my friends over to the house."

Photo credit: Flickr/Joi