10 Lessons for Entrepreneurs, from LinkedIn Co-founder Reid Hoffman

Reid Hoffman is not only the co-founder and Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, he is also aReid Hoffman Sm founding director of PayPal, the man who facilitated the first outside investment in Facebook, has been called “arguably the most successful angel investor in the past decade,” and in 2014, was named by Barack Obama as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship “to help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs”. If you want to know more about him, check him out on Wikipedia or (naturally) LinkedIn.

I was fortunate enough to be present at Saïd Business School recently, to hear Reid Hoffman in conversation with Dean Peter Tufano. At the start of the session, Dean Tufano announced that Hoffman, who studied philosophy at Oxford, is donating $1m to help fund The Oxford Foundry, a new hub for future student entrepreneurs from across Oxford.

Starting on such a positive note, the ensuing hour was packed with insights and takeaways for entrepreneurs and business leaders. Here is my Top 10:

  1. The key skills required to succeed in business are:
    1. Ability to read trends, especially future trends;
    2. Identifying the assets you have that you can use to make yourself competitive;
    3. Making the best use of networks and alliances;
    4. Identifying what intelligent risks to take (necessary to succeed) and how you will use your assets to mitigate them.
  2. Identify your “Investment Thesis” – the 3-7 hypotheses you believe to be true – and ensure that you are able to be crisp and clear about why your project/business is investible/viable.
  3. Keep focused on your hypotheses – track actual performance against what you expected would happen.
  4. Monitor your confidence against each of your expectations. It’s important to be prepared, if  your confidence is falling, to pivot: i.e. switch to Plan B, or Plan Z.
  5. Have a Plan B, and a Plan Z! Plan B is a plan to achieve most of what you originally hoped to achieve – just in a different way. Plan Z is where you may completely retrench, to  conserve resources and be able to go again when the time is right.
  6. As an employee/entrepreneur: “Trade lifetime employment for lifetime employability.” As an employer: recognising that employees are on a journey – how will their time with you transform them, and you/the organisation?
  7. As a leader: recognise that your strengths give a clue to your potential weaknesses. For example, out-of-the-box thinkers tend not to be strong on operational excellence. So, focus on amplifying your strengths, and build your teams/networks based on those whose strengths complement yours. Bear in mind Jim Rohn’s  assertion: we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.
  8. Based on the above, don’t build your networks based on the skills you have or the job you want – build them based on people who can and will help you. Ask them “How can I improve?” – and don’t rest until they tell you something useful.
  9. Concerning trends and strategy: pick a project based on where the rest of the pack is going: an idea can be too far ahead of its time, or just wrong. Being contrarian and right is also an option! Take your idea to the smart people you know and ask them “What could go wrong with this?” In the case of LinkedIn, Hoffman said that 80% of the people he consulted told him it wouldn’t work, because the size of the network required to create value was too big. Hoffman’s key thesis was that there were enough early adopters contrarian enough to buy in to the concept (today LinkedIn has 400 million users).
  10. On knowing when to give up (or not): if you have Plan B and Plan Z in place then you can take intelligent risks by going to the edges of your Plan A – Hoffman calls this “persistent flexibility”. Keep asking yourself “Do I still have confidence that this is a good idea?” “Do I need to pivot? Or retrench?”

In other news, Hoffman was asked about the impact on business of current political issues. He alluded to Pope Francis‘ criticism of Donald Trump, saying “build bridges not walls” and arguing against isolationism – he urged the US citizens in the audience to “Vote for Hilary!” and also gave his opinion that the UK could be making a “serious mistake” were it to leave the EU.

2016-06-05 13.10.37
Reid Hoffman mid-interview with Saïd Business School Dean Peter Tufano

If you have found this list intriguing, and would like to know more, I suggest you take a look at either of Reid Hoffman’s New York Times bestselling books (as I intend to):

The Start-Up of You – how to survive and thrive in this fiercely competitive economy by developing a whole new entrepreneurial mindset and skill set.

The Alliance – why  employers need to stop thinking of employees as family or free agents, and start thinking of them as allies.

You can watch the whole event on video, here.


Stephen Spencer is a keynote speaker, business coach and consultant, helping organisations create better Customer Experiences to unlock team and profit potential. He has over 25 years’ experience as a leader, trainer and experience developer with some of the UK’s most prestigious Retail, Tourism and Hospitality brands. Sign up for Stephen’s POSITIVE Customer Experience newsletter here.

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