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The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha [Book Review]

Books

Reid Hoffman is the co-founder and chairman of my favourite social network LinkedIn. He was kind enough to send me the new book “The Start-Up of You” he has written together with Ben Casnocha, which I have just finished reading.

What the Start-Up of You all about?

It’s about the power of networking and how relationships matter (yes, that was LinkedIn’s first tagline). It’s a quick read that draws on Reid Hoffman’s own business experience and that of his, uhm… network. The author was part of the team that sold PayPal to eBay and made a fair bit of dough. Instead of retiring, he realised there was a gap in the market for a networking tool and he used his strong connections from the PayPal circle to set up LinkedIn in a jiffy. That was back in 2003, things have progressed well since then and last year they had a successful IPO and the company is firing on all cylinders.

The book covers how Silicon Valley operates and how you get investment for your tech company (you have to know someone that knows someone). Reid Hoffman would never invest in a company that wasn’t introduced to him by a trusted contact. In fact, Sean Parker introduced him to Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 but Reid decided not to invest as much as he could have back then. Instead he invested along with a friend he trusted well, this friend is of course rather happy to have got that introduction today.

We also get to read about how taking intelligent risks is part of succesful business practice. The author mentions that he took a risk when starting up LinkedIn but always had a fall-back option, in this case it was sleeping on his dad’s couch. Michael Dell took a risk when starting Dell Computers but he managed the risk with making sure he could return to his university if things went sour.

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I can relate to this, when I moved over to London (with no job secured) from Stockholm where I was leading a cushty life (pretty good job) it was a calculated risk. I had negotiated a year of absence with my employer so that was my back up plan, I like the others never needed the option but it does put your mind at ease. Here’s a nice soundbyte for you from the book: “You have to take on risk or risk will take on you”.

Is this a long sales-pitch for LinkedIn?

What are you saying? That the cover reminds you of a certain professional network? Whilst Linkedin is definitely mentioned throughout the book, it’s more about how networking works and how you can apply it. The reader is left to draw their own conclusion about what technology to use to manage their professional network. And Reid does mention Facebook, Twitter and other networks which you could argue are the main competitors. So no, it’s not a long sales pitch, rather it’s a book that gives you the perspective on your own network and how it can be utilised.

Any reservations?

My one reservation about this book is that it very much revolves around Silicon Valley and its ubercool tech start-up companies. Had it been written ten years ago, it could have been set on Wall Street and about how the boys from Goldman Sachs were best mates with the Morgan Stanley lot. I’m not saying tech companies are heading for the same fate as banking but I have a feeling this will make the book date in a few years. It’s certainly captured the zeitgeist of tech start-ups in the Valley, for better or worse.

Also, the real-life people that are mentioned in the book are the likes of George Clooney and Sheryl Sandberg. I get that they are recognisable but can the average reader really relate to them? I think it’s fine to mention ‘normal’ people that have made extraordinary things, not necessarily celebrities ways to the top – I get that in magazines and blogs anyway.

Is this a book worth reading?

Yes definitely a book worth reading. This is probably the best book I’ve read about networking and one of the best ones about entrepreneurship in general. The author wanted to serve mankind through philosophy (but decided tech companies was a better route), and this shines through. The book makes you think about the bigger picture. Networking isn’t about gathering business cards or adding connections on LinkedIn, you’ll learn why when you read the book.

For more about Reid Hoffman, you can check him out speaking at LinkedIn’s speaking series:

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