Kamla: This is Kamla Bhatt.
We bring you part 2 of our conversation with Reid Hoffman, often described as the most connected person in Silicon Valley. Reid is the chairperson and president of LinkedIn. In this episode, he talks about entrepreneurship and what technology means to him. Here is Reid.
Kamla: And at LinkedIn, you found your CEO through LinkedIn.
Reid: Yes, exactly. And referenced checked the CEO and all the rest of the things. But that is almost like expected. If we are not using the product ourselves we would be- but yes, we were delighted to use LinkedIn. As a matter of fact actually, both my Series A and Series B investors found me through LinkedIn. Series B, I referenced checked through LinkedIn.
Kamla: So what are your plans in India? You don’t have an office there.
Reid: We don’t have an office.
Kamla: How do you plan to ramp up?
Reid: Well, at the moment,we have a healthy growth curve already. Indians are a very entrepreneurial society, very dedicated to creating new things. And LinkedIn is a very good tool for doing that on professional side. I would guess that something like 50-60% of Silicon Valley is signed up for LinkedIn. On this basis I would presume that there is a cultural similarity between certain aspects in Indian entrepreneurial energy and verve in Silicon Valley and that is why there are organizations like TiE and these kinds of things have lot of historical relationships. At the moment our plan is growing the global network but we are looking at how we amplify our services within India. We just don’t have-other than the natural growth that we are having; we don’t have any specific plans yet.
Kamla: And do you plan to visit India?
Reid: I do although I have this principle when I visit countries to understand the culture. So, when I will visit India is probably when my friend Ravi is going to visit India so he can show me around to his specific cultural thing as opposed to you know, go visit the Taj Mahal or- I may come out for business purposes too.
Kamla: And this Ravi is the one in Santa Cruz?
Reid: Yes, that is right. He is the provost at the college and he is a professor of environmental studies.
Kamla: And he is an old friend?
Reid: Old friend from Oxford.
His secret dream is to become a cricket commentator, which I understand is a great global sport that I don’t know very much about.
Kamla: I’m surprised you didn’t say “world sport”.
Reid: Yes - world sport, yes. Just not in the US but yeah, you know-it is obviously, mass numbers of people play this to and are dedicated followers.
Kamla: So let me just quickly switch to your early days. You graduated from Stanford, in Symbolic Science, go to Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship, which Tom Friedman also won, interestingly. And then you come back to the Valley in the early 90s and you want to be an entrepreneur. What happened?
Reid: Well, I am an entrepreneur!
Kamla: Then. I said then.
Reid: Then, yes. Well, I came back and I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur and networked my way to some venture capitalist who said, “Have you ever had experience shipping products?” And I was like, not yet and they were like, “Ok, go work in a company; learn how to ship a product then come back and talk to us and that’s actually what I did. I worked for Apple and then Fujitsu and then started a company immediately after that.
Kamla: What advice would you have to give or share to young people around the world who want to be entrepreneurs and who can use LinkedIn actually?
Reid: So the key thing is to make sure that is many entrepreneurial efforts- there is kind of three basis on which they can fail. One is you don’t have a good idea. Usually you need to have some experience while evaluating ideas because frequently many ideas seem good at 50,000 foot level but don’t get to the 20,000 foot level. One way of leveraging your network is find other people who are good advisors or intelligent commentators or people who can give you good advice.
Second thing is to make sure you have adequate resources and this is everything from finance to co-founders, early employees, things that you can pull together and you don’t just put in years of your life to zero input because of lack of resources. Now again, your network is useful for that. Do you know people; do you know people who have the finance, technical background, and the managerial skills to pull yourself together? That is leverage.
The third is to make sure that you yourself have the relevant skills. Frequently with entrepreneurs you are creating something new and so you create a skill set as you go but make sure that you’re deploying the kind of best, the most advanced techniques you have to do your business. And this one is a little bit more individual but you can cross check with the people you know. For example, what is the right technology base to build a new consumer Internet? Is it PHP and LAMP stack or should I be using Ruby on Rails or so forth. So you again go and find that set of people who can help you make that decision because you can’t have it all yourself is useful and another good use of the network.
Kamla: What does technology mean to you?
Reid: I have a very broad definition of technology. Frequently people mean hard science. What I basically mean is everything from hard science to a kind of a pattern of interaction between people. So, I actually think capitalism is really a good technology as in both a social technology, as opposed to computer technology or IT technology or a science technology. Technology is almost the science or the process with which we improve how artifacts and how we ourselves work.
Kamla: What values do you think technology can help spread?
Reid: Well, I think entrepreneurship and the creation of new things is generally speaking an unabridged good. I think that technology can obviously do some harm too, but I think generally it is a question of how you use it. For example, one of the reasons why I really like online technology and internet mobile is because having people able to have a broader conversation, be able to present their identity, find the right people, collaborate, communicate - these are all things that I think are really good things, For example, I was on a panel in Davis earlier in the year where one of the panelists was like “Mobile phones are terrible!” I was like, “No, no. Mobile phones are actually a good thing.” Now, is it a little bit less stressful that we are always connected and can always be reachable? Yes, there are things and prices but overall we are now much more connected and much more able to work fast, much more able to find people. We can say we’ll meet at the train station or I’ll call you when my train gets in because then we can meet and that is the thing. All of these things are enhancements to human life.
Kamla: Greed. What role did greed play in the evolution of LinkedIn?
Reid: So one of my-
Kamla: You know what I am talking about.
Reid: Yes of course! So one of my funny lines about investing in the consumer internet is you are investing in one of what Thomas Aquinas calls the seven deadly sins. And that is because these have deep roots in human psychology. So lust is one, vanity is another and greed is another. Basically, these are actually part of reasonable human needs. And part of people having aspiration to be very successful, to successfully make a strong career, to make enough money not just to have kids and put their kids to college, but also to have a really nice house and really nice car. Well, using LinkedIn should enable your career so it should help you with much better economic competitors.
Kamla: And greed also played a role in the reason you created LinkedIn?
Reid: Yes. I tend to look at money as an instrument. So money is useful. It is useful for my own personal reasons like taking a vacation, like owning a nice house that I feel comfortable living in, like being able to hire a gardener as opposed to doing - my wife likes gardening, I don’t. Good ventures in these things are massively and economically successful. But for me it is more of an enabler of other things.
Kamla: I am just going to quickly touch upon something that you mentioned. You didn’t mention the word, but Janus faced. Technology is always two faced. So what are some of the things that you are doing with LinkedIn and all the other companies that you have invested in because there is also the bad side technology can be misused and it is people, who generally misuse it, it’s not the technology itself.
Reid: I think technology can be misused. There are two things. One is that you are trying to design societies that generally use technology. And the second thing is you try to design technologies so that generally and incrementally by their general usage improve the whole eco-system. You can never do that perfectly. Take LinkedIn, by connecting the people on trust network, you can use that to help assess other peoples’ reputation and that is not gameable. Now could someone put in their profile slander about another person and could that be used as a-absolutely! But then again, it is partially counteracted by do you trust they what they put on their profile or not? Because you use your network to evaluate that person. I think one always has to be a little careful about it, but generally speaking, I am very positive on what new, good things technology can bring.
Kamla: What keeps you awake at nights?
Reid: Can I get out all the features out in time?
Kamla: What goals do you think you still have to achieve?
Reid: Lots. With LinkedIn, I think the primary thing is helping people understand that being a part of modern professionals- being a connect professional and actually how you work with your network at large will be the thing that makes you successful or not- daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. And then generally, I think that one of the things that you try to do in your life is you try to make the world a nobler place by having being there. So, there is lots of work to do.
Kamla: What have been some of the books that have influenced you the most, thinkers that have influenced you the most?
Reid: A large number. I guess, in the media space I really like Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves To Death”, “ The Age Of Discourse” and “The Era Of The Television” and part of it is you know, thinking about how do we improve civic discourse so that we in fact become healthier as a society.
Kamla: I was thinking of some philosophers.
Reid: Wittgenstein, I find very interesting and appealing. But that was more of “how is it we can possibly understand each other as two different people” and “how does language work.” But there has been a number of you know Amartya Sen. I have read a lot of great philosophy books.
Kamla: What is one word that describes you?
Reid: One word? I’m not sure one word can ever describe anybody but I’ll say “intellectual”.
Kamla: Do you still have aspirations to become a teacher?
Reid: I do some teaching already, and I think it is a noble cause. So, yes, I hope to continue teaching in the future.
Kamla: And are you going to do anything for teachers on LinkedIn?
Reid: We have some design and idea. One of the things that I think for the academy to be successful in future is I think, it has to be more interconnected with business. I n terms of, what it is that you are teaching and I think that there is something really interesting applications there.
Kamla: When does LinkedIn go IPO?
Reid: We have no immediate plans, we are not making plans. What we are committed to is building the strongest business in the next two or three years and I think an IPO just naturally falls out of the other things that we are doing. We talk about but it every so often and the board is curious. We are committed to building a massively valuable company to our members.
Kamla: So IPO is not an exit strategy.
Reid: It can be an exit strategy. We are not planning on an exit right now. We are planning on building a company.
Kamla: Reid, it was a pleasure talking to you.
Reid: Likewise, Kamla.
Kamla: You were listening to Reid Hoffman, chairperson and president of LinkedIn. This is Kamla Bhatt. This interview was brought to you in association with Live Mint Radio. And as always, thank you for tuning in.