The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career

This book is written by the cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn. All Humans are Entrepreneurs. Along the way, we forget that we are entrepreneurs. However, not everyone should start companies. The will to create is in human DNA. We all need to grow our careers. This book will guide you with tips on how to develop the start-up mindset. Unemployment is high nowadays and grade inflation is a problem. It is hard to climb on the corporate ladder nowadays. It is time to invest in yourself. Now, contracts are shorter and lifelong employment doesn’t exist. This is caused by globalisation and technology. Skills need to be upgraded or else you will be left behind. Given that people spend shorter periods of time on each job, they will need to be adaptable. Tap on your networks. LinkedIn was founded in 2003. I also invest in other start-ups. I have learnt to recognize what makes companies successful. The success strategies for individuals and companies are remarkably similar. Entrepreneurship is a life idea. Detroit is a city that embraced entrepreneurship. GM, Ford, Chrysler were all born. However they lost it after a while. The auto industry got too comfortable. They kept building new cars instead of smaller cars and didn’t practice lean manufacturing. Decision making was too slow due to bureaucracy. Why are so many winners ending up like Detroit? This results from the inability to adapt to change. You need to take calculated and bold risks to great something great. Netflix is a good example of a company that perfected its distribution system. Stay nimble. This book seeks to include specific action items on how to invest in yourself.

Develop a Competitive Advantage. Many people can do your job but what makes you so special? You need to be better than the competition. You must build products that differentiate you from the rest. Zappos offered a 365 day return policy. They also offered free shipping. Its customer centric nature is what makes it stand out. What are you offering that makes you rare and valuable? Are you faster, cheaper and better. You just need to be the best in your industry and do not be too ambitious. The best way to learn is by doing. Soft assets are the knowledge you have in your brain, hard assets are your possessions. Money matters as it will determine whether you can pursue your interests part-time or full-time. State what you are able to do with your experience and not whether you have 2 years’ experience in something. Develop your competitive advantage by combining skills and experiences and connections. Start to develop your assets. Always have aspirations and stick to your core values. A compelling vision is a competitive advantage. Understand the market realities. You need to meet the needs of the market in order to thrive. Entrepreneurs have to be grounded in reality. Howard Schultz visited Italy many times before he got the Starbucks idea right. You must learn to ride the market as well. You need all 3 of the above to succeed. Also, the industry is ever changing. Put yourself in a niche where there is less competition. Change your local environment. LinkedIn placed the individual in focus and not the company. These 3 ideas must be actionable. You must articulate your competitive advantages. Identify your mentors. Find out how you are value adding to your company and your environment. Focus on growth markets and opportunities.

Plan to Adapt. A lot of books say find your passion first before looking for a job. However the world is not a static place. Even your passions can change over time. Sometimes, it will not be possible to turn your passion into a dream job. You must follow a plan but be flexible to change. Flickr wasn’t set up by photography pros. Flickr is the photo sharing service for millions of users. Most start-ups go through stops and starts and struggle a lot before succeeding. Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t plan much as well. ABZ planning has upside and limited downside risks. Plan B is in the same general direction as Plan A. Plan Z is your back up plan, your lifeboat. You need to plot specific steps to make your aspirations happen. Start-ups which invest in learning early on tend to have higher chances of succeeding. Learn to build soft assets but also do not neglect the hard assets. Test hypothesis through trial and error. Actions will help you discover where to go and how to get there. Keep your day job first and iterate accordingly. Think two steps ahead. Do not be attracted by instant gratification. A good plan is to focus on something general first before moving to something specific.

Start a personal blog and begin developing a public reputation and public portfolio of work that’s not tied to your employer. That way, you’ll have a professional identity that you carry with you as you shift jobs. – Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

The Palm Pilot didn’t catch on. Plan B is to learn as you pivot. Always try to make the most of every situation. How do you know when to pivot or pursue a Plan B? When the grass is greener, move elsewhere. Some major event in your life can be an inflexion point. External forces can have a big impact on your career. A big industry change will force you to pivot. Build up your soft skills and embrace new technology. Never lose your competitive edge. Pivot into an adjacent niche. Start with Plan B at the back of your mind. Learn in the evenings and in your free time. Start building relationships with people in another industry. Experiment on side projects. You can explore Plan Bs without having a very heavy commitment. Plan Z is a fail-safe plan. This is when you have failed with Plan A and B and need to re-group. Learn to develop general skills that can be used anywhere.

Set aside one day a week or month or even every few months to work on something that could be part of your Plan B. If you have a business idea you want to pursue, a skill you want to learn, a relationship you want to form, or some curiosity or aspiration, start on it as a side project and see where it goes. – Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be. – Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

It Takes a Network. You can’t accomplish everything alone. Assembling a talented team is the key. Invest in your professional network. Invest in a team of allies. Every job involves working with people. When it comes to promotion, being on good terms with the boss can matter a lot. The time you spend with others shape who you are. Even Franklin’s networks played a big part in his success. You cannot dissociate the person from his environment. You are only as good as the worst member in your team. You will always have your friends outside of work and also those who you meet in a professional context. It is tricky to ask your personal relationships for career help. Learn to build genuine personal relationships. Networking is not fake and is indeed necessary.

When you’re deciding whether or not to build a professional relationship with someone, there are many considerations: whether you like him or her; the capacity for the person to help you to build your assets; reach your aspirations, and position you well competitively, and for you to help back in all the same ways; whether the person is adaptable and could help you adapt your career plan as necessary. – Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Social cliques, which are groups of people who have something in common, often limit your exposure to wildly new experiences, opportunities and information. Because people tend to hang out in cliques, your good friends are usually from the same industry, neighbourhood, religious group, and the like. – Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

In fact, all it takes to stay in touch with the people you know is a desire to do so and a modest amount of organization and proactiveness. – Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

See things from the other person’s perspective. Understand what your customers want. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Think about how you can collaborate with the other person instead of trying to make use of the other person. Always look out for shared interests. Start off with friendly gestures and be sincere. Ask ‘What’s in it for us?’ Always try to keep things fun. Relationships should be fun. Relationships are fun when you can understand each other. Engage with people you already know. Use your existing connections to link to others. Professional allies matter. Weaker ties and acquaintances are very important too. You can consult an ally for advice. Mark Pincus was my ally. Alliances are very enriching. Weak ties are more common than allies. These are the people who can refer winning jobs. The problem with close allies is that they are too similar with your other friends and you can’t be exposed to different stuff. Weak ties can serve as your bridge to other worlds. Weak ties are useful when they can offer more information. Humans’ memory is like an SD card. You can only maintain relationships with that many people. Dunbar predicted that humans can only socialize with about a 150 people. However, this may not include weak ties. Use your second and third degree friends as well. The world is actually a small place where everyone is interconnected. Know the six degrees of separation theory. LinkedIn helps link people with similar skills together. When it comes to meeting people, three degrees of separation are sufficient. To know the second and third degree friends, it is best to get a mutual friend to introduce you to the friend. If not you can reach out to the person directly. The Grameen Bank is one that works on social networks. You can strengthen relationships by helping someone else. If you want to help someone, figure out what type of help that guy needs as well. Don’t be too eager without knowing the person first. The second way is to let yourself be helped. Introduce people to others when they lack information or contacts. Even the other person doesn’t reply, try different polite means to contact the person. Try and add value. If you can, meet in person. Be the proactive one and reconnect with someone you lost contact with. Set up an interesting people fund. Be a Bridge. Make it a point to stay in touch with old connections. Pre-commitment is a sure way to make things happen. Set aside a fund to meeting interesting people. A person’s status depends on what’s around him. Sometimes, if you are too talented, you may make others look bad. Not all people are equal. Do not be late for meetings and let the person with higher status decide the place. To deal with people of status, you must be accommodating but do not agree on everything. It is okay to let some relationships naturally drift apart. For those relationships you do not wish to keep, it is okay to let it fade.

Pursue Breakout Opportunities. Success begins with opportunities. It’s up to you to find such opportunities yourself. Find great business opportunities. Groupon has managed to reinvent itself. Reality is not stable and growth is often not stable. Be proactive and seek out opportunities. Luck also plays a part. You must brim with curiosity in order to succeed. Passionately curious people around you are a source of influence. Even if you have a good start, keep trying to find such opportunities. How to find and generate career opportunities? Court good randomness is the key. Be alert to potential opportunities. You need to be in motion and can’t be static. You do not have to be deliberate about the activities you do. Make the effort to talk to interesting people. People get ahead if they tap their circles to dish out the right chances. Franklin knew that people can produce ideas in the right atmosphere. Join as many groups and associations as you can. Meetup.com is a great place to meet like-minded people. Join alumni club events. High quality people really matter a lot. Start your own meetup group or association. Hustle means to be persistent and not to give up. Learn to be resourceful. The AirBnB folks sold cereal just to raise enough money. Be resilient and ignore the naysayers. If you want to be hired, make yourself known by advertising yourself aggressively. Opportunities can come at any moment and you may not be prepared. Do not keep options open, rather, make decisions.

The less money you have, the fewer people and resources you have, the more creative you have to become. – Caterina Fake

Take Intelligent Risks. Risk is a part of life. There is competition for good opportunities. Entrepreneurs pick opportunities that have slightly more upside than downside. Breakout opportunities all involve some element of risk. Inaction is a form of risk too. Taking intelligent risks will give you an edge. Risk are ever changing. Humans tend to overrate risk. Our ancestors had to be risk averse in order not to be eaten up by a predator. The question you should ask is whether you can tolerate the worst-case scenario. If you realize you have made a mistake but can’t go to Plan B or Plan Z quickly, it is probably risky. It is not possible to make decisions with 100% certainty. Learn to accept the uncertainty. Accept higher levels of risk when you are younger. You need to be both contrarian and right. Some entrepreneurs see a downturn as an opportunity because others are less likely to pursue opportunities. Short term risk increases long term stability. We should expect to see more black swans in our lifetime. A system is more vulnerable to shocks if it has not experienced volatility or has been tested. Try to introduce a bit of volatility in your everyday life. The only answer to risk is to be resilient.

Who You Know is What You Know. Learn how to gather and manage and use information. Entrepreneurs are good at gathering information and spotting trends. Business intelligence is important. Talk to people in your network. Tapping on others’ knowledge is called network intelligence. You can learn a lot from others and get more in-depth knowledge as compared to books etc. The advice is also personalized. People can filter information for you as well and direct you to the relevant sections to read. Now, the skill to wade through large chunks of information and narrow the search is very important. Pull intelligence from your network. One way is to target direct questions to specific people that you know. The people you know can be classified into domain experts, those you know well, or just really smart people. Learn to ask a lot of questions. Asking questions in the right frame is very important as well. Asking more questions will make you seem like you are interested. Keep questions in your back pocket and you never know when you might use them. You can find out more about your potential boss by asking others. Do note that all information you obtain contains biases. Good networking will definitely give you an edge over others.

Conclusion. Will you take control of your life? Our networks are crucial nowadays. The society you are in matters a lot too. Dedicate some of your time to try and help improve the community. Invest in yourself, in your networks, then in your society. Live up to your fullest potential.

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3 thoughts on “The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

  1. I have read Zero to One. For me it is full of fresh ideas packed in a single volume.I read business books all day long. Zero to One is one of the some most ‘important’ books in my library and the most thought provoking book I’ve ever read.

    • Hey! I see. I didn’t find Zero to One very impressive. But that’s probably because I have read many other similar books on entrepreneurship.

      I’m trying to read more fiction nowadays! Anyway, thanks for checking out my blog 🙂 Happy reading and continue to acquire knowledge!

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