About The Book

The career escalator is jammed at every level. Unemployment rates are sky-high. Creative disruption is shaking every industry. Global competition for jobs is fierce. The employer-employee pact is over and traditional job security is a thing of the past. Here, LinkedIn cofounder and chairman Reid Hoffman and author Ben Casnocha show how to accelerate your career in today’s competitive world.
The key is to manage your career as if it were a start-up business: a living, breathing, growing start-up of you. Why? Start-ups – and the entrepreneurs who run them – are nimble. They invest in themselves. They build their professional networks. They take intelligent risks. They make uncertainty and volatility work to their advantage. These are the very same skills professionals need to get ahead today.

This book isn’t about cover letters or resumes. Instead, you will learn the best practices of Silicon Valley start-ups, and how to apply these entrepreneurial strategies to your career. Whether you work for a giant multinational corporation, a small local business, or launching your own venture, you need to know how to:

  • Adapt your career plans as you change, the people around you change, and industries change.
  • Develop a competitive advantage to win the best jobs and opportunities.
  • Strengthen your professional network by building powerful alliances and maintaining a diverse mix of relationships.
  • Find the unique breakout opportunities that massively accelerate career growth.
  • Take proactive risks to become more resilient to industry tsunamis.
  • Tap your network for information and intelligence that help you make smarter decisions.
The strategies in this book will help you survive and thrive and achieve your boldest professional ambitions. The Start-Up of You empowers you to become the CEO of your career and take control of your future.
→ Already read the book? Check out the supplementary resources.

About The Authors

Reid Hoffman REID HOFFMAN is a world-renowned entrepreneur and investor. He is cofounder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network with 100+ million members. Previously he was executive vice president and on the founding board of directors of PayPal. He is also a partner at Greylock, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm. He is an early investor in over 100 technology companies, including Facebook and Zynga.
Ben Casnocha BEN CASNOCHA is an award-winning entrepreneur and author. He has written for Newsweek and public radio’s Marketplace and appeared on CNN, the CBS Early Show, and CNBC. BusinessWeek has named him one of “America’s best young entrepreneurs. He has spoken to more than ten thousand students and businesspeople in countries around the world.


Q&A With Tom Friedman

Tom Friedman is a New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

Tom Friedman Tom Friedman: Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure your prospective employer is thinking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day–more than a worker in India, a robot, or a computer could? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets?
Tom: Anyone can be an entrepreneur? Really? Even me?

Reid: Not only can anyone be an entrepreneur, but they must be. Even you, Tom! Not everyone should start companies, but everyone must be the entrepreneur of his or her own life. The skills people need to manage their careers are akin to the skills of entrepreneurs when they start and grow companies. For example, entrepreneurs can both be persistent on a plan and flexible when conditions change. They take intelligent risk. They build networks of allies and tap those networks for intelligence on what’s happening in the world. Silicon Valley’s most innovative entrepreneurs possess unique skills–you can learn them and apply them, no matter your profession

Tom: What does it mean to be in “permanent beta?”

Reid and Ben: Technology companies sometimes keep the “beta” label on software for a time after the official launch to stress that the product is not finished, so much as ready for the next batch of improvements. For entrepreneurs, finished is an F-word. Great companies are always evolving. Finished ought to be an F-word for all of us. We are all works in progress. Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, be more, grow more in our lives and careers. You will need to adapt and evolve forever–that’s permanent beta.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: All Humans Are Entrepreneurs

Chapter 1: All Humans Are Entrepreneurs You were born an entrepreneur. This doesn’t necessarily mean you were born to start companies. It means that our ancestors in the caves had to feed themselves; they had to invent rules of living. The will to create is encoded in our DNA. Today’s economy requires you to rediscover your entrepreneurial instincts and harness them to create a new kind of career. In this chapter you’ll learn:

  • Why the rise and fall of Detroit is a cautionary tale for us all.
  • The key philosophy that has led to Netflix’s success (and Amazon’s, and many others)
  • An introduction to the entrepreneurial mindset and skill set key to managing the living, growing, start-up venture that is your career.

Chapter 2: Develop A Competitive Advantage

Chapter 2: Develop A Competitive Advantage For any desirable professional opportunity there’s competition, which translates into a simple question: Why should someone hire you over another person with a similar job title and similar experience? You have to differentiate yourself and establish a clear advantage over other people pursuing similar opportunities. In this chapter you’ll learn:

  • The three factors that comprise your competitive advantage.
  • The two kinds of assets — soft and hard — and why you should invest in your soft assets.
  • How to think about your aspirations: your interests, passions, desires, values.
  • Why market realities matter and how they can both constrain and expand your career plans.
  • How Zappos, Joi Ito, and Reid established a competitive edge by triangulating these different considerations.

Chapter 3: Plan To Adapt

Chapter 3: Plan To Adapt Should you craft a detailed career plan and persistently work to make it happen? Or do you stay flexible in order to seize unexpected opportunity? The answer is both: be persistent and flexible. Short-term and long-term in your thinking. Welcome to ABZ Planning – an approach from entrepreneurship that emphasizes career planning but not rigid plans. In this chapter you’ll learn:

  • How to deploy Plan A — your current implementation of your competitive advantage.
  • When and how to pivot to Plan B when Plan A is longer working or if you find a better path towards your goal.
  • When and how to fall back on Plan Z and why the certainty of Plan Z enables you to take on uncertainty in Plan A and B.
  • How Flickr, PayPal, Sheryl Sandberg, and James Gaines adapted their companies and careers in response to new opportunities and challenges.

Chapter 4: It Takes A Network

Chapter 4: It Takes A Network Relationships matter. Nothing important in life is done alone. But genuine relationships and a powerful network do not appear automatically, and much of the typical “networking” advice is offbase. You have to invest in your network over the long term and approach the process with the right mindset. In this chapter you’ll learn:

  • The power of IWe: how you and your network, working together, can achieve amazing things.
  • Why the best way to meet new people is through those you already know.
  • How to establish close professional alliances who can help you and whom you can help in turn.
  • Why the most powerful networks include a mix of both allies and looser acquaintances.
  • How to access your extended network of second and third degree connections using LinkedIn.
  • How to reach out to busy, powerful people.
  • Why you should set up an “interesting people” fund to guarantee that you spend time investing in your network.

Chapter 5: Pursue Breakout Opportunities

Chapter 5: Pursue Breakout Opportunities The trajectories of remarkable careers are not slow and steady, up and to the right. Rather, they are marked by breakout opportunities–career experiences that lead to unusually rapid gains. George Clooney, for example, had his breakout when cast in the TV show ER. How can you find and generate these transformative opportunities? In this chapter you’ll learn:

  • What Groupon and George Clooney have in common, and why “breakout opportunities” is a better frame in which to think about your career than “jobs.”
  • How to increase the chances of serendipity and positive randomness
  • Why networks and associations of people often house the most interesting opportunities
  • How great Silicon Valley entrepreneurs hustle despite limited resources, and how you can too.
  • Committing to an opportunity despite uncertainty is necessary; the timing will never be perfect.

Chapter 6: Take Intelligent Risks

Chapter 6: Take Intelligent Risks Risk is a fact of life; every opportunity contains risk. Rather than try to avoid risk, you should evaluate it, and indeed proactively seek it out as part of pursuing opportunities. In this chapter you’ll learn:

  • Why entrepreneurs do not take on crazy cowboy risk as is the stereotype.
  • Why a freelance writer actually has a more stable career than a staff editor at a magazine.
  • Why the best opportunities are high reward, medium risk or medium reward, low risk, and how to identify these winning risk/reward combinations.
  • How to build resilience over the long term to withstand unexpected career threats.

Chapter 7: Who You Know Is What You Know

Chapter 7: Who You Know Is What You Know The knowledge you need to make good decisions is always changing. The best source of advice and information is frequently your network–the brains of other people. We call this “Network intelligence.” Good network intel contributes to a competitive advantage. In this chapter you’ll learn:

  • Whether you possess “network literacy”–and how to get it if you don’t.
  • When your network is a better source of information and knowledge versus books, articles, or Google.
  • When to poll your network broadly and when to pull specific information from specific people.
  • The exact way to phrase questions that elicit the most useful answers.


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