Hi. Welcome to The Startup of You Podcast. I’m Ben Casnocha, entrepreneur, author, and venture capitalist at Village Global.
And I’m Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, and host of the Masters of Scale podcast. And this podcast is about learning the secrets of how to have a great career.
Because you may not be starting your own company right now, but you are the CEO of at least one startup: you.
So, who are you? They let you in off the street somehow? You snuck in?
Yeah, I snuck in. You know, it’s one of those things where you try to, uh, pretend to say, “Hey, I might work here at this company called LinkedIn.”
Well, we are here at the LinkedIn New York offices, and this is our very first episode of The Startup of You Podcast. So, welcome to The Startup of You Podcast.
Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha. We’re gonna talk about one of our favorite topics, which is how to build a career in the modern economy. And it’s all premised out of a framework that we developed in a book that came out 10 years ago now: The Startup of You, which just came out in a new edition, fully updated and revised for the post-pandemic economy.
And it’s all about how you can take the principles of entrepreneurship and apply them to your very own career. So, this is a podcast for anybody at any age who wants to build an exceptional, high-impact career.
We’re gonna discuss—over the course of several episodes—a variety of tips, tricks, strategies from Silicon Valley and around the world that you can apply in your career very effectively.
Yeah. We’re gonna have 10 episodes. We’re gonna go into kind of, what are the important things now?
It’s not just building your network, but how to think about the world; think about how to find opportunities; think about, you know, how the people around you form a team that help you both adapt and thrive in these increasingly uncertain and volatile times; and everything from concepts and frames to very practical tips.
And we’ll also be taking questions from you, dear listener. So, submit your questions and we’ll be answering them, both text and audio, live and the upcoming episodes. So, Reid, shall we get into it?
Let’s do it.
So our very first episode is gonna cover a topic that is very near and dear to your heart, especially, which is about networking and networks.
It’s such an important topic. In fact, it’s probably the topic that gets talked about the most in career literature, because it is so important. And the truth is that elite professionals, the people who are the most successful go-getters in any field are really masters at this topic.
In fact, I was thinking recently, like if you’re an elite professional with an incredible network and you happen to lose your job on a Wednesday, you can probably find another amazing job by Monday the next week just from people in your network.
In fact, some of the best people I know who have amazing careers find these opportunities that were never advertised in the first place; like these unadvertised job opportunities that just come to them through their network. So it’s an incredibly important topic.
Yes. And part of the thing that people kind of have this misconception is they don’t realize it’s a very human activity. It’s a question of how you connect to people. It’s a question of how you ally with them and how you kind of go through the journey of working life together. It’s not a, oh, look a Rolodex—for the people who still remember what a Rolodex is—or any of these other things of checking off numbers.
Well, I’m glad you say misconception because…because it’s a topic that’s talked about so much, a lot of people think they know a lot about this topic, but as the line goes, “It’s not the things you know; it’s the things you think you know, that just ain’t so.”
It actually relates to the whole field of entrepreneurial wisdom applied to careers. A lot of people think they know things about entrepreneurship and startups. You have to take massive amounts of risk, or you have to be the solo hero genius. All these stereotypes people have about folks like Steve Jobs and others that just ain’t true.
So, in fact, throughout the course of this podcast, we’re gonna dismantle a set of misconceptions, and try to provide a version of the truth that we think is…is closer to modern reality.
Related to these misconceptions about networking, let’s start with one misconception that…that you just touched on, Reid, which is, you know, people think networking is all about these sort of slimy cocktail party tactics, the old-fashioned “handing-the-business-card-and-adding-everyone” you know on LinkedIn relentlessly, anyone you meet for five seconds.
They think it’s all about short-term transactions and not about genuine, real relationships.
Well, part of it is that the people who most often describe themselves as networkers are these people like, you know, “Hi, I’m Reid, can you be my contact?”
Right? And it’s like, well, that’s not a human connection. It’s like, “Look, I’d like to use you,” not “I’d like to be allies with you. I’d like to be partners with you. I’d like to navigate my future work together in your interests, and in my interests, but in your interests.”
When I invite someone to connect on LinkedIn, what I’m really doing is saying, “I know you, and like you enough, and feel allied enough with you. I’m offering the rest of my network as a possibility to help you.”
Right? It’s not, “I am getting something from you.” It’s “I am giving something to you.” Now, of course you’re doing that all around. And the hope is that as you all form these teams—your network as a team—that you’re all helping each other. And then that’s the thing that makes, you know, one plus one ten.
And embedded in that view, right, is a very long-term orientation. It’s this idea of, “Hey, we’re gonna have a relationship that’s gonna play out over the course of many months and years.”
Again, in total opposition to this misconception that networking’s all about a short-term transaction, right? I’m gonna go meet somebody at a cocktail party or add someone on LinkedIn, and a week later they’re gonna gimme a job. Like, that’s not how it works, right?
Nope. Like, how would you wanna be approached?
But it’s also this question of what is the other person, and how are you helping them with their goals and their aspirations? Because if you’re actually doing that, and you’re both doing that, then you have a great alliance. You have a great friendship. You have a partnership.
And that’s actually what you seek to do. And you should be thinking about, like, what’s the thing that, where we will be connections, allies, friends for decades?
It actually, like, it strikes me: a different way of saying this misconception is people think networking is a business topic. It’s actually a human topic.
This is one of the rich—we’re talking about building real human relationships. It reminds me: a quote we have in the book is…the novelist Jonathan Franzen said that the people most obsessed with authenticity are some of the most inauthentic people.
So when we think about this topic, remember: this is about the art of building a human relationship, which is a very deep, almost spiritual topic. And so if you’re just living in the realm of business tactics, you’re probably missing something.
Yeah. One of the funniest conversations I had very early in the days of LinkedIn is…someone who had clearly read the Dale Carnegie book was having lunch with me.
And part of the advice that Carnegie gives is, “Use the first name to establish connection”. So I’m sitting there at lunch and it’s like, “Reid, da-da-da. Reid, da-da-da. Reid, da-da-da.”
And after the six or seventh instance of that, I say, “So, you’ve read Dale Carnegie, have you?”
He’s like, “Yes, I have. How did you know?”
And you’re like, “Oh!”
One nugget in that book that I do like, if I recall, is something like: when you compliment someone, don’t say, “You look good in that suit”, but, “That suit looks good on you.” Make it about the substance of the person.
So, as with everything, just like, you know, we bash the book What Color Is Your Parachute? in The Startup of You—we’ll bash that a little bit more in a later episode, rest assured listener and viewer—that being said, as you have noted, there are good things in What Color Is Your Parachute?
So there often are some redeeming…you know, Carnegie does have some good ideas, but of course, this is the thing on networking that’s so tricky. It’s like almost the feeling of it is kind of icky. Like there is something to knowing someone’s name, and connecting with them in that way, but it’s the tactical way that people employ the advice that turns folks off.
Think of it as dancing with another human being, not as an object you’re manipulating.
Right? So, the point is it’s connection and it’s…how are we doing this together?
And, like, you’re inviting them into a dance, not, “Oh, you’re my thing. And I’m trying to manipulate it.” That’s the framework mistake, which is why most other people go, “Ooh, networking. Feels a little off.”
And the word dance is perfect, right? ‘Cause it’s all about mutuality.
And I actually think dancing’s a fantastic metaphor for life. Like dancing with life is a good way to maybe think about life strategy, but the idea of relationship-building as a dance, I think, is fantastic.
Okay. Let’s talk about a second misconception.
First misconception: networking’s all about short-term, transactional relationships. This is something much deeper, much more humane, and we’re gonna get into some more details on that.
Second misconception: some people think networking’s either all about having this huge list of contacts, and all these short-term, or sort-of lightweight acquaintances.
Or they say, “No, no, that’s what networkers do. What networking’s really about is just a small number of deep, close friendships, right? Sometimes these sort of self-styled, sophisticateds will reject, sort of, that previous version of conventional wisdom, and instead emphasize this more intimate group.
And the truth is it’s both. And one of the things I’ve learned from you over the years…one of your go-to phrases is “Reject false choices.”
And this feels like a classic false choice. I either have a ton of weak ties, or a few number of strong ties. The reality is you need both.
Yes. And they serve different functions. So, you know, as we write about in the book…the friendlies, the weak ties are the way that you have a kind of a broad, distributed, almost—if you want to use a metaphor—a sensor network that actually can see things because it’s so broad that otherwise, you wouldn’t see.
Your allies, your strong ties are the people who will work with you, give you very detailed feedback, help you on various projects. People you can call and say, “Look, I really need help, you know, kind of brushing up on my pitch or my deck or my resume or something else,” and they’ll help you with that.
And they might say, “Okay, well let’s brief you on this company, or let me help you find that information.”
The truth is, everyone, you need to have many different types of relationships. You’ll have some close allies, you’ll have a lighter list of friendlies.
Like there isn’t one true configuration. It’ll be dependent upon who you are, what your natural instincts are, where you find yourself, what industry are you in…
And so you’ll have to discover that in a somewhat personal or organic thing.
It’s a great meta point to emphasize for all of the themes that we’re gonna talk about in this podcast. I mean, the essence of entrepreneurship is to create something that’s uniquely your own, that fits you like a glove.
So anytime you’re taking advice on careers, know that it’s a set of general principles you will have to apply. And, in fact, it’s that very application and customization that makes it an entrepreneurial activity, which is…reinforces the central message of this book, which is: be entrepreneurial.
So that’s great. One final misconception we’ll just hit at the top: a lot of people think this topic is only relevant for them when they’re looking for a new job, right? It’s like, “I network when I’m looking for a job.”
In fact, this is a topic that’s vital for every professional to internalize and employ every day they’re at work.
So one of the things that…you and I had a conversation many years ago, and I said, “I know that LinkedIn is now going to be successful because people are actually using it extensively, not just for job searching.”
And the reason is because if you network when you’re only looking for something—a job, say—then it’s like, “Oh, here’s what you can do for me.” And that’s the wrong thing.
As we mentioned, it’s a dance, it’s a connection. And so what you really want to be doing is, “How am I helping you? And how are we helping each other as we’re going through?”
And then that becomes the trampoline that is not only a safety net, but is also how you get to better heights.
Well, it’s great. There’s sort of two reasons to be always thinking about this topic.
One is to be digging the well before you’re thirsty, so that when you do have a big career transition, you have an established network that you can turn to.
The second reason, just to reiterate your point, is because there’s an enormous number of opportunities in day-to-day professional life where you can use your network not to find a new job, but to make a better decision; to navigate a tricky challenge; to do a reference check, etc.
So this is a set of themes that is just far bigger than finding your next job. As important as that is, there’s all sorts of applications in the here-and-now.
Yeah. And also, by the way, by having those ongoing human connections…those actually, in fact…not just make you much more capable, but when you get to those crisis moments, your team is there and assembled and active, and you’ve got the skills and you’ve got the muscles, and you know how to navigate it.
Okay, so let’s dig in. You use the word ‘team’. And I think that’s a great transition into talking about some of the key people on the team. That is, your sort of ‘career network’.
We call them ‘allies’ in the book. You know, these are the people who serve as your sounding boards. They’re the people to whom you’re giving advice; from whom you’re seeking advice; you’re working on projects together.
So we’re going to start with allies. And we want you just to reflect on, you know, who are the half dozen people today who you go to for advice? Whose counsel you seek? Who you’d be excited to work with on a project?
These are some of the most important nodes in your network, and the sort of central characteristic that defines these relationships—at least in part—is that help and value is flowing, right? You’re doing stuff together. You’re helping them, they’re helping you. You’re never keeping score, to be sure; this is not a quid pro quo thing. But it’s this relentless attempt to add value; get value; help each other; deepen a relationship through collaboration.
Yeah. And, by the way, part of that basis of trust allows you to actually form key alliances, which may even be surprising. So like, for example, very early in my career just when I started LinkedIn, one of the people—now one of my close friends—that I was building a connection with was Mark Pincus.
And you’d say, well, he was doing this thing called Tribe, which was a social network. I was doing LinkedIn, which people also then described as a social network. And it was like, “Well, weren’t you competing? What happens if there was overlap?”
So Mark was building Tribe, which was an early social network, and you were building LinkedIn, so you’re saying the two companies were kind of competitive.
Well, no. Some people would think they were competitive.
Some people thought they were competitive.
And in early entrepreneurship projects, you actually don’t ultimately know where these things go. Something may start as a social network, really decide it’s going into professional network; start as a professional network, head in a different direction…
Like there’s a whole set of different things where it’s organic: they flower, they change. So the natural thing is, “I’ll be productive. Don’t share techniques. Don’t share ideas. Don’t share observations.”
And the actual fact of the matter is, we shared everything that we would think about, like, “Oh, here’s what’s actually going on in social networking”, “Here’s what the key things to do are”, “Here’s how people are experiencing them.”
These are the things that needed to happen. And even when, for example, when we were thinking about like, okay, so, well, maybe LinkedIn should be broader and more inclusive of a wider range of conversation…Mark would give me advice on that.
When Mark was saying, “Well, what should be the professional profile on Tribe?”, I would give him advice on that. Because actually, in fact, what we learned was that, being allies and friends, we would both amplify each other in this much broader world.
I mean, there’s a side note, which is that in both of our day jobs we’re investing in startup entrepreneurs who build traditional companies—not just career entrepreneurs—but people building companies.
And, you know, advice that I heard you once give an entrepreneur who was paranoid about sharing their business idea was, “Share your idea with anyone you can offer valuable feedback, and nobody else.”
I think this sort of openness to sharing your idea to get feedback is a critical skill in the process of building a startup. In a career sense, there’s a similar dynamic. Some people feel like with their friends and allies, they can’t be fully transparent about their deepest ambitions and aspirations; their anxieties; the career opportunities they’re evaluating.
But I think you’re making a great point, which is: part of what makes it an alliance relationship is a sort of openness and flowing to what you’re working on. Even if it’s potentially conflicting, or your friend’s working on a similar sort of idea, or has a similar goal in life…working through that together is a hallmark of a great alliance.
100%. And here’s part of the way to look at it, which is: what’s the things that are most important to you? The startup you’re working on, your big aspiration, etc.? If that’s not the thing that’s front and center that you’re getting advice, reflections, feedback, amplification, modifications of, then you’re not working on the most important thing. You’re not working on the thing that may be most important to you. So that’s exactly what you should be doing with your allies.
Just to close the loop on the Pincus Alliance…So when did you meet him? How many years ago was this?
I think it was 2002. So 20 years.
Okay. So it’s been a 20-year relationship. And you both have been through a lot. I mean, there’s been the whole, you know, unfolding of your careers. And I think one of things that’s striking about the relationship is, you know, Mark’s very different than you in many respects.
I mean, Mark, who I also know, is, I would say, more classic Burning Man; very creative. I think we describe him in the book as, you know, bouncing off walls with energy. You, by contrast, are a much more disciplined, sort of rigorous thinker in certain respects.
And so one of the takeaways from the Reid-Mark Alliance for me is: your allies don’t have to be your exact carbon copies, right? And sometimes there’s a certain energy that can come from friends and allies who complement you, and who can fill you in on ideas that you might not have naturally conceived.
That’s 100%. And actually, in fact, exactly the same won’t add as much to your capabilities as if your superpowers are complementing each other’s.
Because if you say, “Look, your superpowers are this; my superpowers are this,” and they play well together, it’s part of the reason why the “network is team”, you know, and the “allies is team” metaphor is an important way to do this. And part of the reason why we say in the book, you know, “Life is a team sport” is that that makes your team all the more powerful. So you do want complementary, so you can play well together. But Strength A and Strength B.
You know, but these relationships, these alliances take a lot of energy; they take a lot of time, right? You’ve probably been with Mark hundreds of times.
So there’s only so many of them you can actually have in your network, and one of the things we articulate in the book is the limits to the number of allies one can have because I think it can focus the mind a little bit. And we say that most people—of course, it depends—most people maintain no more than eight to ten of these really strong allies, right? So we’re not talking about 20, 30, 40 people here.
So I think, you know, ideally, early on in your career, you might just have one or two. And I think as your career unfolds, hopefully you can have a half-dozen, maybe even closer to ten people where they’re on your speed dial—by the way, we’re using a lot of analog metaphors. We have Rolodex, speed dial…
Anyway, these are intensive relationships. You can’t have a lot of them. But it’s great to have at least a few of them. And they make a huge difference in your career, as Mark has in yours and mine.
And I think just to make this final point—because it’s key about how allies work—if you’re sitting here thinking to yourself, “Gosh, well, I want some allies. I want a Mark Pincus in my life. How do I get that?” The way you jumpstart any kind of relationship is you try to help the person.
And one of the things that I think we’ve observed as we’ve talked to all the people who’ve read this book and think about these ideas is that what often limits sort of mid-level achievers from developing a top-tier network is not actually their mastery of the tactics of networking; it’s actually their inability to actually help their peers as their peers’ careers unfold.
And so this is a little bit more of maybe an advanced point related to the allies. But I think it’s critical, which is: to actually help somebody, you have to have yourself accomplish something; developed a set of knowledge/skills to add value.
So when you and Mark have had this 20-year alliance…you know, if you guys worked together and had this relationship for the first few years, and then you went off and sat on a beach for 15 years, I don’t think you and Mark would have the same kind of relationship, right? It’s the fact that you’ve both grown and he’s gone on to create Zynga, and all these incredible things, and you investing and all the philanthropy…And so there’s just continued to be this new opportunities to help each other. And so that’s critical.
And I think for a lot of younger people in their career, I notice that they’re out there focused a lot on the tactics of networking, but because they haven’t actually developed much in the way of accomplishments, they’ve formed a lightweight relationship, but they can’t deepen, because they don’t know how to add value.
Yeah, and one of the other asterisks is: too often when people think of networking, it’s like, “How do I network to the most important person (important in the air quotes) that I can?” versus “Who’s the most talented person I know? I’m close to?”, or “Who is the most underappreciated person who’s really capable, who is not that well known?”
Actually, in fact, those are frequently the most valuable people to be building alliances with because you’re really helping each other as you begin your careers.
I mean, it’s a great sort of nuanced point. We address it a little bit in the ‘Risk’ chapter. We talk about—and we’ll talk about risk in a later episode—about the best type of risks are where other people think it’s really risky, when in fact it’s underrated as a risk.
And I think this notion of underratedness and overratedness is a—our friend Tyler Cowen made it the centerpiece of his podcast—you know, do you think someone’s overrated or underrated?
But I think this idea of people who are underrated is kind of fascinating. And like, you know, I’ve always thought that some of the most common attributes of underrated people are people who are frankly terrible at a lot of the Startup of You concepts: like bad at personal branding; don’t stay in touch with a lot of folks; they’re not good at communication. Like they can often be overlooked in the market, which means that there could be a unique opportunity for you to learn from them, engage with them, have a unique perspective.
And by the way, one of the ways you can help is: help on the Startup of You topics, ‘cause you’re helping them also be stronger and better and faster.
So let’s just close this discussion of allies with just a couple takeaways for the listener.
So first is you know, we really want everyone who’s listening to think about one person in your network right now with whom you might like to have a stronger alliance, and commit today—as you’re listening to this—commit to trying to help that person.
It can be in a really small way—in the book we get into your theory of small gifts. And we’re not talking about massive, world-changing help. It can be as simple as sending them an article that’s relevant to them; that can be a way to help, and to jumpstart a relationship. So think about one person in your network, and really commit to trying to help that person.
And then the second thing is—just as a thought experiment—is imagine you got laid off from your job today. Who are the handful of people who you’d email? You know, who are the first people that come to mind for advice on what you might want to do next? That’s probably an indicator that those are some of the allies in your network. So reach out to them now, before you get laid off or before you’re looking for your next opportunity, and start strengthening that relationship right now. And so that can be a way to sort of generate a quick list of who’s most close to you in your career.
Okay, Reid, let’s talk about a different archetype of relationship because we’re talking about the five to them, the Mark Pincuses, these close friendships, relationships, allies. Many of us in the modern world can actually maintain hundreds, thousands even, of professional connections.
In the book, we call them ‘friendlies’. Sociologists would call them ‘weak ties’. These are kind of the acquaintances—we wouldn’t call them full-on friends—but you kind of have a positive association, you’ve met them a couple times, you trade emails, maybe you’ve had coffee once or twice. And these can be really valuable people in your network.
And, in particular, you know, the kind of the classic of weak ties is they usually are in other—could be other geographic regions, other industries, other technology focus areas, and so they have a really valuable, broader lens.
And because part of the reason why we’re saying you need allies and friendlies is that you want both deep people helping you…but you also want that broader lens of knowing what’s going on, because we live in these more and more volatile and uncertain times.
And so like how our industry is changing, how our technology is changing, what might my career look like over the next two years? Over the next ten years? That breadth is very important. And that’s why friendlies are very important.
Yeah, it’s a great point. And there was some academic research on this topic some years ago. But I think it still rings true, which is: people actually are more likely to discover new job opportunities through a friendly, through a weak tie, than from one of their allies.
To be precise, they hear about the opportunity, usually from a friendly. They probably get more advice on how to pursue the opportunity from an ally who knows them. But the reason is that the people who know you best, right, these allies…tend to have very similar information diets as you, so the odds that they will have discovered a new company, a new job posting, or whatever that you haven’t already seen, is lower.
And so these friendlies—in as much as they inhabit a broader diversity of industries, geographies, etc.—they can really expose you to a whole new stream of opportunities and ideas, like that the articles that they send you, you probably haven’t already seen.
Yes. And, by the way, it’s frequently what you’re looking for when you’re really trying to discover interesting moves is: what are the things that you see in the future—maybe local to you, and doesn’t have to be the entire world—that other people don’t see? And that your friendlies, you know, the collection of different kind of radar, sonar pings, can help you discover that.
You know, it’s also the case that…Again, we’re talking with a contrast in allies and friendlies, there’s so much that’s valuable about allies. And, of course, if you had to focus your energy anywhere, I think we’d suggest, you know, have a handful of deep relations, not just for the career benefit, but emotionally those tend to be more satisfying.
But again, another interesting contrast: one challenge with people who know you well is they tend to reinforce your identity in potentially problematic ways. And so when you talk to people who are trying to do a complete career reinvention—like they really want to pivot out of one field to another, which is increasingly common in this economy; as we know, we’re all going to have to likely reinvent ourselves several times over the course of our careers—sometimes it’s the people that know us well that don’t allow us to rethink our identity, right? They themselves have such an ossified view of who you are, that it’s actually better to get outside of that network and to talk to some of these weaker ties.
And they will be the ones who say, “Oh, yeah, you could totally go into health care,” or “You could totally remake yourself as an artist.” And so there’s real value. If you’re thinking about a career reinvention, talking to this diverse network can be quite helpful.
You can really maintain a lot of friendlies. And this is where LinkedIn is really the ultimate power tool. Like the way I think about LinkedIn is, it’s useful for allies.
But the ally relationships really happen in an offline context. It’s phone calls, it’s meetings, it’s one-on-one emails. I think LinkedIn’s power to me—as just a user, a plain user—comes to life with all these friendlies. It’s all these people where I meet them a couple times, but then I see that, hey, they got a new job. I can send them a congratulations down on LinkedIn.
The short answer, just like our book, is it’s both. Right? So the one hand, of course it has the…you know, you have a thousand connections on LinkedIn, and you have a whole bunch of friendlies because you don’t have a thousand deep allies.
But on the other hand, even with your deep allies, like part of, for example, what, you know, I will encourage people to do is they’ll say “Hey”…Like a person who’s trying to solve a problem. And they go to do the search on LinkedIn, and they say, “Oh, you know this guy Ben Casnocha? Would he be good to talk to about this?”
And then it was, “Oh, yeah, yeah, no, he’s actually a deeply expert about the network of what’s going on in emerging tech around the world. You know, that’s all what Village is doing. So yes, you should go talk to him about this.” Right?
But by the way, them having done the search, having thought about it, and coming to me makes it much easier for me to be helpful.
If we geek out on like LinkedIn best practices for a second, I think this is the most fundamental thing, like, which is: I think it’s a setting on LinkedIn that you can allow people to view who you’re connected to.
So not everyone has the setting turned on. I think you should keep it turned on, in my view, because this is one of the best ways to use your network, which is…like anytime someone tells me, “Hey, I’m looking for a job”, I will tell them: go on to my LinkedIn profile, see who I’m connected to, then send me a note and ask, like, if I can make intros to those five people. And I’ll say yes or no, and I can do that.
But you can see my network—this is the beauty of the transparent network—like rather than asking the blue sky question of, “Hey, do you know anybody that might want to hire a software engineer?”, I’m like, “I don’t even know where to begin with that question, so go see who I’m connected to.”
And then you can have a personalized follow-up and say, “Hey, I saw you’re connected to someone at Nike. My dream job has always been to do social responsibility work there. Can you introduce me to your friend, John Doe, who works there?” And so that’s a great way of using the LinkedIn network to interface with anyone in your network.
And exactly as you say, not only is it a way that your friend, your ally, can help you. But also, you’re likely to get much better results, as opposed to, “Well, the software engineering company I happen to be thinking right now is X.” Whereas you might be really interested in Nike, and I might have said, “Oh, Oracle.”
Yeah, right, exactly. And we’ve just sort of stumbled upon an essential tactical skill, which we might not have time to get into here…but about how to ask for introductions and receive introductions.
I mean helping somebody through making an introduction is sort of an essential currency of this topic. And letting yourself—Ben Franklin once said, “The best way to make a friend is to let yourself be helped”—letting yourself be helped by asking for and receiving an introduction for someone in your network is an essential activity.
I mean, if you’re not asking for, making intros, receiving intros, on some regular cadence throughout the year, you’re probably not living a network life and sort of flexing and strengthening your network.
And you can ask for intros and make intros to friendlies. One thing people sometimes I think misunderstand here is—especially if it’s like around job searching—they think it’s a huge imposition or asking for a favor like if…you know, we have a portfolio company that is growing and hiring, and I meet some candidate who I know is great, is looking for a job…It’s actually no imposition. I actually want to do that intro. It’s like, “Wait, you mean, I can make an intro between this company and you?” Like, that’s a win for all involved. I want to do that.
And so ask for the intro, like, see who I’m connected to that allows me to add value. Brokering introductions with your friendlies is a key skill.
And as you know, one of the internal cross checks I have when I introduce two people is: would those two people thank me for the introduction, even if no business, nothing else happens?
Right? They’ll go, “Yeah, that was great. Thank you.” And that’s an internal question I have, like, call it 95%, 98%+ of all interactions I make pass that.
Okay, let’s get into some real—in the weeds again. This might be in the DVD extras.
Do you double-opt in intros, on all the intros you make? Or are you blind-intro, given your level of, you know—
I will blind-intro when I am quite certain of it. And no, so it’s like, “Oh, actually, in fact, this is a really interesting person who’s doing some really interesting web3; I know them personally. They want to talk to you.” I’ll just introduce. Because I know you’ll be interested, given what you’re doing at Village and all the rest.
If it’s like, “Well, you know, asking for some advice, and a book, and offer thing might be something interesting to you,” then I will send a note saying, “Hey, here’s why I think this could be really interesting to you. Why it might be worth your time.”
And then, you know, I’d say most often I’m right. But sometimes, “No, no, no, I’m really busy right now.” It’s just—and then it’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry.” You know, as opposed to putting the burden of saying you’re really busy on it, I say, “Oh, unfortunately, you know, Ben’s really busy, but maybe there’s this other person who might be the right person to talk to.”
So we’ll post some links in the show notes about how to ask for intros and sort of do that double opt-in processing. Generally speaking, you want it done—by double opt-in, what I’m referring to is asking both sides if they want the introduction before doing the introduction.
Another sort of super nitty comment, but I’m genuinely curious: do you have a view, Reid, on…do you like to be moved to BCC after that intro is made? Or do you actually like to stay on the chain to see how the intro played out?
Well, frankly, I’m comfortable both ways.
These—we’re talking about some of the most important topics in networks!
No, I’m curious because sometimes I’m like—I kind of want to stay on the thread and see how it plays out. Like, I appreciate the inbox consideration. But like, you know, did you guys get the call scheduled, you know…
You know, the way you make the judgment is: I’m used to having a very thorough inbox, I read information a lot. I generally am fine with a whole bunch of things being on it. So I tell people, “Don’t worry about editing my inbox.”
And so therefore, if you’re gonna have an interesting discussion thread, I’d love to see it. But on the other hand, of course, your discussion thread might be the “Hey, are you free for lunch on Tuesday?”
Oh my God, yeah, it’s the—ten back and forths on…
But no I think it does raise the important point of like, if you’ve asked for an intro to somebody, and you had a good interaction, circle back with the person who made the intro and let them know that the coffee conversation happened, it was good, like that’s sort of the closed-loop relationship building process that’s key.
Because by the way, that’s another thing about human networks and connection. Light shows of appreciation are super valuable. Everybody likes it. Everyone likes to go, “Ah, I made a difference,” like, “Our dance together is working.”
Yeah, totally. And anyone who tells you that they are immune to the power of compliment is lying to you. Like it’s amazing to me, there’s this sort of level—people like to sometimes posture, like, I’m purely intrinsically motivated, like external does nothing for me.
Like there’s certainly gradations on that. Some people are more or less externally or intrinsically motivated. But everyone appreciates hearing a nice thing said about them, right?
And so if someone did a favor for you or made an intro, thank them. Yeah. It’s a simple gesture.
Yeah. The other parallel that I always find entertaining there is the people who say, “I have no ego.” Almost for sure, if someone says I have no ego, they have an ego.
Well, be careful with that word, ‘cause from the retreat I was just on, the ego concept’s a deep, deep Buddhist concept. Layers to the word ego. But yes, everyone has an ego unless we’re talking in Buddhist terms.
One last thing just on staying in touch. One of the things we talk about in the book is like…this is a great example where a lot of people are right now listening, it’s probably nodding saying, “Yeah, yeah, I definitely—I’m gonna get on this.”
Building your network. Like, they’ve only been told this like 10,000 times. And so I’m fascinated by the knowing-doing gap, right? You see this in like any personal development goal that people have; well, they’ll state an intention, but they will not follow through. Like, they kind of know that they should do it, but they, for whatever reason, can’t develop the habit.
And that’s why in the last ten years, one of the biggest, you know, categories of books that have sold well are these habit books because people realize, “Shit, I’ve been saying for ten years that I want to go to the gym, eat vegetarian, meditate, build my network,” and they just aren’t doing it.
And so one of the stories we tell in the book that I think is so fun is a guy named Steve Garrity who’s an entrepreneur who had this issue. He’s like, “I know I should be building my network. I’m just not doing it.”
And so he created this thing he called the ‘Interesting People Fund’, where he set aside money every single month—small dollars, just, you know, 20 bucks, 30 bucks—and put it into a separate bank account that was solely devoted to taking people out to coffee.
‘Cause he knew that just by having that money pre-allocated, it would allow him to be more comfortable spending money to grow his network. And he tells a great story of after moving from the Bay Area to Seattle to take a job at Microsoft, there’s this great opportunity to reconnect with an old professor of his in the Bay Area.
Usually, you know, you move to Seattle: “God, is this worth buying a flight down to the Bay Area, just to see, have dinner with 12 people—is that really worth it?” But he had, you know, 300 bucks set aside in his Interesting People Fund that he could draw upon.
So it’s just such an interesting, like practical hack.
If you’re listening to this and you’re thinking to yourself, “I know this is important. I’m just not spending the time, energy.” You have to develop a strategy for behavior change, and it could be as simple as an Interesting People Fund, or something much deeper related to your inner motivations and schedule.
And anything on that kind of habit foundation and nudge to action…Like, just look at your calendar the next six weeks and book appointments. Any number of things can make it very easy.
Your calendar doesn’t lie.
Okay, Reid, let’s shift and take some questions from listeners. So this has been a fantastic discussion on the importance of networks, the misconceptions, and the allies, friendlies.
We do have some questions from some early listeners and followers on LinkedIn. So we’re gonna go through a few of them and we can do this rapid fire; we can take our time with them.
Let’s start with this question first, ‘cause I think it’s a common one, which is: “I know growing my network is really important for my career, and I want to lean into doing it, but I’m shy and I often feel awkward when meeting new people in person. I’m kind of introverted. So how do I build my network while still respecting my innate tendencies in social situations?”
Well, the key thing is to figure out how it is you genuinely and authentically connect with other people.
Maybe it’s shared activities, like you’re doing sports together; you’re playing games together. Maybe it’s through, “Hey, I’m gonna invite you out to coffee,” and I will prep the agenda a little bit. I’ll say, “Hey, I wanted to talk to you about coffee because there’s this funky thing going on with web3 and NFTs, and I was really curious what you would say about that.” Right? As part of doing it.
So it’s figure out what’s the personal view for you, and what the thing is, and—by the way, some of that might be which people, and like another one is to be experimental about it. Like, just try it.
Like, say, “Oh, I’m not really sure I could invite someone out for coffee.” Well, who would be the person—if you were gonna invite one person out for coffee, who would the person be? How to do, what’s the easiest thing, and they go, “Oh, maybe that actually works pretty well.”
It’s great advice. And I do have a lot of compassion for the question. You know, when I started my first company as a teenager, I remember people told me, “Gotta go network, build your network.”
And so I went to a networking event in San Francisco, and all these people were standing around these tall tables chatting, and I kind of froze. I’m like, “What am I supposed to do? Like go and interrupt somebody and talk to them?” And so I remember going into the bathroom and locking myself in the stall until the speaker began and the networking reception was over.
And then I reemerged and was like, “Okay, this is a safe space. I know what to do.” You sit in a chair and you listen to the speaker and then I just left.
So it’s totally normal to feel nervous—to have anxiety around this. And it is a skill that can be learned. But to your point, Reid, be you. Like not everyone has to be life of the party, Mr. and Ms. Extrovert.
And I think one of the pieces of advice that I sometimes give people when they’re doing a formal presentation is: I say, “Know how you’re gonna open and know how you’re gonna close.” Have some lines in your head that you’ve just sort of memorized. It could be one or two sentences, but sometimes the anxiety, I find, melts away once you’re sort of in the flow of a conversation, but it’s…like for me at the tall table, people standing around at the event, we’ve all been there. I learned just to say the phrase (ultra tactical, but like), “Can I join the conversation?”, or “Hey, am I interrupting?”
Like, just knowing that that’s a phrase to use that is like professional and people respect. “Oh, sure. Come join us.” That’s all you need.
And just knowing that’s the phrase can kind of release your nerves and then you can just be yourself.
Yeah. And by the way, people are there, ‘cause they’re planning on talking to people.
And they’re probably nervous themselves too. Like, you know, we all have some degree of imposter syndrome. This idea of everyone knows exactly what to say and they’re all so fluid, and I’m the one who’s nervous…That just ain’t so.
Okay. Another question: “I moved around in my career a lot during my twenties trying different jobs and industries that left me with some really close friends who are great advisors, but I’m now in a new industry, and my network’s really small, and all of my colleagues and people in the industry all seem to know each other already. So how do I grow my network in a brand new industry where I don’t have, you know, any existing credibility?”
Well, this is precisely what, you know, kind of our chapters on this in The Startup of You are about, which is, you know: be human and intentional.
People would appreciate it even if you say, “Hey I founded this company or I’m deep on this industry, and I’d really appreciate if I could grab a coffee with you, or talk a little bit about it, and come up to speed about like what’s important” and so forth, ‘cause people like to feel appreciated—like to feel that they’re knowledgeable and so forth.
And not everyone will say yes. That’s okay. Sometimes people are really busy, sometimes other things, but if they go, “Okay. Yes.” Even that can be a way to do it.
That’s a great point. I mean, I think it’s also the fact that you have different industry experience could make you a more interesting person, going back to the discussion of interest.
If you’re an industry insider talking to another industry insider, you’re really just doing this comparison test on who knows more. And the bar’s pretty high, right? Am I gonna teach you something more, like if someone met you and said, “Reid, I’m gonna teach you about venture capital.” It’s a pretty high bar, right?
If they came to you and said, “I’m gonna teach you about this new theory of physics that’s super emergent that you might not have heard of.” You’re like, “Tell me more, right?”
Of course, it presumes a curious person on other side. But if you’re talking to someone who’s curious, actually the fact that you came from a different background can be really compelling.
Another question: “Should I try to network with people more successful than me?”
Like, should somebody be reaching out to you, Reid, if they wanna break into venture capital, break into entrepreneurship; should they be trying to get an introduction to Reid Hoffman? And get in on your calendar? Or, if they’re just outta college, should they be trying to connect with, you know, someone who ran the Entrepreneurship Club at their university?
So, generally speaking, the principle is you should connect to the people who are most useful that are well-connected to you within your network.
Now, sometimes that might be a very successful person, ‘cause like, say, for example, you know, someone who knows a really successful VC who is a strong ally in both directions, and a trusted reference and can make that reference. And then that can be great. That’s a great thing to do.
The cold call of, “Hey, you’re a really successful VC and I’d love to spend time with you.” What you don’t realize is successful VCs get X of those per day. Right? And it’s just like, “Ah, I’m exhausted.”
So the more typical, more numeric case is to say, “Well, who are people who would be super talented or knowledgeable that are a good fit?”
I remember when we used to work more closely together, you’d get emails all the time.
“Hey Reed, I’m, you know, 23-years-old, I live in Chicago, I’m thinking about starting a company. Do you wanna get coffee?”
I was like, “Why do you think that that email’s gonna be successful?”
That being said, I do believe that anybody can get on anybody’s calendar. If somebody out there listening wants to have a one-on-one conversation with Joe Biden, I believe that’s possible. Everybody in the world is reachable. If you work hard at it, and you work a network, and you’re thoughtful, and you’re persistent. That doesn’t mean it’s a good use of time or high ROI to reach out just to the most powerful person in whatever industry you’re thinking about.
So generally speaking, I think the best advice is to incline towards peers, to build a relationship with people who can be your compatriots as your career unfolds. It’s great to find a mentor. That person doesn’t have to be the most famous person in the industry. Doesn’t have to be the most important lawyer. It doesn’t have to be the person who started the firm.
Almost anybody with incrementally more experience and wisdom than you could be helpful to you. And so, don’t be overly obsessed with status in that way.
And well actually that usually will be a more failure point. ‘Cause what you’re looking for is an interesting, talented person who has information that wants to have a conversation with you, or wants to interact with you or help you in this way.
And it’s critical while we’re here, we should remember; let’s go back to the previous point we made. You always want to be trying to help people you meet.
And a lot of times I think a failure case among young people building the network is they think, “How could I possibly help Mr. and Ms. Really Important Lawyer at Wilsons and Sr.? How could I possibly help Bill Gates? If I meet Bill Gates, I’m just gonna ask him for help” is a failure of imagination. Like, “What could I ever do to help Bill Gates? What, would I write a check to the Gates Foundation?”
I don’t think your $5 donation’s gonna move the needle of the Gates Foundation. You have to be creative, right? Think about what are ways that you could help somebody who has had more success than you? Who might have more money than you? Might have more power than you? And, frequently, the best way to help is through information—through an article, an insight, a trend.
So like if I meet a college kid who’s thinking about their career, I’ll often say, “When you meet with older folks in the industry, talk to them about key trends that are happening on college campuses.” We all know that today’s trends on college campuses are tomorrow’s mainstream cultural memes. So everyone’s interested in learning about what’s happening on campus.
So boil that down into a couple key nuggets, and share those nuggets. Never forget that you should always try to be helping someone you’re working with, talking to.
Yep, exactly. And part of that is to say, in that information of what you can share—like take the Bill Gates example—you know, Bill is actually super motivated to do stuff about climate and pandemic.
Say you’re a college student. It’s like, “Well, here’s the things that I’m seeing as trends within my college.” That’s actually something that’s super interesting to him. It’s a lens he doesn’t have and is useful for figuring out the future. Even those kinds of things, even all the way back to interestingness, can be helpful.
Yeah. So if you’re taking someone out to coffee, have in mind—or it could be a Zoom meeting, etc. Coffee might be another analog example of English—think about a couple areas where you feel like you could help that person, and a couple areas where you might want to seek help and get help. Right?
Go in with that preparation. If you just go in with a one-way interrogation session, that’s not the basis for a long-term relationship. And similarly, if you go into the meeting and just try to lecture the person and give them advice that they never asked for, that also won’t really work super well.
Thanks for listening to The Startup of You Podcast. That’s a wrap for today.
If you have questions that you want us to answer on the next episode, leave a question, leave a comment on the LinkedIn page associated with the podcast.
We’d love to hear from you. We’d love to engage with you, and include you in another episode of the podcast.
Ben, thank you. And thanks for our listeners.