"Relatively few people should start companies," Reid Hoffman says bluntly. And he should know. As a co-founder of popular social networking website LinkedIn and an influential Silicon Valley angel investor, he has engineered several startup success stories — and now he has distilled his business wisdom into a book, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career.
"It's not everyone going and starting a company," he tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep. "It's everyone approaching their lives with questions like: How do I invest in myself? How do I become more capable at what I'm doing?" Hoffman says his book offers an answer to a question he once saw on a billboard in Silicon Valley. It read, "A million people in the world can do your job. What makes you so special?"
One crucial asset is at the core of Hoffman's company, LinkedIn: the professional network. "I think the really key thing is to realize that relationships are like alliances," he says.
With so many industries in upheaval, Hoffman insists that effective networkers behave differently today than they did 20 or 30 years ago. "Go out to lunch with different folks," he says. "Go out to lunch with people from other departments, from other companies, and explicitly address questions like: How do you see the industry changing? What do you think is happening? How do you do your job effectively? Is there anything I should learn from that in terms of how do I do my job effectively? That's how you adapt to the future, and you stay current."
Like many Silicon Valley executives, Hoffman has connections to the inception of PayPal, and he traces the modern startup boom back to the moment eBay purchased PayPal.
"There was a whole crew of very young entrepreneurial people who then went out and started other companies," Hoffman recalls. "Jeremy Stoppelman started Yelp. Max Levchin started Slide. I started LinkedIn. It was a mininova explosion of folks jumping out to doing other entrepreneurial activities."
Hoffman made a point of staying in touch with his old PayPal co-workers, and he credits his current success in part to the help he received from people in his network.
"When each of us started companies, we'd talk to each other," Hoffman says. "Part of the reason I think there's been such success from the PayPal crew has been that we were all really intensely helping each other with all of these classic entrepreneurial problems."
Borrowing Silicon Valley's term for products still in testing, Hoffman urges listeners to think of their careers as being in permanent "beta."
"You have to be constantly reinventing yourself and investing in the future," he says. "You're always investing in yourself. You're always adapting. You're not a finished product."