Why Reid Hoffman May Be the Only Thing Under-Valued at LinkedIn
Well, I am back from most of my jetsetting. My trips to Berlin and New York were great, but towards the end the travel and pace got pretty brutal. Particularly, my flight back from JFK. I'd asked to be booked on an early flight, because all Hell seems to break loose after 12 pm at JFK. But AOL Travel booked me on a 7:15 pm flight.
Evening before Memorial Day weekend-- you can imagine how packed that place was. The security guy told me the flights leaving JFK were collectively at 95% capcacity. Mine was overbooked, and people were already being rolled over to Saturday. Then a storm West of us meant forty planes could not take off, leading to an epic backup of flights that meant we sat on the plane for more than four hours. (Per the FAA rules, we went back to the gate at three hours, but I didn't get off the plane. I was basically staging a sit-in until I got to San Francisco.)
In case you've never been pregnant, let me tell you-- 4+ hours with no water in an upright coach seat isn't a good idea. I landed at 4 am dehydrated and with about ten pounds of extra fluid in my legs, but thankfully no blood clot.
None of this has to do with Reid Hoffman. But the general insanity of the last week explains why I'm only now linking to this TechCrunch story I wrote on him on the eve of LinkedIn's rocket-ship IPO. If you haven't read it, you should. Not because I wrote it, but because the insanity of LinkedIn's stock has twisted the mass-media story into something about greed and capitalism and OMG! ANOTHER BUBBLE! Unfortunately, that obscures the core of who Hoffman is as an entrepreneur and what made LinkedIn so successful.
I have followed LinkedIn since I was an unknown reporter at the San Jose Business Journal-- nearly ten years ago. I've written magazine stories, blog posts, books and done video interviews about LinkedIn and Reid as my career has twisted and turned since then, and LinkedIn's future has slowly but steadily mapped up and to the right.
I won't pretend I'm totally impartial here: Hoffman is one of the more generous, good-hearted people I've met in my 15 year career interviewing entreprenuers aorund the world. It's almost impossible not to like him. But what's important about Hoffman is that he's also incredibly good at what he does. I argue in the TechCrunch piece that he should be the model for wide-eyed entrepreneurs looking to the Valley for role models, not Mark Zuckerberg.
I didn't mean this as a knock on Zuckerberg at all. He's one of the most impressive founders I've ever met. But Facebook is a once-a-decade phenomenon. You are likely not a Mark Zuckerberg. But with hard work, talent, dedication, and vision, you could be a Reid Hoffman.
And certainly no one should emulate the phony Mark Zuckerberg that Ben Mezrich and Aaron Sorkin invented to enrich themselves. Just after "The Social Network" came out, I had lunch with Valley entrepreneur and angel investor Shervin Pishevar and we were talking about the movie's potential impact. He said he was worried that a generation of kids would watch the movie and think that's Silicon Valley-- the same reason a generation of douche bags went into finance after watching Wall Street-- a movie that was supposed to be warning America about glorifying greed.
I was reminded of this conversation at Disrupt earlier this week. I don't want to get into the details (again) but a company named Lumier was set to demo. Instead, a guy who looked to be clearly mimicking the Sorkin version of Zuckerberg got up, bragged about his role in the Windows ecosystem (who knew people bragged about that?), demoed little more than an animation he was proud of, and essentially told the panel of esteemed judges, the audience that had paid thousands of dollars to be there, and a room of startup hopefuls who didn't get the opportunity to launch their companies on stage, that "that should be enough" for us.
The way he spoke sounded a lot like Zuckerberg from the movie, which I chalked up to a coincidence. But several people who've worked with him before have since emailed me to say he never talks like that normally, and it was as if he was affecting an accent.
I have no idea if that's true. I've never met him before, and have no desire to talk to him ever again. But I do know this: This kid gained nothing but contempt for his performance. No one thought he was badass. You know what made the real life Zuckerberg badass? BUILDING A HUGE $50-BILLION COMPANY.
I first met Zuckerberg when he was 19, and he was a bit of a punk. (Still nothing like the movie's depiction, by the way.) But tellingly, no one was feting him then. It was only when he rapidly grew out of that bratty mid-college phase, surrounding himself with people he could learn from, and conciously working to become a better person that Facebook became the phenomenon it is today and Zuckerberg became the person that would-be entrepreneurs aspire to be. The person who was worthy of a film. Too bad one wasn't actually made about him.
So to sum up: You probably aren't the next Mark Zuckerberg. But if you're going to try to be anyway, pick the right one to emulate. You know, the actual one.
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