Reid Hoffman has certainly a thing or two to say about tech entrepreneurship and successful investment: Co-Founder of LinkedIn, partner at Greylock Partners, founding member of PayPal, and angel investor in Facebook, Zynga, Flickr, and Last.FM.
He is also a member of the LinkedIn, Zynga, Shopkick, Kiva.org, and Mozilla boards, which underlines his relentless approach to business and innovation.
But Hoffman did not have it easy. His SocialNet endeavor from 1997 —a dating site when Match.com was also popping up and way before Tinder— collapsed shortly after takeoff due to not having a clear purpose, as he himself conceded later.
However, his way to success taught him a lot about making a company successful, and he has shared his knowledge via books such as Masters of Scale, The Alliance, and Blitzscaling.
These are the entrepreneurship rules Hoffman has set for himself, ones upon which his success was built. Any entrepreneur would find them inspiring and truly valuable.
Rule #1: Look for disruptive change
If you are starting at a new job, you should consider: “What is becoming possible or necessary that was not possible before? Is a new product or service capable of taking over an existing market or creating a new one?”
When Hoffman co-founded LinkedIn, the tech industry was in yawning decline. “I looked at all the opportunities created by the Internet and had the idea that eventually everyone would need a professional online profile.”
What was disruptive was that headhunters were able to reach the best candidates directly instead of waiting for responses from a newspaper or a website ad.
Rule #2: Aim High
It does not matter if a startup is aiming at a huge idea or a small one; to make it possible, it will require the same amount of effort and bravery. When defining “big,” entrepreneurs must envision how the product or service of their dreams can create or dominate a significant market.
Rule #3: Create a network to “amplify” your company
People very often believe that behind every great startup “there is an entrepreneur with a ‘whiz-bang’ idea.” The reality is that great companies are built with a number of talented people who are surrounded by networks that “amplify” them.
The most successful entrepreneurs manage to bring advisors, investors, collaborators, and the first relationships with clients.
Rule #4: Plan for good and bad luck
Entrepreneurs should always accept that they might have good and bad luck in equal measure. Good luck is not something simple like “everything went well”—rather, it is when a great opportunity is discovered and they can quickly change to go after it.
“Bad luck is what happens when your first idea doesn’t work.” This does not mean outright failure, but it does mean that they must follow plan B.
Rule #5: Keep “Flexible Persistence”
Many entrepreneurs are given incompatible advice: “Be persistent! Stay committed to your vision!” Or “Pivot on key data! Know when to change!” What is difficult is to follow both tips, but to know which is the most appropriate for each situation you must know how to maintain flexible persistence.
Rule #6: Release early enough that you’re embarrassed by the first version of your product
It took Hoffman nine months to launch SocialNet’s first product, which was, according to Hoffman himself, “a disastrous mistake.” He wanted to have all the specific functionality straightaway, including social controls so users could choose whether or not to connect with others.
“We wanted to hear everyone’s ‘ohs’ and ‘aahs’ as if the product was excellent. We wasted a lot of time and it put us months behind on bigger problems that needed to be solved, such as how to get our product into the hands of millions of people.”
“That’s where I learned that if they’re not ashamed of their first release, they’ve released too late!”
Rule #7: Vacuum, but don’t drink your own Kool-Aid
Entrepreneurs should strive for excellence but be very careful about blind trust or blind belief in their own principles. It is essential to launch a product or service as quickly as possible in order to learn how customers use them.
It is equally important to identify indicators that will tell people if the product vision is hitting the mark.
“You must also get feedback from your network in order to iterate or pivot on the goal, product, and/or service.”
In simple terms, people must keep aiming at “excellent” but they should always also maintain things in perspective to know how they are doing. It is not difficult for creative innovators to blindly believe their own story instead of learning where to aim or go.
Rule #8: Having a good product is important, but great product distribution is more important
“I meet a lot of entrepreneurs who think that the best product is the most important thing and that the best product should always win. What many people don’t realize is that without great distribution, the product dies.”
“How are you going to get your product into the hands of millions or hundreds of millions of people?”
For Hoffman, allowing people to test your product, even if it is not the best in the market, is a great opportunity to build upon. Only then entrepreneurs will know where to go in terms of innovation after putting their toe in the water and seeing how things go.
Written by Jacob Wolinsky.
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