The Startup of You

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha’s book The Start-up of You

 went straight to the top of the best-seller lists this week and it’s not difficult to see why. I read it in a couple of sittings and once I’d overcome my British reserve about the slightly cheesy style of business writing I have to admit it is a very good book. It’s also well worth listening to two podcasts with Reid Hoffman that add to the argument and advice in the book. This one of a talk he gave at Stanford University and an interview with the ever brilliant Peter Day for the BBC’s World of Business.

It’s really a book about how to get yourself in the position to start a startup or create new opportunities in your career. It suggests a few things that I did back in 2005 when I left Demos such as saying yes to events I wouldn’t previously have gone to and taking people who I only knew a little bit for coffees and drinks (see the Strength of Weak Ties for why). That all led to me finding new networks of people and being exposed to plenty of new ideas — I ended up spending a very odd Valentines Day with an amazing group of people that included the very nice man who is now Denmark’s Culture Minister for example.

All of the stuff in the book about Plan A, B and Z is really good advice. I actually don’t think most people should just “jump off a cliff and assemble the aeroplane on the way down” and start a startup because the financial risks can be very high. You need to be comfortable with the ‘downside case’ or Plan Z as Reid and Ben call it for it to work. What pains me is that there are some people who would be brilliant at starting something up — in fact much better than many people who are successful as entrepreneurs — but who don’t because the ‘scene’ puts them off.

I’ve met Reid Hoffman once and spent half an hour talking about early stage investing for the Startup Factories report, quite early in the morning if I remember rightly. He’s a pretty impressive guy all round but there’s one thing he said that I remember clearly as I pushed him on why he works with so many companies and how he chooses what to work on. He said with a smile, “I’m trying to build new institutions that help millions of people and last forever”, knowing how ridiculous is sounded, but he was at least partly serious — startups were just his vehicle for achieving social change. I wish more people in the tech world thought like that.
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