The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career

The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career

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by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha

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A blueprint for thriving in your job and building a career by applying the lessons of Silicon Valley’s most innovative entrepreneurs.

The career escalator is jammed at every level. Unemployment rates are sky-high. Creative disruption is shaking every industry. Global competition for jobs is fierce. The employer-employee pact is over and traditional…  See more details below


A blueprint for thriving in your job and building a career by applying the lessons of Silicon Valley’s most innovative entrepreneurs.

The career escalator is jammed at every level. Unemployment rates are sky-high. Creative disruption is shaking every industry. Global competition for jobs is fierce. The employer-employee pact is over and traditional job security is a thing of the past.  
Here, LinkedIn cofounder and chairman Reid Hoffman and author Ben Casnocha show how to accelerate your career in today’s competitive world. The key is to manage your career as if it were a start-up business: a living, breathing, growing start-up of you.
Why? Start-ups - and the entrepreneurs who run them - are nimble. They invest in themselves. They build their professional networks. They take intelligent risks. They make uncertainty and volatility work to their advantage.
These are the very same skills professionals need to get ahead today.
This book isn’t about cover letters or resumes. Instead, you will learn the best practices of Silicon Valley start-ups, and how to apply these entrepreneurial strategies to your career. Whether you work for a giant multinational corporation, a small local business, or launching your own venture, you need to know how to:
* Adapt your career plans as you change, the people around you change, and industries change.
* Develop a competitive advantage to win the best jobs and opportunities.
* Strengthen your professional network by building powerful alliances and maintaining a diverse mix of relationships. * Find the unique breakout opportunities that massively accelerate career growth.
* Take proactive risks to become more resilient to industry tsunamis.
* Tap your network for information and intelligence that help you make smarter decisions.
A revolutionary new guide to thriving in today's fractured world of work, the strategies in this book will help you survive and thrive and achieve your boldest professional ambitions. The Start-Up of You empowers you to become the CEO of your career and take control of your future.

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Editorial Reviews

Recent Gallup polls and other surveys register the pervasive dissatisfaction of American workers in the current economic climate. Jobs are scarce; promotions rare; and workloads and stress ever mounting. This new book by LinkedIn cofounder and chairman Reid Hoffman proposes a fresh response to this disheartening situation. Start Up of You argues that instead of viewing themselves as cogs in giant corporate wheels, readers manage their careers as if they themselves were a start-up business, adapting their plans to the people and business around them. This unconventional, refreshing approach enables workers to take charge of their own futures in rational ways.

Alisa Schnaars

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The Crown Publishing Group
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Random House
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Read an Excerpt


All Humans Are Entrepreneurs

All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves, we were all self-employed... finding our food, feeding ourselves. That's where human history began. As civilization came, we suppressed it. We became "labor" because they stamped us, "You are labor." We forgot that we are entrepreneurs.

Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and microfinance pioneer

You were born an entrepreneur.

This doesn't mean you were born to start companies. In fact, most people shouldn't start companies. The long odds of success, combined with the constant emotional whiplash, makes starting a business the right path for only a small group of people.

All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies but because the will to create is encoded in human DNA, and creation is the essence of entrepreneurship. As Yunus says, our ancestors in the caves had to feed themselves; they had to invent rules of living. They were founders of their own lives. In the centuries since then we forgot that we are entrepreneurs. We've been acting like labor.

To adapt to the challenges of professional life today, we need to rediscover our entrepreneurial instincts and use them to forge new sorts of careers. Whether you're a lawyer or doctor or teacher or engineer or even a business owner, today you need to also think of yourself as an entrepreneur at the helm of at least one living, growing start-up venture: your career.

This book is not a job-hunting manual. You won't find tips and tricks on how to format your résumé or how to prepare for a job interview. What you will find are the start-up mind-sets and skill sets you need to adapt to the future. You'll find strategies that will help you expand the reach of your network, gain a competitive edge, and land better professional opportunities.

Your future success depends on understanding and developing these entrepreneurial strategies. More broadly, society flourishes when people think entrepreneurially. More world problems will be solved-and solved faster-if people practice the values laid out in the pages ahead. This is a book about you, and it's also about improving the society around you. That starts with each individual.


Centuries of immigrants risked everything to come to America with the conviction that if they worked hard, they would enjoy a better life than their parents had.1 Since our country's birth, each generation of Americans has generally made more money, been better educated, and enjoyed a higher standard of living than the generation that came before it. An expectation of lockstep increases in prosperity became part of the American Dream.

For the last sixty or so years, the job market for educated workers worked like an escalator.2 After graduating from college, you landed an entry-level job at the bottom of the escalator at an IBM or a GE or a Goldman Sachs. There you were groomed and mentored, receiving training and professional development from your employer. As you gained experience, you were whisked up the organizational hierarchy, clearing room for the ambitious young graduates who followed to fill the same entry-level positions. So long as you played nice and well, you moved steadily up the escalator, and each step brought with it more power, income, and job security. Eventually, around age sixty-five, you stepped off the escalator, allowing those middle-ranked employees to fill the same senior positions you just vacated. You, meanwhile, coasted into a comfortable retirement financed by a company pension and government-funded Social Security.

People didn't assume all of this necessarily happened automatically. But there was a sense that if you were basically competent, put forth a good effort, and weren't unlucky, the strong winds at your back would eventually shoot you to a good high level. For the most part this was a justified expectation.

But now that escalator is jammed at every level. Many young people, even the most highly educated, are stuck at

the bottom, underemployed, or jobless, as Ronald Brownstein noted in the Atlantic.3 At the same time, men and women in their sixties and seventies, with empty pensions and a government safety net that looks like Swiss cheese, are staying in or rejoining the workforce in record numbers.4 At best, this keeps middle-aged workers stuck in promotionless limbo; at worst, it squeezes them out in order to make room for more-senior talent. Today, it's hard for the young to get on the escalator, it's hard for the middle-aged to ascend, and it's hard for anyone over sixty to get off. "Rather than advancing in smooth procession, everyone is stepping on everybody else," Brownstein says.

With the death of traditional career paths, so goes the kind of traditional professional development previous generations enjoyed. You can no longer count on employer-sponsored training to enhance your communication skills or expand your technical know-how. The expectation for even junior employees is that you can do the job you've been hired to do upon arrival or that you'll learn so quickly you'll be up to speed within weeks.5 Whether you want to learn a new skill or simply be better at the job you were hired to do, it's now your job to train and invest in yourself. Companies don't want to invest in you, in part because you're not likely to commit years and years of your life to working there--you will have many different jobs in your lifetime. There used to be a long-term pact between employee and employer that guaranteed lifetime employment in exchange for lifelong loyalty; this pact has been replaced by a performance-based, short-term contract that's perpetually up for renewal by both sides. Professional loyalty now flows "horizontally" to and from your network rather than "vertically" to your boss, as Dan Pink has noted.

The undoing of these traditional career assumptions has to do with at least two interrelated macro forces: globalization and technology. These concepts may seem overhyped to you, but their long-term effects are actually underhyped. Technology automates jobs that used to require hard-earned knowledge and skills, including well-paid, white-collar jobs such as stockbrokers, paralegals, and radiologists.6 Technology also creates new jobs, but this creation tends to lag the displacement, and the new jobs usually require different, higher-level skills than did the ones they replaced.7 If technology doesn't eliminate or change the skills you need in many industries, it at least enables more people from around the world to compete for your job by allowing companies to offshore work more easily-knocking down your salary in the process. Trade and technology did not appear overnight and are not going away anytime soon. The labor market in which we all work has been permanently altered.

So forget what you thought you knew about the world of work. The rules have changed. "Ready, aim, fire" has been replaced by "Aim, fire, aim, fire, aim, fire." Searching for a job only when you're unemployed or unhappy at work has been replaced by the mandate to always be generating opportunities. Networking has been replaced by intelligent network building.

The gap is growing between those who know the new career rules and have the new skills of a global economy, and those who clutch to old ways of thinking and rely on commoditized skills. The question is, which are you?


With change comes new opportunities as well as challenges. What's required now is an entrepreneurial mind-set. Whether you work for a ten-person company, a giant multinational corporation, a not-for-profit, a government agency, or any type of organization in between-if you want to seize the new opportunities and meet the challenges of today's fractured career landscape, you need to think and act like you're running a start-up: your career.

Why the start-up of you? When you start a company, you make decisions in an information-poor, time-compressed, resource-constrained environment. There are no guarantees or safety nets, so you take on a certain amount of risk. The competition is changing; the market is changing. The life cycle of the company is fairly short. The conditions in which entrepreneurs start and grow companies are the conditions we all now live in when fashioning a career. You never know what's going to happen next. Information is limited. Resources are tight. Competition is fierce. The world is changing. And the amount of time you spend at any one job is shrinking. This means you need to be adapting all the time. And if you fail to adapt, no one-not your employer, not the government-is going to catch you when you fall.

Entrepreneurs deal with these uncertainties, changes, and constraints head-on. They take stock of their assets, aspirations, and the market realities to develop a competitive advantage. They craft flexible, iterative plans. They build a network of relationships throughout their industy that outlive their start-up. They aggressively seek and create breakout opportunities that involve focused risk, and actively manage that risk. They tap their network for the business intelligence to navigate tough challenges. And, they do these things from the moment they hatch that nascent idea to every day after that-even as the companies go from being run out of a garage to occupying floors of office space. To succeed professionally in today's world, you need to adopt these same entrepreneurial strategies.

They are valuable no matter your career stage. They are urgent whether you're just out of college, a decade into the workforce and angling for that next big move, or launching a brand-new career later in life. Companies act small to retain an innovative edge no matter how large they grow. Steve Jobs called Apple the "biggest start-up on the planet." In the same way, you need to stay young and agile; you need to forever be a start-up.


I (Reid) cofounded LinkedIn in 2003 with the mission of connecting the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful. More than 100 million members (at the time of the LinkedIn IPO in May 2011) and nine years later, I've learned a tremendous amount about how professionals in every industry manage their careers: how they connect with trusted business contacts, find jobs, share information, and present their online identities. For example, from LinkedIn's massive professional engagement, my colleagues and I have gleaned insights about the most-sought-after skills, industry trends, and the career paths that lead to opportunities. I've gleaned insight about which approaches succeed and which fail; which tactics work and which fall flat. Along the way, I began to notice something utterly fascinating that related to my other passion of investing.

As executive chairman, LinkedIn is my primary day job, but I also invest in other start-ups. As an angel investor and now as partner at Greylock, I've invested in more than one hundred companies. This has given me an opportunity to help awesome entrepreneurs scale their businesses: be it brainstorming with Mark Pincus at Zynga on social gaming product strategy, thinking through the future of the mobile Internet with Kevin Rose at Digg and Milk (his mobile apps firm), or Collaborating with Matt Flannery bring Kiva's microloan model to all the world's poor. Through these diverse experiences, I've developed an eye for the patterns of success and the patterns of failure in entrepreneurship.

Wearing these two hats-helping LinkedIn enable more economic opportunity for our members as well as helping my other portfolio companies grow-led me to a revelation: The business strategies employed by highly successful start-ups and the career strategies employed by highly successful individuals are strikingly similar. Ever since, I've been distilling into strategic frameworks all that I've learned from twenty fortunate years in Silicon Valley and applying them to the idea that every individual is a small business. I think about my own career in exactly this way: as a start-up.

When I first met Ben, he was at a career juncture: he was deciding whether to do more tech entrepreneurship (he had already started a couple of companies), more writing (he had written a book about entrepreneurship), more international travel (he had traveled abroad extensively), or some combination of all of them. Then in his early twenties, he was grappling with questions like: How far in the future should he plan? What kinds of career risks are advisable? How does someone experiment broadly and build specialized expertise? Then he said something that intrigued me. He told me that even if his next move wasn't to start a new company, he still was going to approach all of these critical career questions as an entrepreneur would.

In the many months leading up to our first meeting, Ben visited dozens of countries and met thousands of students, entrepreneurs, journalists, and businesspeople. From community college students in middle America to small-business owners in rural Indonesia to government leaders in Colombia. In these far-flung places he spoke about his own experiences and simultaneously observed and learned about the aspirations and attitudes of the talented local people. The remarkable thing he noticed was that entrepreneurship-in the broad sense of the word-was everywhere: thousands of miles from Silicon Valley, in the hearts and minds of people not necessarily starting companies. While they may not have considered themselves entrepreneurs, their approach to life seemed every bit the Silicon Valley way: They were self-reliant in spirit, resourceful, ambitious, adaptive, and networked with one another. From these experiences he arrived separately at the same conclusion that I did: entrepreneurship is a life idea, not a strictly business one; a global idea, not a strictly American one. (Which I also learned by serving on the board of the global entrepreneurship organization Endeavor.) And, as the two decades between us attest, it's also a lifelong idea, not a generational one.


Before we look forward at how entrepreneurship as a life idea can transform your career, we first need to fully understand what's at stake. There's no better way to demonstrate the perils of failing to adapt the start-up of you mind-set than by looking back at an industry that once embodied the best of entrepreneurship: Detroit.

In the middle of the twentieth century, Detroit flourished into a dynamic capital of the world thanks to three local start-ups: Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Chrysler. At the time, these automakers were as innovative as they come. Ford figured out a way to mass-produce cars and trucks on an assembly line, a technique that changed manufacturing forever. GM and its legendary chairman Alfred Sloan developed a system of management and organization that was imitated by hundreds of other corporations. They were also visionaries. They boldly believed (when few did) that cars would be ubiquitous in a country that celebrated the idea of an open frontier. Alfred Sloan promised "a car for every purse and purpose." Henry Ford said he would build a car "so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one...."

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The Start-Up of You: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Building a Killer Career 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
AmandaLucia More than 1 year ago
Steve Jobs once called Apple the "biggest start-up on the planet". Because of its success at systemizing disruptive innovation, it is the most scrutinized company in the world, especially by its competitors. As secretive as Apple is, there are plenty of books and articles that examine Apple's culture in great detail. So why are most companies -- especially large, established corporations -- incapable of applying these principles themselves? I bring up this question because the first time I read this book, I was disappointed. So many of the strategies seemed so intuitive, so obvious, that I didn't feel like I had gleaned as much insight as I had hoped. But as I looked over my highlights, I realized that, like Apple's competitors, I'd missed the point. What you need to adapt to the changing world of work aren't cheap tactics and off-the-wall ideas and quick fixes to hack your career. Often, the best ideas *do* seem obvious and familiar. But what is less obvious and less familiar and, thus, is arguably more important and more useful, is a framework or blueprint or system that makes it easier to build the habits required to consistently and sustainably implement those ideas with every decision you make, day in and day out. The framework this book offers is this: you must think and act like you're running a start-up. But what does that mean? Here's an example. One deceptively simple philosophy in the book is the idea of helping first -- that you should find ways to create value for others before seeking value for yourself. It's so simple and obvious that it's easy to gloss over it, and yet, it is fundamental to every successful entrepreneur or start-up in the world, because you'll never get a single customer until you solve a problem for someone. So how does one apply this philosophy? Here's what Reid does: whenever he gets the chance, he asks a simple question again and again and again: "How can I help?" Think about it: It sounds simple, and yet most people don't approach their careers or their relationships with this empathetic mindset. How often do you find ways to solve problems for the people around you? And if it isn't often, how do you change that? What habits does Reid have that you need to do this, too? "The Start-up of You" will give you Reid Hoffman's -- and Silicon Valley's -- secret sauce, but it's not enough to know it, just like it isn't enough for Apple's competitors to know its philosophies. You have to understand that an entrepreneurial mindset requires different habits of thought and action. This is what the authors mean when they say you have to think and act like you're running a start-up. If you were running a start-up, how would you create a culture that instills the habits of thought and action you want your people to have? Well, it turns out you *are* running a start-up: your career. How do you train yourself to have the habits of thought and action you need to thrive in the 21st century? Or, put another way, what would an entrepreneur do?
Tunguz More than 1 year ago
The basic premise of thesis book is the following: the entrepreneurial mindset and attitude are essential for anyone's career in today's economy. Thinking like an entrepreneur is not any more reserved just for the ultra-ambitious, well-funded Silicon Valley types; in order to succeed in today's job market everyone has to adopt many of the practices that successful entrepreneurs have been employing for decades. This, in and of itself, seems like a great piece of advice. Unfortunately, this book falls far short of delivering on how to implement such an approach in most ordinarily career paths. I have for years in fact been adopting the kind of attitude that this book promotes: I've networked like crazy, created substantial online presence, tried to be in tune with the latest technological and professional trends, etc. However, in order to have a career, or even get a job, a lot more is required. It is these other much more crucial steps that I was hoping to learn more about from reading this book. Its authors, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, seemed to have exactly the kinds of credentials that would lend itself to revealing interesting and fact-based insights that are otherwise hard to find. My expectations were particularly high since Hoffman is one of the cofounders of LinkedIn. I was hoping that we'd find out some interesting data culled from millions of LinkedIn job searches and professional connections. Unfortunately, all my expectations have fallen way short, and "The Start-up of You" is just another indistinguishable, fluffy career "advice" book, of which there are already way too many on the market. The book is filled with motivational-speak, with an incessant deluge of phrases that sound meaningful and profound (at least to some people), but are in fact quite vacuous ("Once you catch curiosity, it is (luckily) hard to shake." "Everyone is looking for an opportunity, even if they don't know it."). It is hard to figure out how these pieces of "advice" can in fact contribute to advancing anyone's career. Granted, the book is written with the greatest possible audience in mind, but even so it could have used a lot more concrete actionable advice. The only examples that are used in this book are those of people who have been very successful entrepreneurs. These kinds of examples are good motivational stories, but are almost useless to the millions of job seekers out there hoping to get their own career off the ground. In the entire book there are virtually no attempts to show how the insights from the career paths of top-dog entrepreneurs translate into the concrete, actionable advice for the rest of us. Furthermore, almost all of the examples and insights in this book are in one way or another linked with Silicon Valley. That is indeed a wonderful and exciting place, and I have been fortunate enough that I had spent many years working and studying over there. However, Silicon Valley is exceptional in many ways, and the insights gained there do not translate well to the rest of the country, and you are even worse off if you live overseas. Silicon Valley's entrepreneurial spirit has tricked down to the lower professional and social circles. This, however, has not been the case with the rest of the world, and it's unlikely that it will happen any time soon. I still think that the entrepreneurial attitude is worthwhile having; just don't expect any dramatic impact on your care
JoanneMcDonald More than 1 year ago
Reid Hoffman, who is less well known than other Silicon Valley icons like Zuckerberg or Jobs, has been called "*the* role model for entrepreneurs" by tech publications, and for very good reason. He's a hugely successful investor who not only has had a hand in some of the most successful tech companies around today (including Zuckerberg's Facebook) but is also a hugely successful entrepreneur and founder - an incredibly rare achievement in today's tech world. He's currently chairman and co-founder of the professional networking site LinkedIn and was an executive at PayPal. Ben Casnocha is an intensely curious young author. Anyone familiar with his extensive online writing and earlier book, My Start-Up Life, knows the quality of insight he provides. That voice certainly shines through in this book. Not only is he a true intellectual, he also has the business experience as a founder of his own software company to be able to write authoritatively on a topic like this. Two of the key threads: - Relationships are the most important aspect of one's career. The authors use a brilliant analogy for thinking about one's relationships: I-to-the-We. Your individual strengths matter, but when surrounded by the right individuals, your ability to effect change is raised exponentially by the power of your network. A refreshing change from typical business books, the authors show how to build genuine relationships that benefit both individuals. They stress helping first and not keeping score. This idea is epitomized by the little-known story that Hoffman actually introduced Mark Zuckerberg to Facebook's first outside investor and himself (Hoffman) invested in the very first round of financing. Facebook, for now, has the greater market cap and the larger member base. Their respective companies are often pitted against each other in the media, and Hoffman's willingness to help a young Zuckerberg building a competing social network shows Hoffman's commitment to follow his own advice. - Have a bias towards action. Straight out of the Silicon Valley playbook, this seems incredibly obvious once you hear the rationale, but is certainly not standard practice for folks in their careers today. As the pace of change accelerates all around you, if you're not moving forward, then you are in essence moving backwards. Simply doing things, when you're guided by your best instincts, generates opportunities, new connections and most of all, helps you learn about yourself. Instead of thinking about whether you want to make a move to another industry, get out there and talk to the folks in that industry or take a small and reversible step in that direction by working in that industry on the side, testing your "strong hypothesis, weakly held" to see if it is in fact right for you. To further this focus on action and to help the reader in his or her own career journey, the authors end each chapter with a section titled Invest In Yourself. It provides many eminently useful "action items" that the reader should take to implement the ideas in the book. Many business and self-help books falter when it comes time to
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book offers fantastic insight on setting a career path that works for you, regardless of your field.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found "The Start-up of You" to be helpful for assisting me to sharpen my understanding and focus on my career in the mode of an entrepreneur, looking at my competitive advantages to develop a plan and begin to use my network more effectively. It was interesting to learn more about how entrepreneurs have been successful in the development process as they work with those in their network to learn and then adapt to new opportunities or evolution of their products as their understanding is enhanced through the power of the network. The applicability of these and other entrepreneurial processes to our own careers is informative and inspiring.
KPinBR More than 1 year ago
Helps the reader position for success in a professional world where constant career changes are the norm. Just like a business you need networking, plans and adaptation to stay successful.
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