Lessons from Reid Hoffman

Ben Casnocha wrote up 16 lessons he learned from Reid Hoffman after having spent years with Hoffman as his chief of staff.

Here's a portion of one:


His first principle is speed. His most tweeted quote ever is, “If you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, you shipped too late.” His second most tweeted quote ever is, “In founding a startup, you throw yourself off a cliff and build an airplane on the way down.”

Practically, he employs several decision making hacks to prioritize speed as a factor for which option is best—and to speed up the process of making the decision itself. When faced with a set of options, he frequently will make a provisional decision instinctually based on the current information. Then he will note what additional information he would need to disprove his provisional decision and go get that. What many do instead – at their own peril – is encounter a situation in which they have limited information, punt on the decision until they gather more information, and endure an information-gathering process that takes longer than expected. Meanwhile, the world changes.

If you move quickly, there’ll be mistakes borne of haste. If you’re a manager and care seriously about speed, you’ll need to tell your people you’re wiling to accept the tradeoffs. Reid did this with me. We agreed I was going to make judgment calls on a range of issues on his behalf without checking with him. He told me, “In order to move fast, I expect you’ll make some foot faults. I’m okay with an error rate of 10-20% — times when I would have made a different decision in a given situation – if it means you can move fast.” I felt empowered to make decisions with this ratio in mind—and it was incredibly liberating.

Speed certainly matters to an extreme degree in a startup context. Big companies are different. Reid once reflected to me that the key for big companies like LinkedIn is not to pursue strategies where being fastest is critical—big companies that adopt strategies that depend on pure speed battles will always lose. Instead, they need to devise strategies where their slowness can become a strength.

Here's another:

When there’s a complex list of pros and cons driving a potentially expensive action, Reid seeks a single decisive reason to go for it—not a blended reason. For example, we were once discussing whether it’d make sense for him to travel to China. There was the LinkedIn expansion activity in China; some fun intellectual events happening; the launch of The Start-Up of You in Chinese. A variety of possible good reasons to go, but none justified a trip in and of itself. He said, “There needs to be one decisive reason. And then the worthiness of the trip needs to be measured against that one reason. If I go, then we can backfill into the schedule all the other secondary activities. But if I go for a blended reason, I’ll almost surely come back and feel like it was a waste a time.” He did not go on the trip. If you come up with a list of many reasons to do something, Nassim Taleb once wrote, you are trying to convince yourself—if there isn’t one clear reason, don’t do it. (An analogous belief Reid has about consumer internet business models: there’s generally one main business model. Listing a blend of possible revenue streams makes investors nervous. LinkedIn is the exception that proves this rule!)

One last gem:

12. Trade up on trust even if it means you trade down on competency.

Should you start a company with friends? All things being equal, Reid says yes, because you can move more quickly with trusted friends because you already understand how each other thinks and talks. And moving quickly? That’s critical in the early days of a startup.

But what if all things aren’t equal? If you’re choosing between working with someone who’s a trusted friend and a 7 out of 10 on competence, versus a stranger who’s a 9 out of 10 on competence, who should you pick? Answer: if the trusted friend is a fast learner, pick the trusted friend.

Trade up on trust, even if it means you have to trade down on competency a bit. In other words, choose to work with someone you know who’s a fast learner over someone who’s a bit more qualified who you do not know. Assuming the person you know and trust is in Permanent Beta, he or she can round out their gaps in skills or experience in short order.

As with sports, organizations need to be aligned in both principle and process for any particular strategy to work. Some baseball teams are more analytically driven than others, but that matters little if you can't translate analytical recommendations into on-field execution. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays seemed to be a paragon of such top to bottom alignment in recent years, one reason I'm excited Joe Maddon has moved over to manage the Cubs.

If your organization is in a position where speed matters above all else but management beats the team up over errors you'd expect them to make moving at such a pace, something will give. Nitpick people to death and don't be shocked when they suddenly move much more slowly than you'd want.

Advice for a happy life

By Charles Murray:

But should you assume that marriage is still out of the question when you're 25? Twenty-seven? I'm not suggesting that you decide ahead of time that you will get married in your 20s. You've got to wait until the right person comes along. I'm just pointing out that you shouldn't exclude the possibility. If you wait until your 30s, your marriage is likely to be a merger. If you get married in your 20s, it is likely to be a startup.

Merger marriages are what you tend to see on the weddings pages of the Sunday New York Times: highly educated couples in their 30s, both people well on their way to success. Lots of things can be said in favor of merger marriages. The bride and groom may be more mature, less likely to outgrow each other or to feel impelled, 10 years into the marriage, to make up for their lost youth.

But let me put in a word for startup marriages, in which the success of the partners isn't yet assured. The groom with his new architecture degree is still designing stairwells, and the bride is starting her third year of medical school. Their income doesn't leave them impoverished, but they have to watch every penny.

What are the advantages of a startup marriage? For one thing, you will both have memories of your life together when it was all still up in the air. You'll have fun remembering the years when you went from being scared newcomers to the point at which you realized you were going to make it.


Marry someone with similar tastes and preferences. Which tastes and preferences? The ones that will affect life almost every day.

It is OK if you like the ballet and your spouse doesn't. Reasonable people can accommodate each other on such differences. But if you dislike each other's friends, or don't get each other's senses of humor or—especially—if you have different ethical impulses, break it off and find someone else.

Personal habits that you find objectionable are probably deal-breakers. Jacques Barzun identified the top three as punctuality, orderliness and thriftiness. It doesn't make any difference which point of the spectrum you're on, he observed: "Some couples are very happy living always in debt, always being late, and finding leftover pizza under a sofa cushion." You just have to be at the same point on the spectrum. Intractable differences will become, over time, a fingernail dragged across the blackboard of a marriage.

And last, but not least, watch Groundhog Day a lot.

Without the slightest bit of preaching, the movie shows the bumpy, unplanned evolution of his protagonist from a jerk to a fully realized human being—a person who has learned to experience deep, lasting and justified satisfaction with life even though he has only one day to work with.

You could learn the same truths by studying Aristotle's "Ethics" carefully, but watching "Groundhog Day" repeatedly is a lot more fun.

Making the most of your 20's

21. Go to/host theme parties. Once people age out of their 20s, no one’s trying to wear pajamas or Saran Wrap out of the house. The only theme parties that exist after your 20s are ‘Wedding,’ ‘Baby Shower,’ and ‘Funeral.’

Thought Catalog with 21 ways you should take advantage of your 20's.

My general advice for your 20's would be to leverage assets generally unique to that time of life: your remaining physical prime, higher adaptability and tolerance for new environments and ideas, and the freedom that comes from not having a family yet. It's a time to cultivate and enjoy option value, and also to maximize your exposure to as broad a set of people, places, and ideas as possible, if for nothing else than to know what the world has to offer before option value starts to lessen in value in your life, and you start to trade it for certainty.

I had a 30 before 30 list, and while I didn't check everything off the list, it was useful to have one. Of items on the list, I'd highly recommend:

  • Travel to all 7 continents. I missed Antarctica, but the goal forced me to travel on a regular schedule. The easiest way to expand your worldview and reduce your tendency to reductivist "us vs. them" mentality is to become a citizen of the world. When speaking with people in that country, your first resort should be their native language.
  • Live in New York City. No more efficient place in the U.S. to meet as many people as quickly, and as such, the ideal place to develop your socialization skills (making friends, dating, everything in between). As an expensive place to live, it teaches you to both hustle and live with less (space, money, material possessions) quickly. The wealth of options and opportunity eventually force you to find your own compass to avoid being overwhelmed or lost.
  • Don't live in New York CityLearning to find your equilibrium in a new place teaches you how much of your own happiness is intrinsic rather than environmental.
  • Run a marathon. Or something physically so challenging you have to train for months on end to even have a chance of finishing, like climbing a mountain, or biking 200 miles in a day. Finding your physical limits is useful hardening of the soul. It teaches you to structure your efforts over extended period of time, and the time required often forces you to be more disciplined in scheduling the rest of your life. Making it something you need to train a long period just to finish keeps you from cheating, one advantage of physical challenges.
  • Pick up one new skill a year. Playing the piano. Scuba diving. Learning to cook. Getting your pilot's license. Photography. Learning Photoshop. Something new every year. It's important to maintain the educational pace from your college days, just to turn it into habit. With the advent of so many online courses, now, it's easier than ever.

If you believe the adage that the paths not taken are the ones you regret later in life, then the best way to mitigate that early in life is to take as many different paths as possible. Fear and discomfort seemed to be more useful guides as to what to seek out in my 20's. As you age, you fear less and tend to avoid discomfort.