When LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman hired Jeff Weiner in December 2008, he wasn’t just gaining a CEO, he was also getting a social scapegoat.
The two men had been working together for a year, and one night Weiner called Hoffman — who self-identifies as a “six-person or less extrovert” — while on the way to the company holiday party, urging the founder to reconsider his decision not to attend.
“I was like ‘No Jeff, I really hired you for a whole bunch of massive leadership skills in order to grow something of great scale, create a great culture, be a co-founder with a mission and all the rest,’” said Hoffman during a podcast interview with MIT Sloan principal research scientist Andrew McAfee. “‘But a secondary benefit is you do the holiday party. I hate holiday parties. I hate all holiday parties. So I don't have to go.’”
While Hoffman isn’t fond of long lines of fans eager to take pictures and talk business, he’s also not a full-fledged hermit. The venture capitalist said he enjoys smaller group conversations.
But the New York Times doesn’t call you “a king of connections” for nothing. Here are three practices Hoffman shared that have helped him navigate corporate life.
Clearing out your inbox and prioritizing your time are standard life hacks, but when it comes to success, Hoffman said, “deliberately leave some room for serendipity.”
“Because what you're trying to do is not actually, in fact, [to] eliminate time and meetings from your schedule; you're trying to get high-value time,” Hoffman said. “It's like experimentation — it's like a portfolio thing. Occasionally, I'll look at a reference from somebody and they'll say, ‘This person is just awesome.’ I'll go, ‘Well, I don't really know that they line up with any of the projects. I don't know if there's anything I can do.’ But I'll meet them anyway. And sometimes, it's amazing.”
Get a reference
When Hoffman does find himself on one of those long lines of fans, or approached by a star-struck startup founder, he has a go-to response: Get a reference.
“I literally have people, probably once a week or something, walk up to me in a restaurant because I try to live a normal life and say, ‘You're Reid Hoffman; I want to talk to you about something,’” Hoffman said. “I have a completely genuine and common answer, which is ‘find someone who knows you well enough to refer you to me and knows me well enough that I care about the reference.’”
Embrace your skillset
Hoffman said he counts himself in the “bottom percentage” of people who would walk up and introduce themselves to a stranger at a cocktail party.
But he’s parlayed his comfort zone of small-group conversations into a billion-dollar investment portfolio at Greylock Partners.
“What I learned was that private company boards are a very good use of my skillset because more or less … they go ‘here's what we're working on,’” Hoffman said. “That's like sport, that I'm like ‘oh, I enjoy this.’ How do we solve a customer acquisition problem, how do we solve an executive hiring problem, how do we solve a competition problem, how do we solve a need to reinvent the product problem; all of these kinds of things. That’s what makes this game hard, and I enjoy that.”