Reid Hoffman: Successfully Linking People Despite Adversity

“We were going to call it Colleaguester, but that sounded kinda weird.” — Chairman and Co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman.

In 2003, Hoffman and his colleagues officially launched LinkedIn, an international social networking site intended to connect professionals around Ried Hoffman Master of Adversitythe world.  As an entrepreneur, Reid believed that establishing one’s network is a vital key to succeed in the business world.

As a student, Hoffman wasn’t that keen on establishing networks with people.  He even considered himself a “loner” in his college years with only five friends at most.  Clearly, he was not Mr. Popular.

But being a natural visionary, Hoffman wanted to create a ‘new community’ with the use of technology.  And so in 1993, he thought of starting up a software company—believing that software was the best medium to reach millions of people in order to accomplish his goal. He laid out his plans carefully and strategically, and was determined to revolutionize the way people interacted online. However, things did not go as smoothly as planned, adversity was a constant companion.

He encountered countless rejections during the time he was looking for initial funding.  His lack of professional experience became a major problem when he presented his idea to various capitalists.  Potential investors would tell him this: “You probably should go learn how to launch software.”

One thing became clear: Reid needed work experience.  He needed a set of mentors, as well as an existing company that would show him how things were being done in the software industry. And so with the right connections, Hoffman became Project Manager of Apple in 1994, where he learned the fundamentals of startups. In 1996, he transferred to Fujitsu, where he was involved in product and business management.  His work experiences in these companies became his training grounds in establishing his first company – SocialNet.

Founded in 1997, SocialNet aimed to connect millions of people through online dating.  However, Hoffman encountered problems with product distribution strategy. Since the market of online dating is rather crowded, they decided to partner with newspapers, but to no avail.  And so in 2000, Hoffman finally shut down the company and left. Nonetheless, this was never reason enough for him to turn away from his vision.

Right after he left SocialNet, Hoffman was tapped by former classmate and founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel.  Hoffman became PayPal’s EVP for Business Development, and his main task was to look for people from various industries that could help the company resolve some of its operational problems.  Hoffman personally experienced the trouble that one had to undergo in order to connect with people in various industries and sectors.  Through this, he was able to come up with his next grand business idea.

Basically, what Reid did was create a digital version of a resume.  He developed an electronic overlay of the professional world by placing one’s career details on the Internet.  This way, employers and employees alike would have easy access to professional profiles.

In May 2003, Reid, together with some colleagues from SocialNet and PayPal, started LinkedIn.  The site became an instant hit as it offered an avenue for professionals and businessmen to build their career portfolio and make it accessible to professionals worldwide.  Although most would say that LinkedIn had a smooth start, Hoffman himself thinks otherwise. He said that there were certain underlying issues that made some people unsure of LinkedIn’s potential benefits. “For one, having a professional identity, doesn’t that mean you’re disloyal to your company? You’re looking for a job? Human-resource departments liked that the platform made finding potential hires easier but didn’t want to lose the talent they had: They would prefer their own employees are completely undiscoverable to the world.”

Reid Hoffman Forbes coverCompanies were also hesitant in using LinkedIn as a networking tool.  In fact, Nokia banned LinkedIn during its early days because of confidentiality reasons.  Investment banks also veered away from using LinkedIn because of compliance issues.  Then again, these adversities never hindered Hoffman to continue to grow the company.

At present, LinkedIn has 332 million members, and this number increasing at a steady rate.  It has over 6000 employees with offices in 30 cities worldwide.  Looking at these figures, it’s safe to say that Hoffman’s vision was finally realized.

Hoffman’s story of success teaches us one basic thing: Never stop pursuing your ideas.  Despite all the rejections and challenges he had to endure, he carried on.  He had a vision.  One that must be pursued no matter how much struggle he had to overcome.



The Life and Works of Steve Jobs Through Adversity and Success

Steve Paul Jobs (1955-2011) was one of our modern digital age’s most passionate entrepreneurs. A visionary with a passion for impeccability and relentless motivation, Steve Jobs revolutionized the way we use our computers, mobile phones, and portable music devices.

Steve Jobs always had a charismatic leadership style matched by his uncanny ability, but his early days at Apple was marked by manipulative, Steve Jobsdemanding, and overly aggressive behavior. There were some upsides to his occasionally demeaning behavior because it infused an abiding passion and a strong urge to make a good impression to the people he worked with. His personality was tightly parallel to the close-system design of Apples’ hardware and software. His vision of “making a dent in the universe,” and his intense commitment to positioning Apple at the forefront of information technology by foreseeing trends has led to many breakthrough innovations. During his career, he had a fair share of product failures as well as product successes. Most of his successes were based on the lessons he acquired from his failures and the adversities he had to overcome.

The story of his career is filled with lessons about innovation, leadership, character, and being true to one’s own values. Followers pick up the next big thing after others are already using it, but a leader has the forethought to try things no one has thought of trying before.


Background and Rise To Success

Born on February 24, 1955, his birth parents were an unwed couple in Wisconsin. He was put up for adoption and was taken in by Paul Jobs and his wife, Clara. In his high school years, he already showed an enthusiastic interest in electronics. At one point, Jobs needed some parts of an electronic counting machine for a class project. He looked up the phone number of Bill Hewlett, the cofounder of Hewlett-Packard and boldly chatted with him for about twenty minutes. He got the parts he needed as well as a summer job at HP. Jobs was in high school when he met Steve Wozniak, who would later on become his partner in Apple Computers. His first commercial venture with Wozniak actually started out as a prank. The two peddled “blue boxes” which allowed illegal phone calls to be made free of charge. They built and sold about a hundred of these machines.

After high school, Jobs attended college at Reed College in Oregon. Reed was an expensive college which his parents couldn’t afford but he enrolled anyway. Six months later, he dropped out of college and instead, he took optional classes. He later revealed that the courses just seemed too expensive and lacked the relevance to properly engage him.


Power of Vision

In 1974, Jobs returned to California and had a short stint at computer game manufacturer, Atari. He immersed himself in the counterculture—hippie lifestyle and drugs. He also found his personal solace while working in an apple orchard. After saving up enough money, he traveled around India in search of enlightenment. When he returned to California, he began attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club. Most of the members were geeks interested only in microprocessors but Jobs was different. Early on, he had an eye for marketability. Around that time, Wozniak was already working as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard but he persuaded Wozniak to give up his job at Hewlett-Packard so they could start their own business.

In 1976, Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple Computer Inc. The company aimed to develop the first readymade personal computer. To raise funds for their startup, they sold their prized possessions (Jobs’s Volkswagen and Wozniak’s Hewlett-Packard scientific calculator). With their starting capital, they established their first production line. Shortly, they built their first computer called the Apple I. It was designed in Jobs’s bedroom and its prototype was constructed in his garage. It was Jobs who led Apple to make money out of Wozniak’s engineering brilliance. While Wozniak provided technical innovation, Jobs supplied the vision and how this vision could be applied to design and usability.


Selling Apples

Jobs secured the company’s first sale of Apple I priced at $666 in 1976. Over the next year, sales of the Apple I brought in $774,000 and soon, the two were working on the Apple II. The second incarnation of the Apple computer was a resounding success. This was not just because of its engineering; it was also due in large part to Jobs’s marketing savvy.

In the early 1980s, Jobs devoted most of his time developing the original Macintosh. The Macintosh became the first commercially successfully Young Steve Jobssmall computer, which featured a mouse, a set of icons, and graphical user interface. It attracted millions of users upon its release.

As CEO of Apple, Jobs oversaw the development of the tremendously successful Macintosh. Jobs’s work relationship was marred by controversy. His idealistic vision and impossibly high standards also had a downside to some of his employees due to his erratic and temperamental management. An industry-wide sales slump towards the end of 1984 caused deterioration in Jobs’s working relation with Sculley as well as layoffs and disappointing sales performance.


After Apple

After a growing divergence with Sculley over management style and Apple’s future priorities, Jobs left the company in 1985. Using the money from selling his Apple stock, Jobs bought a controlling interest in Pixar, a graphics studio that had been spun off from LucasFilm.

In 1996, he formed a new company to purchase NeXT computers. Jobs ended up right where he began when Apple purchased NeXT computer for hundreds of millions of dollars. By that time, Apple was almost bankrupt. He was named CEO of Apple after a few months.

Through the years, Apple has been a consistent innovator in the digital electronics industry. Jobs’s leadership brought out the iPod music player and launched the iTunes online music store. The company is also trying to change the e-book industry through its new iPad, introduced in early 2010. Meanwhile, Pixar released hit after hit, including Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Cars, in partnership with Disney.

In 2004, Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, leading to his death in 2011. He was 56 years old.


Looking Ahead

Today, few doubt that Apple thrived as a company because Steve Jobs was at the right place and at the right time. Although it might be true, it is uncertain that Apple would have been successful without him. His intelligence, strategic thinking, charismatic leadership, marketing acumen, and resilience in the face of adversity contributed to the incredible success of Apple Computers.



Travis Kalanick: Beyond Adversity in the Startup Industry

At a relatively young age of 38, Travis Kalanick, CEO and co-founder of Uber Technologies, Inc., proved that confidence, competitiveness, and a little bit of creativity are the vital characteristics of a successful entrepreneur and master of adversity.

Travis was recently listed by Forbes as one of the 400 wealthiest personalities in the USA.  Ranked at 204, he was estimated to be worth $3 billion Travis Kalanickgiven his well-known ride-sharing service application, Uber.

Kalanick was a computer engineering student at UCLA.  However, in 1998, he decided to drop out and get on board a project called Scour, which was a venture of his college colleagues Michael Todd and Vince Busam.

Scour became a widely-used peer-to-peer (P2P) file exchange system with over 250,000 users sharing music and videos online.  It wasn’t until over 30 media companies sued Scour for $250 billion copyright infringement that the company had to cease operations in 2000.  Shortly after the demise of Scour, Kalanick and Todd launched Red Swoosh in 2001, another P2P file sharing website.  Learning from the previous shortcomings they encountered with Scour, they made sure to legalize the operations and services of Red Swoosh.  Unfortunately, issues with the IRS abound.  A dispute regarding the withholding taxes of Red Swoosh employees became a major problem for the company.  To avoid further legal charges and damages, as well as serious jail time, Kalanick and Todd paid an IRS bill of $110,000.  In 2007, they had to sell Red Swoosh to Akamai Technologies for $19 million.

But being the fighter that he was, Kalanick was never disheartened by these failures. He did not allow adversity to halt his journey to success.  And so after parting ways with Todd and with sufficient money earned from selling Red Swoosh, Kalanick went on to find his next business idea.


The birth of Uber was prompted by one unexpected incident in 2008.  After attending a conference in Paris, Travis and his friend Garrett Camp were having difficulty hailing a cab. Due to this frustrating experience, Travis realized that there should be an app to help people like him, have easier access to public transportation; thus, the onset of UberCab.

Travis and his colleagues launched UberCab in 2009.  The premise of this application was very simple: Push a button and get a car.  Although Kalanick claimed that UberCab’s operation was legal, the US government ordered him to shut his company down.  With many issues with how the word Cab was used in UberCab, considering that it is not a taxi company, Travis changed the name of UberCab to Uber in 2010 and bought the domain name from UMG.  This, in turn, became Kalanick’s way to avoid going head-to-head with authorities once again.

This wise, strategic move of Travis paved the way to the rapid success of Uber.  In just a short span of time, Uber was able to connect more than Travis in a Car200 cities worldwide.  Investors came instantly—including a $10 million funding from Benchmark in 2011, which now valued Uber at $60 million.  Not only that—the company raised $1.2 billion from private equity investors at a valuation of $18.2 billion last June 2014, making Travis Kalanick a certified self-made billionaire.

However, it seemed that Kalanick was really a controversy magnet.  Not only was Uber greatly opposed by many taxi companies, online bashers increased on a daily basis as well.  Over the years, the company faced numerous lawsuits, strikes, and complaints from both its drivers and passengers regarding poor performance and services.

Nonetheless, Kalanick stood firm to his conviction.  “We have a bad rep but I’m no Darth Vader,” he said.  Since many critics consider Uber as the Darth Vader of the startup world, Travis had to defend Uber somehow.  Most importantly, he urged people to know the back story of Uber in order to fully understand where the company is coming from.

At present, Travis Kalanick still oversees Uber’s operations. The company had also expanded from cars to motorcycles as they launched a motorcycle-pickup service in Paris. And, although Uber faces various lawsuits in any city it ventures out to, Kalanick sees to it that all actions are done legally.  “That’s part of me, that freedom fighter in me,” as he would say.

Kalanick’s story reminds us that in order to be successful in the business world, one must sometimes be aggressive in pursuing his goals. We must use certain experiences to strengthen our conviction and further realize our dreams.  His story is indeed an affirmation that being brave and taking risks is all you need to go the distance and rise from adversity.