Book Review: “The Startup of You” by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Consider yourself an entrepreneur and your career as a startup company. By developing your competitive advantage, formulating your plan to adapt, networking with others, taking advantage of breakout opportunity by taking intelligent risks, you will become a successful startup yourself, according to the book authors, who had successful startup experiences in themselves.

The authors gave many good tips like budgeting for networking, maintaining a separate identity from your job. At the end of the audiobook (bonus), the authors had a nice panel discussion between themselves and answered a few of my questions. When billionaires give you tips, you’d better listen. The only turn-offs I have are at times the author (Reid is the CEO of Linkedin) appears to be promoting LinkedIn. But overall, it’s a good read.

A quick summary:
1. All Humans are Entrepreneurs:
Why the startup of you? The world is changing, the amount of time you spend at any job is shrinking. We need to act like a entrepreneur, making decisions in an information-poor, time-compressed, resource-constrained environment. Use the backdrop of Detroit, the auto industry, the authors drilled into the points of keeping up with entrepreneur spirit. The “Permanent Beta” mind-set of never finish improving your own skill sets: all the chapters that follow.

2. Develop a competitive advantage:
You are selling your brainpower, skills and energy and doing so in the face of massive competition. Ask yourself, “A company hires me over other professionals because …” What are you offering that’s hard to come by and both rare and valuable? The three factors that influence your competitive advantage: your asset, aspiration and values, and market realities. More below:
Your Assets:
Soft: can’t directly trade for money, intangible contributors to career success: the knowledge and information, professional connections, and the trust you’ve built up, skills you have mastered; your reputation and professional brand; you strengths (things that come easily for you).
Hard: what you list on a balance sheet: cash in the bank, and etc.
Your Aspirations and Values:
Aspirations: your deepest wishes, ideas, goals and vision of future. Values: what’s important to you in life, be it knowledge, autonomy, money, integrity, power and so on.
The Market Reality:
Andreessen’s quote, ” Markets that don’t exist don’t care how smart you are.” You aren’t entitled to anything. All advantages are local; pick a hill that has less competition.

3. Plan to Adapt:
Do both listening to your heart and listing to the market. Be true to your values and vision, yet remain flexible enough to adapt. The author introduced the idea of ABZ planning:
Plan A: what you’re doing now – your current implementation of your competitive advantage.
Plan B: what you pivot to when you need to change either your goal or the route for getting there – generally in the same ballpark as Plan A.
Plan Z: your fall back position: your lifeboat. It’s what allows you to take on Plan A and B.
Prioritize learning: prioritize plans that offer the best chance at learning about yourself and the world. What will grow your soft asset the fastest and the most learning potential.
Learn by doing: actions, not plans, generate lessons that help you test your hypotheses against reality. I particularly like this idea of maintaining a reputation and public portfolio of work that’s not tied to your employer. Then you’ll have a professional identity that you can carry with you as you shift jobs. “The best Plan B is different but very much related to what you’re already doing.” Favor options that let you keep one foot planted while the other one swings to the new territory. Pivot into an adjacent niche.

4. It takes a Network:
“The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.” “I” vs. “We” is a false choice. It’s both. Think I^We (I to the power of “We”) Like dating, have a long-term perspective. See the world from that person’s perspective. Also think how you can help and collaborate with the other person first. Think of it like ballroom dancing – move in unison, perhaps gently guiding or following. Ask “what’s in it for us?” instead of “What’s in it for me?”
Two types of relationships:
1) Professional allies: someone you consult regularly for advice, proactively share and collaborate on opportunities together, talk up/promote to other friends. A relationship that goes from being an exchange partnership to being a true alliance.
2) Weak ties and acquaintances: exposed to more information or job listings you haven’t seen – valuable in the breadth and reach of your network. Here the authors dived in the the LinkedIn functions – a bit of self promoting. Why not? It works.
How to strengthen the network: 1) offer to help. 2) gifts like relevant information and articles, introductions, and etc. 3) let yourself be helped. 4) be a bridge. 5) set up an “interesting people” fund to take people out for meals,
Navigate status dynamic when dealing with powerful people: don’t make them look bad. Actively maintain the relationships you value and consciously let fade those you do not.

5. Pursue Breakout Opportunities:
Opportunities are like the snap to the quarterback in football. Careers, like start-ups, are punctuated with breakouts. Curiosity about industries, people, and jobs will make you alert to professional opportunities. Join information groups and associations as possible. Do the hustle and be resourceful. Be resilient: when the naysayers are laud, turn up the music (Pandora). Keeping your options open is frequently more of a risk than committing to a plan of action. “Making a decision reduces opportunities in the short run, but increases opportunities in the long run.”

6. Take Intelligent Risks: “Risk” in career context is the downside consequences from a given action or decision. Pursue opportunities where other mis-perceive the risk (like Warren Buffett) – lower risk than your peers think, but are still high-reward. Short-term risk increases long-term stability. The volatility paradox: small fires prevent the big burn. Make yourself resilient to the shocks by pursuing those opportunities with some volatility baked in. Non-volatile environment give only an illusion of stability – high chance of a “black swan.” “The only long term answer to risk is resilience.”

7. Who You Know is What You Know:
“How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.” “What will get you somewhere is being able to access the information you need, when you need it.” Your network is an indispensable source of intelligence. They offer personalized, contextualized advice, and filter information you get from other sources. Progression of literacy of reading/writing in the old days, to now search literacy and “network literacy” (knowing how to conceptualize, access, and benefit from the information flowing through your social network. Pull intelligence from your network by posing questions to the entire network or targeted individuals who are domain experts, who know you well, or just really smart people.
Asking good questions: 1) converse, don’t interrogate, 2) adjust the lens (narrowing the scope), 3) frame and prime (e.g. top 3 things did you NOT get to do and wish you did?), 4) follow up and probe. 5) push interesting information out to your network.