The Startup of You

The Startup of You by LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman and author Ben Casnocha is a book that was released back in 2012. It was quite popular right around the time I started my MBA (was on several MBA reading lists) but I had not gotten around to reading it until now. I read it mostly for the content on networking and I will get to that in a bit.

As the title suggests, the central premise of the book is that in today’s fast changing business environment, one should think of oneself as a startup and act accordingly. I found the chapter on developing a competitive advantage quite interesting. As a PM, when I work with my team to find the right positioning statement,  we use a template such as “Because of [x,y, and z] our product does [a,b,and c] better than our competitors. The authors suggest applying that template to ourselves to see how we are positioned. If you are not able to, then it may be time to develop a competitive advantage. What is a competitive advantage? It’s a mix of your assets, aspirations and market realities.

At the end of every chapter is a nice summary of the chapter along with short and long term things that the reader can do to benefit from the chapter. For instance, on the competitive advantage chapter, the reader is asked to come up with a competitive advantage statement (I’m still working to acquire the skills to be be able to write the one I want. They also offer suggestions on discovering your assets such as talking to your co-workers or friends or looking at Linkedin profiles of similar people for inspiration.

“Chapter 4: It takes a network”, was the one that I was looking forward to the most as Reid Hoffman’s started Linkedin as a bet on the importance of networks. The chapter first explained the different types of networks and their benefits. This material was similar to the strong and weak ties that I first encountered during the Strategy and Innovation elective  during my MBA. For the uninitiated, strong ties are close relationships i.e people who you can turn to for advice and who will always back you. Weak ties on the other hand are acquaintances who will expose you to information that you would not discover by yourself. Both are essential for a thriving career as together they make you better and help you land new opportunities.

While I have built a few strong ties at work, I am lagging on the weak ties. I suspect this is true of most introverts. In the past, I had tended to dismiss this by telling myself that networking was inauthentic and slimy. Hoffman suggests that to get over this, you think of networking as a two way street i.e you are looking to help the other person just as you hope that they will help you. By first focussing on how you can help the other person, your mindset should change from “What’s in it for me?” to “What’s in it for us?”. There is also a lot of good advice on maintaining a network which I found quite interesting especially the concept of ‘gifts’. Btw, one hack for introverts that I got from the S&I course was to build strong relations with at least one ‘broker’ i.e a person who is a good networker. This person can then introduce you to their vast network of weak ties.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s a quick read and nothing dense, it’s mostly common sense if you really think about it. Like “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, this is not a book to read and move on, it’s highly recommended to note down some of the points listed at the back of each chapter and take the recommened action.

Note: I plan to continue with a few more blog posts that deal with general career advice. This will be based on advice that I have read over the last few years and some of the mistakes I have made in my career. Look for them in the next few weeks.

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