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LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman: Data Wrangler of The Modern Age
[Photo: Flickr user Joi Ito]

Reid Hoffman, angel investor, co-founder of LinkedIn and Fast Company Most Creative Person, took the stage at SXSW interactive as part of the distinguished speaker series, and immediately brought the ballroom back to the future. "What are we stumbling toward here?" recalling the visions of a shiny future of yester-technology. "In the ‘50s and ‘70s, the predictions were flying cars, robots, and computers that would advance the boundaries of physics," said Hoffman. "It was the Jetsons. None of that has come true."

Instead says Hoffman, he encouraged the entrepreneurs and technologists who want to embrace the future need to understand the nuances of data in an information age. Where it might not be coffee-making robots and flying cars, the future is happening "sooner and stranger than we think."

Hoffman has reason to love data. Over 100 million worker bees use LinkedIn (which is in its pre-IPO quiet period) and throw off a ton of data about themselves and each other. And there is more, not less data coming. He acknowledged the pitfalls. Privacy should always be a concern. "Never ambush your users," he said by way of advice. "If they trust you, they should never feel ambushed by what you do with their data." And keep an eye on the powerful. "’Government’ makes me more nervous than corporations, especially if they are not well formed," he said, referencing Libya. But anything that has pure power should be watched. "As a citizen I’d like to have the data dashboard of what the government has on me."

Reid ticked through the waves of internet development. The first was the low bandwidth, anonymous wander through cyberspace, looking for files at 2400 baud and hoping you weren’t chatting with a balding credit card thief. "But you didn’t go in as yourself with your own relationships." Next was 2.0, a dramatic development enabled by trusted social networks and real identity.

"Think about the truth in wikileaks and in the Middle East," he said. Identity is "the key to power of the people. The web 2.0 thinking is not just a name, it’s a trend and an important tribal conversation." Now, he says, it’s the data that we generate through our social technology lives, linking in, checking in, meeting up, etc, that will fuel the technology that will create the future. "It’s analytics, web 3 is what we are inventing out of that data."

An example he cited was LinkedIn Skills, a new feature that links multiple data sources with skills that are rising in importance, parsed by sector, geographical area and other factors. It was an example of the kind of idea he looks for from entrepreneurs—using data to create new information or services that deepen our experience. "The idea was: Let’s find the skills that are related to each others, mash it up with Wikipedia, link to human editors that can enhance your understanding of what skills are."

He challenged the audience to play along on Twitter. "Tweet your best idea using data with #web3sxsw, and LinkedIn will make a web graphic of the entries, and blog about the best ones."

@smartupz #web3sxsw team collaboration on top of linkedin social graph to improve dynamic team building and task solving
@granleese Douchebase: database of douchebags, ratings, data; for employers, dating sites and fertility clinics #web3sxsw

Hoffman said he invests in anything that aggregates humanity—"marketplaces, networks or platforms." But, he ended on a more philosophical note. The things that aggregate human being spur interactions that get us working together. And that will change the world. "Human progress depends on our ability to collaborate."

Reid Hoffman's Ten Rules for Entrepreneurs


  1. Seek To Create Disruptive Change. Is this massive and different? Example: Skype
  2. Aim Big. It's the same amount of blood, sweat and tears to build a small company to flip as a big one to change the world.
  3. Build A Network to Amplify Your Company. Your network is a store of distributed intelligence that can enable you. It's important at the board and investor level and the rank and file.
  4. Plan for Both Good and Bad Luck. Opportunity will cross your path and you'll have to pivot to reach it. Plan Bs are intuitively easier to plan for.
  5. Maintain Flexible Persistence. Know when to be persistent, when to be flexible and when to be a combination of both.
  6. Launch Early Enough To Be Embarrassed By Your Creation. You'll probably be wrong about most of of your thesis, and you might as well get the feedback. Perfection is a myth. Get it into the mix. Don't undervalue the importance of time.
  7. Aim High But Don't Drink Your Own Kool-Aid. Find friends who will tell you when your baby is ugly.
  8. A Great Idea for a Product is Important. But a great idea for product distribution is more important.
  9. Pay Attention to Your Culture. Worry about getting hiring right from the very beginning.
  10. These Rules are Not Laws of Nature. You can break them.


Read More: Most Innovative Companies: LinkedIn