How to Treat Your Career Like a Startup

how to treat your career as a startup

Reid Hoffman co-founded LinkedIn, the world’s most effective professional networking platform. Millions of people have used it to build meaningful connections and give their careers a boost.

He’s also a partner at Greylock Ventures and was one of the core members of PayPal before it got sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.

As a (hyper) successful entrepreneur, Hoffman found striking similarities between business strategies that highly successful startups apply and career strategies that highly successful people apply. He shared them in his remarkable book The Start-up of You.

Here are eight significant lessons I learned from it.

1. Stay in Beta Mode

“… [A]cknowledge that you have bugs, that there’s new development to do on yourself, that you will need to adapt and evolve.”

According to Andy Hargadon, for many people, “twenty years of experience” is really one year of experience repeated twenty times. This is why they fail to recognize and match competition, exploit opportunities, and adapt to constant change.

Such companies pull down their shutters while such people get laid off and struggle to stay afloat when the conditions change.

We are all works in progress. Keep learning, adapting, and growing. Celebrate the fact that you have the power and tools to improve not just yourself but also the world around you.

Staying in permanent beta mode makes successful companies and people thrive when conditions change.

2. Give People a Reason to Care

“If you want to chart a course that differentiates you from other professionals, the first step is being able to complete the sentence, ‘A company hires me over other professionals because…’”

Many people claim to be hard workers, team players, and to have experience of close to a decade. Unfortunately, such claims are not just vague; they’re what employers hear every day.

To differentiate yourself, specify what you can do because of your experience and how your hard work helped your team achieve its goals in the past.

When you can explicitly show people how you can solve their problems, your skills and strengths become in demand, and people will readily pay for them.

[Hoffman suggests a simple way to identify your strengths (or “soft assets”): Ask executives in your industry what their professional needs are. When you find things that challenge others but you can solve easily, you’ll find your soft assets.]

3. Learn by Doing

“You don’t know what the best plan is until you try.”

People make all kinds of plans. But when it’s time to act, they either never get to the starting line or they half-heartedly, fail and give up. And they stay exactly where they were.

You cannot understand something deeply if you don’t try it or try it just once. Deep understanding is a valuable asset today, one which requires more than just skimming the surface. It requires actions, learning (from results), and applying what you learn to get better results.

No matter what you want to grow in, actions will move you forward.

4. Establish an Independent Identity

“… [W]hen any one thing becomes all that you stand for, you become vulnerable to an identity crisis when you pivot to a Plan B.”

It’s wonderful to see people throw themselves into something that matters to them. But when their lives begin revolving around it, they become rigid in their beliefs to the point that they would rather break than bend.

You are more than your work, relationships, and skills. Build an identity independent of what’s tangible. Choose meaning over recognition. Chasing recognition will make you miserable. Chasing meaning will help you find happiness within, and that’s the only kind of happiness which lasts.

5. Networking is passé

“There’s a big difference between being the most connected person and being the best-connected person.”

There are two ends of a spectrum. On one end are people who believe that their work should do all the talking. On the other end are those who want to build a huge address book and think, “What can I get from this person?”

Neither technique leads to success.

Relationships get built by adding value to people. Value is the intersection of what you offer and what your audience finds useful. It could be tiny actions like sharing relevant articles, introductions, and advice, which lead to long-lasting results.

what is the meaning of value

Build meaningful relationships with people who’ve already done what you want to do. A strong network becomes your competitive advantage because you get insights into new opportunities, advice when you’re stuck, and build long-term alliances.

The pace of your growth depends on the quality of your network.

6. When to Accept Rejection

“Until you hear ‘No,’ you haven’t been turned down.”

Many times, I tried engaging with people by sharing something valuable with them. When they didn’t respond, I gave up because I thought they weren’t interested. But when I met them later, they informed me that they found what I had shared useful, but couldn’t find time to respond.

People feel that if they follow up, others might find it intrusive and annoying. But more often than not, it’s the opposite. If someone doesn’t respond, refine your message (it might not be compelling enough for the receiver), keep following up politely, and try using different means to approach them.

The worst that can happen is people will say no, which is not as bad as it seems.

7. Stir the Pot

“Make things happen, and in the long run, you’ll design your own serendipity, and make your own opportunities.”

Successful people often get called “lucky.” They had good facilities, met the right people, the stars were aligned, and so on. While luck played a role in their success, we cannot discount how they worked to turn setbacks into opportunities and acted on things that most people would procrastinate upon.

Here’s the thing. You can get lucky too. When you stir the pot i.e. you take meaningful action, you allow random ideas, combinations, and people to collide and clear the path for you in the long run.

When you create value for even a tiny portion of people, success becomes as a byproduct.

8. Learn Business Writing

“Writing is today’s currency for good ideas.” — Jason Fried

Many people think that writing is exclusive to writers and is a skill that cannot be learned. They’re horribly wrong on both counts.

Sloppy writing fails to get the message across to the reader, builds barriers, causes confusion, delays, rework and frustration.

On the other hand, good writing makes you a clearer thinker, increases collaboration to achieve goals, and wins you more friends. No wonder people who write well get paid better salaries.

Here’s some more good news. Business writing is a skill that you can learn. To improve your business writing skills, download this free guide.

Summing Up

Most of Hoffman’s advice revolves around two aspects — lifelong learning, and adding value to others.

Keep investing in yourself. Your learning is never finished. Lifelong learning enables you to identify new opportunities and reinvent yourself. Adding value to people keeps you growing economically, mentally, and emotionally.

Reinvent yourself over and over again, and you’ll never run out of amazing things to do. And your career will propel itself with unstoppable momentum.

Leave a Reply