Book review: The Startup of You

The Startup of You was written Reid Hoffman, the co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn, and Ben Casnocha, venture capitalist.

This book is about applying startup and founder business strategies to the individual. The idea is that if you apply the strategies which help the best startups succeed, you will be able to continue to thrive in the new economic landscape of low career certainty and changing technology. The authors write primarily about personal branding, networking and playing your personal strengths to the opportunities in the market.

It is interesting to read a book written from this perspective. Usually the lessons from startups are applied to new businesses, rather than individuals.

I think matters, too. Realistically most people are going to be growing their personal brand and career over a lifetime rather than a traditional startup venture. While it was most likely written with a silicon valley audience in mind, the ideas are generally practical and are likely going to be applicable other professionals.

Unlike many business books, the authors do give personal examples and specific actionable advice. Each idea is explained within the context of a particular example business or entrepreneur who themselves often have interesting stories. At the end of each chapter is a summary with series of suggested steps explaining how to put the principles into action.

The beginning of the book covers some expected topics. Understand your assets, interests and market realities and seek to leverage your strengths to gain a competitive edge. Work in a ‘local’ (niche) market to lower your competition.

For assets, there are hard and soft types such as like cash or skills. Often the softest assets are the most important. Sadly, there was a great opportunity here to give examples of how certain personal strengths were discovered and intelligently leveraged to their full advantage in the startup world by illustration but this point wasn’t greatly expanded.

A unique idea in the book was the concept of a ‘breakout opportunity’. A breakout opportunity is a chance to be involved in some project or business that does not offer a lot of immediate benefits but instead offers a disproportionate upside potential compared to the risk involved. The authors describe that for many founders and startups, large commercial successes were usually the result of pursuing one or two key opportunities.

Another key exploration in the book was how to understand networking in the world of LinkedIn. The authors explain how to tap into ‘network intelligence’. For the authors, networking intelligence is building and tapping connections which provide several key benefits, including:

  • Referrals and information on job opportunities or employers
  • Insights on different career paths
  • Feedback on ideas
  • Mentoring and help with decision making

The authors make the analogy that building relationships is like having limited storage on a digital camera. When you first start taking pictures, you snap anything. But as your space starts to run out, you begin to think more carefully about which photos you should take and whether you should remove some of your original photos to make space.

Just to clarify, the authors here aren’t saying to remove your old connections. They advocate seeing the analogy as an illustration on how to spend your time and focus. So sure, keep the old connections but maybe take the time to invest in new relationships where you find your interests and lives are better aligned.

As one of authors is a co-founder of LinkedIn himself, this chapter is a particularly useful reminder on how and why we should make the most use of LinkedIn. (Here’s mine).

The Startup of You would be a useful read if you are interested in applying some of the ideas and strategies from the startup and silicon valley world to your own career. The best part of this book is understanding how the co-creator of LinkedIn sees and uses networking on the platform they co-created. Most of the other ideas will probably be new to a lot of people, and while the examples are pretty tech focused, they seem still applicable to other professions such as financial advisors, lawyers and commission agents.

If you are looking for a quick summary of the book, the authors have created one on their site here.

If you would like your own paper or Kindle version of the book, it is available on Amazon.

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