Cut & Polish

A Talk with LinkedIn's Co-Founder, Reid Hoffman, at Gem Summit: Part I

At last month’s Summit, Gem was honored to welcome Reid Hoffman—Co-founder of LinkedIn—to speak to attendees about the state of the industry. Here's part one of his conversation with Gem's COO, Prathap Dendi.

At last month’s Summit, Gem was honored to welcome Reid Hoffman—a name you know well if you’re in talent acquisition—to speak to attendees about the current, and future, state of the industry. This first-ever Summit was a day of inspiration for all of us; and the insights Reid offered in his keynote both challenged us in our thinking and filled us with excitement about the possibilities for recruitment, even in—and perhaps because of—this trying time. 

Reid is the Co-founder of LinkedIn—the largest professional networking service, and the platform that we in the talent acquisition community live and thrive on. He joined Greylock venture capital firm in 2009; and he currently serves on the boards of a range of organizations from Microsoft, to Airbnb, to some early-stage and stealth startups, to nonprofits such as Kiva and the MacArthur Foundation's 100&Change. He’s the host of one of our favorite podcasts, Masters of Scale, the first American media program to commit to a 50-50 gender balance for featured guests. He's also the coauthor of three bestselling books: The Start-Up of You, The Alliance (a crowd favorite in the talent community), and Blitzscaling

It was thrilling to welcome such an accomplished entrepreneur, executive, and investor—not to mention someone who knows the talent acquisition space so well—to talk with our COO, Prathap Dendi. We’ve split the partial transcript from their conversation into two separate parts. Below is part I:


Prathap: Reid Hoffman, welcome to Gem Summit. We’re so thrilled to have you. This is the inaugural year for Gem’s user conference, and we’re joined by over 3,000 talent leaders ranging from chief people officers, to diversity officers, to sourcers and recruiters, to entrepreneurs, to founders of early-stage and public companies representing some of the world's most innovative brands. I know our audience will benefit from your insights based on years of experience as a founder, leader, and investor. Welcome. 

Reid: It's a great honor to be here. As you know, I'm a huge fan and supporter of Gem. Greylock is a delighted investor and partner because we think the Gem product and services are the best in the world. So when you asked me if I could show up, even in this weird pandemic time, the answer is, of course, yes. Because the things Gem is doing are amazing; and what little bits and pieces I can do to facilitate and help you on your journey, I'm delighted and honored to do. 

Prathap: 2020 has thrown us for a loop. What were some things that you’d originally planned for this year that were thrown off-track? And what are some things you did or experienced this year that you hadn’t planned, but were a pleasant surprise? 

Reid: One of my new favorite expressions is “What-the-2020?!” because if someone had told you this was how 2020 would play out, you simply wouldn’t believe it. Of course, for a lot of people, this has been a horrific year—whether it's the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or simply a radical uncertainty about what's going on. My heart goes out for the incredible amount of suffering that’s happening right now. Personally, 2020 was set to be a year like most other years: I’d go to conferences and spend time with CEOs and boards and entrepreneurs to help shape what's happening in the industries I’ve got my hands in. 

We did know that this would be a political year, and we had to ask ourselves: Are we going to make the right kinds of changes, the kind that are in integrity with who we are as Americans and as a society? But we couldn’t have predicted COVID. Some of us are lucky and privileged enough to be able to work while sheltering in place. I can basically live at my house and create a bio-bubble. So I did that; and the challenge is now what it means to exist in these small screens. I’ve been kidding around with some of my friends who’ve always thought that we are living in a simulation. It's like, Okay, now I agree with you. 

Some of the delights are: I have dinner with my better half every night. I have a deeper degree of international connectivity now, because I used to really optimize for being in-person. But now I have friends in Europe and in Asia that I talk to every week, because that's just part of the video conference circuit now. So that has been a surprise and a delight; the other things have been adjustments. And as I stated at the beginning, I'm so lucky and privileged to be in a position where I can do all this, whereas for other folks it's been much, much harder. I've been doing what I can in my various roles to alleviate that suffering for folks. 

Prathap: The next question is about what's core to our community, which is growth for our teams. You and your co-authors defined blitzscaling as the pursuit of rapid growth by prioritizing speed over efficiency in an environment of uncertainty. On your show, I recently heard Microsoft’s CEO say that we experienced two years of digital transformation in the first two months of COVID. From your vantage point, what are some of the macro trends and opportunities for talent acquisition leaders when it comes to things like attracting talent and building teams at blitzscaling speed? How should we look for those kinds of transformative innovation movements, to accelerate and benefit from that disruption? 

Reid: That’s exactly the right kind of question to ask: when you're confronted with a crisis, how do you look at it as an opportunity? What kinds of things do you do and adjust?

Blitzscaling isn't just about moving fast for the sake of moving fast; it's about moving faster than your competition... because frequently the first to scale sets the rules, determines the industry norms. And so where is the opportunity in this crisis? You can't just say, well, we’ll take our former ways of working and update them a little bit. Like in the early days of the internet, people said, Oh, we’ll just take classifieds and put them online and they’ll be searchable. This can’t be about transferring; it has to be about transformation

Now we can do things. Things that Gem allows, that LinkedIn allows. We can actually go and find the right talent—the ideal match, talent who has exactly the right skills, the right mission, the right motivation, the right excitement. And then, as opposed to recruiters sorting for a needle in the haystack of an online classified system, you can go find them. This is the transformation we were already undergoing; but now the question becomes: How do you do that in this new COVID environment?

The obvious limitation now is that you can't fully bring candidates in. So how do you establish trust and build relationships with them? How do you share your mission in a palpable way in this online-first environment?

Things that I've seen great talent teams do include recording videos about what their company is up to, and who their team really is, and sending those links in their outreach to say, Hey, here's a little bit of who we are, since you won’t be able to experience it in real-time. Here’s the kind of exciting company we're running during COVID; here’s how we're being COVID-intelligent—both in terms of how we operate and in terms of how we’re trying to serve the world and the community right now. 

What you should experiment with are not just the things that will be most helpful in the next three months. Which of the things that you experiment with now add to your repertoire for the next five years, the next 10 years? I just used the example of sending out video introductions. Before this year, companies didn't really need to do that because they could move so quickly to in-person interviews. Now we're in these disconnected environments. And so something that's personal—not necessarily that's hugely produced—is going to pull at heart-strings. And I’m not just talking about initial outreach. Talent acquisition will need to consider the entire lifecycle: engaging with the company, onboarding to the company, making sure talent is really happy working at the company. You need to look at all of these stages and fine-tune them. Look at each detail and make it magical—in the context of the pandemic, not just because it looks like a virtual version of what you were doing last year. 


Reid has more to say—about the tours-of-duty framework he outlines in The Alliance, where he sees talent acquisition headed, and the most exciting areas in tech where he expects dramatic innovation, growth, and scale. Part II of his conversation with Prathap is here. Or if you'd like to watch the full conversation, its here


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