Meet LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, Microsoft’s new “secret weapon”

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Following Microsoft’s blockbuster acquisition on LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in all cash deal, we are slowly starting to understand what it means for the future of both companies. While LinkedIn is expected to remain an independent company after the deal closes later this year, Kara Swisher from reported yesterday that Microsoft could soon welcome LinkedIn co-founder and Executive Chairman Reid Hoffman to its Board of Directors. As a longtime Silicon Valley Insider and startup advisor (Hoffman goes by the nickname “The Startup Whisperer”), Hoffman could be instrumental to help the Redmond giant reinvent itself in a mobile-first, cloud-first world.

Today, technology journalist Jessi Hempel has published an extensive interview with Hoffman on Backchannel and the LinkedIn co-founder shared many insights on his company, Satya Nadella and his upcoming role in the new ensemble. We are sharing with you the most interesting bits below.

His tech and business background

Hoffman is a tech veteran who was an early believer in social networking. He helped launch dating service Socialnet in 1997, and he was also an early investor in Facebook. While he’s LinkedIn co-founder and Chairman, he actually doesn’t have a “real” job at the company anymore since he appointed Jeff Weiner CEO seven years ago. Today, he’s also a partner at the venture firm Greylock Partners and he has also written two best-selling business books, and is working on a third.

What he thinks about LinkedIn

LinkedIn logo
LinkedIn logo

Hoffman truly believes that LinkedIn’s purpose is to make the world better for every professionnals. “We wanted to help people accomplish critical tasks in a shorter amount of time”, he explained, not without being aware that being a professional social network always set LinkedIn apart from its competitors in the early 2000’s: “Being the boring one was totally fine”, he added.

Hoffman also explained that while LinkedIn currently has a freemium business model the professional network will always keep its free offering going forward:

Our members are the most important thing, even though only a small number are paying us money. That’s because we are building a lifelong relationship through which we are trying to help them change their career trajectories. We are trying to do it for every professional, which means LinkedIn has to be free. A culture that has that kind of mission orientation is important to us to preserve forever.

What he thinks of Satya Nadella

Hoffman met Satya Nadella just a few months after he was appointed CEO of Microsoft. The LinkedIn co-founder also shares that early on, both of them “kicked around whether we could do a business development deal.” However, they came to realize that a full acquisition would be more valuable to both companies: “To really help people doing work inside corporations, the level of integration has to be so deep that this just made more sense than anything else,” he shared.

Furthermore, Hoffman is also convinced that Satya Nadella understands social and that he has been able to initiate a culture shift at Microsoft:

This event is definitely a very strong positive expression of my view of Satya’s Microsoft culture. If there wasn’t a strong cultural alignment, there’s no chance that we would be having this conversation. And not just the culture. Satya and Jeff are both driven by mission. They share a similar kind of leadership style. Part of making that work is preserving what is great about each of the companies independently. We will still operate as a network company and they will still operate as a corporate productivity company.

Why he thinks the deal had to happen

LinkedIn Headquarters in Mountain View, CA

Hoffman revealed that he actually thought about a partnership with Microsoft pretty soon after launching LinkedIn:

It’s funny, one of the thing things that I remember my cofounders and I talking about literally the first month after we launched in ’03 was, ‘what is the thing we’d most like to have happen to accomplish our mission?’ It was integration in Outlook.

Since then, the LinkedIn co-founder has become convinced that both companies are complementary and have always focused on enabling their users to achieve more:

Combined with Microsoft, we can do so much more. We do a lot with companies and we enable companies and individuals to connect because it’s very valuable to both of them. But we start with the individual professional. Microsoft starts with the company — with helping the organization be productive. Putting those two things together amplifies both sides.

Moreover, when asked about what LinkedIn is going to look like in a decade, Hoffman shared an interesting artificial intelligence use case. He thinks that both companies may be able to develop a very insightful personal assistant that could help professionals make the best choices for their careers:

What if we could offer every member a personal assistant for their career? Members could ask: what are the skills that are going to be really important to me in three to five years? What is the best way to develop those? Which courses both here and across the internet would be the right ones to do? Which would be the people in my network at one, two and three degrees that I should connect with? Which LinkedIn groups are the most valuable for doing that? With Microsoft, that kind of future goes from “oh well maybe someday we’ll do that” to “maybe we can start deploying technology on that very soon.”

What he thinks about his future role at LinkedIn

Once the deal is done, Hoffman anticipates that “very little from my role will change,” though he could have an expanded role at Microsoft by working with Satya Nadella on “some areas that interest both of us. Artificial intelligence. Quantum Computing.” According to Hoffman, his work currently goes into three buckets:

One bucket is working with Jeff and the executive team on our key strategies and what we see going on in the world around us. We predict the impact of various types of technology from blockchain to artificial intelligence, and decide how to chart that strategically. Second, I spend a lot of time on certain key projects. And then third, I think about culture. This is mostly in conversations with Jeff. We strive to make the value we embed in the product also the way that we operate.

Lastly, Hoffman didn’t reveal what would be his official title or whether he would join Microsoft’s Board of Directors at the end of the year. We invite you to read the full interview over here.