Book Summary:

The Start-up of You is a step by step guide to building your career, or business, like a world class Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Favorite Quote:

“ABZ Planning is simply, an adaptive planning technique that promotes trial and error. Plan A is the plan you’re executing currently. Plan B is the plan you’ll pivot to if you need to change based on new information, change in market conditions or new personal aspirations. Finally, Plan Z is your fallback position. This is the, “I lost everything, I’m going to live in my mom’s garage plan” and regroup.”

~ Reid Hoffman


1.  All Humans are Entrepreneurs

Most people should not start their own business for a variety of very good reasons.  However, the Start-up of You suggests that you are absolutely in charge of the start-up of your career!

“Today you need to think of yourself at the helm of at least one living, growing start-up venture: your career.”

p. 4

The New World of Work

There is a new world of work out there today.  The days are over where companies provide on the job training.  Furthermore, you’re expected to show up with the skills required to perform your job.  This means, you need to constantly reinvent yourself to stay relevant.

“There used to be a long-term pact between employee and employer that guaranteed lifetime employment in exchange for lifelong loyalty; this pact has been replaced by a performance-based, short-term contract that’s perpetually up for renewal by both sides.”

p. 6

Why the Start-up of You

Why did Reid select the title, The Start-up of You?

“The business strategies employed by highly successful start-ups and the career strategies employed by highly successful individuals are strikingly similar.”

p. 10

Why the Urgency

The path of fat, dumb and lazy happens when good companies stop innovating (the city of Detroit is used in the book).  This phenomenon can affect individuals with equal devastation.  Big profits and high salaries for a period of time may hide the fact that constant iteration, learning, adapting, etc is required to stay relevant and ahead of the pack.  They keys to successful Silicon Valley companies can be applied to your career to avoid these pitfalls.

“Take intelligent and bold risks to accomplish something great.  Build a network of alliances to help you with intelligence, resources, and collective action.  Pivot to a breakout opportunity.”

p. 19

The Path to the Future

First of all, always consider yourself in permanent “beta”.  You are never “DONE”.  You need to continuously work (and work, and work) on yourself.  As a result, to this day, Jeff Bezos signs his investment letters “it’s still day 1, though we are optimistic, we must remain vigilant and maintain a sense of urgency.”  Because simply …..

“Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.  If you’re not growing, you’re contracting.  If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

p. 22

2. Develop a Competitive Advantage

To begin with, you need to acknowledge the scary truth that in many ways, you’re not that special.  But, the good news is that in some ways you likely are.  You must have an honest understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.  Find your competitive advantage.

“lots of people can and want to have your dream job.  For anything desirable, theres competition.”

p. 27

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

p. 29

Three Puzzle Pieces Inform you Direction and Competitive Advantage

Your assets are what you have right now.  Assets are broken into two groups.  First, your hard assets are what you have like money, a laptop, desk, car, etc.  Soft assets are things like your skills, network connections and experiences.  Finally, the best news here is that assets are not fixed.  If you are missing a key asset you need to make you more competitive in the marketplace, go get it!

Your aspirations and values are the second piece of the puzzle.  These include, your wishes, ideas, goals and your vision for the future.

“Aspirations and values are both important pieces of your career competitive advantage quite simply because when you’re doing work you care about, you are able to work harder and better.  The person passionate about what he/she is doing will outwork and outlast the guy motivated solely by making money.”

p. 34

Market realities are the third piece of the puzzle.  Simply put, the market doesn’t care how smart you are and how hard you work.  You need to have competitive advantage that the market finds interesting.

“the success of all professionals — the start-up of your — depends on employers and clients and partners choosing to buy your time.”

p. 37

Fit the Pieces Together

The three pieces of this puzzle only become actionable when part of a good plan.  This may include changing your asset mix to become more marketable.

“Just because you’re good at something (assets) that you’re really passionate about (aspirations) doesn’t necessarily mean someone will pay you to do it (market realities).

p. 38

3.  Plan to Adapt

This chapter brings business agility to career planning.  One of the common misconceptions about being agile is that you don’t have a plan.  This is wrong!  Business agility means you ALWAYS have a plan.  And, at the same time you’re welcoming of intelligent change based on new information or a change in aspirations or the market.

“Successful entrepreneurs are flexibly persistent:  they start companies that are true to their values and vision, yet they remain flexible enough to adapt.  They are obsessed with customer feedback, yet they also know when not to listen to their customers.  They draw up light plans with the intent of developing true competitive advantage in the marketplace, but they ‘re also nimble enough to stray from those plans when appropriate.”

p. 51

Adaptive Start-ups, Adaptive Careers

Sheryl Sandberg is by any measure, a wild and complete success story.  Fortune magazine has named her one of the most powerful women in business.  It might surprise you to know that where she is now was not her original goal.  But, she didn’t get where she is by accident either.

“You might think someone so successful knew her goals and aspirations day one, and followed a rigorous and ambitious career plan to achieve them. But, you’d be wrong.”

p. 54

“the choices [entrepreneurs] are making are disciplined, not random.  There is real planning going on, even if there are no firm plans.  We call this kind of disciplined, adaptive planning ABZ Planning.”


ABZ Planning

ABZ Planning is simply, an adaptive planning technique that promotes trial and error.  Plan A is the plan you’re executing currently.  Plan B is the plan you’ll pivot to if you need to change based on new information, change in market conditions or new personal aspirations.  Finally, Plan Z is your fallback position.  This is the, “I lost everything, I’m going to live in my mom’s garage plan” and regroup.

Plan A:  Almost Ready, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire …

Hopefully your Plan A is the perfect plan and you can execute that for the rest of your life successfully.  However, this is highly unlikely.  Perhaps the greatest misconception is that choosing the wrong Plan A path is a waste of time and that it was a career mistake.  This is simply not true.  Any Plan A will test your hard and soft assets.  You’ll quickly learn what assets you need to add (continuous learning) and anything you learn during Plan A execution will be invaluable during your pivot to Plan B.  None of this is throw-away.

Plan B:  Pivot as you Learn

Pivoting means, making ANOTHER educated decision on a new plan (Plan B) based on what you learned from the old plan (Plan A).  These changes can be subtle and they can be massive.  These are concepts referred to as ITERATION and PIVOT respectively.

“The question of when to shift exactly is a question of both art and science, intuitive judgement combined with the best feedback or data you can collect.”

p. 71

Plan Z:  Jump on Your Lifeboat and Regroup

This type of iterative career planning can induce stress.  The lack of certainty or not knowing your path can be a lot to handle.  Although this idea of certainly is a complete illusion, we never “know”, having a Plan Z is a nice way of calming the nerves.  Simply put, if everything goes to hell, whats my fallback position.  Have a Plan Z.

4.  It Takes a Network

Even if you do everything right, going it alone is not a recipe for success.  Historically, individuals rarely perform better than teams.  So, it critical that you have a group of people you can count on in order to maximize, or even ensure, your success.  In business, this is referred to as a “network”.

“World-class professionals build networks to help them navigate hte world.  No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”

p. 83

Stories of self made men make headlines.  From Jack Welsh at General Electric to Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX.  Our society likes to over simply a very messy complex world with individual hero’s.  However, what the these stories fail to recognize are the countless world-class teammates that go unmentioned in these stories.  Don’t underestimate the power of a good team.

Building a strong professional network requires a deep understanding of context.  Personal relationships tend to be, personal in nature.  Professional, tend to be professional in nature.  When relationships cross over, between the two, there can be conflict.

“The most important reasons why personal and professional are separate relates to conflict of loyalties ….. Dueling loyalties:  their duties as a professional and their duties as a friend.”

p. 90

Build Genuine Relationships

Networking has a slimy, inauthentic ring to it with images of fast talking business card swapping professionals keen on knowing what you can do for them.  However, this is not what modern day networking should look like.  There are a few key things you should do to build genuine relationships when you network.  First, be authentic, generally care about the other person.  Second, make sure its symbiotic.  In other words, value is created for both parties.  Third, offer help first!  Don’t take a withdrawal on an account with a balance of zero.

The Structure and Strength of Your Existing Network

Professional allies are the key people in your life that you always call when you have a business question.  Usually, you have 4-10 of these folks since more than that are hard to maintain.  Allies have each others best interest in mind.  Determine who yours are.

Weak ties are the bulk of the first degree connections you have.  These are people you know personally but who you don’t communicate with all that frequently.  In a study by sociologist Mark Granovetter entitled “The Strength of Weak Ties“, he found that the friends you don’t know very well, are often the ones who refer winning jobs.

The overall size of your network has a limit.  This limit has been described as Dunbar’s Number after evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar.  He calculated that humans should be able to maintain relationships with no more than roughly 150 people at a time.  The big idea is that total number of weak ties you can have varies from persona to person but there is a limit based on the constraints of time.  This number largely depends on each individual.

Your network is even more powerful than your first degree connections (allies & weak ties).  As Dunbar suggested, this number is 150 or so people, but, your second and third degree connections get exponentially larger.  The Six Degree of Separation studies conducted in 1967 by Stanley Milgram and Jeffrey Travers and then re-confirmed by sociologist Duncan Watts in 2001, proved the world is a small place.  We are far more connected than we think so long as we use our network intelligently.

How to Strengthen and Maintain Your Network

Simply, you need to maintain your network if you want it to be there when you need it.

“Relationships are living, breathing things.  Feed, nurture, and care about them:  they grow.  Neglect them:  they die.  This goes for any type of relationship on any level of intimacy.”

p. 121

If you fail to nurture your network, when you need it, it might not be there for you.  Inauthenticity is very easy to spot.  For instance, getting an out of the blue email from someone you hardly know asking for help with a job.

5.  Pursue Breakout Opportunities

Opportunities do not come neatly packaged on shelves, labeled “incredible, breakout, life changing opportunity.”  There is no doubt that things would be much different if they did.  You must train yourself to recognize great opportunities, to crowd out doubt and jump.

“If finding these opportunities were a matter of simply walking into a store, rifling through a dusty bin of opportunities, picking one, and then checking out, the hierarchy of power in the world would look quite a bit different.  Of course, it doesn’t work that way.  Its up to you.”

p. 143

Mind of Fire:  Be Curious

“There’s one disposition and mind-set that must be “on” like electricity to power all the other opportunity-seeking behaviors:  curiosity.  Entrepreneurs brim with curiosity:  they see opportunity where others see problems, because while others simply complain, entrepreneurs ask Why?”

p. 147

How to Find and Generate Career Opportunities

Finding and generating great career opportunities is some parts luck and some parts hustle (good amounts of luck).  The book describes this as serendipity and good randomness.  Neither happen on accident or while you’re sitting on the couch.

“The best way to ensure that lucky things happen is to make sure a lot of things happen”  Make things happen, and in the long run, you’ll design your own serendipity, and make you’re own opportunities.”

p. 153

Perhaps the biggest idea of this chapter is that opportunities are people.  Therefore, your relationships with people truly matter from groups, associations, companies you join, etc.  They all matter.

“Opportunities do not float like clouds.  They are firmly attached to individuals.  If you are looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for people.  When evaluating an opportunity, you’re really evaluating people.  Trying to marshal resources to o after an opportunity, you’re really trying to enlist the support and involvement of other people.  A company doesn’t offer you a job, people do.”

p. 153

The idea of hustle needs to be imbedded into your DNA.  The two qualities of 1) resilience and 2) HUSTLE enable people to make things happen.  And there are countless stories of resilience, where people fought years of failure only to eventually be rewarded with overwhelming success.

“Start-ups tend to outmaneuver big companies on breakthrough innovation for this reason:  If Microsoft doesn’t hustle one year, it will still count billions of dollars in the bank; if the start-up doesn’t hustle, its game over.”

p. 167

6.  Take Intelligent Risks

Risk is a key element to life.  We take small, and sometimes large risks, everyday.  The key is to take intelligent risks.

“So we are all risk takers.  But we are not all equally intelligent about how we do it.  Many people think you get career stability by minimizing all risk,  But ironically, in a changing world, that’s one of the riskiest things you can do.”

p. 177

Assessing and Managing Risk

There are many variables to consider when you manage your risks.  First, worst case planning.  Can you tolerate the worst case outcome of your plan?  Second, what is your life stage?  Depending on where you are in life, you might need to adjust your plan and risk profile to match where you are in your life.  Younger people tend to be able to take bigger risks.  Finally, be realistic about uncertainty and risk levels.  We tend to have ingrained negativity bias.  In other words, we assign higher values to negative things than to positive ones.  And, we confuse uncertainty with risk.  Sometimes the opportunities with the most questions are the best opportunities.

“At our core we humans are wired to avoid risk.  We evolved this way because to our ancestors, it was more costly to miss the sign of a predator (threat) than to miss the sign of food (opportunity).”

p. 178

“But the biggest and best opportunities frequently are the ones with the most question marks.  Don’t let uncertainty lull you into overestimating the risk.”

p. 182

Short Term Risk Increases Long Term Stability

There is nothing more devastating that witnessing a 25 year veteran of a big business get laid off.  Typically individuals in this group opted for a risk free career, granting loyalty to one employer.  Now, faced with a massive risk event like this and having no experience to deal with it (having battled through small risks) they are devastated and unprepared.  You need to learn to deal with the downs.  Remember, if you don’t take risks, risk will find you.

“Without frequent, contained risk taking, you are setting yourself up for a major dislocation at some point in the future.  [intelligent risk taking allows] You gain the ability to absorb shocks gracefully.”

p. 189

7.  Who You Know Is What You Know

The most meaningful way to separate yourself from the crowd is to do an OUTSTANDING job with information.  However, we have not been sufficiently educated on how to gather and apply knowledge.  Gathering facts from books and articles will not help you prepare for the dynamic nature of today’s challenges.  You need to leverage the power of your network.  Its who you know that will help you with what you need to know.

Navigate Professional Challenges with Network Intelligence

You need intelligence to run the startup of you.  A successful startup requires actionable and timely information on everything from all aspects of business, industry trends, competitor analysis, sales trends, customer sentiment, etc.

“In a business, intelligence serves as a GPS device.  What you get when you tap into other people’s brains is called network intelligence.”

p. 196

“Many people simply think better thoughts when in dialogue with others.  Remember IWE: an individual’s power is raised exponentially with the help of a network.”

p. 199

Synthesize Information Into Actionable Intelligence

Synthesis is the intelligent combination of information from multiple sources.  This combined information is what we can take action on.  Its not a single data point from a single source but rather a very intelligent summary from a high quality list of sources.  An example would be tapping your network about a career change.  You’re going to get multiple and often times conflicting data points back.  Its how you combine, omit, digest this information to make a decision that matters.

“For now, we’ll just say that when it comes to intelligence, good synthesis is what makes the whole worth more than the sum of the parts.”

p. 217

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