Shalom Life | April 17, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with LinkedIn and Zynga Founders

Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus talk about leadership, start-ups and how Israel can transform the world

By: David Shear

Published: May 24th, 2012 in Business » World

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with LinkedIn and Zynga Founders

Shalom Life had a chance to be a part of a recent discussion with Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn and the most successful venture capitalist of our generation, and Mark Pincus, Co-Founder of Zynga, the developer of online social media games and one of the fastest growing companies in the history of the world.

In the discussion below, Hoffman and Reid provide advice on starting an internet company, on being leaders and on how Israel can transform the world.

Advice on starting an internet company

Hoffman – One of the keys to starting an internet company is the initial focus breakup. Experienced folks state frequently that they try to solve too big of a problem too soon. So start with a focused, small problem, that can get larger and can become a real platform and usually recruit a group of 20-year-olds, because projects move really fast as companies, and to be able to spend 14 hours a day working on it is important.

Pincus – My advice, especially if you’re coming from outside the industry, is first figure out what success looks like. First figure out the metrics of success. What I find too often in people that are investing in startups, that aren’t in the core of what we’re doing, they lack context and get excited by the wrong things, and they go all in when they have one ace, not a pair of aces. So you need to know when you have a pair of aces, as that’s more important than having a few cards dealt to you.

I would say, first you have to figure out how you measure success, against a benchmark and then as you think about areas to go into, apply it against that measure to get a better sense.

On being a leader

Hoffman – Leaders have to be able to bring people into their vision, so not just the employees, but the world around them. Develop a plan that’s flexible and adaptive, so it’s not one big coherent plan, but it’s more like ‘this space looks like this, this space looks like this’, as we go through that.

One of the things that is tricky is that leadership has all of these characteristics that seem as opposites. So for example, flexible persistence, that’s one that’s really key. You have a vision that you’re really stuck to, you’re really trying to go there, but you’re listening constantly to customer feedback, people around you etc. and you go ‘wait a minute, do I still believe where I’m going? Does this make sense or do I need to change?’ and you have to have these kinds of attributes in your core because you have to be constantly learning in order to do this right.

Pincus – I think the number one thing that we need in our country, in this industry, in my company, are people who are really ready to be leaders. And you think that everyone want to be leaders, everyone want to be CEOs, but it turns out that an amazingly small number of people are really ready to put themselves out there; to be vulnerable, to be wrong, to be fired. All the negative side of putting yourself out there as a leader. So there is this massive leadership vacuum.

So in my company it’s surprisingly rare that somebody really steps up and says ‘hey, this is broken, this is wrong, and we need to fix this. It’s not my job, but I’m not going to let this sit and be broken and we need to do it.’ And when they do that, it’s a magical moment and as a company we get behind them and they take us to a magical place.

I find it really rare that I run into entrepreneurs that really want to be leaders and change the world, and even if they want that, can really turn that into something rounded and actionable. I think the number one thing all of us should want to do is be leaders because it’s fun, and it’s how you’re going to change the world and I think the biggest mistake is when people think ‘Oh, if I was a leader I would lead’ because that’s not where leadership comes from.

Hoffman - One of the mistakes I see most commonly happen with people who think they are leaders, or trying to be leaders, is the mistake of avoiding failure with success. What that means is that they focus on not being wrong more than they focus on the possibility of being right. Part of the thing I look for intensely around leaders I hire or invest or anything else is that they are really focused on the possibility of being right and they’re willing to think about the possibility of being wrong.

Pincus – Leadership starts with complaints. Often times the people who complain, everyone else sets them as a troublemaker ‘that someone is being disruptive cause they are complaining’ and I try to embrace them. Thank God someone is speaking up. Leadership starts with complaining but it doesn’t end there. Make it better; raise your hand to do something.

On Israel’s success in high-tech improving its relationship with the rest of the world

Pincus – There is so much innovation and energy and creativity in Israel that I think if Israeli companies can start to put out even one really significant platform, they can show that Israeli is more than about Israel. And if one or more Israeli companies put out a platform that transformed the rest of the world and become a place for other people to do business and philanthropy and became one of those treasures, I think it would be transformative for the world’s view of Israel.

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