Note: Reid Hoffman will be speaking at the 2021 Inc. 5000 Vision Conference on Thursday, October 21.
All major transformations in the world require getting to scale. If you say we need to deal with climate change, we need scale solutions. If you say we need to give the middle class a raise, we need scale solutions. But the path to scale is rarefied, and most people learn it by running over landmines. That's why I started the podcast Masters of Scale, and why I taught a Stanford class on blitzscaling a few years ago: To help people avoid some of those land mines and use some of those landmines as accelerants.
I've run into those land mines myself, and I help founders I work with as an investor navigate them today. My new book Masters of Scale: Surprising Truths from the World's Most Successful Entrepreneurs, which I wrote with June Cohen and Deron Triff, draws from the wisdom of dozens of entrepreneurs, including Mark Cuban, Airbnb's Brian Chesky, YouTube's Susan Wojcicki, Walker & Company's Tristan Walker, Spanx's Sara Blakely, and many more. Here are some of my favorite parts.
Seek negative feedback.
When you're asking people for advice and feedback, don't ask, "What do you think of my idea?" Instead ask, "What do you think is wrong with my idea? Why do you think my idea won't work?" Because the answers you get will force you to ask yourself, "What do I know that they don't know?" That is your active theory. Being forced to grapple with it will strengthen it. People often think that someone who's questioning an idea just doesn't get it, or isn't very smart. But that's wrong. It's the smart people who tell you when something isn't working.
Go, go, go.
One of the things I wish I had done in my very first startup was mocked up the product I had in mind, and literally take the paper around to people and ask for feedback--instead of first spending nine months doing software development and then putting it up in front of people. Because the reality is that you just don't know what the market is going to want, you don't know what the competition is, you don't know how people are going to react. You try to get signal intelligence, but a bias towards action and a bias towards learning is the most important thing. And then as you get going, you should have the expectation that you will always be rebuilding. And it's amazing, you'll see this bias for action in every single successful entrepreneur. Everyone we talked to for the book has a bias towards, "Can we do it today? Tomorrow? Maybe end of the week is OK."
Let some fires burn.
Understand that all entrepreneurs go home every night with fires burning that are going to kill them and kill their business. And you can't put all the fires out right away. You just can't. So again, you have to ask some questions. One is, "Which fire is going to kill me immediately?" Don't let that one burn. And then you continue to do triage. Some fires are easy to put out and doing so will make your list of fires smaller, even if they require a little detour. And some are big fires, and if you don't start on them now, by the time you get to them next week, you won't be able to put them out. And sometimes you wait. At PayPal, when we got our series A and series B financing, if you did the math, it was clear the business model wasn't going to work in the long run. But people gave us money, so we were able to say, "We can figure that out later. We can let that one burn. We'll come to it."
Part of why you do a book like this is that you hope people might read it collectively. You can have your company read it a chapter at a time, and then stop and say, "Hey, what do we think of this?" That helps you create a common framework for a high-speed learning environment: A common set of questions for people to ask themselves. And that is the key to creating a bias towards action.