Entrepreneurs, Startup Advice

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman on how studying philosophy has helped him as an entrepreneur

Martin Kovacs /

LInkedIn and Microsoft

LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. Source: Supplied

LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock Partners investor Reid Hoffman has revealed how studying philosophy has helped him as an entrepreneur, and shared insights into his decision to pursue software development over a career in academia.

In a podcast for Business Insider, Hoffman, who obtained a master’s in philosophy from Oxford University, recalls how he original thought he “could become an academic and then be a public intellectual as an academic”, but he was deterred by the restrictions of academia.

“And then what I realised from my experience with academia is that academia is, kind of default, fairly hostile to academics being public intellectuals,” he told Business Insider.

“They want them to be scholars, they want them to be in the narrow focus of that discipline, and I realised very quickly that that wasn’t me. I didn’t have the interest – perhaps I didn’t have the talent – and it was just something that I didn’t really want to do.”

Instead, Hoffman focused on other ways in which he could help humanity at scale, and looked towards the potential of software to do just that.

“And I realised that software was another form of media, and so if you actually work on the software as the media object, that’s something that could then, in fact, have a similar kind of impact, which is kind of helping humanity at scale, and helping humanity, both the individuals and the group, think about, like, who are we and who should we be and how do we get there,” he said.

Hoffman described how the practice of studying philosophy helped him as an entrepreneur, saying that many of his activities are “aided by the crispness of thinking that comes with philosophical training”.

He observed there is “almost a sense in which part of being an entrepreneur or being an investor is being an applied philosopher or an applied anthropologist”.

“One thing every entrepreneur in consumer internet is doing is essentially embodying a theory of human nature as individuals and as a group for how they will react to the service, especially if it’s community or network properties, how they will interact with each other, how this will fit in their landscape of how they identify themselves and how they communicate or transact with other people,” he said.

“That’s particularly, of course, part of the reason why, at Greylock, I tend to look at networks and marketplaces centrally in my investment thesis, and these kinds of things are the concepts that actually come out of philosophy.”

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Martin Kovacs

Martin Kovacs is a journalist with experience covering the IT, consumer electronics, retail, finance and energy sectors.

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