Reid Hoffman, Permanent Beta and the Startup of You

Reid Hoffman and co-author Ben Casnocha talked about their ideas about entrepreneurship at the SXSW Festival in Austin. Even if you never start a company, they say, you're still the entrepreneur of your own life

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By Bryan Keplesky

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Reid Hoffman - SXSW 2012Did you know you're in "permanent beta"? Everyone is a work in progress, never finished. This mindset is key to success in today's competitive global business environment, according to Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. The pair laid out their thinking about entrepreneurship in a packed auditorium at the Austin Convention Center at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival this weekend, drawing from their recent book, "The Startup of You."

Casnocha compared the working world the 20th century to an escalator. You went to school, got your first entry level job, maybe an MBA and slowly moved your way up to the top. This model has become obsolete, he said, and the sooner you can accept it and decide to do something about it, the happier and more successful you will be.

Hoffman said sees the world of entrepreneurship holistically, referencing Muhammad Yunus's quote, "All humans are entrepreneurs." Even if you never start your own company, you're still the entrepreneur of your own life. "The Startup of You" identifies three steps to take to expand your skill set and strategies in this new world of entrepreneurship.

Related: SXSW 2012 Kicks Off (Video)

1. Plan to adapt.
Planning isn't like setting up a chain of dominos, pushing the first one and then watching the rest fall. A plan is more like "flexible persistence" -- have a plan and a goal, but be prepared to adapt at a moment's notice when circumstances change (and they most certainly will). Hoffman and Casnocha refer to it is "Plan ABZ". Plan A is the current implementation of your competitive advantage. Plan B runs in tandem, and if plan A is no longer working or a new better way is discovered, then a pivot to Plan B can be painless. Plan Z is the "lifeboat" option. Hoffman shared his early experiences with the founders of PayPal, who originally wanted to develop a payment and encription application for Palm Pilots, and only eventually evolved into a payment system via email. Even after its launch, its popularity among eBay users was a complete surprise. With this discovery, PayPal aggressively targeted this new audience.

2. Nurture your networks and relationships.
The best way to strengthen your network is to keep a robust mix of collaborative partners, alliances, likeminded individuals, but also just as important, loose aquaintances. People you know well tend to think similar thoughts, have access to the same content as you and generally don't provide much new opportunity. Weaker ties add a fresh element to your network "feed" and expose you to content you'd otherwise never see. Think of your network as a virtual company built by you.

3. Take intelligent risks.
Ideally, taking a risk isn't magnified into a life-or-death situation for your company. That extreme can happen, but the idea of intelligent risk taking has more to do with "leaning into" risks to better yourself and your career. Injecting a bit of volatility into your career will help to keep you agile and resilient. The most attractive entrepreneur is one that can demonstrate his or her skill at adapting and thriving on constant change.

Related: Steve Blank on the Era of the Lean Startup

Bryan Keplesky

Art director, designer, writer

Bryan Keplesky runs his own creative studio in Austin, Texas, working in design, branding, art direction and writing.

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