The startup of you book summary

The Start-up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Summarized by Vishal Kataria

The Book in One Paragraph

There’s a striking resemblance between the strategies in careers and startups. The successful ones keep developing, adapting, and evolving themselves. The ones that fail get trapped in complacency and refuse to explore new opportunities. You can modify the business strategies from successful startups to grow your own career. This book explains those strategies and tactics.

The Start-up of You Book Summary

This is my book summary of The Start-up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. It’s a collection of quotes from the book and my own thoughts. This summary includes key lessons and takeaways from the book.

  • The will to create is encoded in human DNA, which means we’re all entrepreneurs by default. Our ancestors in the caves fed themselves and invented the rules of living. They were founders of their own lives. But over the centuries, we’ve forgotten all that and have been living like labor.
  • You can no longer count on employer-sponsored training to enhance your communication skills or expand your technical know-how.
  • Networking has been replaced by intelligent network building. Searching for a job only when you’re unemployed or unhappy has been replaced by the unwritten rule to keep generating new opportunities. “Ready, Aim, Fire” has been replaced by “Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire.”

  • Why do people and companies who are winning end up like the once-flourishing but now obsolete Detroit Motor City? There are many reasons, but the underlying causes include:

    • the hubris that comes from success,
    • the failure to recognize and match competition,
    • an unwillingness to explore opportunities that contain risk, and,
    • the inability to adapt to change.
  • Keeping your career in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge that you have bugs, that there are new developments to do on yourself, and that you need to evolve. This is the only way you can avoid a fate similar to Detroit Motor City.

  • For many people, “20 years of experience” is really one year of experience repeated 20 times, according to Andy Hargadon, head of the entrepreneurship center at the University of California-Davis.

  • When employers and recruiters sift through job applications, they’re quickly overcome by the sameness. If you want to stand out in your recruiter’s mind, the first step is to be able to complete the sentence, “A company hires me over other professionals because _____.” How are you the only, the first, faster, better, a people’s person, or a smarter worker? What do you offer that makes you rare AND valuable?

  • If you try to be the best at everything, you’ll be the best at nothing. Being a generalist doesn’t give you an edge anymore; specialists are more in demand in today’s complex world. Instead of trying to be the best in the world, focus on local segments — not just geographic but also industry segments and skillsets. Here are two examples:

    • Don’t try to be the greatest marketing executive in the world. Strive to become the best marketing executive of Small and Medium Enterprises in the healthcare space.
    •  Don’t try to be the highest-paid hospitality operations person in the world. Try to be the highest-paid hospitality operations person in a way that aligns with your values so you can sustain it in the long run.
  • One of the best ways to identify your intangible assets (or soft skills) is to visit a networking event and ask people about their professional problems or needs. You’ll be surprised how many times you know someone relevant, have a helpful idea, or think, “I could solve this problem easily.”

  • When you come in contact with challenges others find hard but you find easy, you’ve identified a valuable soft skill. The combination of different skills, experiences, and connections turns into your competitive edge.

  • Work in an environment with natural momentum. Ride the big waves that lift all boats by default. When Sheryl Sandberg wanted to change careers, Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave her the following advice: “Get out of the weeds. Go where there is fast growth because fast growth creates all the opportunities.”

  • Build your career using ABZ planning. In this model:

    • A is what you’re currently doing. Within it, you make minor adjustments as you learn. You iterate regularly.
    • B is what you pivot to when you need to change either your goal or the route to get there.
    • Z is your fallback option if you fail, your lifeboat.
  • Here are strategies to execute ABZ planning:
    • Make plans based on your competitive advantage. (Pursue goals, not dreams. A dream is something you fantasize about that will probably never happen. A goal is something you plan for, work toward, and achieve.)
    • Prioritize learning, especially learning by doing.
    • Make small reversible bets, where the repercussions of things going wrong are small and can easily be corrected.
    • Think two steps ahead so that you don’t keep changing course all the time.
    • Have a separate identity from specific employers. This will allow you to explore skills and opportunities by yourself instead of depending on your employer to take care of you.
  • Your career success doesn’t depend only on your individual capabilities. It also depends on your network’s ability to maximize them. This makes it important to make your capabilities relevant and useful to your network.

  • It’s a myth that we can succeed or make it far as lone wolves. Think of your happiest moments. Were you alone? Or were you surrounded by family and friends? Building relationships should be fun. Working with others enlarges our sense of what’s possible and expands the box in which we think.

  • LinkedIn is a great platform to build relationships. But how can you approach 2nd- and 3rd-degree connections on it? One way is to send a direct connection request. The other is via a mutual connection. The latter is endowed with trust.

  • When you want to get introduced to someone, ask your mutual connection directly and specifically. Provide a compelling reason as well. Instead of saying, “I want to connect because we’re in the same tech industry,” give reasons like, “our venture wants to partner with a professional like them.” Spend 30 minutes researching the person you want to connect with, and you’ll find such reasons. Your connection request will stand out as well.

  • If you’re not receiving or making at least one introduction each month, you’re not fully engaging your extended professional network.

  • The best phrases to fuel interesting conversations are:

    • “You mentioned…”
    • “I noticed…”
    • “I’m curious…”
  • There’s a difference between most connected and best connected. The number of your contacts doesn’t represent the value and strength of your relationships.

  • The best gifts for people in your professional network are inexpensive yet thoughtful: relevant information and articles, introductions, and advice.

  • The best way to build a relationship is to help others. The next best way is to let yourself be helped. This is known as the Ben Franklin effect, where the former US President would build relations with people by asking them for help. But don’t overdo either else you will appear like a nuisance.

  • Until you hear a “no,” you haven’t been turned down. So keep trying.

  • Whenever you can, meet in person. A one-hour lunch creates a bond that takes a dozen electronic communications. If you’ve fallen out of touch, be the person to reach out and reconnect.

  • Have an interesting people fund. It’s money you earmark to stay in touch with your existing network or meet new, interesting, people.

  • Many people are plagued with the question, “What should my next career move be?” A move that makes you feel in over your head stretches you in new dimensions and usually contains significant upside.

  • The results will take time to show. You’ll also encounter plenty of critics when you divert from the common path. Be resilient. When naysayers get loud, turn up the music.

  • Innovation and creativity come from a lack of resources, not an abundance of them. As Caterina Fake, the co-founder of Flickr said, “The less money you have, the fewer people and resources you have, the more creative you have to become.” Use your shortage of money as an opportunity to be creative in pursuit of goals, not an excuse to avoid them.


About The Author

Vishal Kataria is a writer and podcaster who shares lessons he has learned about productivity, learning new skills, and self-improvement.

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