The founder of LinkedIn visited Stanford University’s super-popular tech startup class and dispensed some advice on how to lead a business to Internet fame. The course is curated by noted investor Sam Altman, who has opened up his Rolodex of tech celebrities and asked them to teach the next generation of eager startup founders about how to make it in Silicon Valley.

This week, professional nice guy and Linkedin founder Reid Hoffman regaled the young crowd on “How to be a great founder.” The advice essentially boils down to how to build a business through a personal network.

Here’s the full video lecture. Below, we summarize his lecture in 5 quotes


“What great founders do is seek the networks that will be essential to their task …. Usually it’s best to have two or three people on a team, rather than a solo founder.”

Hoffman wants to rid Silicon Valley of the myth that great founders are like Superman, who can fundraise, manage products, and everything else that the business does. Instead, Hoffman says, great founders surround themselves with great people who specialize in vital roles.

“I don’t think Groupon could have ever been founded here [Silicon Valley].”

Collecting great networks is partly about location. A fashion industry startup may not thrive in Silicon Valley, because it doesn’t have the intellectual capital to foster creativity in that sector. New York is probably a better place.

“So when you think about being contrarian, you have to think about how is it that smart people disagree with me, that disagree with me from a position of intelligence.”

Hoffman says it’s fashionable to be a contrarian these days. And being a contrarian is important, but in a productive way. Good founders surround themselves with people who disagree with them intelligently. And more importantly, good founders disagree with those people intelligently. He recommends arguing with every smart person you know, to get a sense for why an idea for a startup may be founded on something that others have overlooked.

“I’m a huge believer in references. I only meet with someone when they come to me through a reference.”

Blind resumes don’t do it for Hoffman: Employees and trusted advisors come through personal networks. This is a contentious idea, since it limits Silicon Valley to the current — and mostly white — boys club, which excludes women and minorities who don’t have the same personal networks.

Regardless, as a business strategy, keeping employees to friends of friends may help to maintain quality.

Readers can see the full transcript of the lecture here, as well as find more information on past lectures.

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