Why I Love LinkedIn

LinkedIn 200 Million MilestoneLinkedIn recently celebrated a milestone, surpassing 200 million member accounts, which they announced earlier this year. Shortly after that announcement, I received an email from LinkedIn congratulating me on having one of the 1% most read profiles on their social network. For a moment I felt like a big part of the celebration, until I remembered that put me among two million others. Curiously, I seem to know most of them, who have not hesitated to share this bragging right. Apologies, I guess I just joined them!

But that’s not why I love LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn because they have created a fantastic online service. I love LinkedIn because they do clever marketing like telling me unprompted where my profile ranks, which makes me feel good about being part of their community. Last year they sent a similar email thanking me for being someone early to their party, signing up in their first year as an early adopter (I tend to do that sort of thing, but very few beta programs ever thank me, especially a decade later). I love LinkedIn because I am convinced that they are eating their own dogfood, which probably means most of their employees love LinkedIn more than I do.

Here are some other reasons, with numbering left open so I can add more things as I think of them, and you remind me of others:

1) They are transparent. They say what they do, and don’t cause you to think otherwise. Your data is being mined by people you want to mine it for the reasons you want it mined. If you don’t want it mined, you don’t post it.

2) They provide a valuable service that brings me business. It’s my network, I built it. They facilitated my actions. I have hired talent off the site, my former head of Human Resources has used it to identify candidates for open positions, and I have been sourced for consulting work as well as investment opportunities, almost always by people I know and with whom I can quickly build trust. It works.

3) They don’t violate my privacy and I understand their privacy controls. They tell me clearly what they are doing with the information I give them and let me easily block what I don’t want to share either through menus or suppression. I know what I get myself into at all times and I am cool with that.

4) Their ads are relevant and not intrusive. They don’t get in my way. They don’t annoy me. I would advertise here if I had a product or service relevant to segments of the network.

5) I don’t currently subscribe to their premium service, but I might. The price is reasonable for what it offers. The rest is free, and I like that a lot, especially because they respect me in spite of my free use. I am part of the ecosystem and their multiple revenue streams. They don’t discriminate and treat me worse than a paid member because they need all of us active and happy.

6) The site helps me teach recent graduates how to think about presenting themselves and creating a resume. Come to think of it, it helps me do that for people with thirtysomething years of experience. Focus is good.

7) The site forces me to think about keywords that matter to me, which forces me to think about the science of keywords, which is the backbone of internet search.

8) It has been an awesome vehicle for growing my blog. I suspect the same will be true when it is time to release my book.

9) The community self polices. Just try posting something polemic on LinkedIn. The community will remind you this is a place for business, not politics. In fact the community is so dynamic on LinkedIn, it makes the whole thing work, a place of relevancy for smart articles, worthwhile referrals, and relevant personal milestones that matter to readers as much as writers.

10) It is more of a cable channel than a broadcast mishmash. I find useful, targeted business information posted by individuals in my network every day. The weekly email summaries use well-designed filters to point me to posts that interest me. The group subscriptions are equally helpful, and can be personalized for volume.

11) The software is robust. It is solid on all my systems and browsers. It is not an open platform which makes their life easier, but because it doesn’t need to support so many third-party APIs it remains remarkably stable. The mobile app is intuitive and efficient, especially handy on iPad.

12) I am not overwhelmed by the time commitment to get value from LinkedIn. I can use it, not use it, come, go, whatever, and it is always there for me. It takes the right amount of time to be useful, and is seldom a frivolous waste of time. It lets people stay active and visible even when they are busy and engaged, so opportunities don’t slip by because of timing or assumptions. Again, I think a lot of this has to do with the community self-policing. It’s a big enough network to have boundless value, but not overcrowded with unnecessary distractions.

Yeah, bravo!

Why did I write this post about LinkedIn? Because since the holiday season, I have been overwhelmed by all the online and mobile brands I don’t love, I’m not even sure I like, and some I have simply abandoned. While that was going on, I longed to present a model of a brand that was getting better in spite of its success. During that same period, my network on LinkedIn led to a whole batch of advantageous stuff, not just for me, but for a lot of people I know. I don’t think it is a coincidence. Good brands are created when good people create and embrace good products.

People, Products, Profits—in that order. The formula still works, at least for me.

I write this entirely unsolicited endorsement for LinkedIn freely and without interest. I don’t currently own the stock, nor do I have an opinion about its valuation. This is about loving the company and its product, not the equity. I don’t know if you can love a stock, because your motives are pretty limited, but I do know you can love a product, a brand, even a company. Hopefully they will love me back and this relationship can continue for a spell.

If you know someone who for some reason has not yet thought it worthwhile to be on LinkedIn, feel free to pass along this post. LinkedIn is a good place to do business, with a solid team running the show.

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Innovation Finds a Way

If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, expands to new territory, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously.  — Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park, 1993

When not engaging in polite conversation over the past few weeks that involved either unsound journalistic ethics at News Corporation or the pending apocalypse of the U.S. debt ceiling, the most popular question I tended to encounter was, “Do you think we’re in a stock bubble?”  Truth be told, that has been a raging topic all year.  The cover story in the current issue of Fortune is “Tech Bubble 2.0” with a reasonably balanced assessment of Is It or Isn’t It.   My assessment?  Got me.

Here’s what I know.

It’s sure not 2000.  The internet is real now and so are an incredible number of businesses being launched of late.  This new wave of entrepreneurial enterprises sits upon real business models either with real revenues and real profits or real revenues and reasonably predictable profits at scale.  The business models are new, unexpected, but sound.  Some are working wildly well and bringing buckets of cash to their corporate bank accounts with pleased and well served customers, employees, and shareholders.  Others hold promise to do the same, aren’t quite there yet, but don’t take a lot of imagination to understand how they will scale to profitability because their models make sense.

Corporate earnings appear for the most part to be sound, albeit with heavy cost controls in place that aren’t doing much for the unemployed.  If you are buying the major indices across the board — domestic and international, large and small, growth and value — fully diversified along with fixed income to your own level of acceptable risk, you probably aren’t having trouble sleeping at night (except, of course, when you think about resolution to the debt ceiling).  Are the markets volatile?  They are, but they always are.  Are the fundamentals and multiples reasonable?  Well, I’m not an economist or a trader, but the Dow looks pretty understandable to me.

So how about that bubble?  Major players in venture capital have issued their opinions and are easy to search on other blogs, I am hardly qualified to comment.  Is it likely that some valuations are products of hope, optimism, or hyperbole?  Tell me anytime when that’s not the case.  Have you ever heard a Realtor tell you it’s not a good time to buy a house?  It’s always a good time, if it’s the right house at the right price.  My sense is, same with equities, preferred and common, private and public.  Bubble is a broad and complicated idea, always easy to assess in hindsight, virtually impossible in the crystal ball.

That’s what I know.  Sorry if I disappointed.

Here’s one thing else I know: the innovation all around us is astounding.  I can’t remember a time when there was so much happening so quickly and so much of it actually looked like true value creation.  Here is small sampling of the mind-blowing advances all around us:

Apple — the iPhone was a game changer, the iPad is a life changer.  I think the iPad will change everything about media for a generation.

Netflix — another game changer, first movies by mail, then movies on demand, easy and affordable, changing entertainment distribution paradigms at every turn.

Zynga — will people buy virtual goods?  They will.  Can a tiny segment of your audience underwrite the ability for everyone else to play free and still create profits?  Indeed.

Pandora — here’s technology that lets you create your own radio station that not only plays the songs you already like, but introduces you to new music you probably will like.

LinkedIn — not long ago if you had your resume online you were job hunting, afraid of being caught by the boss; now you must have your resume online or you don’t exist.

Hulu — one new brand aggregator derives more advertising revenue from network created content than the total online revenue of all the suppliers combined; wow!

Groupon & Living Social — coupons used to be the least cool way in the world to shop; call them time sensitive Daily Deals and online drives consumers back to storefronts offline.

Twitter — people communicate in less than 140 characters and the world is connected through snippets of information that can alter public opinion and evangelize democracy.

Facebook — connect people with friends, redefine the verb like, open your platform, create the most display ad inventory imaginable, then enjoy the value of 750 million accounts.

Again, this is just a sample of very cool companies doing very interesting things, among them, creating jobs and creating wealth.  Each of these represents incredible creativity, brilliant execution, and deep levels of passion.  People are working hard, people are working smart, people are being rewarded.  With > 9% national unemployment still our challenge, it is inspiring to see there are paths out of the malaise.  There are lessons to be learned in the current Silicon Valley run-up, first among them, the key is innovation.

It is ironic this “Tale of Two Economies” comes at a time when so much of the nation’s economy is suffering, and so many job losses lead the gloomy headlines.  It’s also ironic that it comes just as we lose a much beloved company, Borders, which in its day reinvented our notion of what a bookstore could be.  When the first wave of internet companies changed the landscape, Borders leased their digital real estate to Amazon.  They never recovered.  I asked a former VP of mine her sense of this recently, to which she replied: “They just forget to keep innovating.”

Perhaps the former CEO of Intel, the incomparable Andy Grove, said it best and most succinctly in the title of his 1996 book: Only the Paranoid Survive.

While I will always be reticent to render an opinion on the fair market value of a company, I can give a resounding endorsement to so much outstanding work I see going on all around us, much of it disruptive, as it should be in an entrepreneurial landscape that favors creative destruction.

Given a choice to share an opinion on the bubble versus the landscape, I’ll take the landscape.  I like what I see.  I would like to see it spread.  The old jobs aren’t coming back, innovation and automation pretty much assure that, there is little point waiting.  Let’s hope the new business models work so that new jobs will replace them and all boats float with the rising tide.  Many companies will fail, but the direction seems right.

Creativity tempered by sound judgment is the currency of the new economy.  It remains largely an open playing field for anyone who wants to relearn on a daily basis everything they thought they knew.