Way back before Reid Hoffman became
the wealthy co-founder of LinkedIn, a venture investor
extraordinaire and author of many books, he studied philosophy at
He was about to go on for his PhD when he had an aha moment.
“I started thinking about what it would take to write a PhD. And
I’d be lucky if maybe 50 people read it,” he told attendees at
the prestigious Churchill Club annual award ceremony in Santa
Clara on Thursday where he was being honored with the 2016 Global
“Simply writing a PhD or academic book was unlikely to play
much of a role in helping shape people’s lives as I wanted,” he
said. So he looked around, and reasoned that writing
software would be able to influence more people.
He learned to code, landed a job at Apple, then at Fujitsu,
then did his first, failed startup,
an online dating startup SocialNet. He then joined PayPal
before it sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. After that,
as a member of the so-called PayPal mafia, he founded
The idea of how to best influence change stuck with
him. He came up with a formula for it:
Number of people touched x depth of impact x time
= social impact.
He’s used that simple formula to choose startup ideas and to help
decide how to spend time and money as they grow.
But he says everyone can use that formula to spark change, be
happier, and create more successful businesses that really impact
The secret is this: volunteering. Not just any old volunteering
but using your expertise in an area that you care about and
ramping up your efforts every year.
That’s what he did. At Apple, “I started joining non-profit
boards to make a significant difference,” he says. For instance
he joined an organization that taught underprivileged teens to
learn about the internet.
And he simply kept going from there. “Each year, I ask, now that
I have this knowledge, these resources, what can I do?”
Volunteering allows anyone to have a bigger impact, he believes
because “you can contribute and amplify.”
It’s a nice thought, give away your time, amplify the
organization’s work, change the world and be a happier person in
a happier world.
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