Rules to Live by — for Infinite Learners

December 13, 2017 •

To help you on your quest to learn by doing, the Masters of Scale team has put together a special treat — a visual poster of rules to live by (and break) for infinite learners. We hope that these 20 rules will inspire you, provoke you, and keep you going on your own quest to become an infinite learner.

Read the full post on LinkedIn.

How Being an “Infinite Learner” Helped Barry Diller Become a 4-Time Master of Scale

December 6, 2017 •

It’s hard enough to be a Master of Scale; to earn that title, you have to have both the opportunity and skill to build a world-leading company or organization. Now imagine how difficult it is to be a 4-time Master of Scale — in two domains that are radically different.

Read the full post on LinkedIn.

How Slack and Flickr Founder Stewart Butterfield (Twice) Mastered the Art of the Pivot

November 15, 2017 •

In the past decade, the term “pivot” has become an integral part of the Silicon Valley lexicon. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the place that gave birth to FailCon — a conference to learn about failure — would embrace the concept of “if at first you don’t succeed….” Yet most entrepreneurs think of pivoting too simplistically, buying into the popular press narrative of a single, bold decision.

Stewart Butterfield understands just how wrong that narrative can be. Stewart is quite possibly the “grandmaster” of the pivot, having turned two different failed video game companies into, respectively, Flickr (the first image-based social network, which presaged the success of Facebook, Instagram, and Snap) and Slack, the incredibly successful workplace messaging and collaboration service. These canonical pivots involved not only bold decisions, but also repeated failures, tearful goodbyes, and literal nausea. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through Stewart’s experience to benefit from the lessons he learned.

In this week’s Masters of Scale podcast, Stewart tells the untold, messy story behind the pivots that created both Flickr and Slack. You’ll learn how the idea of Flickr came to him while crouched over a hotel room toilet in New York, desperately chugging ginger ale to fortify himself to speak at a gaming convention in hopes of avoiding bankruptcy. You’ll also hear how the pivot to Slack was even more traumatic — involving 15 consecutive failed pivots over the course of 18 money-losing months, leading to a tearful meeting where he laid off nearly his entire team.

Yet from these painful ashes arose Flickr, one of the first Web 2.0 success stories, and Slack, one of the today’s enterprise unicorns. The key lesson that Stewart shares? Not only do you need to pivot towards your new business, you also need to pivot away from your old business. Unless you find a way to provide clear decisions and graceful closure for your team and customers, you’ll be torn between old and new. In the case of Flickr, Stewart had to do some old-school political horse-trading to get the votes to switch to a new business model, while in the case of Slack, he took the time to throw a final party for departing staff and the hard-core fans of its videogame, then find new jobs for all the laid-off team members. Pivoting away may not seem as sexy as pivoting towards a shiny new business, but it is a key foundation for later success.

As always, I’d like to hear your thoughts and reactions to this episode. Have you ever pivoted your business? Did you find a way to find closure and pivot away from old business model? Or did you find yourself torn between old and new?

Please write a short post on your LinkedIn newsfeed to share your answers with the wider community. Tag your post #mastersofscale so I can find it. And if you’d like, Tweet it at me (@ReidHoffman) and @MastersOfScale.

The Sideways Path to Scale — with Diane Greene of VMware and Google

November 10, 2017 •

Some entrepreneurs start their journey with a detailed plan that they follow to the letter. Jeff Bezos, for example, always had a plan for how Amazon would leverage the infinite shelf space of the internet to become the “everything store.” Or consider that in 1980, when Studs Terkel asked a young bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger what he planned to do in his career, the young Austrian immigrant replied that he planned to leverage his bodybuilding success to become an actor and then go into politics. Most of us, however, have to keep revising our plans along the way. A scalable idea rarely sits squarely on the path ahead. It’s always scurrying off to the left or the right. And if you can’t get your team to adjust course quickly, it will slip out of sight. That’s how Diane Greene started VMWare and laid the foundation for cloud computing.

In today’s Masters of Scale podcast, Diane and I discuss how she, her husband Mendel, and his graduate students co-founded VMware. You’ll hear how, on the one hand, Diane never thought about building a billion-dollar company, and how, on the other hand, when VMware had only 10 employees, she told her new office manager/COO V.J. Richey, “V.J., this technology is going to run on every computer system in the world someday.” That’s precisely what happened, even though, at various points along the way, Diane had to struggle to find customers other than college science professors, and put up with the pity of entrepreneurs from hot companies like and WebVan (They felt sorry for someone working in “software.”

You’ll find out how those professors — along with bankrupt Dot Bombs looking to save money and Linux developers who needed to check their email — helped Diane grow VMware into one of the world’s most important technology companies. You’ll also learn how her experiences as a national champion sailor made her a better entrepreneur, how Bill Gates inadvertently helped convince Diane to start the company, and the one condition she gave Google before accepting its offer to run its Cloud business.

As always, I’d like to hear your thoughts and reactions to this episode. What’s a scalable idea that came at you sideways? What’s a scalable idea you missed because you were too determined to keep forging straight ahead?

Please write a short post on your LinkedIn newsfeed to share your answers with the wider community. Tag your post #mastersofscale so I can find it. And if you’d like, Tweet it at me (@ReidHoffman) and @MastersOfScale.

Don’t Just Compete. Invent a New Game and Master It.

November 8, 2017 •

I’ve known Peter Thiel since we were undergrads at Stanford, when the most common phrase either of us used in our conversations was “How can you possibly believe that?” Yet despite disagreeing on so many topics and in so many ways, we made a great team — whether I was helping Peter build PayPal, or investing in Facebook together. That’s because we agree on a small number of really big things. In this week’s Masters of Scale podcast, Peter joined me to talk about one of those key areas of agreement: the importance of escaping your competition.

Peter grew up as a fierce competitor, but after competing his way to the top of his well-educated peer group and joining a white-shoe law firm, he discovered that he and his co-workers were miserable. That’s when he realized that, in his exact words, “Competition is for losers.” The path to real success is not to compete, but to invent a new game, and then master it.

You’ll learn the exact mathematical formula behind PayPal’s success, which Peter still uses to make investing decisions. This is the same formula that allowed Peter to conclude that PayPal would be able to escape the competition (when the company still had only 24 users) also convinced us to invest in Facebook — even though Mark Zuckerberg’s pitch was lackluster. Fortunately, the service was amazing and Mark was clearly very smart.

You’ll also hear some very different perspectives on escaping the competition, from the mindset that allows two-time Olympic gold medalist Natasha Hastings and her trainer Darryl Woodson to get ahead of her fellow sprinters, to the strategy that helps Wall Street banker-turned-baker Umber Ahmad separate her Mah-Ze-Dahr bakery from its more-famous artisanal rivals.

As always, I’d like to hear your thoughts and reactions to this episode. How can you define your market so you’re escaping the competition, rather than just beating them (like a loser)?

Please write a short post on your LinkedIn newsfeed to share your answers with the wider community. Tag your post #mastersofscale so I can find it. And if you’d like, Tweet it at me (@ReidHoffman) and @MastersOfScale.