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Meet Reid Hoffman, Silicon Valley's big man

July 8, 2008 |  5:00 am

LinkedIn founder Reid HoffmanAre you really going to write about how big Reid Hoffman is?

That's what people asked me when I interviewed them about Hoffman for our Column One profile about one of the driving forces behind the resurgence of the consumer Internet and the advent of social networking.

Yes, Hoffman is big, in all senses of the word. But many outside Silicon Valley don't know much about his influence because this is definitely not a guy who throws his weight around.

An understated and unassuming Internet entrepreneur and investor, Hoffman has backed and advised some of the hottest start-ups. He just earned a billion-dollar valuation for his own start-up, professional networking site LinkedIn. In the words of venture capitalist and LinkedIn investor David Sze: "He's a force of nature."

Hoffman is also one of the biggest brains behind social networking, the phenomenon that has revolutionized how people interact online. He created Socialnet.com in 1997, long before anyone had a clue what social networking was or would become. As for LinkedIn, it has become a popular place for people to hunt for jobs, get new business or make key hires, in large part because it is a "clone" of Hoffman's brain, who envisions the business world in terms of the connections between people, says Jean-Luc Vaillant, LinkedIn's vice president of engineering and a company founder.

The remarkable thing about Hoffman: No more than two degrees separate him from virtually anyone in Silicon Valley. "Reid’s network is a robust, living thing," said John Lilly, chief executive of Firefox browser creator Mozilla Corp. "He really takes care of the people in his network."

That compassion toward others has been a guiding principle for Hoffman. It also has endeared him to many who say Hoffman aspires to far more than money or power. An Oxford-trained philosopher turned Silicon Valley gear-head, Hoffman says he wants to leave the world a "massively better" place.

Seems like he's off to a good start.

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times

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