Going Against the Flow: Allen Blue, Cofounder of LinkedIn

In 2002, Allen Blue co-founded LinkedIn, which has evolved to be the world's largest professional network today. Allen was formerly Director of Product Design at SocialNet.com, a social networking service covering dating, recreational and professional activities, where he was responsible for product design and implementation of SocialNet's member-data focused business model. Previously, he has worked as a contract web designer and developer for a variety of clients including PayPal, Stanford University, and Microsoft's Virtual Worlds project. Allen holds a BA in Drama from Stanford University.

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Allen Blue, Cofounder of LinkedIn

Q: What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and what underlying characteristics do you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Allen: Entrepreneurship is primarily a mindset. It's a way of thinking about your own ability to shape your world. When I was younger, I believed that I needed permission: from my boss, from society. In truth, entrepreneurial attitude is having the ability to choose your own path. Not everyone embraces it, but we all have it. I learned this from observing my cofounder Reid Hoffman. By the time I met him, in 1997, he had complete confidence to do that.

You get self-assurance over time. This confidence comes naturally to some, but most of us have to learn with time. As an entrepreneur, you come across terrible challenges which you're not at all prepared for. It all comes back to taking charge of the situation and believing in yourself.

How to learn this? The only one way I know is practice! My method is getting lots of experience and introspecting how I could improve.

Q: What are you most proud of in your professional career?

Allen: When you start your company, you have very few hands on deck and little time; you have to be a jack of all trades. I've trained myself to quickly learn by doing, and I've enjoyed growing from someone with zero business background to being really good at entrepreneurial thinking and now advising startups constantly.

Q: Tell us about an instance where you had to go against the flow to realize your goal.

Allen: Back in 2007, LinkedIn was primarily a social network to connect professionals. I believed that we could further leverage LinkedIn to share knowledge and information at work. I'm not really a programmer, but I spent hours and hours outside of work to build a prototype news product, which in turn was added to our existing news feed. Making this happen required not just talking about my idea, but actually deploying it. I got a server from out IT team, and compiled a news feed.

Q: How do you measure success for yourself? What drives you?

Allen: I consider my time well-spent if a) I am constantly learning and growing, and b) I am helping other talented people be more successful, and their goal, in turn, is usually to use technology to empower other people. Day in and day out, my role at LinkedIn is to coordinate product strategy across all businesses. Here, I spend a ton of time with product managers and I measure my success based on how well I can help them collaborate and achieve our results to empower our LinkedIn members.

Recently, I have especially been working on a specific publication Rework America Connected, that will bring together educators and employers to close the skills' gap and create high paying jobs for professionals. This is a powerful combination of creating new business for LinkedIn as well as living by LinkedIn's mission to create economic opportunities for every member of the global workforce.

I am driven by this mission. If I weren't at LinkedIn, I'd still be figuring out ways to work towards creating economic opportunities.

Q: What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Allen: My 22-year-old self did theater, and this is an experience I'd never give up. It was fun and it also taught me what's important in life. In the end, we do everything with other people. There are some lone geniuses, but largely, our success is determined by meaningful interactions with other people. So, I'd advise myself to early on seek out more of these relationships with people I could talk about interesting ideas with, I could collaborate with, and to learn by observing these people. I wish I had done more of this.

Follow Allen Blue at @AllenB, and check out the other interviews in Going Against the Flow series at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charu-sharma/ and join the movement to empower 1 million female entrepreneurs at goagainsttheflow.com.