Back in the late 1990s there was a dinner party game called the ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’, based on the six degrees of separation concept whereby any two people on the planet are six or fewer connections apart. If you knew your movies, actors and directors well you could impress friends and the game often led to conversations about favourite films, standout scenes, hottest actors and actresses and, not uncommonly, a bit of heated debate.
A few years after SDOKB hit the dinner party scene, Reid Hoffman founded LinkedIn, the business networking site sold last year to Microsoft for $26 billion. There are similarities between LinkedIn and the Kevin Bacon game in that the site used by almost 500 million people categorises contacts by degree - direct contacts are 1st degree connections and 2nd degree contacts are people who are connected to your 1st degree contacts and so on.
Come to think of it, maybe Hoffman came up with the idea for a networking site at a late night San Franciscan dinner party trying to link Tom Cruise to Kevin Bacon through the movies - which is an easy one really, they starred alongside one another in the 1992 legal thriller A Few Good Men. Okay, unlikely perhaps but not impossible.
In a way, Reid Hoffman is to Silicon Valley what Kevin Bacon is to Hollywood, a ubiquitous character who pops up here, there and everywhere. Hoffman was one of Facebook’s earliest investors and helped PayPal founders, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk grow the online payments startup before its eventual sale to eBay. Let’s just say it’s a half decent résumé next time he goes for a job interview. What is unquestionable is that Reid Hoffman has some pretty impressive contacts and presidents, premiers, kings and queens are all pretty standard.
A quick look at Hoffman’s site shows he and I have three shared connections - a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, a London-based newspaper editor and the Private Secretary to HRH The Duke of York. So if I really needed an introduction to Reid Hoffman, it’s doable - good to know when I come up with that world-changing startup that his VC firm, Greylock Partners, would simply not want to miss out on.
LinkedIn has become the go-to business networking tool for executives across the globe - including in China, where it was the first US internet business to succeed - who want to promote themselves and their organisations, source business leads or share interesting information with their contacts and followers.
A client told me recently that when he shared a local press article about his corporate finance firm’s successes in 2016 the post generated thousands of views including in the States which is a big target market for the firm. This illustrates that local press does not equate to local readership in the 21st century when the web can migrate a news story worldwide in seconds.
The Scottish Business Network moved up a gear in Q1 with news it will be extending its reach to China and North America following the success of its activities in London last year. Founded by a serial entrepreneur and a former UK head of Enterprise Ireland, the team is looking to make connections for Scottish business leaders and help oil their international expansion strategies. I was happy to accept an invitation to join the fold as an adviser as they plot the growth of their own organisation.
A 2014 report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found a lack of “effective connections” to be a critical issue for businesses looking to grow beyond indigenous markets, illustrating the importance of networks to internationalisation.
A relatively new contact of my own, RocketSpace CEO and Fife native Duncan Logan, exemplifies the power of networks as the tech campus he founded in San Francisco six years ago - a facility that famously incubated Airbnb, Uber and over a dozen more unicorns - opens a series of tech campuses in China in 2017 following its London opening at the beginning of the year. Logan made a massive impression on the tech community during his last visit to Scotland and the collective hope is that we can draw on his expertise to help Scotland’s tech scene move into its next phase of growth.