14 Conference Report #techonomy14

A Conversation with Jeff Weiner

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  • David Kirkpatrick (left) and Jeff Weiner

  • David Kirkpatrick (left) and Jeff Weiner

Speaker

Jeff Weiner
Chief Executive Officer, LinkedIn Corporation

Interviewer

David Kirkpatrick
Founder and CEO, Techonomy


Kirkpatrick: Jeff Weiner is one of my favorite people in the world, certainly in business leaders that I’ve known in tech, you are one of the most singular that I always enjoy. You’re always pulling my—you were making fun of me backstage and I actually really like that. I apologize—

Weiner: I wasn’t really making fun of you. I just commented on the fact, the last time I saw David at an event he was wearing the exact same shirt, which is pretty memorable. There’s nothing pejorative about that.

Kirkpatrick: My wife is sitting right over there so that’s a good thing. I actually love this shirt. I think once in a while when you’re in public a little bit of flashy theatricality is not inappropriate.

I remember talking to you when you were an entrepreneur in residence at Excel and I was writing my book about Facebook, and you were trying to figure out what to do. And by the way I also remember before that that you were the first person who ever told me to do this, which is to start my own conference. I appreciate that and that’s not what we’re here to discuss.

Weiner: It isn’t that you were going to write your book. It is a nice factoid that you actually did that, and appreciate you following through—

Kirkpatrick: —by actually just showing up on stage. That’s good.

Weiner: We started by talking about the process of writing your book and then potentially taking that online via what Patel was doing with the search at the time—

Kirkpatrick: Yes

Weiner: —and began opening that up and then turning that eventually into an event. Well, here you are.

Kirkpatrick: It’s not the same thing, but its close.

You’re running LinkedIn now which under your leadership has not only gone public and become a more successful financial phenomenon, but I’d say, much more deeply embedded itself in the fabric of modern business and society. This set of things that you’ve done as LinkedIn’s leader, and I think much of it was the foundation laid by Reid, who was on this stage yesterday, is really changing the landscape in which we all operate. Everybody in this room probably goes to LinkedIn multiple times a day just to figure out who they just met or who they’re about to meet, or for a lot of other reasons. You built a central facility for modern economies. Talk about how you think about that and where it’s going to go next.

Weiner: I appreciate you saying that. That’s certainly the goal, is to have as much impact on the lives of our members and our customers as possible.

It started with a mission to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. That was codified roughly six years ago. At the time we were thinking about that mission statement we had 32 million members and most recently we announced that we surpassed north of 10x that number. When we initially defined the mission we drew a distinction between our mission statement and our vision statement. Some companies use them synonymously, some will do one at the exclusion of the other, but our mission was an overarching objective that would, hopefully, be measurable, realizable, and ideally inspirational. The vision was true north. The vision statement was the dream. At the time we defined our vision as creating economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. There are roughly 600 million knowledge workers in the world, or professionals, as we define them, that’s the immediate addressable opportunity. There are over 3 billion people in the global workforce. We’re now in the process of doing something I’ve never had the privilege of doing before, speaking to the impact that the company’s been able to generate and the scale we’ve been able to achieve, and that is, trying to operationalize our vision statement. Right now we are in the process of asking ourselves what it would take, literally, those very words, what would it take to create economic opportunity for over 3 billion people in the global workforce? The manifestation of that vision for us comes down to what we call the development of the world’s first economic graph. You’re probably all familiar with the expression “social graph” which Mark Zuckerberg used to describe Facebook. Reid, who was just here yesterday, when he founded LinkedIn it was essentially a professional graph and it connected professionals up to three degrees and virtually all the value that accrued to our members and customers today, has happened as a result of this professional graph.

Going forward, the economic graph will use these relationships between individuals as a cornerstone, a building block, but what we ultimately want to do, to your point about impacting the economy, is digitally map the global economy. That will be comprised of a profile for every member of the global workforce, all 3 billion people; a profile for every company in the world, when you include small, medium size businesses, there’s as many as 70 million companies in the world. We’ll have a digital representation for every job available in the world. There’s on the order, today on the Web, there’s roughly 10 million, there’s probably as many as 20 million total jobs out there. We’d like a digital reflection and representation of every skill required to obtain one of those jobs; a digital presence for every university or higher educational organization in the world that enables you to acquire the skills to get the jobs. Then we want to make it easy for every individual, every company, and every university to share their professionally relevant knowledge to the extent they would like to do so. Then our objective is to take a step back and allow capital, all forms of capital—intellectual capital, working capital, and of course, human capital—to flow to where it can best be leveraged. In doing so we hope to lift and transform the global economy. That’s the goal over the next 10 years.

Kirkpatrick: That’s all?

Weiner: That’s what we’re trying to do.

Kirkpatrick: You say there’s 600 million knowledge workers and you said you’re 10x 32 million, so you’re already half there, more than halfway to getting those 600 million.

Weiner: That was part of the—

Kirkpatrick: That’s incredible. You’re doing pretty damn well.

Weiner: We’ve got a lot of work still to be done, but exactly to your point, when we initially codified the mission, we didn’t necessarily anticipate we would get over the halfway mark five or six years later. And as that started to happen, even if we were able to realize, when we realized the investible opportunity of 600 million knowledge workers there’s another roughly 180 million or so students or pre-professionals in the world. That takes that addressable opportunity coming up to about 780 million. But we did start thinking to ourselves, boy, if we’re already halfway home and we have optics into how we can continue to get to 500, 600 million, etcetera, what’s next? That’s when we started asking ourselves the question, what would it take?

Kirkpatrick: This economic graph that includes the companies, the people who are outside the knowledge worker community, will those all be as they are today, self-created profiles, or will you do some of that for them.

Weiner: For the individual that’s a choice an individual makes. We can make it far easier to populate your profile in multiple ways. You think about the original LinkedIn profile which was a replacement for the traditional resume, which is a mechanism through which through text, you’re explaining your experiences, your skills, most importantly your objectives, what you ultimately want to accomplish professionally. Today the LinkedIn profiles is more of a portfolio that enables you to demonstrate those things, not just talk about them via words. So, it’s a multi-dimensional opportunity to showcase to the world, if you’re proud of this event, you take your favorite interview, your favorite keynote session, you put a video of that up there. A general contractor, rather than talking about the dream job that they built they can actually show pictures and images of that dream house. The marketer or the creative director for an agency can now upload their favorite work just like a portfolio.

Kirkpatrick: Is that why you’re becoming sort of a publisher media company in order to seed that, or is there some other reason why you hired my friend Dan Roth, who’s now the editor at LinkedIn? I’m going to actually publish the article in our magazine about the government tech interface on LinkedIn, probably tomorrow or the next day, and get tons of readers. But why are you doing it?

Weiner: It’s multi-fold. One key reason is, in fact, tied to your professional identity and when people are sharing what they know, when they’re providing insight, sharing their expertise, one of the first things that happens when you click that publish button is that post shows up on your LinkedIn profile. What better way to demonstrate to the world the skills that have accrued to your experiences etcetera. In addition to that we want to make sure that our membership is equipped with the business intelligence they need to make better decisions faster, to be better at the job that they’re already in. Beyond that there are people like you, there are CEOs, there are professional luminaries all over the world on a global basis that want to continue to build an audience, they have a message they want to get out there. Audience building is also a key component.

Kirkpatrick: But clearly career development for individuals, essentially education, as Jackie just mentioned, from Kaplan—that’s what she’s doing with you guys—clearly that’s part of where you want to go. You want to actually not just get every company and person on there, you want to then become a tool to help them get better at what they do. Is that what you’re saying?

Weiner: Absolutely. If you think about it LinkedIn is a way to find a job, your dream job, to pursue the career path you’ve always wanted to pursue, and at the same time to be great at the job that you’re already in.

Kirkpatrick: One of the things I should have said when introducing you is that I often have to explain to people, having written the book about Facebook is that there is only one other global identity based social network besides Facebook which is—I think not appreciated—there’s no anonymity on LinkedIn and it’s increasingly global. It’s not the same kind of behavior or community, but it’s extremely valuable to people. To me, having immersed myself so much in Facebook, I have always felt LinkedIn had fantastic potential to grow in its importance. I think you’re starting to tap some elements of it. I’m curious if you would agree that there are a whole bunch of other things you could do if you wanted to, given the nature of the graph, so to speak, that you have assembled now.

Weiner: Part of the challenge, people say, “What keeps you up at night, what are the challenges that you face?” Sometimes they want to talk about the competitive landscape. We’re very fortunate as a professional network to have achieved a critical mass and global scale that we’ve achieved. So as a peer play professional network, we’re in a good strong position there. Part of the challenge is, we’re a platform. As a platform we can enable a lot of different kinds of products, servers, user behaviors. We can fulfill a lot of objectives. It becomes even more paramount that we focus on the right things, we’re able to clearly prioritize, and then maintain the discipline to continue to invest in those priorities. But as a broad-based platform we can facilitate a lot of professional behavior and create a lot of value for folks.

Kirkpatrick: One of the things that’s come up a lot here today, including from the session with Carl Bass, that just preceded this—except when I accidently went to the “180s,” which by the way, I wasn’t supposed to do then, in case anybody cares—but was this issue of what’s going to happen to the U.S. economy as more and more things get automated and this parallel problem that American education and training is so egregiously inadequate for the world we’re going into. Given your aspirations, which you were talking about a moment ago, very globally, when you think about it as an American looking at these American problems, how can LinkedIn help with that?

Weiner: I think before we get to how LinkedIn can help I think it’s incumbent upon all of us that we continue to invest in education, for starters. Not just primary school reform, we also have to make sure—that’s critical and we’re hopefully going to get that done, but that’s going to require generational change. We’ve got a workforce today that was essentially trained for the jobs that once were and not the jobs that are or will be. The challenge is that the rate of innovation is exceeding our ability to train people to take advantage of the opportunities being created through that innovation. If you look back historically, this is techonomic. I remember when you first used the expression techonomic. This is as techonomic as it gets. It’s the intersection of technology and the economy. But if you think about things historically the agrarian age evolved over millennia. Thousands of years is a lot of time to retrain and retool the workforce to harvest the fields in a more effective way. The Industrial Revolution unfolded over the course of a couple of centuries. Still plenty of time to make sure that people could participate and be productive. The information age unfolded over decades. This new digital economy, this knowledge based economy, I would normally say it’s unfolding over years, but you take a look at what’s happening now, it’s not years anymore, it’s months, it’s weeks, sometimes it feels like there’s something new every day. And it’s become prohibitively challenging to equip the workforce with the skills they need to flourish in that kind of environment. Generationally we need to get primary school and primary education right and we are still leveraging behaviors and habits that were developed for a different era. Summer vacations still exist so the kids can get out and harvest the fields. Kids still sit in rows and learn by rote to participate in division of labor and assembly lines. In a more networked, and more global, and more digital age, these kids need to be learning critical reasoning, creative problem solving, perhaps the most importantly, collaborative skills, collaboration and team building skills. We need to take better advantage of adaptive learning platforms like Khan Academy, invert the class rooms, make sure teachers when they’re in the class are spending time with the kids where it’s most needed. That’s going to take time. In the meantime I’d love to see as much energy going into vocational training innovation as we have in primary school and increasingly through these massively open online courses. There’s a lot of investment going there.

Kirkpatrick: But could LinkedIn help with any of that? There’s got to be some ways that you could help with that.

Wiener: Yes. If you take the economic graph as an example, one of our favorite examples of where the economic graph could make a difference in a world like the one you just described is by virtue of taking any locality anywhere in the world, you can pick an American city, we’re talking about the impact we can have on the United States, take any American city and in that American city we can see the skills of the aggregate workforce, and then we can see the fastest growing jobs and the skills required to obtain those jobs. Then we can measure the size of the gap. To the extent that the size of that gap becomes too large we can alert vocational training facilities, junior colleges, even four-year universities, within that city to the fact that this gap is emerging, and then provide them the data so that ideally they’d be able to create a just-in-time curriculum, and they can say, “We’re teaching the wrong stuff, those jobs are no longer here, these are where the jobs are and more importantly, these are where the jobs will be. Let’s start training people for those jobs now.”

Kirkpatrick: I think you could do really a fantastic bunch of things and make LinkedIn look really good by helping with some of these problems, especially in the U.S. because they’re getting more severe. I don’t know how many times I’m going to be sitting on this stage and have somebody say, “Our training system, our education system is training people for the jobs that no longer exist.” I mean, this happens so many times. It’s getting really frustrating. Come on!

Weiner: Part of it is not just technology. We have a tendency, particularly in Silicon Valley, to focus almost exclusively on the role of technology, on the role of investment, and entrepreneurship. It goes beyond that. Those are all going to be critical to getting it right. But I think part of this is cultural. I think it’s really important that we start to rethink the way we think about vocational training and skilled trades. There was a time when people took great pride in blue collar work and building things. I think it’s really important we get back to that. It’s a fundamental part of our economy and today there’s still this massively disproportionate focus on prestigious four-year universities and the diploma you get when graduating those four-year universities. We’ve got to broaden beyond that to recognize there’s other kinds of people who create enormous value, there’s other kinds of skill sets that will predict the success of those individuals, things like resiliency, grit, growth mindset. These go way beyond the things that you learn at a prestigious four-year university and we’ve got to not only value that, we’ve got to screen for it, we’ve got to give those people a chance, and then celebrate those wins, celebrate when people emerge as stars that we otherwise would’ve overlooked.

Kirkpatrick: Okay, I want to hear if anybody in the audience has questions or comments for Jeff because I have plenty more. I’ve got some really good ones in fact, but I’d love to hear what anybody else has to ask. Okay, the mikes going over there, we’ll get to you, Mark, after that. Okay.

Van Grove: Hi, I’m Jennifer Van Grove with the Street. Can you talk to us about your mobile app strategy? I know you guys are going into a lot of different single-purpose apps. It’s very reminiscent of what Facebook is doing. Are you copying Facebook and what exactly is the intention there?

Weiner: We’ve had a multi-app strategy for quite some time now. We’re in about six, seven purely contextual apps, single-purpose apps, as you describe them, including the flagship app which is an aggregation of all the value propositions that we offer. We have a slide share app, a job seeker app, a recruiter app, we acquired “Pulse” which is a mobile news reader, and part of the strategy there is that mobile is growing very quickly, 47 percent of our weekly usage is now comprised of mobile and that’s up dramatically from where it was just a few years ago. Within a mobile environment you have a lot less real estate to help people to ultimately solve for whatever they need help with. It makes sense to be able to focus on a singular value proposition and to try to get that context as focused as possible. And then again, with limited real estate and with a different set of expectations I think users have very different expectations when they open up an application then they do on a desktop. I think they have a lot less patience and they want to get what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. Our multi-app strategy is really focused on core value propositions that we could deliver through that channel most effectively. But that’s only one part of our mobilize strategy, we call it mobilize. There were two other critical components of that. One was investing in our infrastructure and a robust set of eternal APIs that would enable us to develop for mobile quickly, more scalabley, and essentially extend a lot of the code that had been built and was being leveraged for desktop, and so we’ve thankfully had a lot of progress on that front. That goes hand and hand with training and providing a learning environment for every developer, every member of our research and development team within LinkedIn who’s now in a position where they can develop for mobile whereas historically that was more centralized. Mobilize for us is three-fold: it’s the multi-app strategy, it’s investing in the right infrastructure, and it’s training our R&D team so that everyone can develop for mobile.

Kirkpatrick: Okay. Mark.

Bonchek: Hi, I’m Mark Bonchek, with SHIFT Academy. My question is about what relationship do you see inside this vision for LinkedIn with marketers? Obviously on the employer side there’s a lot, or on the product side what you’re doing with Kaplan, but I know a lot of advertisers and marketers that have tried to build some things on LinkedIn and the message is, “Get your CEO to be an influencer and advertise with us.” and they want to do something more collaborative to build communities, but the message comes back, “We build the community. You advertise with us.” There’s a lot of opportunity to change and I’m curious with this mission now, it seems like that can start to loosen up and can you share some thoughts on that.

Kirkpatrick: Good question.

Weiner: Yes, it’s always been an opportunity as a platform to enable these kinds of communities to be developed. As a matter of fact, Citi is a shining example of that. They created a group several years ago that was oriented towards professional women and today it ranks among, we have millions of groups on LinkedIn, it ranks as if not number one, it’s certainly in the top five or so. In terms of engagement on a per member basis of the folks participating within that group it’s 100s of thousands of people now. Basically it’s become a network within our network and I think it’s a wonderful example of what’s possible. So, there’s no limitation. Any company anywhere in the world and any community for that matter has an opportunity to build something similar.

With regard to marketing solutions, more broadly defined, our sponsored content, which we rolled out about a year ago to date, has become the fastest growing business in LinkedIn’s history. There’s a lot of focus externally on our talent solutions business and we’ve had good success there and it’s really transformed the recruiting industry. It’s interesting to note that sponsored content has been the fastest growing business we’ve launched thus far to date. One of the things we’re most excited about is the intersection between sponsored content and Bizo, which was a recent acquisition for us, that enables enterprises to nurture leads across the Internet. From a B2B marketing perspective there’s still a lot of fragmentation within that industry and we think through Bizo and the intersection of Bizo’s nurturing capabilities, on and off of LinkedIn, with sponsored content, we can really do some interesting things within B2B marketing.

It’s also important to bear in mind that every professional on LinkedIn is a consumer as well. We call them prosumers. So, it’s not just about B2B marketing, but the travel category, the automobile category, these have become big categories for us and Kaplan was just up here, wonderful partner to LinkedIn. Education has become one of our biggest categories and it’s something—students is one of the fastest growing demographics on LinkedIn and that’s in the area I think we can add a lot of value to as well.

Kirkpatrick: Okay. Over here.

Nwokorie: Hi, Ije Nwokorie from Wolff Olins. How does the platform evolve in a world where we’re all free agents, and jobs and tasks are done by coalitions that assemble and disassemble really quickly?

Weiner: Fantastic question and something we’ve been increasingly focused on. Folks were referring to that as the sharing economy, I think broadly defined in the media you see it referred to as the sharing economy. I think it’s a bit a misnomer. I think the sharing economy exists. I think it’s important, but I think that’s speaking more to the utilization of underleveraged assets, that people can leverage to create value. I would refer to what you just described as the gig economy. People are gigging increasingly, whether through necessity because they can’t find full time work. Lot of discussion, lot of celebration off the fact that the unemployment rate is now dropping below 6 percent. The unemployment rate in the United States doesn’t take into consideration underemployment, which are people who are temporarily working when they’re seeking full-time work, or those that are marginally attached to the working force, essentially they’ve dropped out. Work force anticipation in this country is at historical lows in terms of the number of people that are out there in the work force. One of the things I think that includes all of us is to make sure we understand how this gig economy continues to evolve and how we create value for individuals that are trying to make a go of that. From LinkedIn’s perspective one of the most obvious answers to that is identity. Your reputation perhaps matters more in a gig-based economy if you’re a freelancer then it does when you’re working at a company. That matters a lot when you’re working at a company. But when you’re out there representing yourself no one knows who you are, you don’t have a company behind you, and increasingly you see the rise of some of these gig based companies, some of the sharing based companies, the Ubers of the world that are growing faster than they can keep up with. You start to think about where are all these drivers coming from? Where are all the grocery pickers for Instacart coming from? These are two of myriad examples. You want to make sure, as these companies are trying to keep up with this extraordinary demand that they’re bringing on a supply of workers and a workforce that maintains the quality and the bar that’s already been set. I think LinkedIn can play an important part in the role in helping those individuals to define their expertise, their experiences, their reputation. Increasingly, I think we’re also going to be in a position to help people find those kinds of jobs or gigs. It won’t just be about—we have a standalone job seeker app today, that’s doing really well, but that shouldn’t just be about full-time work. Over time as the work becomes increasingly fragmented we want to make sure we’re able to add value there as well.

Kirkpatrick: I’m so glad you could join us. I’m sorry we have to wrap, but really appreciate you being here. I’d love to talk to you more about some of the things that you can do in the U.S. because it’s really becoming a passion of Techonomy. It’s why we do our Detroit conference and maybe bring you on stage another time to go deeper on that issue.

Weiner: Sounds good.

Kirkpatrick: You’re doing interesting things, though, Jeff. Thank you so much.

Weiner: Thank you.

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