Masters of Scale

Surprising Truths from the World's Most Successful Entrepreneurs

About the Book

What can you learn from a Silicon Valley legend and a pantheon of iconic leaders? The key to scaling a successful business isn’t talent, network, or strategy. It’s an entrepreneurial mindset—and that mindset can be cultivated.

“If you’re scaling a company—or if you just love a well-told story—this is a book to savor.”—Robert Iger, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Ride of a Lifetime

Behind the scenes in Silicon Valley, Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn, investor at Greylock) is a sought-after adviser to heads of companies and heads of state. On each episode of his podcast, Masters of Scale, he sits down with a guest from an all-star list of visionary founders and leaders, digging into the surprising strategies that power their company’s growth. In this book, he draws on their most riveting, revealing stories—as well as his own experience as a founder and investor—to distill the secrets behind the most extraordinary success stories of our times.

Here, Hoffman teams up with Masters of Scale’s executive producers to offer a rare window into the entrepreneurial mind, sharing hard-won wisdom from leaders of iconic companies (including Apple, Nike, Netflix, Spotify, Starbucks, Google, Instagram, and Microsoft) as well as the bold, disruptive startups (such as 23andMe, TaskRabbit, Black List, and Walker & Co.) that are solving the problems of the twenty-first century.

Through vivid storytelling and incisive analysis, Masters of Scale distills their collective insights into a set of counterintuitive principles that anyone can use. How do you find a winning idea and turn it into a scalable venture? What can you learn from a “squirmy no”? When should you stop listening to your customers? Which fires should you put out right away, and which should you let burn? And can you really make money while making the world a better place? (Answer: Yes. But you have to keep your profits and values aligned.)

Based on more than a hundred interviews and including a wealth of new material never aired on the podcast, this unique insider’s guide will inspire you to reimagine how you do business today.
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Praise for Masters of Scale

“[Hoffman] seizes on traits that might otherwise be missed . . . [and] earnestly contends that, through careful attention to leadership and culture, the propulsive drive to grow can be disentangled from the toxic behavior so often associated with explosive expansion. It feels like the triumph of hope over experience.”The Wall Street Journal

“Whether you’re at a startup or working to drive change within a large organization, the business principles in this book will help you deploy your strategy with creativity, integrity, and realism.”—Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft Corporation

“Think of this book as a mentorship in ten chapters, with stories and advice from people you might already admire, as well as people whose journeys are just starting. You'll come away with at least a couple of new mantras and a new understanding of the how and why of building your business.”—Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List  
“Reid Hoffman has a talent for getting right to the heart of a business case and turning it into an unforgettable lesson. If you’re scaling a company—or if you just love a well-told story—this is a book to savor.”—Bob Iger, executive chairman, The Walt Disney Company

“[Reid Hoffman] shows how any company of any stripe can bake generosity and social good into its DNA, and how making a positive contribution to the world can be the driving force that helps your company scale.”—Daniel Lubetzky, executive chairman and founder of KIND and New York Times bestselling author of Do the KIND Thing
“A book to take with you into battle as you build a company or a career. It’s full of enjoyable stories, but the killer feature is the sharp insights that Hoffman draws out—specific, memorable, and actionable mindsets.”—Reed Hastings, co-founder and co-CEO, Netflix

“To lead with vision and heart, start by listening and learning from others. Using stories to teach lessons, this book is full of solid (and sometimes surprising!) advice that will help accelerate your journey.”—Angela Ahrendts, former CEO, Burberry, and former head, Apple Retail

“What if, instead of learning from one entrepreneur at a time, you could distill the lessons of many of the greatest founders of our time? This book combines memorable stories with actionable insights from world-class leaders to help you turn your biggest, boldest ideas into reality.”—Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the TED podcast WorkLife

“The advice in this book is both principled and creative, rooted in true stories from a broad group of leaders at many stages of success and across many fields. . . . A generous roadmap and framework for thinking more wisely about your own growing business.”—Shellye Archambeau, author of Unapologetically Ambitious

“There is no such thing as an overnight success, but you can avoid making some of the same mistakes as those who have walked before you. I highly recommend this book as an insightful and inspiring guide to anyone embarking on an entrepreneurial journey.”—Tory Burch, founder of Tory Burch LLC and Tory Burch Foundation
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Masters of Scale


Getting to No

When she first pitched her idea for a new kind of career development website to investors, Kathryn Minshew was turned down 148 times . . . not that she was counting.

“There were literally days where I had a ‘No’ over breakfast, a ‘No’ over a 10:30 a.m. coffee, a ‘No’ over lunch,” Kathryn says. And the “Nos” kept coming: “Disinterest at 2 p.m. Someone who left the meeting early at 4. And then I would go to drinks and feel like I was being laughed out of the room.

“And when we finally raised our seed round, I went back and counted. It was both painful and gratifying at the same time—looking at all those names, and thinking, I remember that no. I remember that no. I remember that no. And they sting; every one stings.”

Kathryn is cofounder and CEO of The Muse, and her idea sprang—as so many great entrepreneurial ideas do—from her own experience. Kathryn had spent her youth dreaming of a career in international relations. Secret Agent Minshew! But after a stint with the U.S. embassy in Cyprus she realized her foreign service fantasy didn’t match the reality of the work. So she took a job as a consultant with McKinsey & Company and spent three years in their New York office. When it was time to move on again with her career, she found the experience disappointing—and dehumanizing.

“It wasn’t uncommon to type in a keyword on a job-listing site like and get 5,724 results—and they all looked functionally identical to each other. I just felt, for someone starting out in their career, that there has to be a better experience,” Kathryn says.

So she started brainstorming with Alex Cavoulacos, a former colleague from McKinsey—and her future cofounder. They asked themselves: “What if you built a career site that put the individual at the center of that experience? And what if you allowed them to see inside offices before they applied to a company? What if you connected them with experts who could help them understand—How do you negotiate a salary? How do you manage someone for the first time?—all of those career questions that if you’re lucky a mentor or a boss teaches you.”

The more they shared their own experiences and envisioned what they might create, the clearer the opportunity became. “After a couple of long nights at the whiteboard batting this idea around, we became convinced that there was an opportunity to create a trusted, beloved, personalized career destination really focusing on the advice that early-stage professionals need,” Kathryn says.

Kathryn and Alex had a clear vision for the role The Muse could play in users’ lives. But not everyone could see what they were seeing.

“When I started pitching to investors, I ran into a couple of big problems,” Kathryn says. “The first is that most investors don’t match the user archetype that our product was built for. When you think about the classic venture capitalist, they often have been traditionally successful in their career, went to a top school, worked in banking or private equity. They usually get jobs through a very comfortable, well-developed network. And that’s great. But that’s not necessarily the case for everyone. So we were pitching this site and this concept to a demographic that looked at me with confusion.”

The second problem she encountered: complacency with the status quo. “We ran into a lot of people who were unable to see past the current paradigm and the way things had always been done,” Kathryn says. “One venture capitalist—who probably hasn’t looked for a job in twenty years—pulled up in the office after I finished my initial pitch. He said, ‘I don’t understand, this looks great to me.’ And I was thinking, ‘You haven’t used that product in two decades. How do you know whether it serves the needs of a thirty-one-year-old woman in the early to mid-stages of her career?’ ”

The “Nos” just kept on coming. Among the ones Kathryn recalls:

“It’s a bit too early for us, but keep in touch.” (“No.”)

“This is a fool’s errand.” (“No.”)

“It’s too expensive.” (“No.”)

“That’s not very tech—it’s not a scalable platform.” (“No.”)

“Aren’t you worried that you’re going to lose all your users once they turn thirty and have babies?” (“No.”)

“I get that women in New York and San Francisco love this product, but I think you’re going to really have a hard time finding women who care about their careers once you go outside of the coasts.” (“No.”)

When you’re still early and unproven in your career—and you’re getting “Nos” from some of the smartest and most successful investors in Silicon Valley and New York City—it can be difficult not to ask yourself, “What if the naysayers are right?” But at the end of the day, you have to listen to your gut instinct. And Kathryn trusted hers. She remembers looking at these guys doling out the “Nos” and thinking, Do you know a lot of women?

Kathryn was right to ask this question. She certainly knew a whole lot more about millennial women than the mostly white, mostly male, mostly middle-aged investors she was talking to. And she also knew more about her business. She held on to what she knew through the arduous pitch process—and it paid off. The reaction to the site when it first launched confirmed all her instincts: “We were getting this incredibly positive feedback from our users, who tended to be twenty-two- to thirty-five-year-old women and men who were saying ‘I love this. This solves my problem, this is exactly what I need.’ ”

As The Muse gained traction among job seekers and employers, Kathryn started getting a lot of calls. “All of a sudden, the same people that had laughed me out of the room two years before were saying ‘Well, of course career-related content can be a great way to engage professionals.’ ”

Today, The Muse serves nearly one hundred million users. Kathryn has raised more than $28 million and has a staff of two hundred. It’s tempting to assume she achieved this despite the “Nos.” But in truth, each of those 148 “Nos” was a clue that ultimately made her business even stronger. Some sharpened her view on who her user was—and who her user wasn’t. Some helped her grasp how her competition might think. And some gave her an early warning about the ways her company might fail. At the end of the fundraising process alone, Kathryn had a roadmap marked with every potential pitfall she’d need to navigate around—and the unexplored territory she could explore ahead of any competitors.

Kathryn’s tale in many ways echoes the origin story of most great startups, and indeed, most great ideas. We’re taught to get to “Yes” as quickly as we can—but there’s so much more to gain by seeking out and celebrating the “Nos.”

This chapter is all about “No”—and why that dreaded word doesn’t always mean what you fear it does.

In fact, the most overlooked opportunity among early-stage entrepreneurs is the information to be gathered from different kinds of “Nos.” A “No” can turn a good idea into a game-changing one. A “No” can clue you in to the size of your idea. A “No” can help you refine your strategy and your goals. In short, the gold is buried in the “Nos.”

About the Author

Reid Hoffman
Reid Hoffman is the co-founder of LinkedIn, a partner at Greylock, and director at Microsoft, and is widely viewed as one of the most successful investors of all time. He is the host of the award-winning podcast Masters of Scale and the New York Times bestselling author of The Alliance, Blitzscaling, and Masters of Scale. More by Reid Hoffman
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About the Author

June Cohen
Reid Hoffman is the co-founder of LinkedIn, a partner at Greylock, and director at Microsoft, and is widely viewed as one of the most successful investors of all time. He is the host of the award-winning podcast Masters of Scale and the New York Times bestselling author of The Alliance, Blitzscaling, and Masters of Scale. More by June Cohen
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About the Author

Deron Triff
Reid Hoffman is the co-founder of LinkedIn, a partner at Greylock, and director at Microsoft, and is widely viewed as one of the most successful investors of all time. He is the host of the award-winning podcast Masters of Scale and the New York Times bestselling author of The Alliance, Blitzscaling, and Masters of Scale. More by Deron Triff
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