Reid Hoffman was already one of the most linked-in people in Silicon Valley when he founded LinkedIn Corp.
The serial entrepreneur and Oxford philosophy grad conceived one of the world's biggest social networks in his living room in 2002. Back then, the first few hundred users were personal friends of the 43-year-old - well-connected acquaintances from Mr. Hoffman's previous stints working for technology firms such as PayPal Inc.
Today, Mr. Hoffman stands at the centre of a market bonanza. His living room project now boasts more than 100 million members, and the company's initial public offering has attracted intense attention from investors who want in on the social media boom but can't wait for heavyweights such as Facebook Inc. to go public.
Immediately after LinkedIn shares hit the market on Thursday, priced at $45 (U.S.), the stock's price doubled, making Mr. Hoffman, who is the company's largest shareholder, an instant billionaire. But the thought of Mr. Hoffman suddenly carrying the trappings of a billionaire, makes one close friend chuckle.
"Oh my God," says long-time acquaintance David Siminoff, a venture capitalist in Palo Alto, Calif. "He's got a tiny house and simple car and eats at Armadillo Willy's. He's not leading a fancy life."
Indeed, a couple of years ago, Mr. Hoffman and his wife Michelle Yee, who co-owns the stake in LinkedIn, were living in an 876-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment in Mountain View, Calif. He's politically left wing, considers his life a story that's constantly being updated and once asked potential executives to write their own obituary to get a sense of how they viewed their lives.
He also loves a German board gamed called Settlers of Catan. "I'm really good at teaching people the game Settlers of Catan," Mr. Hoffman told Venture Capital Journal last fall. "The reason is that I think it's a game that most approximates entrepreneurship."
Mr. Hoffman grew up in Palo Alto, Calif., and was headed for a career in academia. He studied symbolic systems at Stanford University and then won a scholarship to Oxford to study philosophy. But he soon discovered he wanted to do something on a broader scale, figuring that academics wrote books that only 50 people would read.
He returned to Silicon Valley in the early 1990s and joined Apple Inc., where he learned the basics of the computer business. He struck out on his own in 1999, just as the tech bubble was close to bursting.
After a couple of failed ventures Mr. Hoffman joined PayPal Inc. and helped arrange its sale to eBay Inc. in 2002. Mr. Hoffman took his $10-million share from that deal and began investing in dozens of startups, including Friendster, Facebook and Digg. He also helped launch LinkedIn in 2003, as a way of using the burgeoning social media space to connect business professionals. He convinced about 350 of his friends to sign up for LinkedIn when he started the service, which now has close to 100 million users.
"Unlike the average founder venture capitalist, he's not arrogant," said Mr. Siminoff. "He's not out for only himself. And he's really one of the guys."
Mr. Siminoff added that Mr. Hoffman has become something of a legend among Silicon Valley types.
"I think Reid would tell you that, while he's very smart and he works very hard, there are tons of really smart, hard-working people in Silicon Valley. And he was in the right time at the right place with the right vision to go forward and really take advantage of things. But I don't think he would say he's 10,000 times smarter than the average engineer in Silicon Valley, even though he's probably 10,000 times richer."
Mr. Hoffman hasn't run day-to-day operations at LinkedIn for a while and he's currently listed as executive chairman of the board. But he was in New York Thursday to celebrate the company's first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
When asked what Mr. Hoffman would say about the soaring price of LinkedIn's shares, Mr. Siminoff said: "Oh I don't know. If I were him I'd say 'Eureka.'"