YONG HUI YOW: You were LinkedIn’s first employee in Asia. How did that happen?
HARI KRISHNAN: Via LinkedIn! I was at another company, and LinkedIn had plans to enter Asia. At that time, I was based in India, and it was a market they were very interested in. The executive who was running our office in London reached out. We stayed in touch, and it ended up with me being the first employee physically based in Asia. I started out as the country manager for India.
YONG HUI: How did you go about bringing in the first people?
HARI: It’s about priorities. There’re so many things you need to think through. For me, I asked myself: how do I create the right incentives to attract the right people. It’s not just about financial incentives. Of course, compensation matters a lot, but – how do I create an environment that the best people want to be in. It could be the opportunity to create a great technology company, which is what we were talking about in 2009, 2010. It could be the opportunity to connect Indian professionals, and the value that can be created for the Indian business community as a result.
YONG HUI: Over time, do Asian users use LinkedIn differently from western ones?
HARI: The short answer is no, and that’s because of our professional context. Unlike a lot of other platforms, LinkedIn is one of those which are exclusively focused on professionals or people in the workplace. When you come on LinkedIn, you invest time, to make yourself a better professional, a better member of the global workforce. On other platforms, you spend time. What is interesting however is that over the past 6 years, Asian economies have done reasonably well, while western economies, unfortunately, have been going through periods of recession. This has led to mindsets being slightly different. There’s a lot of optimism in the way people use LinkedIn in some of our markets in Asia. In the west, it’s become more conservative, which mean people are more focused on driving value toward their current job, and there’s less job-seeking behaviour.
YONG HUI: Do you see LinkedIn making the hiring market more ‘efficient’?
HARI: In general, if you think about the internet, it dis-intermediates a lot of inefficient offline processes, whether in commerce, travel or entertainment. When it comes to LinkedIn, it has played a role in that when it comes to recruitment. We are also creating a lot of efficiencies in B2B marketing and social selling. Social selling, for a lot of people is synonymous with LinkedIn.
YONG HUI: What is Social Selling?
HARI: Yes. I’m not a big fan of jargon myself. [laughs] It’s basically a way to do away with cold calling. If you think of the sales process, even in the internet age, it often starts with the cold call. The person receiving it hates it, and what most people don’t realise is that the person making it does not like it much either. It’s not fun to call someone you don’t know and ask if they are interested in some product or service. I mean, why do you even need to do this in today’s day and age? With LinkedIn, you have the ability to use your network to make and receive introductions. It totally removes one of the most awkward stages in the sales process.
YONG HUI: What does it mean to be a professional in the future?
HARI: Now, employers hire for skills. They don’t hire for experience anymore. In the past, if you were an engineer by training with professional experience, and you became a product manager, you would be in that field for the rest of your life. Your experience determines your ability to do something else. People are now looking at the bank of skills you’ve developed. What’s happening today is that a lot of savvy managers realise there’re a lot of the skills that can be ported across functions. A product person can easily become a business manager, given the right opportunities. What you need to assess is: do they have the right skills? Have they used their time to develop the right skills? Can they pick up new skills? Can they do forecasting? Or manage a P&L? Can they understand business strategy?
YONG HUI: How do you balance the interests of your users and business clients?
HARI: We call ourselves a members-first organisation – they are our most important customers. When we think about our sales processes, we are very clear even to your paying clients that it is in their interest to put the interest of our free consumers first. And because most of our paying customers are also members themselves, they understand this. In fact, they respect that we will always protect their interests first.
YONG HUI: How many members do you have in Asia?
HARI: We have over 68 million members in Asia, from 50 million last year, out of the 364 million in total. In China, we have over 8 million members. In Australia, we have over 7 million, which means well over 90 per cent of professionals in Australia. Singapore, we have over a million. In the Philippines, it’s 3 million. Indonesia, we have 4 million. India is our largest Asian user base, with 30 million. I believe a lot of our future growth is going to come from Asia.
YONG HUI: As a keynote speaker at CommunicAsia 2015, what are the points you’ll be addressing?
HARI: I will be talking about connecting people to opportunity. There are three kinds of opportunities we can connect people to. It could be jobs, it could be through content that makes them better at their jobs they’re in today. Finally, if you’re already in a very good job, and you’re very happy, how can you give back to the community? You can do so either through giving others your knowledge or via other means. Depending on who you are, LinkedIn’s value proposition changes for you. Broadly, it’s captured by connecting people to opportunity. We are going to tease out that topic at CommunicAsia 2015.
YONG HUI: What’s your mobile strategy?
HARI: So we have our flagship app. A lot of people use that. It’s a full service LinkedIn, but we appreciate that people may use LinkedIn tactically. Some may come to consume content, or look for a job. We have an app for SlideShare, an app for Pulse, another for job application. So instead of forcing the desktop version onto the mobile form factor, we’ve designed our mobile experiences from the ground up with that in mind.
YONG HUI: Will you eventually unbundle your messaging feature into a standalone mobile app?
HARI: As things stand, we don’t have an instant messaging feature on LinkedIn, but yes, people can message each other. We don’t unbundle that currently, either on the flagship app, or on mobile. On LinkedIn, we believe people have a goal-oriented approach to using applications. What are you trying to solve? What is the goal? Maybe you want to sell your product, recruit somebody, look for a job and so forth. Based on your goals, our messaging feature acts as an overlay on LinkedIn, depending on what you’re trying to do. On other platforms, you don’t know what you’re there for. You’re just there to spend time. For those, a generic instant messaging app will suffice.
YONG HUI: What’s your content strategy?
HARI: LinkedIn has always been a great source of content. We realised there was an opportunity because there was no good professional publishing platform in the world. Fast forward to today, we are the world’s largest professional publishing platform. There is more content shared on LinkedIn than any other professional news platform. We have millions of companies that have a profile on LinkedIn. They share content about their products and services, jobs, strategy and so on. We also have content from publishers via the LinkedIn share button. They use us as a way to distribute their content. Professional content drives tremendous value to them. Third is focused on end-user content generation. This is our influencer programme. At first, we had 500 of them by invitation-only leaders. We have people such as Tony Fernandez, Jamie Dimon, President Obama, and most recently, Prime Minister Modi, who has spoken about his thoughts around the liberalisation of the Indian economy. We have mainstream news publications quoting his article on LinkedIn. He was trying to communicate with professionals and the business community of India, as well as the world by using LinkedIn. When he goes on LinkedIn, that’s the exclusive audience he gets, versus going on a mainstream broadsheet media. Now, we have opened it up to more and more people. We’ve recognised that we don’t just learn from luminaries such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett; we also learn from each other, from our peers, and the people we respect. So people are beginning to express the things they’re passionate about on LinkedIn. I’m passionate about leadership and culture-building, and I’ve written about five or six posts on LinkedIn over the past 6 months.
YONG HUI: What about for B2B?
HARI: We are the best B2B content marketing platform in the world. If you think about B2B brands, whether it is in financial services, technology, pharmaceuticals, or government-related, they are using LinkedIn to disseminate content. Content marketing works only if there’s a large content base, and we have that. Our 364 million members are used to consuming that content on LinkedIn.
YONG HUI: Will PDF and Word Document resumes be extinct?
HARI: The short-term answer is no. In many markets, it has already evolved. In those markets, your resume is LinkedIn. Traditionally, a resume is a static document. You have to go in there and punch in whatever you did. Let’s say, you’ve gone and spoken at CommnicAsia2015, and you think that was received well, I would have to go into my resume and type stuff in. With LinkedIn, as I speak, there will be people who will be sharing comments. All of these will be piped back onto the LinkedIn platform, and it’ll be added to my profile. It’s a living document. Skills – often very dull part of a resume can be endorsed on LinkedIn. The static document has no more utility. Most people use it simply because there’re no alternatives. I used to update my resume all the time, not because I was looking a job, but because if I don’t, I’m going to forget everything I did.
YONG HUI: What is the future of LinkedIn?
HARI: Our vision is to create opportunity for everybody in the workforce. There are 3.3 billion workers on the planet. Not just for knowledge workers and white-collar professionals, but also for blue-collared workers, and everyone else. Can we create economic opportunity for 3.3 billion people? By extension, we also want to help people who are just starting out in their careers, from university students and people in school. We have found a way to realise this vision, and we call this the Economic Graph, which is simply a digital representation of the global economy. The global economy can be represented on the internet. First, we need to have all the people in the global workforce on LinkedIn, all the companies they work for, and all the jobs available, the skills required to get those jobs. We also need the educational institutions on LinkedIn, places where you can get those skills and knowledge. If we can populate this completely, it will allow for the most efficient flow of capital, regardless of human, intellectual or financial.
YONG HUI: How will the Economic Graph help organisations?
HARI: For example, one of the biggest criticisms of the educational sector is that they often are training people for the jobs of yesterday, not for the jobs of tomorrow. They need data about what jobs companies want in the future. A platform like LinkedIn can tell you which skills are coveted by which companies. Based on the skills and jobs data, we are able to go to universities and help them tweak their curriculum. We can also work with companies who’re thinking about investment decisions in various countries. Very often, their driving factor is to understand the talent pool. How many people have a particular skill-set in a particular place? We have that kind of data. Some time ago, we were looking to open an engineering centre outside of the US. We looked at the talent pool to see where in the world certain skills are readily available, and we decided to go to Bangalore. As individuals, you will look at this data and make real decisions about career and jobs. You may want to move somewhere else because you see opportunities coming up somewhere else.
YONG HUI: Where do you get your salary data, since you don’t poll users for it?
HARI: Yes, we don’t collect salary data from users. We don’t show salary data too. It’s not something we offer right now. The key challenge is: how do we make sure the data is accurate. We can always crowdsource, or overlay Department of Labour and Manpower data, but in the end, it comes down to what is the end goal? Are we trying to drive more transparency in the job search process? Can we help people be more successful and more productive? If yes, we’ll consider it.
YONG HUI: How can the Economic Graph help people adapt to the future?
HARI: We’re trying to help people adapt in a seamless fashion, so the change won’t be abrupt. It’s not like you’ll wake up one day and all your skills are suddenly useless. With the Economic Graph, we can tell you, you need this skill or that skill. We can help people find out what they need to do beforehand. People need to go to where the industry is going to be, rather than where it came from. Where it came from is history. Increasingly, the past is not a good indicator of the future, because technology is going to cause people to change directions. If you think about the latest technologies on the internet today… ten years ago, who would have thought we’d sleep in a stranger’s house? Pick someone up in our cars? But look at the disruption that’s happening.
YONG HUI: What do you tell your kids about the future of work?
HARI: I have two young children. My job is to make sure they know how to develop skills, and a variety of different skills. Flexibility of skill-set is very important. There was a time, my parents’ time, where core competency was very important. It still matters to be really good at something, but what’s more important in the future is flexibility. As industries get disrupted, if you’re very fixed on doing business in a particular way, the reality is that in the future, technology will disrupt your job and business. It might not be that your job will be made redundant, but it may just change. The people who are smart, adaptive, and have flexibility of skill-sets will thrive. The people who are more rigid will struggle. Unless you have skill-sets to adapt, you’re in trouble. The worst thing you can do as a parent today is to push your children down a single path. In Asia, we are guilty of that for many years. There are many jokes such as: you can be whatever you want as long as it’s a doctor, lawyer or engineer.
YONG HUI: Do you think the younger generation are becoming ‘okay’ with mixing their professional and personal lives?
HARI: That’s a fair question. There is an element of… yes things are combined, but millennials tend to look for specialised platforms to maximise value. As such, they will use multiple platforms. They will use LinkedIn, but they will also use a Q&A platform, different social networks, or something else. We did a research on millennials, and we found that people born in the 80s and 90s are far more likely to do their own research for information, as opposed to listening to one advisor. Historically, it’s much more opaque. In the past, you go to some advisor, and that advisor is some sort of expert. They supposedly do magic and give you something back. Today, millennials are saying: that’s not good enough. We are smart enough to figure it out for ourselves.
YONG HUI: Is career planning magic?
HARI: I think one can make good decisions. This varies from person to person. I personally don’t believe in asking people where they’d like to be at the end of their careers. I believe in looking at your life in chunks of 5 or 10 years. In fact, when I give coaching lessons, I ask: what do you want to achieve in the next 2 to 3 years? That is far more tangible, and more aligned to goals. Career planning when done in a tangible, measurable fashion is absolutely possible. If you’re just starting your career, there is a lot of value in planning. For myself, like a good Indian, I’ve studied and over-studied. At this stage, I’m looking at how I can develop myself over the next 3 to 5 years, not more than that.
YONG HUI: How would you characterise your career so far?
HARI: It’s been very exciting for me. Obviously, it’s my opinion. I’ve enjoyed the diversity of the roles I’ve had. I started my career in customer service, but I’ve been a product manager, a sales manager, I’ve done partnerships, marketing, PR and television advertising. Now I’ve been a general manager for the past 7 years or so. Like anyone, I’ve had speed bumps along the way, when things didn’t go exactly the way I wanted. What I’ve enjoyed is that I’m continuing to take intelligent risks with my career, towards where I’ve ambitions. One of my strengths is that I’m fairly self-aware. I know what I’m good at, and what I need to work on. Based on that, I try to push my limits and develop myself. Overall, I’m very happy with my career. I’m looking for the opportunity to learn. Learning is very important. I think I’ve had the privilege of learning from a lot of bright people.
YONG HUI: What are intelligent risks in the context of a career?
HARI: That’s one of the values of LinkedIn. When you’re going to make a career decision, you have to know what the upside potential is, as compared to the downside risks. There is a chance it might fail, but is the upside potential in a good scenario, far more attractive than the downside? Is it three times more than the downside risks? That’s a good place to start.
Second, what is the probability of success? You have to be very self-aware, and talk to mentors, people you trust, colleagues, and your loved ones. Get their feedback, so you get a more rounded picture of yourself. Some of it may not be flattering, but that’s important too.
The final part is: in the portfolio of things you’re working on, how does this particular risk fit in? If it takes up a disproportionate part of your life to make happen, it becomes risky. It may be intelligent, but it’s a very big risk. If however, it takes up a small part, then it’s not that risky, so you may be expecting too much from something where you’re not betting enough. There is a nice medium where there is some element of risk. It sounds obvious but when you’re actually thinking about it, particularly in an Asian upbringing, we are more conservative. We are taught to play it safe. There’s nothing wrong with that, and that’s why a lot of Asian countries are not bankrupt. But when you think of your career, you have to take some risks. If not, you’ll end up where you started because people will look at your experience and not your skills.
YONG HUI: How’s it like working with Reid Hoffman?
HARI: I’ve been fortunate enough to meet him a few times. He is a very intelligent man when it comes to observing people, what makes them tick; he is a student of human behaviour, and his influence on many of us, myself included, is to always consider: how does any particular action drive value for people. We work in the technology sector, but people are the ones using technology, so we think a lot about the end user, the paying client… how are they going to get value out of it. Reid is a very astute at that. He is also phenomenal at understanding trends. He is a trendspotter. He is able to look at a few dots, and connect them. He can extrapolate where the world is going to go next. If you look at his investment portfolio, and the kinds of companies he’s been involved in, or founded – it’s just phenomenal. It’s been a great privilege to have worked relatively closely with him over the past seven years.
YONG HUI: What’s your management style like?
HARI: I like to listen more and talk less. I tend to listen to what their aspirations, dreams, and fears are. It’s very much about coaching and guiding them, creating an environment where they can take those intelligent risks, and yet not fear the consequences of failure. People shouldn’t be scared that they’d be reprimanded or worse, because they fail. Creating that environment is part of my job and philosophy. The final thing to do is: Step out of the way, and let people be great. If they’re going to be great, you cannot be standing in front of them, pulling them along. You have to get out of the way and let them soar. I’ve been blessed to work with managers and leaders like that.
YONG HUI: Who are these people?
HARI: Jeff Weiner, our CEO. He is a phenomenally astute leader of people when it comes to not just creating a vision, but also in giving us the stepping blocks to get there. He will walk us through how things work, but also give us space to influence his thinking. Another great person is John Chambers. I started my career at Cisco. John is phenomenal at inspiring via energy. He would truly lift the room. Whenever he spoke to us to build up morale, it was a great moment. As a young person, it was very inspirational to watch a leader like that. The other person I’ve not personally dealt with but have read a lot about is Tony Hsieh. Tony has created an environment where their core value is not selling shoes, but to create a wonderful place for people to work. It’s an interesting philosophy. He believes that business success is a direct result of keeping the right people motivated and happy.
YONG HUI: He introduced ‘Halocracy’. Is that something you like?
HARI: That’s right. A lot of leaders tend to be extreme because they’re trying to make a statement. That may not resonate with everyone, and I’m not necessarily saying I subscribe to all the thinking of these people, but I respect each of them immensely for particular elements. Tony is focused on culture. John is focused on morale-lifting, and Jeff – his ability to have a vision and execute against it. If I could capture these elements from them, I’d be a much better leader as I develop myself.
YONG HUI: What’s next for you?
HARI: I look for three things in my career: the ability to impact people, the opportunity to continue to learn, and a culture that’s fun. Right now, I’m very happy with LinkedIn.