LinkedIn’s milestone of 200 million members seems inevitable now. The professional-networking site is woven into our daily work lives, an indispensable source of connections, news, and insights.But those millions were hard-won. It was an overnight success a decade in the making, and LinkedIn faced doubters and challenges—some self-inflicted—every step of the way.
It took LinkedIn almost a year and a half to get 500,000 members. In April 2004, the startup’s tiny crew assembled in a room in Palo Alto, Calif., to celebrate the occasion with a photo.
Since then, LinkedIn employees have gathered to commemorate every milestone. At first, it was every million. Then the numbers started flying by—every 5 million new members, every 10 million.
By now, the ceremony has become a global affair, with photographs taken from Singapore to Stockholm, as well as the giant gathering at LinkedIn’s fast-expanding headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
LinkedIn shared an exclusive collection of historical photos from its archives with Business Insider. We also spoke to several longtime LinkedIn employees with long tenures at the company, including cofounder Allen Blue, about how traditions like these group photos shaped the company’s culture.
This is the first known milestone photo taken. Notable in the picture: Early LinkedIn employee Matt Cohler, third from left, who went on to become a top executive at Facebook and then a partner at Benchmark Capital.
LinkedIn started making money by charging for job listings. By the end of the year, membership would double to 4 million.
LinkedIn now adds 13 million members in a single quarter. But these early photos were a crucial part of LinkedIn's early culture.
'The two questions they ask are 'What photo were you in' and 'What's your LinkedIn member number,'' engineering director Brandon Duncan recalled. (Joining LinkedIn as a member early was just as cool, if not cooler, than being an early hire.) He was in the 7-million-member photo.
'Once we waited for Reid to join the photo, which started the tradition of Paper Reid,' recalls engineering director Brandon Duncan, whose first photo was at 7 million members.
Former LinkedIn executive Adam Nash recalls that Hoffman's absence from the increasingly frequent milestone photos was sparking rumours, so he took matters into his own hands. Nash, then LinkedIn's director of product, now COO at investment-advisor software maker Wealthfront, constructed a lifesized, paper simulacrum of Hoffman over labour Day weekend in 2007.
As LinkedIn's headcount grew, finding yourself in the photo became like one of those 'Where's Waldo' puzzles. (See if you can spot Paper Reid creator Nash at centre right. Hint: He's offering two tickets to the gun show.)
An important addition at this point in time: Jeff Weiner, who joined as president the previous December. Under him, LinkedIn's membership really started to take off. He became CEO the month after this photo was taken.
Where's the Reid cutout in this photo? Likely misplaced in an office move.
'There was a stressful moment where we couldn't find Paper Reid,' communications director Krista Canfield recalls.
Employees began to bring mascots like a giant panda and neon signs to make themselves easier to find in the photo.
LinkedIn went public in May 2011. Now member-milestone news is typically tied to quarterly earnings announcements.
LinkedIn now has 3,500 employees, up from 2,200 a year ago, and expects to keep adding staff at a similar pace. Will they all fit in the campus courtyard next year?
And as international expansion becomes crucial for LinkedIn, the celebration went global. Here's Brazil ...
LinkedIn is facing an uphill battle in Japan, where it was late to launch and faces domestic competitors as well as Facebook, which many Japanese use for professional networking.
The cutout keeps moving around campus, and is taking on legendary status.
'I heard a lead on where Paper Reid is yesterday,' Blue told us.
Blue thinks that the member number may be overplayed--there are so many more interesting numbers to focus on, like the number of connections members have, the number of updates they post, or the time they spend on the site.
But that's no reason to stop taking photos, he said.
'I hope we continue to do it,' Blue said. 'It's great to have traditions.'