The billionaire founder of LinkedIn was one of Facebook’s early investors — and he watched CEO Mark Zuckerberg overcome ‘the most spectacular adaptation curve’

Mark Zuckerberg Reid Hoffman
Mark Zuckerberg joined Reid Hoffman on his podcast, ‘Masters of Scale.’ Jacqui Ipp
  • LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman was one of the first investors in Facebook.
  • At the time, Zuckerberg was painfully awkward.
  • Hoffman said that Zuckerberg’s desire to adapt and stick to his vision account for his evolution into a highly capable and sharp CEO.

Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the confident leader of a massively influential global company with a roughly $US517 billion market capitalisation, but 13 years ago he was a painfully awkward 20-year-old college dropout with a startup.

Billionaire LinkedIn cofounder and investor Reid Hoffman has seen the transformation up close for the whole journey.

In a bonus clip from a recent episode of Business Insider’s “Success! How I Did It” podcast, Hoffman said, “One of the great delights in working with Mark through kind of the early days to now is that Mark has demonstrated literally the most spectacular learning and adaptation curve that I’ve ever seen in a young entrepreneur, to now, an experienced and highly capable CEO.”

Hoffman met Zuckerberg in 2004, when Zuckerberg was looking for investments in “The Facebook” and had yet to have any takers. Hoffman was intrigued, but because he was in charge of his own burgeoning social network, he didn’t want to be the lead investor. He phoned his friend and fellow investor Peter Thiel and arranged a meeting with Zuckerberg.

On the episode of the podcast “Masters of Scale” where Hoffman interviews Thiel, the two joked about how difficult it was communicating with Zuckerberg.

“He’s very articulate now,” Hoffman said. “But back then there was a lot of staring at the desk not saying anything.” He and Thiel also found it amusing, even at the time, that Zuckerberg was pushing his (much less exciting) file transfer service Wirehog, just in case they didn’t like Facebook.

Last year Business Insider spoke with Antonio García Martínez, the former Facebook employee who built much of the company’s advertising foundation. He said most outsiders don’t understand that Zuckerberg grew into some of his leadership capabilities rather than become a completely different person.

Martínez told us that Zuckerberg is both “actually very alpha male and very dominant,” and that even a cynic like himself has to concede that Zuckerberg is a true believer in his mission of connecting the world. These seeds were there in the 20-year-old Zuck — his company’s growing influence essentially forced him to outgrow some of his awkward tendencies.

In our podcast interview, Hoffman agreed, saying that Zuckerberg learned how to be graceful, but that his visionary intelligence was always there. He credits Zuckerberg’s evolution to Zuckerberg’s ability to adapt remarkably well coupled with this “true north” of a guiding desire.

“I am learning from a bunch of things that he does,” Hoffman said.