The History of LinkedIn: A Slow Burn

The history of LinkedIn started as more of a slow burn and, unlike most startups, it’s growth would turn into an inferno in coming years. Their first quarter started out fairly low, at a quoted level of “maybe twenty sign-ups per day“. For a start-up business, those are some especially frightening numbers, all things considered.

As a brief history, LinkedIn first launched in 2002 as a collaboration between Reid Hoffman and several buddies from other sites such as SocialNet and Paypal. Later in 2003, growth had kicked up enough to receive funding from Sequoia Capital. By all means, this may not seem like a slow burn. LinkedIn was a site created under the “growth-hacking” sort of method. This method pertains to start-ups especially. It means using the resources at one’s disposal to promote a site or product with expected quick growth. The challenge is in first getting that initial traction and then in keeping it going.

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn. Photo by Joi Ito on January 2009.

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn. Photo by Joi Ito on January 2009.

Fortunately, LinkedIn had an understanding of how to keep said traction moving right along. With new features being experimented with come 2004, such as address book uploads and offerings from businesses such as American Express to better reach small business owners, it had captured more than just the attention of investors; it had begun to culminate an audience. With the eventual add-ons of job postings, subscriptions and public profiles, it had solidified its place. In fact, after it’s IPO in 2011, LinkedIn was shown to have a seven billion dollar market cap.

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So, why consider it a slow burn? It clearly found success quickly, right? It might surprise readers to know that LinkedIn has actually been in the works since the 1990s. Reading up on Reid Hoffman, the founder and president of LinkedIn, shows that he had the idea cooking for a long time. The business side of the internet seemed dead for awhile. Reid had worked on both SocialNet and been on the board for Paypal. SocialNet was the initial stepping stone for his idea of linked profiles, in the form of dating, as it were. The real idea was to provide a public profile for people that was connected to Google. A Sex and the City episode, Hoffman jokes, put the idea of “Googling” people into his head. Anyone who tells you that they haven’t Googled either themselves or others is a dirty liar.

Perhaps that is where the real genius of the history of LinkedIn lies. It touches upon a need that many thought was dead in the 1990s. Hoffman has called 2003 as his “valley of the shadow” moment when it comes to the growth of LinkedIn. The idea had been brewing for years, and it all rested on the big reveal. 2003 was estimated to have five thousand, five hundred and fifty-six followers total. Now, LinkedIn has an estimated user count of over four hundred and sixteen million in the last quarter of 2015.

That kind of success is so wild that there have been a number of books written about the very subject!

Innovation was key on history of LinkedIn: LinkedIn Mobile App Android Profile Q1 2014

Innovation was key on history of LinkedIn

Many agree that innovation is the key word. At its launch, LinkedIn was competing with other sites such as or Careerbuilder. Monster fell victim to its own practices, however, both in terms of its lack of innovation and financial scam. Careerbuilder has also stagnated on a very noticeable level. LinkedIn, on the other hand, has taken to addressing the needs of its users repeatedly. Whether it is with public profiles, job postings or even a social network like atmosphere for professionals to communicate, it keeps innovating.

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The very idea of the growth it experienced is staggering. By 2013, it’s ten year anniversary, it was seeing a user growth rate of two members per second. By comparison, start-up sites such as Facebook or Snapchat, as discussed here, occurred over a much quicker time span. Does that negate the noticeable growth of LinkedIn? Of course not. Investors were quick to recognize the potential in the site, which started that wonderful chain reaction. When a business has the freedom to take their ideas and run with them, both glorious and horrible things can happen. In the case of LinkedIn, they had the experience and years behind them to implement change wisely.

Start-ups are almost defined by their rapid success. Bring back the subject of growth-hacking, it is almost a necessity. LinkedIn has seen explosive growth, without question, but it is a project that has been in the works since the 1990s. For those who don’t know, the 90s were a notoriously bad time for web companies. They were failing left and right. The notorious dot-com bubble burst and began a financial and economic crisis that would still grip the world years later. With that in mind, LinkedIn is one of the few companies that both survived the burst but continued on like a start-up before start-ups were really even a thing. The history of LinkedIn was a slow burn growth turned into an inferno, and it isn’t going to be put out any time soon.

LinkedIn has become such a commonplace site in everyone’s lives all across the globe. Really, it is no surprise, both in why it has become such a fixture and in why it didn’t take off sooner. Perhaps it is a case of that slow burn meeting being in the right place at the right time. Whatever the case, LinkedIn is sure to continue to grow.

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Article by Amber Colyer

Main Picture by Link Humans

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Categories:   Entrepreneurship, Innovation