Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Twitter's 1st evangelism comms guy, Linkedin's 2nd PR guy. These are my thoughts on tech, public relations, and life.

CEOs Good to Great: Who Makes the Cut and Why?

3 Lessons I Learned from Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn

My five years at LinkedIn 1 is the best experience of my career.

One of the biggest reasons: Jeff Weiner.

Here’s my thoughts on what made Jeff the best CEO I’ve ever worked with, as he transitioned his role a month ago to Ryan Roslansky after 11 years of one of the most successful runs as Chief Executive I’ve ever seen.

From L – R: Jeff’s first LinkedIn Hackday judging with Adam Nash hosting, to the picture on the right, arguably (correct me if I’m wrong) Jeff’s first LinkedIn All-Hands in 2009 as he was introduced as CEO by founder Reid Hoffman, and below: my peers in the marketing & comms team, circa 2008: Richard Chen & Krista Canfield

There are Good CEOs, and then there are Great CEOs. Besides, Jeff Weiner, Dan Nye and Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), I have worked on Jack Dorsey’s team (Twitter), Andrew Dudum (who now runs Hims) and worked closely with Adam Nash (CEO Wealthfront) during his time at LinkedIn — one of the best product minds I’ve ever seen. But, I can objectively say, Jeff Weiner is as good as it gets as a leader.

Here’s three reasons why and three lessons I learned:


Lesson 1: Compassion As Purpose

Jeff Weiner was always about the High-Order Bit. I talk about that in my post on grief. As Steve Jobs would often say, what is your high-order bit. And Jeff would always ask us to stack-rank prioritize our goals, and if I had to pick the highest-ranked legacy of Jeff’s — it’d have to be compassion.

Harvard Business Review wrote about the “Best Leaders being Great Teachers,” in which they relate a story shared by Mike Gamson 2, who I got to know in 2008 and who went on to lead LinkedIn’s Sales efforts:

Another example comes from Mike Gamson, a senior vice president at LinkedIn, who told Business Insider that his first meeting with the company’s new CEO, Jeff Weiner, involved a two-hour discussion of Buddhist principles. Gamson said he wanted to be a more empathetic leader, and Weiner asked why he wasn’t instead aiming to be more compassionate. The pair explored the difference between those concepts, with recourse to a religious parable.

I have a similar story, though I wish I had the chance to explore spirituality more with Jeff, than just this brief moment during my time at LinkedIn…

The Aha Moment: Breathe In, Breathe Out

Some of you may have read my recent post on how Meditation has become an incredibly important part of my life, helping deal with grief and cope with chaos.

Way before that post, there was this anecdote:

During my time at LinkedIn (since early 2007) I had the opportunity to work with the founding team, executive team, and Jeff during his first few years since his time as acting CEO.

Fast forward, to a particularly high-stakes conversation I was having with Jeff in the middle of a tumultuous period in my life, and (of course) I have a panic attack 3.

I don’t know how other CEOs might have handled it; maybe they’d asked me to collect myself and reschedule the meeting, but Jeff instead helped guide me through composing myself while he suggested breathing techniques that are common to those who meditate, and it helped calm me and got me on to the habit of meditation that I have finally put into consistent practice.

Sure, it felt strange sharing this here, but it’s the tiny moments in life that leave a mark. Of the five years I spent at LinkedIn, this experience is at the top of my list!

Compassion in the Workplace: A Feature, Not a Bug

CEOs also need to recognize that we are in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, stressors mounting by the minute 4, an epidemic of loneliness so desolate that compassion is more relevant now than ever in the history of the workplace.

A group of researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Harvard Medical School released results from a survey they conducted in the second half of May, and 55% of people said they were more stressed than in January, before the virus was perceived to be a widespread threat.

We are living through unprecedented times, when over half of a country’s adults are under a once-in-a-century moment in history and this situation is only likely to continue.

As the workforce transitions into Gen-Z you recognize that unlike prior generations, they care most about personal well being and a work-life balance and more than ever, they crave a sense of purpose. 5. The two biggest takeaways post-pandemic (epidemic of loneliness and the WFH phenomenon) will demand that CEOs be more compassionate, wise and spiritual; the best among them setting an example worth emulating.

Jeff has also created a platform-for-compassion in The Compassion Project for elementary school students across the United States, inspired by the PBS Documentary “A Class Divided;” a classroom experiment in compassion that has its origins in a teacher’s efforts to calm her students and help them understand discrimination and divisiveness in the aftermath of the Martin Luther King assassination.

We’re in a time where people are increasingly being torn apart. People are looking to reinforce their own views by connecting with others that look like them and sound like them. Tribalism, as some would call it, is reinforced through both conventional and new media channels. – Jeff Weiner

Couldn’t agree more. It’s never been more important than in these days Black Lives Matter, where stoked by the fires of circumstance and polarization, we find our deepest insecurities bleed into an epidemic of anxiety.

These circumstances are seeing parents moonlight as teachers while going about their day jobs, a shocking increase abuse, both in homes and in the workplace, as we continue to isolate and expose ourselves to the searing heat of 2020. It is, now more than ever, for all of us (at work and home) to create a platform for compassion in every imaginable scenario.

Great leaders don’t just teach about work—they also proffer deeper wisdom. – Harvard Business Review

Lesson 2: Clarity, Consistency and Curiosity

The very first thing I recall Jeff define as CEO was a clear vision (“Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce”) and mission (“Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful”). Remember this was before the IPO, when LinkedIn has 30 million users (that under his leadership has scaled to 700 million users) 6, and the stack-ranked priority, the high-order bit for Jeff was identifying those core values, then sharing that with the leadership team, and as part of his Comms team our priority was disseminating that vision across our entire company.

One Vision, One Mission, Godspeed.

The Vision Jeff entrusted with his teams, and the Mission he demanded we create for ourselves were reiterated over and over again, until you could blurt it out were someone to wake you rudely in the middle of the night.

And everyone in the company knew that 7, as Reid continues:

Jeff says that you build trust through consistency over time. One of the things he said that stuck in my mind was that by the time that you’re getting bored of yourself saying a message, your organization is just beginning to hear it.

And Jeff hired for Mission Sync:

This showed up in how Jeff recruited people to LinkedIn. His pitch wasn’t, “Come work for me.” It was, “Come work together with me on this mission.”

Great Leaders Teach, But Also Relentlessly Learn

Star leaders also take a page from Socrates and teach by asking sharp, relevant questions, often in the course of furthering their own learning. According to a colleague at HCA, Frist “was always asking probing questions to find out what was happening.” He did it to “educate himself, not to make you feel like you were doing something appropriate or inappropriate. It was an educational venture.” 8

Jeff’s product curiosity was always spot-on. Not only was he one of the first few people at LinkedIn, who understood the true import of Twitter that I evangelized internally relentlessly, when everyone was wondering where does fit into the larger corporate storytelling paradigm. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, relates a similar story about Jeff when he first visited Jeff at Yahoo! Network critiquing the product with Jeff’s team 9

Jeff’s reaction was perfect and telling — he was intellectually curious rather than defensive. He showed an intensity of curiosity and learning, especially towards being what I call an infinite learner. And, he wanted his people to talk and interact more than he did, which reflects Jeff’s focus on leading the team, as well as being a part of the team. – Reid Hoffman on Jeff Weiner

Lesson 3: Culture & Community

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, famously asked 10 Jobs during the last few months of his life, thus:

I once asked him what he thought was his most important creation, thinking he would answer the iPad or the Macintosh. Instead he said it was Apple the company. Making an enduring company, he said, was both far harder and more important than making a great product.

And I think Jeff understood that very well, since the day he started at LinkedIn.

Our All-Hands was a big deal. And with Jeff’s arrival, it became the heart-and-soul of LinkedIn’s culture. I briefly had the fortune of working with Jeff on crafting those until my good friend Armen Vartanian took over, and it was clear from Day One, Jeff was going to carry forward the vision and reiterate it in ways — both artful and purposeful — at these gatherings.

The All-Hands wasn’t just an excuse for us to gather, like the Pixar building that Steve Jobs built, but it was a reason to be a part of something bigger than yourself. It was the culture, given who LinkedIn is about connecting every single professional in the world — bigger than all of us professionals working at LinkedIn.

And it worked. And it shows.

How You Go from 100s to 16,000 Employees!

In another distinct way, Jeff’s actions pay homage to the lessons left by Steve Jobs, especially with the way he crafted his transition, to Ryan Roslansky, who came to LinkedIn from Yahoo!

Jobs maintained an excellent and relatively stable executive team during his second tenure at Apple. The more mature and confident he became, the more he surrounded himself with strong, opinionated executives who felt comfortable arguing with him. – There Is No “I” in Steve, Fast Company

Jeff came to LinkedIn that way. With a team in mind, a plan in place and this transition, as Reid suggests was always the best case outcome, and kudos for finding a stellar product leader to carry forward that vision:

Another great lesson I learned from Jeff was the importance of having multiple succession plans for every executive — one for an immediate emergency successor, one for a year down the road, and one for the long-term. Ryan was Jeff’s long-term succession plan. He was Jeff’s first hire after arriving at LinkedIn, and had worked for him at Yahoo for five years before that, so they have a very strong and lasting alliance. – Reid Hoffman

Jeff’s Biggest Legacy is the team he built and is leaving behind. Having briefly crossed paths with Ryan, it’s clear LinkedIn is in great hands.


In Summary; Thank You Jeff!

And, yes, these are all stellar examples of why was trending on LinkedIn a few weeks ago, given the outpouring of gratitude and employees, past and present, sharing their career high — working for Jeff.

Of course, in classic Jeff style, the All-Hands was a huge-send off with singing of Jeff’s favorite song, which did and would have brought tears to the eyes of anyone who had the pleasure of working at LinkedIn with Jeff during a glorious run. No wonder, the hashtag was trending for a while.

This is my story.

For showing me what real leadership is; #ThankYouJeff!

The Last LinkedIn Alumni Reunion Dinner I attended in 2019 with some of the early folks, hope to see Jeff in the future


  1. My alma-mater of over five years, and where I spent my most informative and insightful years as the second PR & Marketing Hire right through to our I.P.O. ↩︎
  2. A great Harvard Business Review by Sydney Finkelstein on what separates the best leaders – the ones that teach ↩︎
  3. Check out how meditation helps me cope with grief, while dealing with a relentless pandemic in 2020 here and how this episode might have been my first foray into meditation ↩︎
  4. Here’s the most recent study on July 1, 2020, that finds 55% of Americans are stressed with numbers shooting up if you’re past 50 years of age ↩︎
  5. Source: Dynamic Signal, “When Gen-Z’ers believe they are surrounded by like-minded people who feel their effort has a purpose, work is less like a job.” ↩︎
  6. Source: Statista and 400 employees (that Jeff scaled to 16,000 employees!), Growth of LinkedIn members from 2009 to 2016 ↩︎
  7. Here in Jeff’s own words that we heard reiterated during those formative years, how and why one should define their Vision, Mission and Values so clearly ↩︎
  8. Sydney Finkelstein, a professor at Tuck School, Dartmouth, writes “Best Leaders are Great Teachers” for the Harvard Business Review, calls out their Socratic approach as well as their compassion ↩︎
  9. I’d highly recommend you check out Reid Hoffman’s LinkedIn post on Learnings from Jeff ↩︎
  10. This Harvard Business Review piece by Walter Isaacson outlines The Real Leadership Lessons of Jobs, which include Focus, Simplify, and Taking Responsibility to the End ↩︎

 

Filed under: Linkedin, LinkedIn in the News, Latest at LinkedIn, LinkedIn Colleagues, Thoughts, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Best-of, Jeff Weiner

2020: Reflections on a Year Gone Wrong!

How I escaped my worst year and what it taught me about 2020

It was the best of times.

It was the worst of times.

2020 was the worst of times!


Table of Contents

2020 is unlike any other year in modern history. It is up there with 1918, 1919 and 1920; the three years suffused by World War I, that got decimated by the Spanish Flu. A pandemic of epic proportions that laid waste to 100 million lives, and came back wave after wave decimating hundreds of thousands more with each subsequent wave two and three times as awful as the first in the spring of 1918 1.

That’s where we find ourselves this beautiful summer morning in 2020. On top of the pandemic rearing its head, we find ourselves in a couple more pandemics; racial and informational, both of which have been exacerbated since the 2016 election leading to the most divisive climate in this nation’s great history.

But you wonder, what was my worst year and what does it have to do with 2020.


2016: The Worst Year of my Life, Until 2020

I lost my Mom.

I lost my Dream Job.

I lost my Girlfriend.

Snapchat from WayBack: Pics From my last trip that reunited me with my parents, sister, and nephew Gabe.

I didn’t see this coming — at all! To lose one of the above, and I’ve seen people lose their minds. To lose all three, albeit slowly, then suddenly and some in parallel; was an earthquake, on top of a tsunami in the middle of a hurricane. And to sit there in the middle of that storm unraveling, was an uncanny experience and one that has steeled me for the rest of my life. In particular, one that has steeled me for 2020.2

“There is no love of life, without despair of life.” – Albert Camus

Here’s my story of 2016, what I learned from it, and how I’m applying it to this Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.” ― Viktor E. Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning

What I’d have given to not go through those months of distress, losing the most important people in the world to me, seemed cruel and incomprehensible 3, but as cliche as it sounds, those tears were meant to teach.

Turbulence clouds the mind, mists the future, and all I could do was silently spiral into a mental paralysis. As I now connect those dots; when all three had fallen through, it truly felt like falling off of a cliff and I was free-falling. And there was nothing to stop the fall.

And it was at that moment, that I found meditation.


Step 1: Find your High-Order Bit!

Steve Jobs calls it the High-Order Bit. The one that has the power to unlock other powers, exponential across other options. Jeff Weiner, in his very first week at LinkedIn, told all of us to come up with each team’s mission / vision statement, and then figure out our stack-ranked priorities as we re-aligned every part of the organization. And the high-order bit is the one that sits atop that pyramid of priorities.

If you could do just one thing right now, and one thing only with the most impact on every other priority, what’d it be?

For me, that was meditation.4

Fight, Flight or Meditate?

To be honest, at that point in 2016 when the bottom fell out, I wasn’t thinking straight. I was free falling, and my-then-girlfriend-soon-to-be-ex recommended guided meditation with former teacher of hers. And all it took was one session, and the free-falling turned to free-floating. A free association of ideas, possibilities and peace. And since then, I’ve tried my darndest to describe what meditation is, to the uninitiated.

3 Keys to Meditation: The why, the when (it works) and the how of meditation?!

The Why: Bend or Be Broken!

“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” – Confucius

The parables are as old as Time itself, but the lessons are simple, and frankly until you experience that moment of no return, when you lose someone you dearly love and can’t ever see them again; when you walk through and out that door.

That’s when shit feels real.

As Harvard University psychiatrist George Vaillant, describes in the most recent edition of Scientific American, describing the mental health crisis humanity faces, thanks to the pandemic.

A resilient individual resembles a twig with a fresh, green living core. “When twisted out of shape, such a twig bends, but it does not break; instead it springs back and continues growing.” 5

Apparently 2/3rds of individuals recover from traumatic episodes and may even learn from it, but a third of us are lost for months, maybe years.

My own experience from a couple of years ago, could have turned out vastly different, were it not for some opportune decisions I made; regardless, I did lose time to the vicissitudes of trauma. Decisions, like meditation, that came through a lot of soul-searching, a supportive family, and a few good friends that cared about me.

Without them, I’d have been lost, and my writing is an humble effort at educating even one lost soul how I came through that door, and lived to tell the tale.

When you lose a parent (especially, a parent); that’s when all bets are off. The foundation shows its true shaky premise and you have to hold on for dear life, spiritually. But what presents itself as an impossibility — “how could this happen to me,” and “how will I ever get out of this situation,” gives you the ultimate lesson in living — “Let Be.”

The Bard Said it Best: “Let Be”

Hamlet (Act 5, scene 2, 217–224):
Not a whit, we defy augury.6 There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to

come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come — the readiness is all.
Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t

to leave betimes, let be.

Accepting I don’t have all the answers, that where I am isn’t the endgame, that I don’t even have a clue what the endgame is (!), and looking forward into the “abyss” with peace, not fear at the uncertainty — is what meditation teaches us. Much like Yoga isn’t just about the physical solace it provides, nor is Meditation just about calming the mind. It’s about using the storm, to find the calm — the eye of the storm.

If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape. – Pema Chodron

The When: Meditation is the Cure, The Key is in the Abyss!

“The Arrival of Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.” – Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche 7

With apologies to Winston Churchill, “We can all be trusted to do the right thing (in this case, Meditation), once all other possibilities have been exhausted.”

I had tried meditation in the past, but never felt the need for it, nor did I miss it. But, when things got ugly, I frankly had no other alternative, and the more I held on tightly to everything that was slipping, like sand, through my fingers; the more I needed an out, and that’s where meditation came in.

It’s as if someone found the secret to life, locked it in a treasure chest, threw the chest and the key down the abyss. And each time one of us stares into the abyss, we fear it swallows us whole. But, the journey to find the key must be made.

The journey to find the key is the right thing. The only option.

And so does fear. In fact, anyone who stands on the edge of the unknown, fully in the present without reference point, experiences groundlessness. – Pema Chodron

And the right thing… is meditation.

There is nowhere to hide.

Sometimes, however, we are cornered; everything falls apart, and we run out of options for escape. At times like that, the most profound spiritual truths seem pretty straightforward and ordinary. There’s nowhere to hide. – Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

There is nowhere to run.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. – Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech

Now, meditate.

The How-To Meditate: Zoom out, Zoom in!

Meditation is an invitation to notice when we reach our limit and to not get carried away by hope and fear. – Pema Chodron

The secret to meditation is letting go with focus, and to “not get carried away by hope and fear.” You’re watching your life unfold, without the affectation of your ego. It’s the real world mental equivalent of the Dolly Zoom, best encapsulated by the famous scene in Jaws:

“You can observe more of the background, while keeping the foreground in the same place.”

The Dolly Zoom as you can see describes meditation perfectly. In much the same way as the Dolly Zoom, employs both the telephoto and the wide-angle lenses at the same time, meditation is the deliberate practice to lose yourself-and-your-ego by focusing on two things at once — the foreground of your life, and the background of your life — until they both disappear and you experience this weightless, groundless feeling as described by Pema when you’re fully in the Now-minus-Ego.

The challenge with meditation is that it’s underrated and vastly misunderstood, so many folks let go of the practice before they master it. Let me walk you through my three simple hacks to get started. Stick with this for at least 30 days, and let me know whether it worked or not @mariosundar.

I study Sanskrit and Arabic to improve my mind

I wanna do things for the benefit of all mankind

I say to the willow tree, “Don’t wait for me”

I’m saying to hell with all things that used to be

— “My Own Version of You,” by Bob Dylan

Step 1: Third Eye First, Tune your Spine!

The three steps I outline need to happen at once, and there will be a moment when you subconsciously do all three, but I’m still at the stage where I’m tryna ride this bicycle of my mind, and those moments of blissful riding the mind are few and far in-between.

While there might be a lot of exaggerated stories about the “Third Eye,” the fact of the matter is that it’s a simple hack to focus on a specific point, it could be a mantra (as is common in Transcendental Meditation – that everyone from Howard Stern to Jerry Seinfeld swear by), but the answer is simple — find a word or visual spot to focus.

Personally, I shut my eyes, sit erect on my yoga pillow and focus on a spot between my eyebrows and trust me be — it is not easy to focus for a concentrated period of time on any spot (visual or mantric), and the trick is to pursue that for as long as you can. And if you can do that for more than a few minutes, you’ll see yourself floating away, while focusing on that spot.

Dolly Zoom your mind. Tuning Fork Your Spine!

In yoga meditation, the meditator withdraws the life force (prana) from the sensory and motor nerves — by a process known as pranayama (life-force control) — and directs it to the higher centers of awareness within the spine and brain. – Paramahansa Yogananda, Self-Realization Fellowship

That’s where you start. Keep your spine straight and your focus on either a mantra or a visual point between your eyebrows.

Step 2: Empty Your Breath

Equally important, I realize how crucial proper breathing is to achieve the meditative flow, after you hit the first two notes from Step 1. It’s amazing how bad we are at breathing right; anxiety and stress and alcohol and lack of sleep doesn’t help. But meditation can be a bridge to getting better at something so foundational to better living.

Controlled breathing, like what you just practiced, has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and boost your immune system. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment. – New York Times, The Benefits of Controlled Breathing 8

My first experience with this was during a particularly high-stakes conversation I had with Jeff Weiner 9 way back in 2010, who I had the pleasure of working with during my nearly 6 years at LinkedIn, and I recall him asking me to breathe in and out, in a measured way when I was about to have a panic attack (more on my anxiety in a later post). But that worked, and it’s clear why that is the case.

Consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol. – New York Times, The Benefits of Controlled Breathing 10

Next week, I’ll outline the modern tools I use to track the effectiveness of my meditation, if you’d like to track that either subscribe to this blog here, or follow me @mariosundar.

Sneak peak (Week of June 29, 2020: Meditation Hardware)

  • The Apple Watch (Tracking Runs, Meditation and Workouts)
  • Core vs. Muse (Tracks Meditation)
  • Komuso Design (Tracks Breathing)

Sneak peak (Week of July 6, 2020: Meditation Software)

  • Headspace vs. Calm
  • Core vs. Muse
  • Transcendental Meditation (TM) vs. Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF)
Step 3: Empty Your Mind

So, the worst year of my life and what it taught me about 2020.

I didn’t think I’d make it out of 2016 in one piece. But, here I am. Thanks to family; thanks to a few close friends. And thanks to my biggest epiphany.

All happiness rests in one place. Between our ears! There’s the rub…

Happiness isn’t a given. Kurosawa, inarguably the greatest writer / filmmaker ever, once said:

“With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. … The script must be something that has the power to do this.”

With bad software between your ears, even the best circumstances life gifts you might be wasted materially, and most definitely spiritually. But with good software buoyed by daily meditation, calm and equanimity, you will take anything life throws at you, and you will create a masterpiece.

Yes, it sure has been a long, hard drive

But someday every thing’s gonna be different

When I paint that masterpiece – Bob Dylan

Since 2016, right through to the Pandemic of 2020…

I ran most days (88% – 92%).

I quit alcohol.

I lost 50 pounds.


Finally, I’m back to writing.

SnapBack to Now: That’s me, 50 pounds lighter, before the Pandemic of 2020, in front of my favorite restaurant

Now, let’s do this all over again! Here we go…

The best way to follow my writing is Twitter. I’m also in the process of redesigning so you can find my writing in your Inbox!Please subscribe to @mariosundar, with 7500 other friends who follow me, or if you’re in Public Relations or Marketing, connect with me on LinkedIn, with 3500 other professionals in our space. I also have a secret project I’ll be launching shortly. Stay tuned.

It’s good to be back.


  1. Source: John Barry’s “The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” that outlines the excruciating spread of a pandemic that took 100 million lives and 5% of the world’s population, with two thirds of lives taken between 18 – 45 years, across three waves in the middle of a World War, via Peter Attia’s excellent podcast — The Drive ↩︎
  2. My experiences resemble this retelling in the New York Times by Eva Holland, Author of “Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear.” I call it “Deliberate Resilience.” ↩︎
  3. Everything at that moment, will feel random, meaningless, surreal, but make no mistake, it is suffused with meaning and it will take years to unwrap. The only gift I wish for you is to be open and curious over the next few years. ↩︎
  4. This is particularly true for those of us, stuck at home, with our inner demons. Sam Lansky, Author of Broken People, nails this dangerous time to slip-and-slide into binge-eating-or-drinking in his terrific TIME piece Stuck With Yourself: The Hidden Price of a Pandemic ↩︎
  5. An introspective Scientific American feature delves into similar themes I discuss in this post on the macro-psychological view of the pandemic and how 2.6 Billion people are coping with anxiety ↩︎
  6. The exact moment where Hamlet recognizes everything is out of his control, and learns in the following lines to accept with grace, and the moment shall arrive. More here ↩︎
  7. A beautiful primer on why “Chaos is Good News” from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche ↩︎
  8. Lesley Alderman, Psychotherapist and New York Times’ contributor, outlines the Breathe-Exhale-Repeat Formula that is a necessary Step 2 in my outline for meditation efficiency ↩︎
  9. Jeff Weiner is currently Executive Chairman at LinkedIn, and I had the pleasure of learning and working with him during the first four years after he began LinkedIn’s comeback from layoffs back in 2008 ↩︎
  10. “Breathing is meditation for people who can’t meditate,” says Dr. Belisa Vranich, author of the book “Breathe”) ↩︎

Filed under: About Mario Sundar, Best-of, Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn Colleagues, Thoughts, Writing

Is Facebook’s Graph Search a Giant Killer?

Will Facebook’s “Graph Search” be a threat to Google, LinkedIn, Yelp, or Foursquare asks a question on Quora?

jack_the_giant_killer_version9-movie-poster

No, No, No and Definitely Not. Yet.

The key is expertise.

Beneath the obvious user delight, Facebook is betting a lot on Graph Search’s core ability to connect people with what they’re looking for accurately and immediately. And obviously as the middle man, they stand to gain. Fair enough.

But will Facebook’s imminent functionality be a threat to well established vertical searches like Google, Yelp, LinkedIn and Foursquare?

All of the four kinds of search you can do today: Photos, People, Places and Interests, bear commercial implication. But the most immediate remain People and Places, which as bloggers speculate may pose a threat to Yelp, Foursquare, Google (Places) and LinkedIn (People). So, let’s take simple examples and compare Facebook Search with the other four searches.

Facebook vs. Yelp

I started with a simple search for “bars,” something I presume will be a common search on any local product. Here’s what I got with Facebook. For starters, along with actual bars it also pulled up law and bar associations or offices which was a bit odd.

Photo Jan 19, 6 50 08 PM

Now try the same with Yelp and you see how right away, they try to segment that query into the different types of bars you’re potentially searching for.

Photo Jan 19, 6 50 33 PM

Once you get a set of results, Yelp then allows you (and this is the most useful feature on yelp currently) to convenience sort by “rating,” “proximity,” “price,” “open now,” or even better by neighborhoods.

Photo Jan 19, 6 50 58 PM

I’ve gotta tell you; if you go out often, this filter is magical. But again, the filter is by utilitarian ratings by foodies and not by friends around you. More on that in just a second.

But before we leave Yelp, the third most useful feature on Yelp is their surfacing key elements of the review. So you’re at a restaurant and you’re wondering what’s the best thing on the menu. In days past, you’d have had to ask the person serving you but now you can rely on “the wisdom of an expert crowd” what’s the best food here and it works. Like magic.

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Facebook vs. Foursquare

Back to the topic of friends which is Facebook’s biggest competitive advantage. If you do wanna take into account which restaurants your friends are frequenting (ignoring the fact that expertise is the key), then try Foursquare.

The first thing you’ll notice yet again is the structured data (categories like Bar, Sports Bar, Salon) right up front (similar to Yelp) that Foursquare now provides you; though not as in depth as Yelp, can still be a tad useful.

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Digging deeper through the results, you’re gonna find them sorted by Foursquare’s own proprietary “Zagat number” that they conjure based on multiple data points.

Foursquare comes up with its score by looking at tips left by users, likes, dislikes, popularity, check-ins and it also weights signals more heavily for local experts.

They also show you a self-selecting group of folks who you know. Chances are most of these folks are more prone to bar hop than your other friends. But still Yelp really nails it with their community that they have nurtured for many many years who continue to write meaningful reviews that makes a world of difference when it comes to local search.

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Facebook vs. Google Local

While on the topic of a Zagat number, Google recently bought restaurant ratings site Zagat which now powers their Google Local ratings.  Zagat which originally started off compiling restaurant ratings of the Zagat’s friends, does something very similar to Yelp and the model here is yet again – expertise.

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Facebook vs. LinkedIn

Shifting gears to people search, Facebook’s people search is three years after LinkedIn launched its faceted people search. I know because I helped launch it at TechCrunch Disrupt where product manager Esteban Kozak demoed it right before CEO Jeff Weiner went on stage. (Disclosure: I no longer work at LinkedIn and don’t own any stock either) My mind was blown when I first saw what we could do with faceted search on LinkedIn both from a user experience perspective and I’m sure recruiters have found even more value from it.

Take a look at this demo video we shot in 2009 that shows you the plethora of signals a site like LinkedIn uses to hone in on the right professionals in a search. Easier said than done, and much like with Yelp, these signals have been gathered over many many years and such a search isn’t something you can turn on willy-nilly.

In all four instances the quality of Facebook’s search is insipid today compared to the robust community based expertise that the four sites have either built or bought .

The key is expertise. 

Now granted there are many things Facebook could do to build or buy their way into each of these verticals but the key point is that strength in local search across People and Places is not “friend” related, but rather “expertise” dependent and it takes years to build that. And frankly, I’d go with the critical reviews from experts in these fields and that’s an area that Yelp, Foursquare, Google and LinkedIn have Facebook beat.

Filed under: Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, LinkedIn Features, Local Search, Location, , , , , ,

Do you view your career as a startup?

I first met Reid Hoffman, nearly six years ago (Thanks, Kay!) as I was being interviewed by the then executive team at LinkedIn for my role as social media guy. Since then, what has always struck me the most about Reid is his simplicity coupled with his enthusiasm in debating complex topics, whether it’s a philosophical discussion on social media to something as simple as the importance of adding commenting to our blog.

 One of my favorite pics from the old days – Reid Hoffman (center) with Jean-Luc Vaillant (left) and Allen Blue (right) at our old Palo Alto office

Working at LinkedIn during those early days was a great opportunity to watch, discuss and learn from him on a slew of topics and it’s great to see that Reid’s now shared many of his learnings into his recent book – “Startup of You“.

There are tons of valuable insights that Reid and co-author, Ben Casnocha, have assembled in the new book. Insights that are simple on the face of it, but you’d be surprised at how unheeded some of them are. Here are some:

  • How to establish close professional alliances who can help you and whom you can help in turn.
  • Why the most powerful networks include a mix of both allies and looser acquaintances.
  • Why you should set up an “interesting people” fund to guarantee that you spend time investing in your network.

The other parts of the book that I also found fascinating include the anecdotes, like this one:

I [Reid] first met Mark Pincus while at PayPal in 2002. I was giving him advice on a startup he was working on. From our first conversation, I felt inspired by Mark’s wild creativity and how he seems to bounce off the walls with energy. I’m more restrained, preferring to fit ideas into strategic frameworks instead of unleashing them fire-hose-style. But it’s our similar interests and vision that have made our collaborations so successful.

We invested in Friendster together in 2002. In 2003 the two of us bought the Six Degrees patent, which covers some of the foundational technology of social networking. Mark then started his own social network, Tribe; I started LinkedIn (LNKD). When Peter Thiel and I were set to put the first money into Facebook in 2004, I suggested that Mark take half of my investment allocation. I wanted to involve Mark in any opportunity that seemed intriguing, especially one that played to his social networking background. In 2007, Mark called me to talk about his idea for Zynga (ZNGA), the social gaming company he co-founded and now leads. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to invest and join the board, which I did.

An alliance is always an exchange, but not a transactional one.

Now, some folks may think that these alliances are an exception:

All of which prompts a question: in a winner-takes-all world, do the networks of the rich and powerful become self-reinforcing? For all Hoffman’s claims that the lives of successful Silicon Valley zillionaires are a useful model, one cannot escape the sense that he moves in a rarefied world in which a you-scratch-my-back chumminess excludes the less fortunate.

I beg to differ. These mutual alliances model is one that all successful professionals follow. These alliances can be found everywhere in our careers. And, we do it all the time.

Now, some professionals may have an old-school way of thinking where they stop looking at professional enrichment once at a job. Though this may have worked in the past, I couldn’t agree more that in today’s economy it’s imperative that we not only keep our skill sets updated constantly but more importantly, that we also actively nurture our relationships that matter so much. As Reid shared with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times last year:

The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone. No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach your career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.

I highly recommend this book if you believe the world of work is undergoing a dramatic change and if you’d like to learn some of the basic lessons to equip you to deal with those paradigm changes successfully. So, I wanted to share some reasons why I think it may be worth your while to take a read. Tweet me your reactions to the book.

I look forward to your stories.

Follow me @mariosundar

Filed under: Linkedin, LinkedIn Colleagues, ,

Why LinkedIn Events matters more Now

Think of every event or conference you’ve ever attended. Think of the two questions that’s been foremost on your mind in finding value from the right events, besides avoiding these guys or worse still running into these guys:

1. Which of my friends are attending this event? 

This is probably the #1 question that bugs conference organizers and event attendees. Think of the last time you’ve attended an event or a conference? Your first thought that helped you decide should you spend that extra few hours after work, driving all the way to an event was – are my peers, colleagues or former colleagues gonna be there. Is it gonna make it worth my while?

LinkedIn Events you may be interested in does just that as it prioritizes the results showing you just the ones your connections are gonna be at, making it easier for you to decide which ones to RSVP for.

Showing you the events that your friends are attending, gets you to those events

2.  Is this event worth my time? 

Given the time and cost investment associated with events, attendees also wanna make sure that they are making new connections that will prove to be invaluable to them in the long run. Enter, Attendees you may want to meet.

It's People You May (or Should) Know at the Event or Conference

This feature is priceless (like People You May Know) as it allows you to connect with these potential contacts you should be networking with. This is something that only a site like LinkedIn can provide using the relationship graph that exists on the site today, friends of friends and all that cool stuff.

I’d give LinkedIn events a try just for the above two features, but I bet there are other reasons to try it out as well. Let me know what you think about the feature by leaving a comment and I’ll make sure it’s shared with my colleague Jimmy Chen and team.

As a critical part of networking, you can now leverage the relationships you’ve built on LinkedIn over the years to inform your experience attending events, making it more productive.

Related posts:

  1. Here’s Jimmy’s post from the LinkedIn blog
  2. TechCrunch’s take on LinkedIn Events’ intelligent recommendations & search by Leena
  3. TNW’s Cheri on LinkedIn’s bigger, better and more user-friendly Events upgrade

Filed under: LinkedIn Features,

Companies: Why your LinkedIn Page is now a really big deal

As we’ve hinted at in the recent past, LinkedIn just launched the ability for companies to update their LinkedIn Company page, like companies could have been able to do on their Twitter and Facebook pages. In the past, LinkedIn’s Company page was populated only with select auto-generated content like job changes for e.g. Now, things have changed.

Moving forward, all companies or small businesses with a LinkedIn Company Page can customize updates to their followers (whether it is a customer, job seeker or a prospective client). Here’s why it’s a pretty big deal.

What’s new?

With this new release, companies (with an assigned administrator and whose company page is set to “designated admins only”) will have the flexibility to share the latest on the company directly to all of their followers on their company page’s “Overview” tab.

Keep in mind your status updates can be up to 500 characters long and can support URLs with multimedia as well. Given that any LinkedIn member can comment, like or share your Company’s status update, this is a great way to build engagement with customers, potential employees and prospects alike. – Ryan Roslansky, who runs our Company Pages product (though Ryan manages the larger team, I found that my colleague Mike Grishaver runs the specific product itself. Hat tip to Karen Chin!)

Why should it matter to companies or small businesses

1. The confluence of company and brand 

So, why is this a big deal for companies? For starters, this is something companies had been clamoring for a long time and given the recent pace of adoption we’ve seen with millions of company pages and tens of millions of LinkedIn members following companies already, the scope and impact of Company Pages is only gonna grow.

What I find most exciting about this development is that, while Twitter and Facebook focus solely on the mainstream consumer brand experience and its accompanying follower base, a LinkedIn Company page is probably the only place that you can cater to both external (consumers) and internal (employees) audiences. That’s a rare combination, which while possible on Twitter / Facebook, is way more powerful on LinkedIn, given the professional scale. (Disclosure: As a reader, if you don’t know this yet — I work at LinkedIn)

2. It’s just before the tipping point 

Getting in sooner vs. later on social platforms not only lets you claim your ground, but also helps you build a larger following faster. So, building a huge follower base on Twitter these days is more difficult than during those early days. On LinkedIn, the number of company pages, the audience and timing feels like it’s just before the tipping point.

It’s large enough to be a happening place (over 120 million professionals) but it’s not big enough that its unwieldy (only 2 million companies have their profiles on yet), so it’s a great point in time to create one for your company or small business before you get lost in the ensuing land grab.

3. Find a targeted audience and measure yourself

This is probably the most important reason for the right company in the right space (B2B for e.g.) or small business to capitalize on the opportunities posed by LinkedIn. The people on LinkedIn are different from the folks on other social networking sites.

As a marketer, if your goal is to reach professionals there is no better place on the planet than to engage with them on LinkedIn. Let the facts speak for themselves, but I’m amazed at how huge Fortune 500 corporations like IBM or Microsoft are on LinkedIn compared to their equivalent on Twitter for e.g. Here’s a sample:

  1. IBM Company Page: ~450,000 followers, +10,000 employees
  2. Microsoft: ~330,000 followers, +10,000 employees
  3. Oracle: ~230,000 followers, +10,000 employees
  4. HP: ~350,000 followers, +10,000 employees
  5. Google: ~320,000 followers, +10,000 employees

And, I could go on. But, if you’re running social media teams at any of the millions of companies on LinkedIn and you’re not taking a more active role on your LinkedIn Company page, you should be fired.

And one more thing.

ROI. As someone who runs social media for a social media company, it’s my job to figure out measurement models on the key social networks that LinkedIn (the company) has a presence on. LinkedIn Company Pages comes with an analytics component that’s similar to the one you’d find on Facebook for e.g. More on that in another post.

In the coming weeks, I’ll delve into more Company Page details. Follow me here.

So, whether you work for a large company or a small business, you better be setting up a LinkedIn Company Page. And, if you have one already. Start talking, start sharing your updates now — to the people who matter most to your business: Your Employees. Your Customers. Your Prospects.

Filed under: Linkedin, LinkedIn Features,

Good Times with the LinkedIn Wizard

Readers of this blog know that though I focus on social media marketing and PR, there’s always room for a personal post or two filled with pictures.

I guess this is as good a time as any (and frankly long overdue) to share some thoughts on workplace and friends, so here goes… The main reason I love working at LinkedIn are the awesome people I get to work with. And, in the past 4 years, it’s been such a pleasure to work with Adam Nash, who just recently moved to Greylock.

Adam with his LinkedIn LEGO sculpture. Click pic to read about its making.

Adam and his teams have been behind a lot of exciting LinkedIn products over the years, most recently the huge mobile revamp among others. Adam’s also been instrumental in building out our developer platform as well as creating a culture of energetic hackdays internally (in my mind, LinkedIn Hackdays will never be the same again) — all, while building other cool stuff.

Personally, Adam’s been a huge champion of his teams communicating to our members on social channels even before social media became cool. He made my life easier, with his huge support of the LinkedIn blog from Day One, set a great example by being the most prolific author of posts on our blog and has inspired countless posts from his team/s as well.

He’s everything a social media strategist can expect from a colleague at their company. Plus, he’s one heckuva nice guy with whom I can discuss politics and still be good friends with. So, here’s to a great colleague! A trip down memory lane.

And, one more thing. Adam, you’re welcome for this “fiiiine” coverage… cue Bart Simpson laugh. lol

Story time with Adam at the (then new Product team space) in our Mountain View office (2008)

Adam chatting with Kay (my former boss / mentor who hired me at LinkedIn in 2007) right around the move to our Mountain View digs

One of the first product blog posts Adam authored (profile pic launch in Sep 2007) with his team

The first Hackday judging competition hosted by Adam

Adam in his traditional LinkedIn Halloween Costume

Adam prepping for a marketing photoshoot in his Halloween attire

Post photo-shoot chat with Adam (seemingly still fascinated by the costume) & Kay

Another look at Story time with Adam. That'd be (from l-r) Adam, myself, Steve Ganz (standing), Hillary from HR, Jerry Luk, and Erin Hoffman (Team engineering)

Wishing Adam the very best in his new role at Greylock! Check out his blog here.

Filed under: LinkedIn Colleagues

Previously on LinkedIn: An Infographic, Jobs Alert and a New High

Each week, as Sr. Social Media Manager at LinkedIn, I obsessively track the latest news and tidbits on LinkedIn. I’ve also begun curating the week’s must-read LinkedIn updates on this blog series, so you don’t have to. Here’s LinkedIn snippets from just the past three days.

Ask me questions or @mariosundar me on Twitter

1. INFOGRAPHIC: How do LinkedIn users use LinkedIn? on Mashable

Who isn’t a sucker for cool looking charts and graphs. Mashable published an unofficial LinkedIn infographic providing a quick snapshot of what LinkedIn users really do on LinkedIn. No major surprises here. Just a pretty lil’ chart.

2. Keep track of your LinkedIn connections’ job movements via TechCrunch

Have you ever wanted to keep track of when your LinkedIn connections change jobs? If you’re on LinkedIn every day (like me) your network updates will show when your connections’ job updates change (provided they’ve allowed that in their settings). But, if you’d rather just receive an email notification, this new service is for you.

Job Change Notifier by Roger Lee

Note: You can either set it up for all your connections or just for select ones. Given that your connections are not gonna keep changing jobs often, I’ve just set it up for all. Will keep you posted how that works out.

3. What’s the 2nd biggest social networking site in the USA? via TechCrunch

Quite the way to wrap-up the week, with the latest Comscore #s that placed LinkedIn as the 2nd most visited social networking site in the US, in June, with 33.9M unique visitors. Here’s another neat little chart that shows the upward trajectory. On that note, have a great weekend and see you on this blog tomorrow.


Filed under: LinkedIn in the News

Previously on LinkedIn: Inspiration, Flipboard and Groups

Each week, as Sr. Social Media Manager at LinkedIn, I get to share breaking LinkedIn news with the rest of the world and fellow bloggers (many of them product related). This weekly series covers the LinkedIn stuff that you may have missed — with a little context into why it matters and to whom.

Ask me questions or @mariosundar me on Twitter

Here’s this past week’s news announcements that mattered most:

1. LinkedIn, meet Flipboard by Liz Reaves Walker



Who should care?
Any professional. Consider this a real-world water-cooler conversation with folks who are of mutual importance to your career (assuming you’re connected to them). And, if you’ve an iPad then this app is a no-brainer. I, so badly, want an iPad now. I know, a lot of people find it funny that I don’t have one yet. cc: @adamnash

BTW, if you’d like to see a video demo, I’d recommend the TechCrunch interview with Mike McCue.

2. Using LinkedIn Groups API to create an events water cooler by Madhu Gupta

Who should care? This is such a no-brainer for event organizers. Madhu also shares a recent implementation from Microsoft on their Partner event website. The integration is pretty slick. As you can see — you can flip through the top groups threads even without being signed in.

If you’d like to perform simple gestures (“Like” or “Follow” the conversation), you’d need to be signed in on the website where this is embedded.

And, if you’d like to actually participate in the group all you’ve to do is click through to the specific LinkedIn group page. And, you guys know how that works.

The group itself is a great way for conference attendees to introduce themselves, share questions they have that’s worth a separate group thread and say Hi to folks they didn’t get a chance to interact at the conference room floor or at the sessions. This was my experience on Social Media Examiner’s LinkedIn Group (private group – requires sign in), as I discovered when I spoke at their webcast recently.

I used the LinkedIn group to collate ideas and feedback on my presentation and was able to tailor it better to the audience’s needs. It’s also a great way to follow up with your audience once you’re done. Now imagine, the power of that conversation embedded on your website drawing more participation before and after the event. I just realized as I blog this, that this topic deserves a whole new post.

3. Finding inspiration and support at work by Jill Levine

Given that we spend much of lives at work, it’s important that we get to work not only with the brightest minds, but with genuinely nice folks. It’s a joy to work with such folks at LinkedIn (more on that here), but this week’s story on our blog was an inspirational one about our colleague from New York, Jill Levine.

I’ll let Jill share the story herself.


Speaking of great colleagues, just thought it was worth mentioning that Adam, Jim and I are currently on a #blogfitness program.

We’ve each taken up the challenge to blog, a post a day. You can read the specifics on Jim’s post here (click through just for the video of Jim doing burpees – priceless!). And, Adam, well he’s started off strong with a post on Quicken solution for OS X Lion. And, Adam’s famous T-shirts post just got picked up on TechCrunch yesterday. Nicely done.

Game on!

If you’d like to support or taunt us about missing a blog day, feel free to tweet us @mariosundar, @adamnash and @brikis98.

And, if you’re a blogger suffering from blogger’s block. You too can join us in our 30-day #blogfitness diet. Leave a comment.

Filed under: Latest at LinkedIn, Linkedin, LinkedIn Features, LinkedIn in the News, ,