MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF. — Reid Hoffman is a big man in Silicon Valley. And, try as he might to remain in the background, his stature just keeps growing -- literally and figuratively.
It all began in the bleak aftermath of the dot-com bust, when despondent entrepreneurs and investors were throwing in the towel. Hoffman, never one to shrink from a challenge, rolled up his sleeves.
The PayPal Inc. veteran took some of the $10 million he made in 2002, when EBay Inc. bought the online payment service, and started financing some of the biggest success stories of today's consumer Internet industry: social network Facebook Inc., user-submitted news site Digg Inc., photo-sharing service Flickr and blogging-tools powerhouse Six Apart Ltd., to name a few. Companies in which he made early investments have sold for a collective $1.4 billion, and he has many more in the pipeline.
Hoffman, who created one of the first social networking sites, Socialnet, followed up with another patterned on his vast network of professional contacts. That 5-year-old company, LinkedIn Corp., landed a fourth round of venture funding last month that pegged its value at a heady $1 billion.
"Reid sees the next move on the Internet better than anyone in Silicon Valley," said former PayPal and LinkedIn executive Keith Rabois, now an executive at San Francisco Internet company Slide Inc.
Hoffman's vision of the Internet as a way to connect people, not just computers, played a crucial role in the medium's roaring comeback -- as did his willingness to bet his own money. By the time the rest of the world caught Internet fever in 2005 or so, Hoffman had already solidified an investment portfolio that most venture capitalists today would swap for theirs in a nanosecond.
"Reid's big," said a longtime friend, venture capitalist David Siminoff. "His ideas are big. His vision is big. His heart and brain are big. He's almost one of those mythic characters like Babe Ruth who, when he ate, he ate nine hamburgers; when he drank, he couldn't see straight; and when he hit the baseball, it would keep going until Monday."
At the age of 40, with what he calls his "active but sedentary start-up lifestyle," Hoffman just keeps getting bigger: about 10 pounds a year, he estimates. (He doesn't step on scales. He simply says he weighs "too much.")
There isn't much about this Oxford-trained philosopher turned hyperintellectual entrepreneur that's svelte.
Certainly not his e-mail account (10 gigabytes), his virtual Rolodex (1,684 connections on LinkedIn and counting), the number of corporate boards he sits on (seven), the number of companies he has invested in (more than 60), the number of computers he mans in a single sitting (three), the number of windows he has open on his desktop at any one time (a few hundred) or the way some of Silicon Valley's sharpest minds describe him (with mega-respect and affection -- one friend even refers to him as His Reidness).
Just as the power of technology is expanding at an exponential rate, so too is Hoffman's influence. Yet he's so intent on driving technological change that he is reluctant to slow down long enough to spend a few hours a week with the personal trainer his friends hired to downsize his beefy frame.
The only thing that isn't big is Hoffman's ego. He receives scant attention compared with the entrepreneurs he has bankrolled.
Until a few weeks ago, he and his wife, Michelle Yee, shared an 876-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment in Mountain View with 400 of his books and 900 of his DVDs (many hundreds more are in storage). He agreed to move to a larger house to make room for friends to watch movies or play an addictive German board game, Settlers of Catan. He married Yee, his college sweetheart, in the same understated way: before a justice of the peace and three witnesses.
Hoffman is just as down-to-earth at LinkedIn's rapidly expanding headquarters. He would prefer to occupy a cubicle if not for all the confidential, high-level meetings that pack his days. Instead he works in an unpretentious office that's chaotic and strewn with books, yet he can still find anything he's looking for in seconds.
He is adept at what he calls "context switching," effortlessly moving from meetings to e-mails to phone calls to ordering another book or DVD from Amazon.com. He starts and ends each business day with meetings over breakfast and dinner. Weekends quickly fill up, too. The only thing that is sacrosanct is date night on Saturdays with his wife.
Said former LinkedIn executive and early Facebook employee Matt Cohler: "He's oblivious to the external noise. He just homes in on the stuff that really matters."