Six Quick Questions: Reid Hoffman

Reid Hoffman was an apt choice as the lead off speaker last month at the TEDx Silicon Valley conference at Stanford University.

Not only was the serial entrepreneur and investor born nearby at Stanford Hospital in 1967, but Hoffman is a graduate of the university, earning a bachelor’s degree in symbolic systems. Plus, Hoffman, who is best known for starting LinkedIn.com, which some expect to go public this year, exudes what the TED conference is all about: Optimism.

“I’m an optimist,” he said during a break at TEDx. “I’m not a pessimist. And probably the best time to invest in startups is when everyone else is pessimistic. I see nothing but good things ahead.”

Hoffman, who also has a master’s degree in philosophy from Oxford University, joined Greylock Partners in November as a partner, and he has an extensive resume when it comes to startups. He is a former executive VP at online payment company PayPal and has several angel investments to his credit, including Digg, Facebook, Flickr, IronPort Systems, Last.fm, Ning, Six Apart and Zynga Game Network. He is also a board member at micro-lender Kiva.org and Firefox browser developer Mozilla.

Hoffman talked at TEDx about social causes on the Internet and how the actions of groups of people can be coordinated worldwide to help enact social change. That notion meshed well with TEDx, which was attended by an exclusive group of 200 people, but watched live online via Ustream by more than 82,000 people in 45 countries. That online viewership included at least one airborne woman who tweeted that she watched while flying to JFK.

Managing Editor Alastair Goldfisher caught up with Hoffman at the TEDx conference and asked him six quick questions.

Q: Do you see yourself as an intellectual?A: I know that sounds pretentious, but it’s important to reflect on where we are and where we should be as individuals and as a society.

Q: What do you mean when you say we should write our own obituary?A: As you write your obituary week by week, you should think about the impact you have on the world around you.

Q: What do you find interesting about the Internet today?A: The Internet is more about people than about technology. Everyone has a presence online. Web 1.0 was characterized by a chat room on AOL where weird behavior happened. Web 2.0 is about people and their real identity, interacting with each other on Facebook and other sites.

Q: Can that Web 2.0 notion help bring about social change?A: Yes, for example, if we take advantage of open source projects. Even small contributions can make a big difference, such as at Kiva.org.

Q: At Greylock, will you focus on cause-based investments?A: No. Limited partners like it when you make them money. Our limited partners would prefer it that way. For Greylock, I’m focusing on consumer Internet startups and, to a certain extent, general software.

Q: Are IPOs headed for a rebound in 2010?A: You always look like a fool when making a prediction of the future. But I am optimistic.