The LinkedIn Story: Origins and Growth Strategy

LinkedIn headquarters.

Social media has quickly become a significant part of our culture and daily lives. It’s where anyone can share their best moments with friends and family and stay connected with the people closest to them with the simple click of a button or tap of a screen. 

Even though these platforms were great for personal relationships and connections, there was a gap in the market for a dedicated social platform built exclusively for professionals and workers wanting to advance their careers — until LinkedIn was officially launched on May 5, 2003. 

We’ll explore the LinkedIn story in detail, beginning with how the company was founded and its growth strategy to get to where it is today. 

By examining the founding timeline of LinkedIn, their business model, how they make money, what makes them unique, and the marketing strategies they’ve used successfully over the years, entrepreneurs can gain inspiration for their own companies and take away valuable lessons that will benefit their startups moving forward.

LinkedIn Overview and History

From the very beginning, the vision of LinkedIn was to create economic opportunities that every single member of the global workforce could take advantage of to grow and advance their careers and professional lives. 

The idea was that creating a platform that would allow the world’s professionals to connect easily with one another would make them more successful and productive in the long run. 

In 2002, co-founders Allen Blue, Eric Ly, Jean-Luc Vaillant, and Konstantin Guericke began working out of Reid Hoffman’s living room to bring this vision to life. The goal was to build a professional networking platform they were proud of, and they began brainstorming solutions and putting together code piece by piece. 

Hoffman wasn’t new to tech startups, having been an investor and previously on the board of PayPal, eBay, and Google. His past expertise, knowledge, and experience, coupled with his co-founder’s skillsets, would turn out to be the perfect combination to launch LinkedIn to the world. 

On May 5, 2003, LinkedIn was officially launched to the world. In the founding timeline below, we’ll discuss LinkedIn’s history and comment on important milestones throughout the company’s growth.

What Is LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is one of the largest professional networks in the world, with more than 830 million active members across 200 countries and territories worldwide. Workers and professionals use LinkedIn to connect with potential employers, network with their coworkers, and form industry connections they wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to obtain. 

Company: LinkedIn (Subsidiary of Microsoft Corporation)
Industry: Professional Networking, Recruiting, Social Media
Location: Sunnyvale, California
Date Founded: 5 May 2003
Founders: Allen Blue, Eric Ly, Jean-Luc Vaillant, Konstantin Guericke, Reid Hoffman
Members (2022): 830 Million
Acquisition Cost (Microsoft): $27 Billion
Revenue (2021): $11.5 Billion

LinkedIn users can send “connect” requests to interact with co-workers, colleagues, or other professionals to begin forming professional connections. Like your typical social network, users can send private messages, read public posts and news, comment and interact with other users’ posts, and search for and apply for jobs. 

Since LinkedIn’s user base primarily consists of professional workers who are actively employed in their careers, businesses can purchase advertising space on the platform to promote job openings, products, and services. Recent figures showed that there are over 57 companies listed on LinkedIn, with over 15 million active job listings in 2022. 

LinkedIn Founding Timeline

Business professionals worldwide have made LinkedIn their primary social networking platform for forming business connections and relationships. We’re going to examine the founding timeline of LinkedIn and how the founders were able to grow their business into the tech giant it is today. 

  • December 2002: LinkedIn is officially founded in Reid Hoffman’s basement. 
  • May 5, 2003: The official launch date of the LinkedIn platform. Users can now begin signing up and joining LinkedIn for professional networking. 
  • August 2004: LinkedIn officially reaches 1 million users on their platform.
  • July 2005: LinkedIn adds their “groups” feature, which gives professionals a space for discussing and sharing their experiences by industry or common interest. 
  • August 2005: LinkedIn launches business accounts on the platform.
  • April 2007: The platform officially hits 10 million users.
  • February 2008: LinkedIn introduces the mobile version of its platform.
  • September 2008: Targeted advertising campaigns are implemented and launched.
  • August 2010: LinkedIn acquires its first company, mSpoke.
  • May 2011: LinkedIn IPOs and the first shares of the company are publicly traded.
  • February 2014: The company acquires
  • May 2015: LinkedIn implements an analytics tool that allows businesses and users to see platform data visually.
  • October 2015: LinkedIn re-launches on mobile with an updated application. 
  • December 2016: Microsoft acquires LinkedIn.
  • January 2017: LinkedIn redesigns its desktop application in an attempt to improve usability and the user experience. 
  • April 2017: LinkedIn officially reaches 500 million users. 
  • May 2020: The “LinkedIn Events” feature is officially launched, allowing organizations to connect safely in real time. 
  • February 2022: LinkedIn officially reaches 830 million users. 

While this is not an exhaustive timeline of events describing LinkedIn’s rapid growth from a small startup to a world-leading professional network, it illustrates the rapid scale of user growth as well as several significant milestones in the company’s history. 

As users began to utilize the platform more and more, news about LinkedIn spread by word of mouth and seeing their friends and coworkers making accounts on the platform. In the following few sections, we’re going to dive into LinkedIn’s business model in detail, as well as the marketing strategies it used to grow its user base over time even further.

LinkedIn Business Model

LinkedIn has grown into a professional networking behemoth, with revenues reaching $11.5 billion in 2021 — a 43.7% increase year over year. This section will dig into their business model, how they make money, and what makes LinkedIn unique compared to other social networks and professional networking platforms currently on the market. 

How LinkedIn Makes Money

LinkedIn’s primary revenue streams are premium subscriptions, talent solutions, and marketing solutions. 

  • Premium Subscriptions – Users of LinkedIn can purchase premium subscriptions that allow them to access more features than a free user would have access to. This includes seeing who viewed their profile, how they rank among other LinkedIn users, InMail messages, online video courses, salary insights, freelancer hiring services (Profinder), and helping sales professionals qualify and locate prospects (Sales Navigator). They have different plans catering to career professionals, businesses, sales professionals, and recruiters. 
  • Talent Solutions – Hiring makes up the bulk of LinkedIn’s revenue, coming from the platform’s premium recruiting tool, “Talent Solutions.” Companies can use this tool to locate targeted employees and potential candidates for partnering with their businesses. When a company uses this tool, it can post jobs, recruitment media, referrals, and career pages. 
  • Learning and Development – LinkedIn operates “LinkedIn Learning,” formerly known as Lynda, which has a subscription-based revenue model. Users can sign up for “LinkedIn Learning” and pay a monthly fee to access all of their lessons and courses.
  • Marketing Solutions – Marketers use LinkedIn frequently, allowing them to expand their marketing campaigns and find decision-makers at the companies they want to reach. Marketing Solutions allows marketers to create custom pages, create sponsored content, and reach out to prospects directly on the platform. 

LinkedIn Customers Explained

To understand LinkedIn’s business model in depth, it’s essential first to comprehend who their primary customers are and who they are marketing to. While some businesses only have one primary target market, LinkedIn has several. 

Primary User Base: Career Professionals

The most extensive user base of LinkedIn is professionals who are progressing in their careers and use the platform for connections and networking with others on the platform. 

Recruiters: The Endless Search for Talent

Next up are recruiters who use LinkedIn to find ideal candidates for the companies they represent. They can use the platform to filter users based on their experience, skills, knowledge, and location and hire ideal candidates to fill unique and challenging positions.

Marketers and Advertisers: Using LinkedIn to Contact Decision-Makers

The final groups are advertisers and marketers who use LinkedIn to promote their products and services on the platform. They can use Marketing Solutions to reach prospects and connect with leads who may be interested in their offerings. 

Unlike other social platforms, where it can be challenging for marketers or salespeople to get a response doing “cold outreach,” LinkedIn has several significant advantages. The first advantage lies in that most decision-makers in the most prominent companies worldwide are already present on LinkedIn, giving marketers a clear path to outreach and communication with these individuals. Second, if a decision-maker receives an outreach message from a marketer with a trustworthy profile, connections, and someone who works in their industry, the chances of receiving a reply go up exponentially.

Value Proposition for Market Segments

In the previous section, we reviewed the major market segments LinkedIn targets to bring in revenue. The most logical follow-up question is, what value does LinkedIn provide for all of these market segments? 

Knowing the answer is critical if someone wants to understand LinkedIn’s business model at a deeper level.

Professionals: Using LinkedIn to Display Expertise

Professionals use the platform to display their professional skills, talents, and expertise. This allows them to build contacts and relationships with other LinkedIn users in their industry and potentially find a better-paying job or switch careers in the future. Users can build their brand through the platform by publishing content and interacting with other users. 

One of the most attractive features of LinkedIn is that the platform is free to use when using all of its essential features. This allows any worker or career professional to create an account in minutes and begin connecting to others within their industry.

Recruiters: Quickly and Efficiently Qualifying Top Talent

LinkedIn offers a variety of incredibly useful tools for recruiters, such as browsing resumes with references, finding ideal candidates through a web search instead of tracking down top performers in person, and using LinkedIn’s “event” functionality to hold small interviews, one-to-one meetings, and webinars with candidates they see potential in.

LinkedIn Marketing Strategies

We’ve covered LinkedIn’s origin story, history, and business model in detail, but we haven’t yet touched on the marketing strategies they used and continue to use to grow their business. This section will dive into LinkedIn’s marketing strategy and the best tactics that managed to work for them. 

Initial Growth Strategy and Restructuring

LinkedIn didn’t grow exponentially from the very beginning – in fact, user growth in its initial years was relatively slow. 

It was only after the founding team jumped into “growth mode” and implemented features related to jobs and recruiting along with paid subscriptions circa 2005. LinkedIn’s growth accelerated only after it implemented a growth strategy and added these critical revenue streams.

An essential part of this “growth spurt” was when the company’s executives saw the need to inspire LinkedIn’s workforce and give them a clear vision and goal to work toward. They established their mission statement that called for providing economic opportunities for billions of people in the global workforce by matching job opportunities with people’s skill sets. Once the company’s employees knew exactly what they were working towards, the company’s growth began to see initial signs of acceleration. 

In addition to establishing a clear vision, they also created an organizational culture within the company by emphasizing performance, compassion, culture, and individual performance metrics in each team. The idea was to have every employee think like an owner and make decisions from that state of mind.

Viral Marketing

Aatif Awan, LinkedIn’s VP of growth, shared that everyone was on the growth team in the early days of LinkedIn. No matter if you were a product manager, engineer, or even the CEO, you were responsible for promoting the platform and identifying how you could promote its growth. 

One of the most insightful takeaways from the company’s initial growth was when Awan mentioned, “Growth has to be built into the product.” This means that the platform has to be so valuable to users that they naturally share it with others and encourage their friends, family, and colleagues to join. 

With LinkedIn, this natural growth was seen in real-time. As professionals joined the platform and grew their network, the value of their network and the business colleagues they connected with became inherently valuable. They would then share their results, encourage others to sign up, and organically promote the platform.

Investing in Growth Systems and Utilizing Data

Beginning in 2008, LinkedIn began investing in growth systems and building a dedicated team to handle its growth strategy. By doing so, they were able to boost their user counts from 14 million to a staggering 140 million by 2011. 

In addition to its rockstar growth team, LinkedIn also prioritized data acquisition and analysis. They expanded their metrics related to activation, connections, retention, and acquisition, engaged quality members, and quality signups, allowing them to make more informed business decisions. By tracking its metrics and identifying bottlenecks and opportunities for improvement, LinkedIn was able to grow faster than ever.

What’s Next for LinkedIn

Even though LinkedIn has managed to grow its user base exponentially in the last decade, becoming the de facto platform for career professionals and workers worldwide – what’s next on the docket? 

First of all, it’s crucial to realize that LinkedIn is in no position to become complacent, even with all of its illustrious achievements to date; if they do, they risk being outrun by one of the company’s competitors and losing the leading position they hold as a social network for professionals. 

To maintain its position in the industry and attract even more users, LinkedIn will continue to focus on marketplace efforts aimed at job seekers and workers. If LinkedIn can continue providing economic opportunities to its user base and helping workers re-skill and network into great job positions, the platform will undoubtedly see continued organic growth. 

As workforces become more globalized with every coming day, LinkedIn must continue to innovate and bring massive value to its users, the very lifeblood of its business.

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