I recently answered this question on Quora, a new Q&A site that I am becoming hopelessly addicted to. I thought it made for a good story, so I wanted to share elsewhere.

Feel free to take a look at the original answer here: http://www.quora.com/What-was-Reid-Hoffman-doing-prior-to-PayPal . It will also give you a quick insight into Quora and what it is like. I like to think of it as a “online cocktail party” attended by the who’s who of technology, everyday.

Anyway, the answer and story is below. The 2nd part of the question talks about the relationship with Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus…

Reid Hoffman graduated from Stanford with a BA in Symbolic Systems. Left Palo Alto to pursue academia and a MA from Oxford in Philosophy.

Realizing academia wasn’t his calling, he returned to Silicon Valley to pursue startups and entrepreneurship.

After internships at Apple and Fujitsu, he attempted his first startup that was called SocialNet.com, an online dating service.

While working on SocialNet, he was pitched by good friend Peter Theil about a new startup called Confinity that was solving the problem of encryption on Palm Pilots. He did not like the idea, but agreed to sit on the board.

Eventually Hoffman and the team at SocialNet wound down the company and returned capital to investors. About that time Hoffman joined Theil and team at Confinity full time. They eventually merged with Elon Musk and team at X.com to create what is now known as PayPal.

And the rest, as they say, is history (couldn’t resist).

As far as the connection to Mark Pincus (this should be a separate question): The first significant project the two worked on was in the purchase of the “Six Degrees Patent”.

This is regarded as the most significant social networking technology patent that exists. It was originally held by the early, maybe first, social networking site SixDegrees.com.

Obviously this was an extremely insightful move in 2003 and tells you a lot about Mark and Reid as visionaries and entrepreneurs.

The rumor is that the patent was purchased as a means to try and acquire Friendster, the prominent social network at the time. Due to issues with Friendster founder Johnathan Abrams (again rumor), the purchase never happened. In hindsight that is probably a good thing as Friendster was quickly outgrown by other social networks.

The two then leveraged the patent and their own personal networks to get in on the continuing growth of social networks. Reid invested with Peter Theil in first angel round of Facebook. I assume Mark was also involved in this in some way, as shortly thereafter Mark created Zynga, with Reid being heavily involved in that company as well, being an investor and board member.

Zynga was a major player in the growth of Facebook, spending more than $50M annually on ad space. The two have helped each other grow and it could be said that much of this may have not happened, had it not been for the influence that Reid and Mark wielded with the Six Degrees Patent.