Words of Wisdom from the Dumbest Guy in the Room: A Q&A with San Diego Serial Entrepreneur Neil Senturia

4/5/11Follow @bvbigelow

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to know everything. More importantly, you have to know what you don’t know, and you have to hire the best and brightest. If you use the Jack Kennedy model, he once said, “If I’m the dumbest guy in the room, we have a chance.” I’ve held to that. I want to be the dumbest guy in the room. If I’m the dumbest guy in the room, my company has a chance. I’m looking for people who are smarter than I am, better than I am, more disciplined than I am, more driven than I am. Great! That is often a threat, unless you have confidence in your own ability to manage.

X: Why did you write this book? Don’t you have enough on your plate?

NS: I had finished working on SDNN and it had been a failure. [The San Diego News Network was an online news startup; 2009-2010 RIP.]  We closed in late May, early June last year, and it was really a visceral and painful experience. While I’ve done more than a half-dozen startups and also some real estate, this one had a lot of feelings. We really cared deeply.

So I decided that I was going to be a consultant. I was done forever and would never be a CEO again. And if you’re going to be a consultant, you have to have a book. So I sat down on June 14, 2010. I’m a very disciplined writer. I measured it out. A book is 230 pages, which is 63,000 words. So I said I’ll write 80,000 words and cut it down.

X: Your wife told me you were once a scriptwriter for MASH.

NS: She makes it sound like I was a staff writer. Let’s tell the truth. I was not. I was a freelance hack in Hollywood for 10 years. I submitted stories to Newhart and Alice and Tony Randall, and I did some stuff for Newhart in Vegas, and I submitted to MASH. Some got published, some got rewritten, some got tossed out, some got no credits. Who cares? It was interesting and I was a writer. I was supposed to be a funny writer.

Now there is a subtext. I’ve taught at San Diego State, and I now teach at the von Liebig school at UCSD, and I am deeply involved in the startup racket in this town. I’ve been on the panels at Connect, and [Connect] Springboard, Venture Group, and blah, blah, blah. And my sense is that often, if not frequently, people don’t tell the truth. The panelists wave their arms and say, we went out and raised $25,000 or $250 million and then we sold the company for $1 billion and there we are. That’s not exactly what really happened.

Neil Senturia

So I decided that I would write a business book that had several principles. It was going to tell the truth. On the other hand, the opening paragraph says don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. At the end of the day, I’m really a storyteller, and I use the truth to serve my purposes. So this is not a business book. This is really a story about ways to live your life. There’s 223 rules, some are 10 words and some are half a paragraph and there are 500 rules total. This is the first volume, and the balance, which would be 277 rules, are coming in Volume 2.

X: Is there really a volume 2? Or are you bending the truth?

NS: Absolutely. I have 10 more stories that I haven’t told. I am a storyteller, and one of the things that you should teach in entrepreneurship when you go to raise money: Don’t wave your arms about ROI or, you know, the … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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