SHOOT: It's interesting how art and some of the greatest ideas and wisdoms come from what initially appears to be lunacy. I think the place where that magic starts is some sort of intercept between imagination and being a bit manic. Basically an imagination on steroids is going to get you results. See below to see what I mean:
“Elevated” hardly describes this guy. To keep the pace of his thoughts and conversation at manageable levels, he runs on a track every morning until he literally collapses. He can work 96 hours in a row. He plans to live in his office, crashing in a sleeping bag. He describes anything that distracts him and his future colleagues, even for minutes, as “evil.”
He is 21 years old.
So, what do you give this guy — a big check or the phone number of a really good shrink? If he is Seth Priebatsch and you are Highland Capital Partners, a venture capital firm in Lexington, Mass., the answer is a big check.
But this thought exercise hints at a truth: a thin line separates the temperament of a promising entrepreneur from a person who could use, as they say in psychiatry, a little help. Academics and hiring consultants say that many successful entrepreneurs have qualities and quirks that, if poured into their psyches in greater ratios, would qualify as full-on mental illness.
Which is not to suggest that entrepreneurs like Seth Priebatsch (pronounced PREE-batch) are crazy. It would be more accurate to describe them as just crazy enough.
“It’s about degrees,” says John D. Gartner, a psychologist and author of “The Hypomanic Edge.” “If you’re manic, you think you’re Jesus. If you’re hypomanic, you think you are God’s gift to technology investing.”
The attributes that make great entrepreneurs, the experts say, are common in certain manias, though in milder forms and harnessed in ways that are hugely productive. Instead of recklessness, the entrepreneur loves risk. Instead of delusions, the entrepreneur imagines a product that sounds so compelling that it inspires people to bet their careers, or a lot of money, on something that doesn’t exist and may never sell.
So venture capitalists spend a lot of time plumbing the psyches of the people in whom they might invest. It’s not so much about separating the loonies from the slightly manic. It’s more about determining which hypomanics are too arrogant and obnoxious — traits common to the type — and which have some humanity and interpersonal skills, always helpful for recruiting talent and raising money.
Some V.C.’s have personality tests to help them weed out the former. Others emphasize their toleration of mild forms of mania, if only because starting a business is, on its face, a little nuts.
“You need to suspend disbelief to start a company, because so many people will tell you that what you’re doing can’t be done, and if it could be done, someone would have done it already,” says Paul Maeder, a general partner at Highland Capital. “There are six billion human beings on this planet, we’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years, we’re a couple hundred years into the industrial revolution — and nobody has done what you want to do? It’s kind of crazy.”
ON a recent Saturday evening, Seth Priebatsch is sitting in his office/bedroom in the 26,000-square-foot space that houses Scvngr (pronounced “scavenger”), which he founded in early 2009. Dozens of toy race cars fill a bookshelf on one wall; the other is covered with lists and drawings. The sofa where he crashes in his sleeping bag lies between the two.
He will explain the genesis of Scvngr, and offer a sort of guided tour of his mind, while sitting on a stool in his bare feet, wearing jeans and a Princeton T-shirt. A pair of Oakley sunglasses are perched, as they nearly always are, atop his head — part talisman, part personal branding.
He is lean, smiley and partial to the word “awesome,” which he uses as a noun — as in “an extra dose of awesome.” He speaks quickly and with what sounds like a Canadian accent, which seems odd because he was raised in Boston.
He first pitched Scvngr as a freshman at Princeton, to a professor linked to an annual business plan contest open to undergraduates and graduates. “I told him I wanted to build the game layer on top of the world,” Mr. Priebatsch recalls. “And he didn’t say, ‘You’re insane.’ So I said, ‘And I want everyone in the world to help me build it.’”
SHOOT: Interesting comment on this story that I don't disagree with:
I've this idea for a game in the US called booleschit. You log into facebook or myspace or scvngr or whatever stupid thing and then you delete your account and live real life and stop thinking that life is being online 24.7