Last Sunday’s New York Times has an article on how “many successful entrepreneurs have qualities and quirks that, if poured into their psyches in greater ratios, would qualify as full-on mental illness.” It’s a fascinating story, told through the example of the 21-year-old founder of Scvngr and with insights from venture capitalists and academics:
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.