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July 13, 2011

Staff Picks: I'm There For You, Baby!

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 5:30 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Neal Senturia is not for everyone. After all, the cover of his book is a barbed wire fence flipping the bird, which I didn't even know was possible until this book came out. I'm There For You, Baby: An Entrepreneur's Guide to the Galaxy is not as abrasive as its cover may lead you to believe, but it definitely has a devil-may-care attitude, and an irreverent, unapologetic tone. Most of all, it was just a lot of fun to read.

There are books that you just immediately inhabit the character of, that you can see yourself in or vice-versa. This was not that book for me, but I imagine it will be that book for a lot of folks—those hustling to find investment money for their next start-up, people looking for their next big deal, those looking to buck convention and strike out on their own, entrepreneurs. Now, I'm a bit of a prude in the entrepreneurial regard, so I couldn't quite take on the skin of the narrative, couldn't quite see myself in it. But I still couldn't put it down. The man can spin a tale, and it was with great attention and pleasure that I followed Senturia's retelling of his life so far (in his own admission, sometimes embellished for effect).

It's a story that begins in Hollywood, from where the book's title is taken:

I loved Hollywood. I hated Hollywood.

How could one exist—let alone survive and ultimately triumph—in a universe populated by the following phrases that were supposed to pass for interpersonal communication and human connection?

"Let's do lunch."

"I'll get right back to you."

And the one that brings it all home, the granddaddy of them all: "Hey, I'm there for you, baby."

In all three cases you know you are getting f***ed, and it will never happen.

Now you might ask, given my pejorative association with the phrase, why I picked it for the book.

It is because entrepreneurship is a little bit like Hollywood.

Senturia's story then passes briefly through the cesspool of the savings and loan industry of the '80s before moving on to real-estate and ending up in Silicon Valley. Senturia picked up a lot of great entrepreneurial lessons and rules to live by along the way. They range from the simple and important Rule #1: Return every e-mail and every phone call, to the more creative and course Rule #78: "If you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow," which the author credits to General William Westmoreland. Some of these rules aren't really rules at all, such as Rule #390: Are you out of your f***ing mind?

Thumbing his nose at even the pretense of convention, Senturia's rules are not laid out in any kind of order, but thrown seemingly slapdash into the narrative he's relating. In fact, though the number of his rules reach #491, there are not even 491 rules due to the gaps between them. There are, for instance, only 15 rules numbered in the 400s. You can find a complete list of the rules in the appendix, which is by turns insightful, poignant, hilarious, and completely absurd.

For me, the book was equal parts fascination, laughter, and bewilderment. Speaking of the lawyer he went on his real-estate adventures with, he writes:

If you ask my peer group what they think of lawyers, you will hear unmitigated fury and disdain, followed by this mantra: "Except my lawyer, Joe Smith, who is absolutely fabulous." [...] In my case, the lawyer in question was Brian Seltzer. [...] Brian and I never, ever crossed the line into illegal but together we were able to press right up to the line, peek over the edge, and take advantage of not just the law but the irrational behavior of the other side.
It is stuff like that keeps me outside of the narrative, a fascinated and sometimes curious spectator of it. I don't put any kind of judgment on it; I've just never been there before. But if you have been there before, perhaps you will smile knowingly and see yourself in it. If you're an aspiring entrepreneur, perhaps you learn something from it. Everybody who picks it up will at least get a thoroughly entertaining story. In the conclusion, the author surprised me a touch of sentimentality.
Dear reader: Entrepreneurship is a mantle to be worn with grace, humility, and a deep appreciation of the joys and the perils that it provides. I hope that some of these stories will give you a few touchstones to consider as you navigate your own road.

Enjoy the trip, and along the way, may each of you find the compatible soul who is truly there for you, baby.

I think these stories certainly will provide some touchstones, but what happened to the barbed wire?