Joe Stump on Why to Hang Around People Smarter Than You

In Chapter 4 of 17 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, Internet entrepreneur and SimpleGeo CTO Joe Stump shares why he hangs out with smarter peers. He sees this not as a threat but as a learning opportunity. He notes how he learns about wine listening to Gary Vaynerchuk and Garren Katz. Ultimately, the smarter peer group helps Joe continuously learn and develop. Stump is the co-founder and CTO at SimpleGeo (, a San Francisco-based mobile location infrastructure services company. Previously Stump was Lead Architect at Digg. He programs in PHP, Python, Django and enjoys scaling websites. He earned a BBA in Computer Information Systems from Eastern Michigan University.


Erik Michielsen:  Why is it a good idea to surround yourself with people that are smarter than you?

Joe Stump:  Um… One, you look smarter. Guilt by association, man!  If people are smart and you hang out with them, therefore you will look smart too.  That is legitimately a benefit of hanging out with people that are smarter than you.  I think the other one is – I think the main reason I like to hang out with people that are smarter than me is that challenges me – people will react to that situation in two ways. One, they will basically wilt away from it and be like, “These people are too smart. I can’t hang with them. I’m out.”  And other people will sit around and sponge off of them and basically be like, “This is an opportunity for me to get better at something and learn more about something I didn’t know about.”  And that’s why I hang out with people that are smarter than me.  They have knowledge that I want, or that I need, or that I just find interesting.  

I’m never going to… I’m not a wine guy at all but I’ll listen to Garren talk about wine all day long. Same thing with Gary because it’s fascinating that someone knows that much about something so mundane. And I love the little things, like Gary will talk about how global warming is impacting wines and how different wine – like a wine regions that use to be known for one type of grape has actually completely shifted because the climate has changed so much and they can’t grow that old grape but they can grow this new grape.  That stuff is really interesting.  It’s challenging and it’s beneficial in a number of ways and if you’re one of those types of people that always wants to get better, then you have to surround yourself with smarter people because otherwise you’re just treading water.