On January 25, 2007 Guy Kawasaki posted a blog called “Ten Questions With Donald Trump” at the very end of the article Mr. Trump is asked to give advice to entrepreneurs, and he recommends entrepreneurs should be passionate about what they do, so they won’t give up when times get tough. I was kind of surprised and disappointed at his reply, and frankly I am tired of hearing “passion” and “entrepreneurship” mentioned in the same sentence. These two words together have become a worn out cliche, and not an accurate assessment of what small business people really need to get started.
Many I speak with now know I am an entrepreneur, and they will talk about their passion, what excites them, and how they want to do something related to this passion to make a living, and then build a company around it. It is a fairy tale concept, fun to dream about, but in practice it isn’t very realistic. What happens if no one cares about what you are passionate about? Or worse, what if you aren’t that great at what you are passionate about, excelling at it might be impossible, or take more time than one has to become good at it. The goal is to put food on the table and get in the black as fast as possible, work for yourself, and the time is ticking as soon as you get started. It is a race against time based on how much money have to live on, and how much you are going to need to live on when the initial funds run out. There is a word for doing something you love, but doesn’t make you any money… that word is “hobby.” You may love to knit pot holders, code cool online widgets, or build custom golf clubs, but if no one buys these creations, then you have a hobby you love, but not a business. That being said, if the products or services you have passion in are not needed or wanted by the public, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a very successful entrepreneur doing something else.
In my case, I have very few things in my life I am passionate about, there is my wife, kids, family, friends, my religion, maybe golf, and that is about it. So what should I do to start a company working with stuff I am passionate about? Golf? Maybe an online golf store would be the way to go, then I would compete with the 140,000 other online golf shops already out there. Or maybe I could come up with a crazy golf practice gizmo, or create a new, can’t hit a poor shot, club? Although I have no engineering background, and frankly, while I am passionate about playing golf, getting into golf retail seems like a drag. I tried to work at a golf shop once, I didn’t like it. So playing golf, there is where my passion is, but because I am not good enough to ever consider pulling on the Green Jacket at the Masters, earning money playing golf isn’t a real option for me. So what next, can I turn my other passions into a business? Renting out my family doesn’t seem socially acceptable, and my friends are all too busy doing their own thing, my religion isn’t for sale, so I essentially have nothing I am passionate about that I can turn into a business. Then according to the passion preachers, entrepreneurship should be especially difficult (if not impossible) for me.
Yet here I am. I see entrepreneurship as a process, it is a verb, and having passion about the product or service you provide isn’t as important as some make it out to be. Instead, you just keep your eyes open, you look for opportunities, you try to figure out an area of need, in which you can either provide a better service than everyone else, or come up with a new product that addresses a need not yet addressed, or a product that addresses these needs better than anything else. The required drive or “passion” then needs to come from a desire to excel at this opportunity, and not necessarily be based on the product or service. You then decide to work harder than everyone else and you stubbornly refuse to quit. You may not be successful in your first opportunity, I wasn’t, it may not be your 5th, but you choose to not quit until you find something in which you can be successful. In my mind there are two types of entrepreneurs, those that had a great product or service, and worked it to success, sometimes quickly, and then there are those that were too stubborn to quit, and eventually learned to make some opportunity work, it make have taken some time, and wasn’t instant, but in either case success as an entrepreneur was achieved.
Flexibility is hugely important as an entrepreneur, you may get going and figure out there isn’t much money in your original idea, but you notice another opportunity which might be better, flexibility allows a quick refocusing of efforts to work a new opportunity. There is a difference in stubbornly being an entrepreneur, and stubbornly focusing on a product or service that won’t ever sell, no matter the effort. I think in these situations, passion in a product can actually get in the way of eventual success. If someone is truly passionate about their product, and wants the public to love it as much as they do, they could hold on to the dream of that opportunity being successful longer than an entrepreneur that just sees it as another product. Passionate product entrepreneurs would be wise to put limits on their dream, based on real life limitations, including family, money available, and other opportunities. Flexibility is also becomes important as often adjustments with your company are required to stay competitive in an ever changing marketplace.
Interestingly enough, we have some companies with products/services I am simply was not passionate about, in fact I didn’t like the product much at all, but others did, and I developed a passion in being the best at providing them this product/service the demanded. So passion in your business can be developed after the business gets up and going. We had a very cool thing happen in one of our “passionless” businesses. We started sourcing some of our service work to domestic, stay-at-home contractors, instead of sending it to offshore providers, and the results were unpredictably amazing. Quality and turnaround time improved considerably, and we actually started to get “thank-yous” notes from the domestic individuals doing the work, instead of the complaints, excuses and demands for more money from our offshore providers. This drastic change caused a paradigm shift in my attitude toward the company, and I became very passionate about finding more work, so we could provide more opportunities to our domestic, stay-at-home contractors. It has become one of those win/win situation, our clients receive better work, contractors get to stay home with their kids, and the company deals with far less headaches from off-shore vendors, and unsatisfied clients. So we started our company to fill a niche, provide an efficient, reliable service, but without the passion some say we needed, but now the company has morphed into one we are very passionate about due to changes within the organization. Pretty cool and wonderfully satisfying.
So, the importance of passion in a product or service by the entrepreneur is overstated in my opinion. It would probably be nice if one could find an opportunity like that, but it is not required. Entrepreneurship is more about dedication, ingenuity and flexibility. As long as one is dedicated to provide potential clients with what they need, better than anyone else can, then success as is possible, with our without “passion,” which may or may not materialize over time.