When you startup, which path should you choose?
Do what you know, or do what you love?
Some people advise us that you should follow your heart, and start a business based around something you’re truly passionate about.
Others will suggest that you look to the things you do well, and build a business based around your skills.
So, which one is a good advice?
First, the basics – what’s passion?
There is a lot of confusion about understanding what passion is.
In 10 Things You Should Know About Passion (And How To Find Yours) Singyin Lee says ‘Passion’ is a word so excessively used and almost always blindingly paired with work, that if you actually ask around you may find that not everyone really gets what passion is. For example, some equate a passion (for something) to a hobby or a dream, but just because you love to sing (in the shower), that doesn’t necessarily mean that your passion is the act of singing. She describes passion through 10 things which can perhaps help one find real passion and some of the interesting things include – it’s not a hobby or a dream; you might not be seeing it; you are willing to rough it out for it and being passionate is being invested in terms of your energy.
Webster’s Dictionary defines passion as “an intense, driving or overmastering feeling of conviction” or “a strong desire for or devotion to some activity or concept”.
In other words, passion is an act of full attention and full force that you give to some stuff that you are doing.
“It is obvious that we can no more explain a passion to a person who has never experienced it than we can explain light to the blind.” – T.S. Elliot
Passion is good
We have always liked the idea, when someone tells us to follow our passion.
Paul Graham, Founder of Y-Combinator, in How to Do What You Love says, the very idea is foreign to what most of us learn as kids. “When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing. Occasionally the things adults made you do were fun, just as, occasionally, playing wasn’t—for example, if you fell and hurt yourself. But except for these few anomalous cases, work was pretty much defined as not-fun. Although doing great work takes less discipline than people think—because the way to do great work is to find something you like so much that you don’t have to force yourself to do it—finding work you love does usually require discipline. “
Dae Smith’s 10 Rules for Developing a Great Startup Idea gives a checklist created by the Founder Institute, which is the world’s largest entrepreneur training and startup launch program. The first rule in this checklist is “Start With Passion”. It says, “Without passion, your startup is bound to flop. Like raising a child, there is a long-term commitment involved. There is a very good chance you will be working on your startup for several years to come. Make sure you like what you’re doing! Additionally, if you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, potential investors, customers, press, and other contacts will see right through you.
In The Top 4 Reasons Passion Drives Startup Success, George Deeb describes passion as one of those intangibles that drives an entrepreneur, gets them through the good times and the bad times, and ultimately dictates the success of any startup. He says, passion needs to ooze from every pore of a startup entrepreneur. This passion is usually instilled by some core knowledge of the product or service that is being built, which translates into clear domain expertise and first-hand knowledge and confidence that you are heading in the right direction. This passion also translates into infectious enthusiasm that ultimately feeds the energy and drive of every employee in your office. And, most importantly, this passion is the glue that holds the company together and gets it through its most difficult times.
Ekaterina Walter, author of the book “Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg”, in PASSION, PURPOSE AND LEADERSHIP says all great achievements start with passion. Passion is what fuels everything. Passion is what motivates you.
Sounds like a sound rationale – if you do what you love, you will not feel the labour involved in the work.
Hang on; let’s hear from the other side.
“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” ~ Steve Jobs
Passion is not good
Terri Trespicio, a branding strategist believes, you don’t need to start with what you love. In Stop searching for your passion | Terri Trespicio | TEDxKC he tells that success fuels passion rather than passion fuels success and you don’t follow your passion, your passion follows you.
Benjamin Todd advises that the advice “follow our passion” is dead wrong. Benjamin is the co-founder and Executive Director of 80,000 Hours, an Oxford-based charity dedicated to helping people find fulfilling careers that make a real difference. In To find work you love, don’t follow your passion | Benjamin Todd | TEDxYouth@Tallinn, he explains, “Research shows that people who take this approach are ultimately no more likely to enjoy or excel at their jobs. Instead, if you’re looking for a fulfilling career, here’s a new slogan to live by: Do what’s valuable.”
In The Passion Fallacy (or, Why You Need More Than “Passion” to be Successful), David Darmanin, Founder & CEO at Hotjar warns passion doesn’t always (or often) translate into automatic success in the startup world. And, in many cases, following your passion can lead you straight into a failed business. He advises, you need to stop thinking about what you enjoy, and instead – start thinking about your strengths and the opportunities around you. Rationale behind this is, passion doesn’t drive you; it blinds you. It makes you arrogant and it stops you from seeing what users really want and where the real opportunities in the market really were.
So, doing what you love too has two big issues – your passion dies down, your passion might not resonate with any pain point in the market.
“Following your passion is a very “me”-centered view of the world. When you go through life, what you’ll find is what you take out of the world over time — be it money, cars, stuff, accolades — is much less important than what you’ve put into the world. So my recommendation would be – find the thing that you’re great at, put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better and that is the thing to follow.” ~Ben Horowitz
Pain point is the king
In Struggling to decide what kind of business to start? Beware of the passion project syndrome… Andreas discusses pros and cons of using passion for a startup idea. He lists 2 core advantages of following your passion – it gives you the drive to persevere through setbacks and roadblocks and it makes your workdays more fun and enjoyable. On the other hand, he lists 3 key flaws behind this mantra – money often will not follow, it’s not a prerequisite for doing great work you’ll end up loving and passions change with time. Summing up, he advises to do it the Aristotle way.
“Where the needs of the world and your talents cross there lies your vocation.” Aristotle
Pradeep Goyal says, Everything you heard about ‘Passion in startup’ is wrong . He believes, your passion alone can’t make or destroy your startup, but wonders can happen when you become passionate about solving a problem. Your passion will help you taking your first step into the startup world. You should then become flexible to passionately love everything around you.
Lean startup methodologies too tell us pain point is the starting point.
Triangular contest – pain point, passion or skills
The contest becomes triangular. What do you start with? Is it passion – something you love? Or, is it your skills sets – what you bring on the table? Or is it pain point – that gives us an opportunity for building a solution?
You are lucky if your starting point falls in a common zone for all three (hypothetically overlapping areas).
If you are not lucky, then how do you decide?
Herzberg’s two factor theory of motivation
Herzberg’s two factor theory of motivation come in handy to give us some way to decode the situation.
This theory is based on two types of factors. These factors are satisfiers (motivational) and dissatisfy (maintenance or hygiene).
The first groups of factors are called maintenance or hygiene factors. Their presence will not motivate people, yet they must be present. In fact, they may provide an almost neutral feeling among the people, but their withdrawal or absence creates a big problem. “Pain point” is what could fall in “hygiene factors”, when it comes to starting up.
The second groups, or the job content factors or satisfiers, are found to be the real motivators; because they have the potential of yielding a sense of satisfaction. “Passion” could fall in this group.
So, passion is back in business?
The answer is, YES and NO.
Back to passion
Having a passion about a domain can provide you motivation to pull through your long efforts, but if your starting up efforts lack “hygiene factor” i.e. pain point.
So, passion, as understood traditionally – passion for domain, will have a limited utility for you. But if you have a passion – not about domain, but about starting up, then YES, it makes a hell lot of difference.
Benjamin Todd in To find work you love, don’t follow your passion | Benjamin Todd | TEDxYouth@Tallinn, says, “I also found that once I started getting into the whole process of building a business, I realized that my “passion” was the process of building businesses. I loved the thrill of it… The ups and downs that come with it… That feeling of “fuck yes, I did it!” that washes over you when you figure something out that’s been stumping you… However, I wouldn’t have discovered that unless we had just started the business….passion or no passion!”
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” ~ Albert Einstein
In Every Company Needs a Head of Experimentation, M. Zaheer elaborates the importance of experimentations from a startup perspective. The job of a startup is to search for a repeatable and scalable business model and the starting point is about searching for value. Experimentation is that distinct phase in the pursuit of an authentic search of the right customers, right problems, and right value. In other words, you cannot have search without experimentation. However, running the right experiments is hard, because it requires a mindset change, living and embracing uncertainty over forced narratives, and making yourself vulnerable.
Its no surprizing then that your passion for experimentation is the most critical to make or break your startup business.
When you startup, you need not give too much weightage to your passion for a specific domain. It actually blinds you and stops you from seeing the pain point in the market that is worth solving.
But you do need a passion for experimenting – a perhaps single most element that would determine the fate of your startup.
The riskiest assumption, for your start-up in the beginning, is whether there are any people actively trying to solve the problem your product will solve for them.
These are the people we call early adopters.
Your goals is really to find if there are people already trying to solve the problem (that you are working on), understand how they describe the problem, know the emotions they experience with the problem, know how to reach more of similar of them and get insights on dissatisfaction factors of their current solution.
Startups need to begin by seeking out this core group of early adopters and then engaging with individual users to convince them to sign up. Focusing on this has a double benefit — you acquire users and define the product. On the other hand, if you inaction on this is doubly dangerous, because you not only fail to grow, but you can remain in denial about your product’s lameness.
Start-up is a stage in the process of turning a business idea into an established real company and a ‘start-up’ is a company that is confused about – what its product is? Who its customers are? How to make money? We start with assumptions about everything to begin with. The more early you start to get a sense for theories against reality, the safer you are. Early adopters play a crucial role in speeding up this process of clarity, before your resources are exhausted.
“If you can’t find early adopters, you can’t build a business.” – Trevor Owens, Lean Startup Machine CEO
Yet, in practice, we see many founders find it hard to find early adopters and engage with them. Here are some of the reasons commonly found that come in a way of you and your early adopters.
- We are not serious about finding them.
- We don’t like engaging with users individually, because it’s hard and demoralizing.
- We get mistaken them with those who are not.
- We are not fully convinced that we need them. We continue in love with our product and believe that people will buy.
- We don’t know where to find them and we don’t know how to reach out to them.
- We don’t know how to get them on board.
- We don’t know how to engage with them.
- We don’t know how to de-code what they tell us.
- We come under pressure of targets. It is very hard to resist the temptation to pitch or sell our product and in the process, we tend to forget “learning” as the core objective of customer discovery.
- There is a hard work involved in locating prospects to be approached for customer discovery and at times it is hard to reach out to them and convince them to spare time for us.
- The whole process is time consuming. It would take focus away from product development, design and sales.
Life is too short to build something that no one wants.
Find your early adopters today!
How do you come up with the best startup idea for you? Where do you look for ideas? How do you know if a startup idea is right for you? Do you have what it takes to pull off your startup idea? Where do you start — do you rely on your passion, or look for emerging technologies or just have an inventory of your skillsets? How many times, have been you a part of a brainstorm session to think of a business idea?
And yet, what has been the result of all those efforts?
Getting a good startup idea is not easy.
Why is it tough?
“For people who aren’t natural born entrepreneurs, the toughest part about making the transition to the entrepreneurial lifestyle is coming up with a profitable business idea.”
Some of the reasons for this are:
- You confuse a ‘plan’ a.k.a. “how” with a ‘product’ a.k.a. “ what”.
- You wait, read, network, and learn until you get a good idea.
- You search for business ideas on internet. You can google information but you cannot google an idea. Having an idea, understanding some stuff happens when you use information to change the way you think.
- You get bogged down with domain knowledge constraints
- You operate on an “autopilot” and start taking everything around us for granted
- You believe in that “apple on Newton’s head” moment
- You are afraid to fail.
- You romanticise with sexy business models of new successful startups a.k.a. Uber and Airbnb.
- You try to go about finding good ideas in a serious, harder, faster, more efficient way.
- Not sure if the idea that you thought will succeed
- You get bogged down with a question whether you can do it.
Business ideas don’t come from the back of napkins in coffee shops, or from careful analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and market opportunities.
The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. The way is to look for problems. And this is easier said than done.
The biggest difficulty in getting good business ideas is not knowing how to look for pain points.