Passion alone isn’t enough for business success.
Starting a company doesn’t make any sense.
Consider this: the odds of failure are extremely high. Each year, over 500,000 companies are founded in the US. Of these, venture capitalists invest in fewer than 1,000.
And according to Forbes, a whopping 90% of all startups fail.
For entrepreneurs, passion is the key, intangible ingredient you need to survive. It’s a bit like getting a driver’s license: Without a license, you aren’t allowed on the road at all. Likewise, you’re pretty much guaranteed to fail in the startup world if you don’t have a genuine passion for whatever it is you’re building.
But just as a license alone doesn’t make you a good driver, passion alone isn’t enough for business success.
So before you get behind the wheel of your own company, here are the questions you should ask yourself to determine if your idea is worth the risk:
1. Why are you starting a company at all?
It sounds obvious, but before you start your company, you have to really ask yourself why your abstract idea should be a real product or service.
Passion gives you the energy you need to launch the arrow. But the next question is: are you pointing the arrow in the right direction?
Because the truth is, you can’t pay the rent with your passion alone. You also have to figure out what you need. Before you start a company, make sure you understand the business side as much as possible—or find trusted advisors who do.
If you’re just in it for fame and fortune, starting a business isn’t the wisest choice. You’d be better off trying something like investing.
2. What kind of entrepreneur are you?
There are three kinds of entrepreneurs.
First, there’s the technical founder—someone who’s product- or service-oriented and understands the domain knowledge. Think the Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Wozniak type. At my wellness company, Four Sigmatic, this is the role I play.
Then you have the obsessively consumer-focused founder. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs are classic examples of this type. They may not be the best computer scientists out there, but they understand consumer needs better than anyone else.
Finally, you have the operator founder. This person is really good at business. This is the founder who understands the supply chain, operations, and finance—your Warren Buffett type.
Each of these types of founders can find major success in business, but very few people are equally skilled and passionate in all three areas. So if you find yourself passionate about the technical side but not the consumer side, consider partnering with a co-founder who really understands the consumer.
Personally, I’ve never been all that passionate about the supply chain or shipping side of the business. But one thing I am passionate about? The product, which in my case is all things wellness.
That’s why I founded the company to begin with.
But I wouldn’t be a very effective leader if I didn’t make it my mission to get educated about the elements of running a company that don’t come as naturally to me.
Because as long as you’re passionate about one area and partner with people who are skilled in the others—you can make your idea a reality.
Remember, your passion can cloud your judgment.
Passion gives your business wings, but it’s important to note that there are times when it can steer you wrong.
Let’s go back to Steve Jobs for a moment. His passion is largely responsible for his success, yet it sometimes led him to build unsuccessful products. Remember the Apple Lisa? If you don’t, that’s probably because it was an epic failure. Launched in 1983, Lisa was a $10,000 (nearly $24,000 today) desktop computer—overpriced and underpowered.
Jobs adored the Lisa (he even named it after his daughter), but the product failed to sell the units necessary for Apple to make a profit.
This tension between personal passion and market need is one I understand well.
At Four Sigmatic, for example, most of my consumers don’t quite share my passion for mushrooms, superfoods, and adaptogens. In fact, most Americans think mushroom coffee sounds really weird. But they do want clean energy and productivity without the coffee jitters. So instead of focusing our marketing on drinkable mushrooms, I emphasize that it gives consumers energy without the jitters or heartburn.
When I offer them a “better-for-you coffee,” they’re suddenly interested.
In other words, I had to shift my own personal preferences toward the consumer experience to make the messaging necessary for keeping my business going. Likewise, all founders need to not only hone the passion that enabled them to start a company in the first place, but also be flexible in their approach of targeting consumers.
Founding a company is a little like being an artist: It’s too risky to try unless you can’t imagine doing anything else.
If this is you, you already know you have no other choice but to give it your all.
Of course, there’s always an element of luck. There are great businesses that fail because of factors beyond their control, and horrible businesses that succeed just because they’re in the right place at the right time.
But without passion, you might as well stay off the road.