What real passion looks like

It is common wisdom that to do a startup you should have passion for your market. But it wasn’t until I did one that I learned what real passion looks like.

It’s one thing to be passionate about something that’s working, about a going concern, about an engine that is turning. It is a different thing to be passionate about something even when it’s not working yet. When you’re not quite at product/market fit. When the users aren’t coming. When the cash isn’t flowing.

Every startup—I think every ambitious creative endeavor—goes through this. Everything looks like it’s failing before it succeeds.

In fact, I think every ambitious endeavor goes through a period where things look so bad that it is, in fact, perfectly reasonable to quit. There’s lots of evidence that it will never work, there’s no proof that it will, and from the outside, no one could blame you for giving up.

It follows that if you always quit when the going gets rough, you are doomed to mediocrity. To achieve anything great, you must continue on even when it is reasonable to quit.

This does not mean that perseverance is always the right answer (it’s not) or that success is inevitable to those who don’t give up (it isn’t). It means that if you want to achieve something great with your life, you will someday have to pull through that cold, lonely period in the middle.

The only thing that will get you through it is a combination of passion and vision. You must see something others don’t, and you must care about it enough to nurture it even when it seems to be dying.

After the initial enthusiasm wears off, and before you reach “overnight” success, there will be months or years of unglamorous execution with little tangible reward. Are you willing to face that, with no promise of success, for the chance to see your vision made real? That is the dedication you need to be a founder.

  • Krschacht

    Jason, I started off agreeing with your post but in the end I disagree that you need to “pull through that cold lonely period” and “have the dedication” to push through where there is no promise of success.

    You’re right that it’s easy to be passionate about something when it’s going great because often what you’re passionate about is the success. But when things aren’t going great whether it feels ‘unendurable like a cold lonely night with no promise of success’ or whether it feels like a ‘temporary inconvenience which you have to push through’ is determined largely by whether you’re in the right business for you.

    A lot of people pick a business idea mostly because they think it will be successful, not because they’re truly passionate about the idea. Because if you are truly passionate about the product idea, the market, and the customers you’re catering to then you enjoy the business even when it’s struggling. This doesn’t mean success is irrelevant, your goal is still to build a business (and often a large business) so real market traction is a whole other level of enjoyment. But figuring out how to truly align the essence of a business with your core values is, I think, one of the biggest blind spots in the entrepreneurial community. It’s all too often that someone’s lean startup expertly pivoted into product market fit, but pivoted right out of the domain the founder truly was passionate about.

    • http://twitter.com/AM3R1CN Edward T Nista

      Hey I’m passionate about our business but you struggle all along the way, way before you even have a business or customers or market or even product. Your friends hate you cause you’re never available, ladies hate you cause you never want to do shit, you’re pretty much fkd, and you can’t really talk to too many folks about your amazing idea cause you’re worried everyone’s out to fk you. We’re entering a market that doesn’t exist, maybe it doesn’t exist for a reason, maybe i should quit and save my investor $500,000. And you have to tell that evil voice that questions you all through the day and night to STFU.

  • http://www.daniellemorrill.com Danielle Morrill

    I think there is also this problem that outwardly people might perceive something is failing, but they don’t really know what success looks like.  Is success a lot of web traffic that doesn’t convert, or a lot of signups with few actives, or a lot of actives who don’t pay you?  There are vanity metrics and real ones.  At one point, just having web traffic feels like a miracle.  Then you want signups, and more and more and more of them.  One day, you look at those signups and try to understand what percentage, from what sources, in what industries or other segments, actually yields revenue.  So its not just in the early stage that you need this fortitude (I’ve discovered in this past year) — you constantly have to stay hungry in the face of both real failures and false sense of success.  I’ve actually found that lonelier and colder than the early days, because everyone thinks you are winning and is patting you on the back – expecting you to say,  “yeah we’re great!” but you’re freaking out on the inside.

  • http://www.aaronklein.com/ Aaron Klein

    Love this post. It’s so true.

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