This post is a collection of thoughts that I've had since reading this post from the Founder Institute. In this post author Ezra Oyarce discusses whether or not passion for a business or idea is enough to make a startup work
Some brief background: I've recently applied to the Founder Institute. I don't know that I have the next killer idea, but I do have lots of ideas. What I'm not sure about is how passionate I am about the ideas themselves, or the problems they are solving.
What's more important, the passion or the problem?
At a recent FI information night, one of the former session participants was invited to speak about her experiences during the last FI semester and also took questions from the group. I took the opportunity to ask how important it was that a founder had passion for the problem that their startup was solving versus having passion for the solution. The resounding answer was that it was vital that a founder had passion for the problem they were trying to solve.
Now I'll admit that it probably wasn't the right question to ask. Perhaps what I should have asked is whether it's important to have passion for the industry the problem is in, or passion for what you will use to solve the problem (i.e. technology, wireless hardware/IoT, etc). I'm not convinced I even know the what the right question was to be honest.
At any rate, a few days later FI posted the article linked above, entitled Startup Misconceptions: Pursue your passion and the money will follow. I was immediately intrigued as to the view point of the author, having just recently been thinking about this question myself. Ezra immediately grabbed my attention with the following statement:
There are other things required to become successful, and while passion is certainly important, it does not come in first place.
I felt an immediate sense of relief. I don't need to be incredibly passionate about my idea in order to make it work! Of course, starting a business whose idea is based on something that you have no interest in at all doesn't sound like a particularly smart choice; this is something that will consume a good portion of your time so having a level of interest is important.
The article also quotes Rob Ashgar, from an article in Forbes, who writes that Steve Jobs, a founder that I consider inspirational, also didn't follow his passion in founding Apple:
If he followed his overriding lifelong passion, Jobs would have become a great Zen teacher. Instead he meandered barefooted as a dilettante through early-adulthood, lacked follow-through, and only serendipitously stumbled into technology, management and marketing.
I am by no means claiming the inspiration or drive that Steve Jobs had, but it's reassuring to know that unbridled passion for a problem isn't necessarily required in order to be successful with your startup idea.
Does success always equal money?
Also worth considering is what actually defines "success" in the context of a business or startup. For many, success is equivalent to some sort of financial reward for the effort put into the business. But that doesn't preclude other outcomes being the measure of success for a particular business or venture.
With that in mind, I firmly believe that no matter how you define success, the attributes that are required in order to be successful are similar.
So what is important?
In my own humble opinion (and without any real experience at starting a business, though I have worked for a startup and run a business), motivation is one of the most important attributes. Business is hard, so I can only imagine that the additional challenges entrepreneurship brings take difficulty to a whole new level. If you're not motivated to succeed, chances are that you won't.
Can motivation make up for passion? I have no idea, but I think an appropriately motivated person is capable of pretty much anything.
Product/Market Fit also strikes me as extremely important. If you're product or service doesn't suit the market you're targeting, then getting traction is going to be next to impossible. Similarly, if you're market is too wide or too small, you're likely to face challenges convincing potential customers that your solution is the one that they should be using. Market research solves this problem, and the Internet has provided us with so many tools to achieve this now it should be every founders first step when thinking about a new idea.
The other major box to tick for me is subject matter knowledge. I'm not suggesting that one needs to be the sole repository of knowledge on an area, but if you were a software developer who knew nothing about drilling for oil, chances are you aren't going to start a business focused on oil drilling. With that in mind, research, reading and curiosity can make up for gaps in knowledge in my experience, provided the person conducting these activities is open to new things and interested in the subject matter (a link there back to passion for the problem, perhaps?)
In summary, my somewhat limited experience has lead me to believe that the most success (by whatever standard you choose to measure it) really comes down to a few key points:
- Motivation to solve the problem
- A good understanding of the problem you are trying to solve
- An understanding of the market that you're operating in
- A product that suits the market that you're operating in
Not a recipe for riches by any definition, but a great starting point for my (and your) startup idea!