Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Why Passion is Critical…as an Entrepreneur and as a Human Being

Passion has a bad reputation.  It’s known for making us reckless, illogical, and all too quickly extinguishing itself.

However, I’d like to write an ode to the emotion and renew it as a crucial component of life.  It is critical for success as an entrepreneur and happiness as a human being.

For Love not Money

Woe is the girl that marries the man based solely on large pocketbooks.  After the 5 star wedding is over and riches grow boring, she will deplore that fact that she feigns orgasms in bed and will start to fantasize about the gardener or that company she should have started.  A much happier woman is self-made and free to choose her soul mate based on chemistry, laughs, and common interests.

The same goes for start-ups.   “If your primary reason to start a business is to make money, stop now.” This exact quote belongs to the CEO of 1-800 Dentist but I have heard many an entrepreneur say the same thing. The logic behind this is simple:

1.    Start-up failure rate is between 50-70%

….which means that the odds are against you.  Therefore, you might as well enjoy the process. After all, it is about the journey, not the destination.  Plus, if you find an endeavor worth the time, it’s likely that others will as well.  I had the pleasure of hearing Philip Kaplan speak at a Founder Institute session.  Remember “FuckedCompany.com” from the early 2000’s?  Phil created the site for one reason: because it was fun, especially during the madness of the dot.com bubble burst.  Phil set up a subscription model that he hoped would cover his cable bill.  He soon had more than enough to pay for every channel; he was earning $90K a month in subscription revenue.

2.    Start-up life=no life.

If you start a company, you will disappear from anything known as a social life and your friends and family will assume you have died somewhere with stray cats eating your eyeballs.  The ONLY way you will be able to earn their understanding and eventual place back into the social group is if you love what you are doing.  People have respect for passion.  They will say,” Look I don’t like it, but I understand that you are canceling on me tonight because of love interest X <insert company /hobby /person here>  and this is the ONE shot to make it a go…..” They will NEVER forgive you if you cancel on them to do “oh, this random thing I don’t really like but may make me some bucks.”  No one likes a sellout.

3.    Passion makes for better……business.

If you are trying to raise money, VCs will want to invest equally in you and your idea.  In fact, when I applied to the Founder Institute they didn’t even care what my idea was.  They just wanted to know that I was deeply passionate about something.  People with passion have a strong drive to bring their ideas to fruition. Lukewarm entrepreneurs are like limp……handshakes.  They make people queasy and never lead to sealing any deal.

4.    You may indeed have to bet the farm.

Or for city dwellers, your modern loft apartment and ability to buy seasonal Jimmy Choos.  A start-up requires amazing sacrifice in both time and money. You have to love building your company more than building your couture collection.  You also have to love it more than sleep.  As with any solid love affair, sometimes the best things happen during the dark of the nighttime.

5.    Life is too short to not have one.

I have never understood people that go hum-ho though life never caring about anything.  Now, I understand that not everyone is meant to create or join a start-up.  It’s a particular hobby for iron stomachs and the adrenaline obsessed. But that doesn’t mean the 9 to 5ers cannot have passion. From exotic travel to triathlons to opera singing there are many ways to invigorate your life.  Find that which you care about and carve out time for it!  Stop doing things that are ho-hum, stop dating people you don’t really like, and stop watching so much television! You will never get those minutes back in your life. Use your time to do something that makes you and the world better….or at least more fun.  You’ll be amazed at how much happier and interesting you are.


My caveat to all this passion talk is ensure that  it’s validated.  Some of us become passionate about everything and have regular flavors of the week. Fleeting love for people, business ideas, or inanimate objects often ruins our ability to see straight.  Thus, it’s important to get honest feedback from the peanut gallery and validate our passion BEFORE we throw our life into it.  Our peers will tell us if it makes sense and has longevity.

According another Founder Institute talk by Joe Betts Lacroix (founder of OQO, creator of the world’s smallest PC), the best way to receive passion feedback is to provide options.

For example: Imagine you meet your dream man/woman.  “Isn’t Bob sweet and perfect!?” you exclaim giddily to everyone in earshot. If they can disguise their gag reflex your friends may go along with you for fear of confrontation.  Thus, you need to present your passion along with 2 other ideas.

“Hey I have Bob, Rick, and Matt here.  Now, which do you think is best?”  When presented with options, the pressure is off and your friends can honestly tell you that Bob is a douchebag, Rick plays for the other team, and Matt’s great.  They can also tell you that your idea to create breathalyzer bracelets is stupid but your iphone app idea may be worth something.

Then once you have a validated passion….go full steam ahead! Seize life, living and breathing your dream.  Until death or acquisition do you part.

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