Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
What path is best when establishing a business? There are, arguably, two paths that an entrepreneur can take. The first being to follow the needs of the market and building a business plan on solving the world’s biggest problems and by doing so they think they will achieve success and change the world. The other path an entrepreneur can follow is to listen to their calling, their passion, and pursue it. Having tried both paths in my entrepreneurial past, I feel very strongly that the second path is the one that entrepreneurs should follow. As it turns out, following your passion and being a hero on business are not mutually exclusive.
Following the market alone does not work
When I started my business, Little You, I was following my passion. Originally part of a school project, I wanted to nurture children’s creativity through building custom, 3D-printed avatars and felt it was a great way to solve the problem of creativity scores dropping drastically as children grow into adults. As a creative person myself, I felt passionate about this business and wanted nothing more than for it to succeed. However, as I did more research and dug further into the subject of creativity scores in adults, I learned that solving this problem would not change the world, and that little could be done to maintain creativity scores from age five to age 30. I also discovered that the market for custom avatars is part of a niche category, and not as large as I initially thought.
From there, I decided to follow the trend and adapt to what I thought the market wanted. I gave up on Little You and started a business called U-Dimensions. U-Dimensions would offer a free marketplace for video game companies to produce and sell 3D-printed merchandise and marketing materials. After four years of working on U-Dimensions, I realized I wasn’t following my passion and I was left feeling unfulfilled. I decided to follow my passion and resume working on Little You. I resolved never to give up on my passion ever again.
When an entrepreneur does not feel passion for their business, it will not fulfill their motivational needs, and the business is doomed for failure in the long run – regardless of how successful the business is.
Experts agree that passion is important for your business
Many well-known entrepreneurs have spoken publicly about the importance of finding a calling or following your passion.
For example, Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 has become known as the “follow your heart” speech. He recalls a quote that he heard at the age of 17, and the impact it had on him:
… ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right’… since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ and whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something… Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Arguably one of the most successful and brilliant entrepreneurs of our time had about fifteen minutes to tell these young people anything he wanted, and he chose to talk about doing something that you love and following your heart.
Another famous example is Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, in his 2016 memoir Shoe Dog writes:
I had an aching sense that our time is short, shorter than we ever know, short as a morning run, and I wanted (my life) to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. And important. Above all… different. …I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.
Knight goes through the early years of Nike making almost no money, but he was so passionate about his shoes that he persevered and eventually found success.
There are hundreds of other quotes that can be found like the above from people such as Richard Branson (founder, the Virgin Group), Oprah Winfrey (media mogul), David Karp (founder, Tumblr), and many, many more.
I realized that following my passion in business would result in the following:
- The business will have a vision based on what drives me.
- Passionate business owners sell more effectively because they care, and it shows.
- Having passion helps to build authenticity into the business plan and brand.
- It will bring clarity when feeling doubtful.
- Feeling motivation to develop and grow the business.
- Surrounding myself with like-minded individuals to network with.
- Setting my business apart from competitors.
It is not easy to start a business, and a new business is often built on sweat equity. Without passion, there cannot be enough motivation to stick with it and see it through its startup phase into the growth phase. If you do not have a passion for your business, it will be too easy to quit and move on to something else.
How can you build a business based on your passion?
Establishing what you are passionate about is the number one most important thing to building a business based on your passion. Finding the thing that you love to do can be challenging and might go through several phases of metamorphosis before you find a viable business opportunity that you can thread your calling into. Finding your calling as an entrepreneur is the adult version of “what do I want to be when I grow up?” and then making a plan that allows that business to thrive.
If your passion can’t integrate into your business directly, don’t forget it. I think that most people’s passionate callings can be involved in their entrepreneurial business plans in some way. But if there is no way to build a business around your passion, you can still integrate it into your working life indirectly. For example, if you are an accountant, but your true passion is mountain biking, surround yourself with things that remind you of riding. Fill your office with photographs and memorabilia that bring you joy during your workday or network some of your client base from mountain biking groups.
Remember that passion is infectious to those around you. When you fuse your passion and your business, you are bound to find success. Not only will you never give up on your dreams, but your demeanor and love of your business will also shine through. Every presentation you have with investors, every sales interaction, every fulfilled order will leave your customer with a sense of second-hand passion. They are going to love your product because you love it so much.
Don’t be afraid to follow your passion. Being afraid of failure is something that most entrepreneurs will face. It is a perfectly valid way to feel, and for some, everything is at risk. However, it is better to fail at doing something you love and to learn from those mistakes, than to be afraid of failing and never follow your calling. (“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm” – Winston Churchill)
I genuinely hope that my story and advice have resonated with you. It took me many years and a little bit of failure to find that following my passion was the right thing to do for me and my business. I will never forget the lessons learned from following what I thought was a good business plan and leaving behind the thing I cared about the most. Little You is my calling, and I will continue to work towards growing it with all the love and devotion that I can. I know that by doing this, I am not solving a huge world issue, but I am making myself happy and I know I will continue to find success. Remember, pursue your calling and success and happiness will follow.