Friday, June 17, 2011

Lesson #50: Do What You Love!! Passion Drives Success.

Passion is one of those intangibles that drives an entrepreneur, gets them through the good times and the bad times, and ultimately dictates the success of any startup.  If you are not passionate about what you are building, you might as well pack up your bags right now, as your startup will never work. 

Webster's Dictionary defines passion as "an intense, driving or overmastering feeling of conviction" or "a strong desire for or devotion to some activity or concept".  I couldn't have said it any better.  Passion needs to ooze from every pore of a startup entrepreneur.  This passion is usually instilled by some core knowledge of the product or service that is being built, which translates into clear domain expertise and first-hand knowledge and confidence that you are heading in the right direction.  This passion also translates into infectious enthusiasm, that ultimately feeds the energy and drive of every employee in your office.  And, most importantly, this passion is the glue that holds the company together and gets it through its most difficult times.

When I launched iExplore, the whole business idea was conceived based on my personal frustrations experienced while planning my personal vacations as an avid adventure traveler.  I wanted a "one-stop shop" to look for all adventure tours in one place, I wanted the confidence of buying from a trusted resource and I wanted the flexibility to customize my itinerary and dates to my exact needs.  iExplore would fill the huge void in this highly-fragmented, packaged-tour industry, and our passion to build a better customer experience sparked the fire to iExplore ultimately becoming the #1 adventure travel website.  So, my personal passion as an avid adventure traveler and my personal experiences in the industry, fueled the vision and direction of the company.

But, it was more than that.  Because I was so passionate about iExplore, I came to work jazzed up every day, and that enthusiasm rubbed off on all of our employees.  And, I was intently-focused on hiring other empassioned adventure travelers, that shared the company vision based on their own personal adventure travel experiences.  It was like the iExplore staff was a team of whitewater rafters, all paddling in unison to avoid the potential business hazards of the rushing rapids, because, in fact, we all were whitewater rafters in real life.  So, our personal and business passions had become one, making for a very powerful combination and recipe for success.

And, had the iExplore team not had passion in the wake of 9/11/01 (remembering the company's dire straits in Lesson #29), the company would have never survived.  Believe me, it would have been a lot easier to close the business and move on from the carnage.  But, we were all passionate about what we were building, knew this was a short term hurdle and that we were committed to living and fighting another day.  A business only fails, when you stop trying.  And, passion was the lifeboat that carried us through those dark days.

Also, worth mentioning, there is no question that you are going to be a lot more passionate about your own startup, than you would be about someone else's startup.  I lived for iExplore and bled for iExplore for 10 years of ups and downs.  I can't say I would have done the same for another business that was not "my baby".  So, keep that in mind in your hiring practices, to find people that are equally enthusiastic about what you are building, and motivating them with equity incentives to share in your collective successes.  Or, when looking to join another startup, make sure to find products or services that you are truly passionate about, and which are willing to reward you for your hard work and effort.

I used to close every company meeting at iExplore with a question: "What are we building?".  And, like a football team breaking out of a huddle, the staff's response was loud and clear: "GREATNESS!!".  Passion cannot be taught, it has to be instilled into the DNA of your entire company, starting with and fueled by yourself: the Chief Cheerleader.

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