“If you want a recipe for a startup that’s going to die, here it is: a coupleof founders who have some great idea they know everyone is goingto love, and that’s what they’re going to build, no matter what.”—Paul Graham, founder, Y Combinator
According to Greek mythology, a boy named Icarus and his father,Daedalus, were held as prisoners on the island of Crete with no pos-sible route of escape by land or by sea. But Daedalus, a skilled crafts-man and inventor, had developed a plan to escape through the air.He secretly built wings for himself and Icarus, using reeds and feath-ers held together by wax. As Daedalus attached the wings to his son’sarms, he warned him to fly at the right altitude. If he flew too low,the salt spray from ocean waves would soak his wings; if he flew toohigh, the heat of the sun would cause them to melt.
After escaping the island by flying out over the sea, Icarus was ex-hilarated by his newfound freedom. Despite his father’s warning cries,he flew higher and higher, circling closer to the hot sun where the melting wax and feathers began to separate from his arms. The wingsdisintegrated, and Icarus plunged to his death in the water that nowbears his name, the Icarian Sea.
The tale of Icarus parallels a story I have watched unfold againand again among passionate entrepreneurs. You take a risky leap. Youexperience the elation of newfound freedom. You boldly fly higherwith single-minded conviction, ignoring nay-sayers who shout warn-ings from below. Then you find yourself in some irreversible crisiswith no way to overcome gravity’s downward pull.
The culprit in this story is something I call the passion trap, an all-too-real phenomenon that undermines many a new venture. The pas-sion trap has roots in a basic truth: Your intense devotion to yourbusiness concept can bring danger along with its obvious benefits. Pas-sion provides courage, energy, and optimism to propel you on yourflight forward, but it also can blind and deafen you to helpful data andideas. And it can lead you to believe that you’re somehow immune totypical startup risks that wise founders have learned to respect andmanage.
Anyone who cares deeply about his or her startup idea is subjectto being snared by the passion trap. It is an equal opportunity afflic-tion, governed by a set of well-known emotional patterns and biasesthat come with being human. Seasoned entrepreneurs and successfulinvestors alike can recognize the damage done by unchecked or mis-directed passion.
The good news is that you can have it both ways. You can bringhigh-flying enthusiasm and confidence to your startup and also pro-tect yourself from being blinded—or blindsided—by your emotionalattachment to an idea. Of the many forces that might derail yourstartup dreams, the passion trap is one that is squarely under yourcontrol. With awareness and the right practices, you can be certainthat your entrepreneurial zeal will work for you rather than againstyou.
The purpose of this chapter is to explain why and how entrepre-neurs get caught in the passion trap and what happens when they do.
I’ll survey the damage done—in the form of six negative impacts ofentrepreneurial passion—and examine the personality characteristicsthat predispose a person to getting caught in the trap. I’ll also share alist of early warning signs to help you assess your own vulnerability.Then, in the second part of this book, I’ll outline and explain six prin-ciples that will significantly elevate your odds of converting your bigidea into a healthy, thriving business.