“Following our path is in effect a kind of going off the path, throughopen country . . . Out there in the silence we must build a hearth,gather the twigs, and strike the flint for the fire ourselves.”—David Whyte, The Heart Aroused.
The stories of commitment are as different as the founders who tell them:
Lynn Ivey heard the fear in her father’s voice and realizedher mother was slipping into the abyss of Alzheimer’s disease.“I knew at that moment that my career at Bank of Americano longer mattered,” she says. “What mattered was my fam-ily.” That moment led her to leave her bank job as a regionalsales executive to care for her mother and, later, to build TheIvey, an adult daycare center devoted to ailing seniors andtheir caregivers.
For years, Mark Williams passionately pushed the bound-aries of technology, learning, and design. Long before Apple’s. iPhone revolutionized the use of mobile devices, the DukeUniversity neuroscientist hacked into his medical students’iPods and loaded them with hundreds of anatomy picturesand phrases. The students raved about learning anatomyterms while waiting for coffee, riding the bus, or doing loadsof laundry. Mark knew he was on to something, so helaunched Modality, a developer of premium learning appli-cations for the iPhone and iPad. “I was so caught up in thebeauty of the idea and the possibilities around it,” he recalls,“I was not thinking rationally.”
J.C. Faulkner left a senior leadership job at one of America’slargest banks to build a different kind of mortgage companyand to create a better place to work. “I had come to grips withthe fact that all the money I’d saved over a twelve-year careerwould be gone in six months,” he recalls. “When I told thebank that I was leaving to start my own company, I offeredto stick around for thirty days to help with the transition.They walked me out the next day—with a box in my hand.”
And then there’s Mark Kahn, who tagged along with his bossto a French casino and hit upon a once-in-a-lifetime winningstreak. At the $72,000 mark, he turned to his boss and saidhe was done. “That’s smart,” his boss said. “You should quitwhile you’re ahead.” “No,” he replied, “I’m quitting my job.I’ve got my seed money, and I’m doing my startup.” He hassince founded two ventures, including TRAFFIQ , a leadingonline advertising platform listed as number fifty on Inc. mag-azine’s 2010 list of America’s fastest-growing private compa-nies.
Startups come in all shapes and sizes. Aspiring founders will at-tempt just about any idea, product, or business model under the sun.If it can be conceived, some dreamer has probably tried it.Founders take the startup plunge for a dizzying array of reasons:to be free, to change the world, to launch a can’t-miss product, to makebuckets of money, to follow in Dad’s footsteps, or to spend more time with the kids. The list goes on and on, limited only by the fact that asurprising number of entrepreneurs can’t fully explain why they doit. They just know that it’s something they have to do.
Underneath it all—beneath the endless variation, the unexpectedturns, and the wide range of motivations—a powerful force driveseverything forward. It is the force of passion.
When I first began to study entrepreneurship, I would never havepredicted I’d be writing a book about entrepreneurial passion. I’ve al-ways thought of passion as a given in the startup world—a basic in-gredient, like salt in food, so common that it would not be a factor indifferentiating success from failure. Besides, the topic already gets itsshare of air time among the great Motivational Media—the hype-driven websites, magazines, books, and videos that have made you-can-do-it success stories into a kind of cult religion for wanna-be en-trepreneurs.
But there is no getting around it. Every great venture I’ve studiedhas propelled itself forward with an unshakeable sense of commit-ment, a kind of rapturous belief among core founders. The reason isclear. The startup path is not for the faint of heart. Ask successful en-trepreneurs to reflect back on their journey, and an unequivocal re-sponse comes back: I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea it would bethis hard. In the words of technology blogger Dave McClure, “You aregoing to be embarrassed, ashamed, labeled as an idiot, shunned,ridiculed, and occasionally driven from the village with pitchforks.Get used to it.
On such a demanding journey, qualities that breed confidence andresilience, qualities such as passion, courage, hope, commitment, faith,are like oxygen to entrepreneurs, sustaining them through the longhours, the stress, and the inevitable adversity and doubt that are a nat-ural part of the startup process. But just as oxygen cannot protect aperson from all forms of danger, passion cannot eliminate risk fromthe startup equation. In fact, I have found that passion is just as plen-tiful among failing entrepreneurs as among those destined to succeed.
As I studied entrepreneurial success factors, I couldn’t help butnotice the high rates of new business failure, and I became intrigued by the seemingly basic reasons most startups don’t make it. The moreclosely I observed the early choices of would-be business owners, themore clearly I could see the powerful, central role of human emotion.I saw people obsessed with questionable business ideas. I saw foundersegged on by friends, family, and motivational speakers. I saw entre-preneurs throwing themselves over the startup cliff without para-chutes, sometimes without the merest idea of what they were gettinginto. I saw impulsive decisions, rigidly held beliefs, wishful thinking,and strategies of hope.
In time, I understood that passion fuels both startup success andfailure—not exactly an actionable formula you can take to the bank.In the chapters ahead, you will learn how to cut through this apparentcontradiction and dramatically elevate your odds of entrepreneurialsuccess. But the first step is to understand what happens within andaround a person who approaches the new venture roller coaster. Whyis the startup path so compelling to so many? And what causes newentrepreneurs to become emotionally attached to their new creations,to literally fall in love with their ideas?