Do you need to be passionate about your business to succeed.
I have been through dozens of business courses where the host or teacher talks about the importance of passion in business. I say phooey. Passion is a fleeting thing. When we men are passionate about a woman, it lasts until some truth makes it inconvenient and we find something else to focus our passion on. That is exactly what happens to many business owners.
I used to be passionate about making beer. I genuinely enjoyed doing it and got pretty good at it. And then I got bored. This is a common theme in my life. I get one step away from the big leagues, and step back. Maybe it is a little fear of success, or realizing that once I have the work figured out it is boring. I no longer need to be curious about what I do. The loss of curiosity and exploration for me ends the passion.
We all have different reasons for losing passion I am sure. Recently I was talking with a business owner. She had a people business and said “I hate people”. After many discussions, I realized she once was passionate about what the business did. Running the business side of the business killed her passion for it. She kept pressing forward for reasons I can not explain.
As I think back to the truly successful business people that I know, a few really stand out. They are the long runners, each having been in the same business over 50 years. One recently sold out in the ten digit range, the other says he will keep going until he dies at his desk.
The first is a winemaker, Gary. Many people say Gary is passionate about making wine. I disagree. He loves making wine. His love is so infectious that I not only buy his wines, I started learning how to do it myself. Before making wine, he was already successful in another field and was being groomed for a tenured position in academia. He said the event that pushed him over the edge was two professors arguing over a parking space. Chuck Lorre must have heard the story. It is a great Big Bang episode.
Just like meeting my wife. There was something more than passion. I never found any inconvenient truths that killed the passion. After 25 years we are still married. Ironically the long term business owners both are divorced. Maybe that is why I keep starting new companies. Instead of getting a divorce from my wife, I divorce my company. The good news is most of the time I get paid for divorcing my companies. Once it did feel like a painful divorce with children, but only once.
The second business owner Ray, built a company out of his job. He didn’t have any passion for it, he didn’t love it. It was just his business. He treated it as such. Because he didn’t go in with a passion, there was none to lose. Ray simply looked at the business as a means to an end. He could make a healthy profit in a market with little competition. That profit allowed him to hire great managers, tour the world, buy homes around the country and live a life most are scared to dream of.
When Ray was remodeling one of his homes he asked to park a Maserati in my garage. His wife picked him up in a Bentley. Those were the cars at the “weekend” house they were remodeling. When I asked why he didn’t rent a space at a warehouse, he said, “I have three warehouses of cars, they are full and I don’t want to waste money going somewhere else”. Business was work and nothing more. He put in the hours, and built the company to become the leader in the industry and sold out. He was 72 when he sold the company.
There are three reasons I have seen businesses fail. The first is the worst and the one that cost me the expensive divorce. I thought my boss was charging too much for the work, so I started my own company. Being the “low cost leader” rarely works. When it does it is in a “needs” based market. Wal-Mart started out selling only what you needed, cheaper. That doesn’t work in the Home Theater industry.
The second reason businesses fail is that they are undercapitalized. Well not really. What this means is that the business is in a market space that doesn’t have enough value to sustain it. Glass is one of the highest profit businesses there is. If you go into the glass business with no money, you can still succeed. If customers give you 50% up front, you are guaranteed to make money even if they don’t pay the rest. When a business is “under capitalized” it usually means they don’t make enough profit to sustain operations.
The third reason businesses fail is that the passion wears off and the owner checks out. In a few rare cases the business had all of the requirements to hire a good manager so the owner could go do other things. The business became an investment at that point. It is very hard for an owner that starts out with passion to transition into a “means to an end” type of business like Ray built. Passionate people are passionate people, changing them is tough. Owners that don’t find a business they love, they will eventually find that truth that causes them to lose interest.
When you are starting a business that you are passionate about, you hope to fall in love with it and it you. If not it becomes a quick and expensive divorce.