It's not that startup passion is bad. At least, not when it's real. But buying into the exaggerated mythology of startup passion can become a problem when it ends up being something else entirely. Obsession, blindness and total self-centeredness can be mistaken for startup passion. And that's bad, for sure. You do want the benefits of real startup passion, but you also want to avoid the dangers of passion as rationalization.
Here are three reminders that might help you.
1. Passion alone doesn't correlate to success. Passion is really helpful when you have to do the work, make the calls, meet the deadlines, and get things done. But don't confuse the motivators with the work. What makes you successful is the showing up, not the passion. When it's 2 a.m. and you'd like to sleep but you have to finish that proposal, passion helps, but it's the doing it that matters.
In our entrepreneurship mythology we think of startup passion and immediately conjure up those great success stories of people who made it big despite great odds, and because of their startup passion. But for every one of those, there are 10 others who had all the passion and none of the success. Remind yourself of somebody you know who had extreme passion for the business but still failed.
2. Passion is too often a rationalization for abandoning yourself and your loved ones. If you're building a business, then ask yourself whether you are one of those driven, passionate entrepreneurs who eats, sleeps and breathes your new business? Are you like some fictional character with circles around your eyes, living on Diet Coke and taking intermittent naps on the couch in your office?
If you say yes, worry. Odds are, if you see yourself as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, the people around you see you as a chronic pain in the rear end. You ignore them while you live your would-be dream. Kids? Spouse? Don't they understand that you're building a business here? Why don't they leave you alone? That feeling leads to some horrible mistakes. These are not just business mistakes, but life mistakes. Think of deathbed regrets.
And for another test, ask yourself the attributes of the ideal spouse or partner of the entrepreneur. If your answer is somebody who doesn't complain about neglect (although of course you'll phrase that differently), then you're in trouble. I say, from a few decades of experience, that the ideal spouse or partner is one who pulls you back to reality and reminds you to get over yourself and live your actual life, not your business. I'm an entrepreneur. I built a business from 0 to more than 30 employees, multi-million-dollar sales and no debt. And while I was doing that, my wife saved my life. And not by doing what you're thinking, putting up with me; but by reminding me of reality, over and over. Kids grow up. Time passes.
Business is to make a better life. Your life is not to make a better business.
Be forewarned about the most common rationalization. Don't tell yourself you're neglecting everything else in your life only while you get the business started. Don't kid yourself. Single-minded devotion to the business, to the detriment of everything else, is habit forming—addictive, even.
3. The myth of entrepreneurial passion is misused. The problem with the startup passion mythology is that it's about you, not your customers, not your business offering, not the underlying needs and wants, not what your business does to make people want to spend money buying what you're selling.
Yes you are better off doing something you love, but it's much more important to do something your customers love first. Success is giving people what they want to pay for—and giving value while you do that.
Startup passion is great, if you understand what it's for and don't use it as a rationalization for a lot of behaviors you'll regret later.
Tim Berry is founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software, founder of bplans.com, co-founder of Borland International. Tim's main blog is Planning Startups Stories and he also appears on other blogs including Small Business Trends, Business Insider, and Huffington Post.
Illustration credit: Thinkstock