Last weekend, the folks  from Jakarta Founders Institute organized an interesting open discussion session that discussed whether passion or money should come first for entrepreneurs. It’s an interesting debate, and here aren’t any right or wrong answers.
But as I have noted expressed myself on Twitter, I believe passion should come first for entrepreneurs. My first venture (an educational business) was mainly motivated by money. Admittedly, I didn’t really have passion to educate the younger generation. Financially, the company was ok but I wasn’t too satisfied with my work. I left after five years and the business was eventually sold off. It was a relief.
I didn’t understand what went wrong until I started to take interest in digital media. This blog started out as a hobby before it became serious. We changed focus a couple of times. I didn’t want to settle down on something that I wasn’t taking any real interest in. I kept searching for the sweet spot. Thankfully, I found it. Being able to explore, learn, and tell the stories of tech and startups in Asia is fun and exciting. It became something that I feel very passionate about.
Passion improves the “quality of life” of an entrepreneur. Working 16 hours each day is fine, if it feels good if you’re working on something that you are really passionate about; if you believe that you’re creating real value for people. Passion keeps the entrepreneur going. It also keeps the team going. It is contagious. If the passion is genuine, it will spread across to the team members. Founders will inspire the core team members who will then inspire the new members. If passion is missing in the equation, it makes life tough and less colorful. The culture wouldn’t be complete. Your users and customers wouldn’t feel that your product offering is sincere either. Passion isn’t tangible nor measurable but it is an important piece that makes a startup well-oiled and “equipped.”
I’m also a realist. Passion can’t feed you. We all have to somehow find the money to pay our bills. Money is important. But making money without passion is seriously boring. And you probably can’t make money without first being passionate about your product. Your customers wouldn’t trust you. But there are times where money overcomes passion. It is usually at the later stage of the startup cycle though, when passion dies down and the money is there for you to grab, exit, and enjoy life. But as a budding entrepreneur, I believe passion should be the starting point. It’s the fuel that keeps entrepreneurs going. If you haven’t found something that you’re passionate about, keep searching. As the late Steve Jobs said…
You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart
— Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.