I had to respond to a post NY angel investor Mark Birch recently wrote called Entrepreneurship and the Passion Deficit. He claims that “the number one reason startups fail is because there is no passion!”
Mark’s a smart guy, but in this case, I totally disagree.
For 17 years, I’ve been buried in the startup scene, working in Austin, the Valley and NYC. I’ve been surrounded by entrepreneurial peers busting their asses to bring something new to the world.
Except for the Web 1.0 bubble, when greed reigned and lots of get-rich-quick types hopped on the bandwagon, I have seen no shortage of passion. Even in the last few years, when startups became cool again and it felt like everyone and their cousin was starting a company, I’ve seen plenty of passion.
We all know the stories of founders who persevered beyond any sort of rational scope, got their big break, and created a huge success. But it’s like an iceberg. You see and read about those success stories, but hidden underwater is a massive, massive majority of failed ventures. The bigger problem out there is teams sticking with the wrong thing too long — wrong problem area, wrong solution set, wrong customer target, wrong team mix, wrong market timing, or simply an inability to raise the funds needed to keep paying the rent.
It *is* true that if you don’t have passion, your startup won’t get very far. Startups are too risky, too hard, too much of a roller-coaster to survive without it.
However, most entrepreneurs have an over-abundance of passion, stubbornness, and optimism. The “Lean startup” approach, in many ways, is a method for grounding those psychological traits in reality.
Mark raises the concern that “lean startup” can lead a team away from their passion, as they “pivot” their way along.
That is valid. I’ve seen it happen.
If you try your hardest to be lean, you might end up disproving your original idea but unearthing new business opportunities in areas you are not excited about. It is up to you to be self-aware enough not to take that path, and in most situations I have seen like this, the founder did come to that realization and made a change (either changing the path or handing over the keys).
Bottom line, lead with vision, back it up with passion and great execution, and ruthlessly challenge your assumptions as you go along.