What Drives Your Business: Passion or Misery?

by / ⠀Startup Advice / November 19, 2010


My father-in-law is a very successful entrepreneur and owns several businesses in various industries in several parts of the world. Before I ventured into my first start-up (a coffee business), he asked me what were my motivations for wanting to start this. I told him I had a friend who knows how to roast coffee beans really well. And there aren’t enough nice coffee shops in Dar to hang out at (we live in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania).

He then told me frankly that he didn’t think I had a “natural advantage” in starting this business. After many long talks, what I understood this to mean was that there was no obvious reason how and why I would succeed; on the other hand, the reasons why I would not succeed were many: I had no food and beverage experience, my personality was not really suited for a front-line/service industry job, the people I had chosen to start my venture with had neither F&B experience nor commercial experience, and since when was I even passionate about coffee?

But I wasn’t discouraged; I was thankful that someone loved me enough and was honest enough to tell me things that I might not have been willing to admit to myself. I then started to honestly examine my own motivations for wanting to do this, and came up with the following list:

(1) Pride – I quit my professional job to do my own thing so I better have something to show for it now;
(2) Boredom – I just need to find something to do and stop living off my husband;
(3) Idealism or altruism – I just wanna do “something good”; and
(4) Desperation – can’t find a job (good enough for me) so might as well be self-employed.

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Now THAT discouraged me; when I saw how lame my reasons were. Did I even have any passion to bring to the table? I thought about my friend and that he was so passionate about coffee that he went and learned how to hand-roast coffee beans as a past-time. Despite his lack of commercial experience, he had more “natural advantage” than me because he knew his coffee.

Today I read a column on the Harvard Business Review entitled “Mark Zuckerberg and Misery as
Motivation”, which claimed that certain entrepreneurs succeeded because they were driven by
something they were bad at. For example, Zuckerberg was a social misfit and hence created Facebook to make more friends. Basically the writer suggests that “the inner drive to succeed emanates from a personal shortcoming or a void in life which was filled by the venture”. This was an interesting perspective to me; so passion is not necessary to drive you to success. If that is true, it could validate the initial motivations I had above for wanting to start my own enterprise. Perhaps these motivations were not so lame after all.

If the thesis is true, they did not quite set out with the goal of becoming a millionaire when they first started their venture. All they started out with was a desire to complete themselves or to make up for an inadequacy. And the success was a mere coincidence due to a combination of factors, i.e., the inadequacy or void turned out to be something the rest of the world had and needed filled as well, he had a savvy friend who gave him business consultancy advice, the rise of the Internet itself (another review I read claimed that not enough credit was given to the Internet for the success of Facebook, that it wasn’t so much the invention (Facebook) but the platform (the Internet) which made the invention. But such a class of entrepreneurs are also called the “accidental” entrepreneurs, or the Accidental Billionaires rather (that’s the name of the book that the Facebook movie, The Social Network, was based take flight.), etc.

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Whatever the reasons were for his success, (and avoiding the topic on whether the Zuckerberg depicted in the movie was accurate or not,) somehow I can’t bring myself to believe that he could have achieved what he achieved if it was simply fueled from hurt or anger. It is probably true that many brilliant and successful artists indeed have some kind of crazy genius which sprang from years of abuse or violence or drugs. But when starting out with a goal to achieve long-term and sustainable entrepreneurial success, surely we cannot dismiss those good old under-rated qualities such as originality, discernment, perseverance and good judgment? To me that translates into good friends and loving relationships (people around you who support and encourage you and who are not afraid to give you their honest opinion), self-discipline (prioritizing and working extremely hard), humility and patience (to listen to what other people are saying and to observe and learn from driving trends), creativity (thinking out of the box or trying to get an idea better than the last) and last but not least, passion (simple, unadulterated enjoyment for what you are doing) And I just don’t think one gets all that if one is hurting or angry at the world or has a me-sized void needing to be filled.

I guess what I’m saying is that today although I don’t know if I am passionate enough about coffee to succeed in a coffee business, I am making a choice to find and build up the passion that I need. The lame motivations I listed above may have been good reasons to start, but I don’t think they are good reasons to finish (well, that is). I do not want to start in an attempt to fill up some emptiness in my life or from having to prove a point about myself, but I know I certainly want to finish with an ever-growing passion for life and for making the lives of others better in the course of it.

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Rebecca Chang is a former attorney and co-founder of a start-up social enterprise in Tanzania which seeks to empower unemployed Tanzanian women through fair wage jobs and skills-training in the art of hand-roasting coffee beans and the creation of coffee beverages. 

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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