Romantic lies about passion and entrepreneurship
There is a romanticized notion that if you pursue a passion, work becomes smooth sailing–work is only “hard” if you hate what you do, and if you pursue a passion, you’re only doing what you love, and therefore relish every skip of your beating heart.
This also leads many to believe that if you’re passionate about something, you don’t have to put in much effort to succeed at it. The success comes as naturally as breathing. It would be absurd to “breathe harder"–you simply keep breathing. The success will follow naturally.
This is a seductive notion, particularly to aspiring entrepreneurs. But it’s a lie. And it’s dangerously misleading.
Let me tell you about my passion. I am an obsessive, greedy reader. Every time I read something that inspires or provokes me, I get this strange, hoarding impulse to jot it down in a notebook. This reached an apex in college, when I went through an angsty existential crisis and used literature to overcome it. I ended up with notebooks flooded with handwritten quotes by Camus, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, and Sartre. I was proud of my collection, but it was inefficient. I tried to find an online alternative, but the existing quotation sites made my eyes puke. That was when the idea for Quotesome was born.
I was so passionate about the idea of Quotesome–so passionate that I rescinded my formal education–what everyone told me was the only certain path to a stable future–to make the idea a reality.
—And when you read all these stories about entrepreneurship, they make it seem so thrilling and romantic. Entrepreneurship is that alluring fairytale where you struggle a tad but then prince charming comes along and then the confetti begins to fall and the curtain draws. The successful entrepreneurs are relished and celebrated. When you read about them on the news all their success is attributed to "passion"—
So I thought: fuck the system. I’m passionate about Quotesome. I’m going to do this.
Nobody tells you that entrepreneurship is not romantic, fun, or cool. Nobody tells you that:
You will deal with a starving bank account. You will watch your money burn faster than a cigarette soaked in ethanol. You will eventually realize that you need to raise money fast, or you may starve. And if you starve, you will die.
You will have to learn how to do everything you hate. If you have a particular skill set and think it’ll take you far enough to hire other people to take over the stuff you hate, you’re wrong. The type of specialization and linearity you were taught by society and in classrooms does not exist in entrepreneurship. You have to learn how to code. You have to learn how to market. You have to learn how to growth-hack. You have to know how to manage people. You have to learn how to manage your emotions. You have to learn how to pitch. You have to learn how to speak to VCs. You have to learn how to read analytics. You may suck at these things, but you will have to learn them anyway.
You will be wasting too much time debugging and squashing bugs.
You will drown in a sea of useless, conflicting advice. You will learn that all the startup advice you hear is wrong.
If you build a great product, people don’t automatically flock to it. But you will likely spend too much time building and perfecting the product anyway, assaulting the fine line between "need to have” and “nice to have.”
You will have no social life and will have trouble maintaining conversations that aren’t about your work. Friends will get angry with you and ask you why you never make any time for them. You will try to explain yourself and they will tell you that you need to stop glorifying busy and give up your unhealthy ambition. They will ask you why you don’t just get a job–"with your skill set you could have an 100k salary!“– and you will give up on conversations entirely.
You will have to deal with the painful, arduous, destructive process of fundraising after realizing that you have no clue how the fundraising process works. You will read articles and books that offer conflicting advice. You will stay up absurdly late practicing pitches, creating decks, and refining your business models. You will spend hours on end just to make a minute-long team video for Techstars. You will get rejected. You will apply again. You will make it to the finalist round. You will get rejected. You will be riled with self-doubt. You will try again with different incubators and accelerators. You will get rejected again and again and again and again. You will look at your bank account and start to ask yourself if you this is even worth it anymore. You will come close to giving up.
But you won’t give up. You will go directly to investors and VCs. You will realize that you have no connections to investors or VCs and that all the fundraising guides you’ve read say that cold-calling is a bad idea. You will end up cold-calling them anyway. You will do ridiculous and embarrassing things to get their attention. You will be flooded with joy when VCs show interest. They will love your product. They will love your team. They will talk to you… and they won’t invest.
You will begin to wonder if you are delusional for still believing in yourself.
You will wake up one morning with $46 in your bank account. You will lose sleep bootstrapping to support yourself through another month of work. You will lose your remaining shreds of mental sanity trying to fundraise.
You will stay up until 5AM sobbing silently at the sense of directionless that you constantly feel, allowing yourself to break down for a solid 20 minutes before you go back to work, and then maintain a straight face in front of the world and your cofounder because you know that the feeling of defeat is contagious, and no matter how shitty you feel, it is your job to stay in tact even when everything seems to be falling apart.
So why on earth do we do this? Are entrepreneurs masochists?
We persevere through this bullshit because we never lose sight of why we’re in this in the first place: the passion. There are times when all the anxiety is suspended, when you sit with your cofounder looking at the product you built together with an overwhelming mixture of dissatisfaction and love. We persevere for the glorious moment when you realize that you transformed an idea you were so passionate about into a reality.
To all young and aspiring entrepreneurs–abandon any romanticized, "linear” vision you have of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy, cool, or fun. It’s not “do what you love and the rest will come naturally.” Be ready for a lot of hard work, pain, and irrational levels of perseverance. You may be passionate, but your passion will not make entrepreneurship any easier for you. Your passion simply gives you a reason to persevere through the pain.
This is a post written for Startup Edition’s topic: Advice for Young Entrepreneurs.