In 1997, Steve Jobs returned to Apple after a 12-year absence. The company he had co-founded was running out of cash and close to bankruptcy. Jobs held a staff meeting and explained the role passion would play in revitalizing the brand:
Apple is not about making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well. Apple is about something more. Its core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.
The simple phrase -- "people with passion can change the world" -- holds the secret to entrepreneurial success. Nearly a decade later, in 2005, Jobs returned to the theme in his famous commencement speech at Stanford University.
“You’ve got to find what you love,” Jobs said. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.”
Passion is everything. Following your passion is the secret to overcoming the setbacks all entrepreneurs face and it builds resistance against the inevitable naysayers who will question your vision. It’s also an essential ingredient in successful communication. If you’re not passionate about your ideas, nobody else will be.
Successful entrepreneurs are abundantly passionate -- but not necessarily about the product. They’re passionate about their missions. They’re passionate about what their products or services mean to the lives of their customers. They’re passionate about changing the world or disrupting an established category.
For example, Jobs wasn’t passionate about computer hardware. He was passionate about building tools that would help people unleash their personal creativity.
When I interviewed Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, we spoke for more than an hour and he didn’t bring up the word "coffee."
“Coffee is the product, but it’s not the business we’re in,” he told me.
Schultz built an empire from scratch precisely because he wasn’t as passionate about the product as he was about “creating a third place between work and home.” Anyone can sell a cup of coffee. It takes a true innovator to create an experience.
“Someone who is passionate will immerse themselves in a field. They want to know everything they can about it,” says Maxine Clark, the founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop.
In a recent conversation, Clark told me how much she admired Steve Jobs as someone who followed his passions, wherever they would lead.
“He was curious. He studied calligraphy, design, art and music, and brought it together for the rest of us,” she says.
Clark is no longer the CEO of the company she started and now invests in early stage companies as well as mentoring entrepreneurs. She says that passion is a fundamental trait she looks for when deciding who to back and who to mentor. She listens carefully to the words people use. For example, if someone just wants "to get rich," and has no passion for a particular idea, Clark will pass.
“It’s not good enough for me. There’s no rush to create a business you’re not passionate about just to be rich," she says. "It will not work in the long run. You must have your heart in it. The heart is what’s going to drive you to make the most money.”
Leading venture capital investors have echoed Clark’s observation. I recently had the opportunity to share the stage at a private venture capital conference with Sequoia Capital’s Doug Leone. The legendary investor has backed Google, AirBnB, WhatsApp and hundreds of others companies.
“What is the one quality all of the successful entrepreneurs share?” an audience member asked.
“They don’t do it for the money,” Leone quickly responded. “They’re passionate about their mission.”
Their "mission" might be to disrupt a category (Uber, AirBnB). Their mission might be to solve a problem they faced themselves (WhatsApp). Their mission might be to leave the world a better place. But in every case, the "mission" is deeper and more meaningful than the product or service alone.
In the book, Getting There, Matthew Weiner said he had a passion to be a writer, but his work was rejected so many times, he nearly gave up. But his passion was relentless. He passed one script around for four years. Finally it landed on the deck of an AMC executive and Mad Men was born.
“You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer," he says. "You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice.”
What do you want badly enough that you "don’t have a choice" but to follow it?
Jobs was obsessed with design, so much so he took a calligraphy course just for the fun of it. It’s ultimately what he meant when he said to follow your heart and trust that the dots will connect in the future.
“This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life,” he said.
Follow your passion and make a difference.