Passion project

Passion project

The quest for fame and fortune shouldn’t be the drivers of entrepreneurial success. The key is being passionate about your business.

Every entrepreneur is focused on “success.” But what constitutes success, especially in the early stages of setting up a new venture?

Our popular culture tends to focus on the glamorous aspects of starting a new business, emphasizing how entrepreneurship is the road to untold wealth and fame.

I want to be clear that I don’t blame the media for zeroing in like this on the sexy side of entrepreneurship. But this perspective leaves out an important truth: entrepreneurship is hard. It takes persistence, energy and grit to succeed.

This view also glosses over how searching for success will likely require an entrepreneur to take some calculated risks at first – risks that may lead to failure. And then, after drawing lessons from that experience, the entrepreneur tries again (perhaps even a third time), and hopefully hits a home run in a subsequent venture.

Even if our popular culture does not recognize this truth, we need to see entrepreneurship for what it really is: a very difficult undertaking.

I’ve seen this truth up close many times. I have worked for more than 25 years to help foster innovation and growth in Canada’s knowledge economy. In my current role as CEO of OMERS Ventures, I’ve reviewed thousands of pitches from entrepreneurs seeking funding for exciting products and services aimed at large growing markets.

You’d get a much more accurate understanding of entrepreneurship from our popular culture if it instead emphasized how much passion entrepreneurs require to succeed.

What I mean is how, particularly at the start of a new venture, entrepreneurs will need to overcome a series of pitfalls. One quality they will need at this stage, perhaps more than any other attribute, is a passion for solving problems while pursuing a larger vision. Passion fuels a start-up, in a sense, just like venture capital does.

Some of these initial obstacles may require weeks, months or even longer to solve. You need tremendous passion to make it past these obstructions.

And for your venture to thrive over the longer term, you need to focus on solving a business problem that creates value for customers. That, too, will demand a lot of passion from you.

Whether we’re talking about rising Canadian firms, such as Shopify, Hootsuite or Desire2Learn (which OMERS Ventures is proud to be invested in), or getting a small local business off the ground, success at the early stages often comes down to the passion of the founder or founding team. Passion is that driving force that never backs down.

Making money is an important measure of success, as well, but in those early days of a new venture, making money needs to be distinguished from being passionate about solving problems. I have seen too many entrepreneurs who were passionate about making money cause their start-up to fail because they had their eye on the wrong ball.

When your passion is focused and harnessed toward solving a business problem, it is a key competitive advantage, just like deep-domain expertise or proprietary knowledge.

In my view, passion is a badge of honour – and all entrepreneurs should wear it with pride.

- John Ruffolo / Illustration by: Chelsea Peters