Do what you know, or do what you love?
It’s a polarizing question.
Some entrepreneurs will tell you unequivocally that you should follow your heart, and start a business based around something you’re truly passionate about.
Others will suggest that you look to the things you do well, and build a business based around your skills. After all, your passion might not withstand the difficulty of starting a business.
Should you start a business based on what you’re already good at, or should you follow your passion? I asked the entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council to weigh in.
Some entrepreneurs will argue that instead of starting a business based on your passion, you should stick with what you know.
This isn’t a bad thing—starting a business around what you know and what you’re good at can be a very successful strategy.
Here’s the argument for starting a business based on what you know and what you’re good at, rather than a passion:
Don’t follow your passion—because passions can change over time
Mattan Griffel of One Month makes a strong case for not starting a business based on your passion.
“There are four reasons why you shouldn’t follow your passions,” he says.
These reasons? Mattan says that passions are hard to prioritize, and can change over time. He also adds that you may discover that you’re not really that good at your passion, which can be a hard pill to swallow.
The reality is, when you choose to start a business around your passion, you run the risk of letting it overtake your life, losing your passion for it in the first place, and finding that your skillset isn’t up to snuff.
Finally, Mattan feels that “it’s self-centered to take more out of the world than you leave behind,” and that your goal in starting a business should be to make the world better.
If it’s your first business, go with what you do well
Piyush Jain of SIMpalm suggests sticking with something you do well if it’s your first business. “This way, you will establish yourself as an entrepreneur, understand the tricks of the trade, and make money,” he says. “Once you achieve success, then start a business you are passionate about.”
Looking at your first business as a jumping off point can take some of the pressure off, and you can think of the long haul, when you’re more prepared to start a business you’re truly passionate about. “This time, you can better succeed in your passion because you’ll have foundation, money, experience, connections, and a recipe for success,” says Piyush.
Measure your customers’ willingness to pay
“Although passion is a prerequisite, it alone may not be enough to build a sustainable business,” says Vishal Shah of NoPaperForms. “Before going full-time into my first startup, we spent almost a year iterating on our product based on user feedback until we had a few paying early adopters and a profitable business model.”
Your passion might not work as a business, plain and simple—starting a business based around something people actually need is paramount. Make sure you’ve done the market research and are offering a product or service that people will actually pay for.
Vishal says it’s important to get rid of the tunnel vision that passion can bring on when starting a business. “Startups are experiments,” he says.
Sharpen your tools
If you want to start a business but aren’t sure that what you are passionate about is enough to sustain one, consider thinking of it as an opportunity to hone your abilities.
“If the opportunity you find does not appeal to your passion but something you will do well in, consider it an opportunity to sharpen your skill set,” says Punit Shah of My Trio Rings.
Punit adds that this can help you down the road too, if your plans change. “Focus on building skills that will increase your chance of success when you do come across a business that aligns with your passion,” he says.
While there are plenty of good reasons to avoid starting a business based on your passion, these entrepreneurs make a compelling case to do the opposite.
Why should you follow your passion? Here’s the argument for it.
Don’t start a business for the money
While starting a business will hopefully be lucrative, advocates of following your passion would urge you not to go into business seeing dollar signs.
“When you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this anyway?’ your answer should be just shy of wanting to change the world,” says David Ciccarelli of Voices.com. “If your answer is, ‘Because I think I can make some money,’ you’ll quickly abandon the idea for the next one.”
Being in it for the money may make you more inclined to jump ship when things get tricky, whereas if you’re passionate about your idea, you’ll be more inclined to tough it out.
Start a business that solves a pain point
Fill a need you have personally experienced, and your passion will follow, suggests Katherine Berry of Allocadia. “If you find a true pain point you’re passionate about solving, you won’t have to spend time convincing people they need the solution—they’ll already be looking for it,” she says.
“My sister and I started Allocadia because we experienced a pain point and we were passionate about solving the problem. We didn’t do research to find a gap in the market—we experienced it first-hand,” says Katherine.
Think bigger than business
“If you don’t follow your passion, more than your business will suffer,” says Kevin Robinson of Juniper Jones, who argues that no matter what your passion is, you can find a way to apply those skills to a business idea.
He also believes that the idea of your passion eventually fading shouldn’t deter you. “Your passion might dwindle over time, but if you build the proper habits, it will keep your business running smoothly so that you can find your next passion,” he says. “Think big, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Having passion is a must
For some entrepreneurs, there isn’t a grey area; having passion is a startup necessity.
Brittany Hodak of ZinePak is one of them: “Don’t start a business unless you’re passionate about it. Period,” she says. “You’ll hate the 18-hour-days, endless meetings and talking about your company nonstop if you don’t have passion.”
She argues that passion is sometimes so important that it “trumps making money,” and that you shouldn’t start a business that you aren’t truly passionate about.
They go hand in hand
Some entrepreneurs, however, feel that it isn’t a black and white argument.
They argue that starting a business should be about both your passion and your skill set, and that you can’t have one without the other.
Keep it passionate but viable
Elle Kaplan of LexION Capital argues that passion is great—but you need a business idea and a plan that really works.
“Ideas are a dime-a-dozen, and it’s the execution that actually matters,” she says. “Passion will drive and motivate you, but motivation doesn’t pay the rent or electricity.”
She adds: “If you can follow your passion, absolutely do it—but make sure there’s a viable business model first.”
You can’t have one without the other
“If you’re passionate about your business and what you do, you’ll do well and your business will excel,” says Ayelet Noff of Blonde 2.0. “The two go hand-in-hand.”
Ayelet believes that business success is contingent on having passion; without that passion, you’ll find yourself struggling with the challenges of starting a business and achieving success.
“You can’t do well in your business if you’re not passionate about it,” she says. “If you’re not willing to work endless hours, then you’re not passionate enough about it for it to reach for the sky.”