Passion and Startups

I’ve been consulting for a few months now and one of the things I like about it is that I get to talk to and work with a broad range of companies.  I only deal with startups (generally less than $20M revenue) and it’s amazing to see the similarities and the differences between the companies.

The thing I love the most is when you cross paths with a really passionate team.  You can spot these companies from a mile away.  Within 10 minutes of meeting with people at the company you know it.  There is an energy level that is impossible to fake.  People have religion about their product.  You get the impression the executive team wouldn’t even dream of doing something else and the rank and file have that crazy gleam in their eyes that says “We are kicking it in the butt.”   In my mind, when people tell me they love working at startups, what I think they really mean is that they love working at startups like this.

The best part about these kinds of companies is that they power through bad periods.  A lousy economy, grumpy investors, demanding customers, big market shifts – these things happen to every company but the passionate ones have a reserve tank of juice to get them through.   At the end of the day this goes a long way toward making the difference between a company that’s OK and a company that is great.

This kind of crazy energy isn’t exclusive to startups.  I can say the same about some of the teams that are driving innovative new products within large companies.  When I was working the Nortel Incubation projects, Nic Sauriol of the web.alive team was one of those types of leaders.  There was massive resistance to the web.alive project when it was first proposed and Nic was the type of guy that not only inspired and energized the team working on the project but also managed to turn many of the skeptics into strong supporters.
At IBM I worked with Nelson Mattos on the IBM’s launch into the Information Integration space (now known as Infosphere).  He assembled an amazing team, kept us all positive and excited about the mission (even when nobody else in the company seemed to be) and pushed forward with a never-say-die attitude that wore down even the harshest of critics.
That doesn’t mean that these leaders and teams are always the easiest folks to work with.  They aren’t, particularly when your job is to point out problems or be the voice of a reality that is perhaps a bit harsher than folks would like.  But at the same time, there is nothing better than working as part of a team that is energized, focused and in it to win it.

17 thoughts on “Passion and Startups”

  1. Enjoyed the post April! Currently at my 3rd start-up, I totally agree that the energy level, “crazy gleam”, and mindset where everyone is an evangelist, has to be there!
    Given that many of us who chose to join a start-up did so at the expense of foregoing arguably more predictable and secure (& likely higher paying – at first) positions elsewhere, if you don’t have a passion for your idea and it’s potential, you’re not going to be able to drive the business forward at the pace you need to in order for it to become highly successful.
    The energy “at a start-up like this” is what makes the hard work and long hours worth while.
    You say “religion”, some might say “cult”.
    Tomato, Tomaato 🙂

  2. what a wonderful post. thanks! i’ve worked on 3 start ups over the years, and love and thrive on that energy…

  3. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for the comment. I read the Gladwell article this morning (the link was traveling around Twitter). Very interesting.
    I’ve seen a number of startups that don’t have that energy level. Maybe they did and lost it or maybe it left with a change in leadership, who knows. What’s interesting to me is that they don’t spiral down quicker. In fact, they seem to limp along forever, not growing but just hanging in there while they change their strategy or flip in a few new executives. You can’t bolt on passion after the fact though, so I’ve yet to see one that’s limping along convert into a high-energy one. Once the thrill is gone, it’s gone for good in my opinion.
    April

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  8. April: great post. Could not have said it better. Passion is a blessing because it allows you to practically turn a blind eye to pretty much anything that is not a driver for what you are involved in and passionate about!

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