05/12/14 | Uncategorized

4 Lessons on Pursuing Passions from Y Combinator Founder Paul Graham

Inspiring words from a founder who lives his passions in business and in life.

By Jessica Semaan (Founder, thepassion.co)

I recently took a peek into the OpenAir conference, to watch Paul Graham speak. He is one of my heroes for many reasons, including founding one of the world’s best incubators that helped spawn Airbnb, Reddit and Dropbox amongst others.

What is even more fascinating about Graham is that he is not just another investor, programmer, entrepreneur. Paul is a multidimensional thought leader. He lives his passion for painting and writing, he actually studied the art at RISD and in Florence and keeps a popular blog, where he writes thought provoking pieces with candidness as well as simplicity.

As Paul Graham was talking at the conference, it hit me that all the advice he was sharing applies not only to tech startups, but to anyone embarking on a journey to pursue what their heart desires.

Applying his words to passion, four main lessons came up.

Work on Whatever Interests You

Some people come to me worried that if what they desire is opening a coffee shop, it will not scale, they will not make it on techcrunch, and therefore won’t be “successful.” In Paul’s view, don’t do something just because it is hot, or because it can be big. Start with what really interests you. After all, pulling all-nighters and dedicating most of your time to something will require a passion and a big interest to keep you going and help you achieve true success, which is doing something that brings you joy. Another way of putting it: “Do something that does not scale.”


Increase Demand by Focusing on Your Product

When asked how to increase demand in a marketplace, the answer was simple: build a product people want. Whether it is a blog you are writing and you are concerned that you do not have enough visitors, a tea brand you started and it is not selling enough, a yoga class you began teaching and you are not getting the class to fill up, this advice is for you: talk to those who are using the product or service and find out how you can make what you are doing even more desirable. There is nothing more effective than word of mouth.


Stop Ideating and Start Doing

Ideation is a misleading term, said Graham. Before I started The Passion Company, I was very tempted to take the “consulting” route, brainstorm market opportunities, put together a business plan, build a presentation and basically spend months “strategizing.”

Most successful startups were started on the side, or out of need. For example, Airbnb’s founders needed to pay their rent, so they started a website to rent out their couch and air bed.

The point is stop thinking and start doing. You want to be the best selling writer? Start a blog now. You want to create an app for dating? Prototype your idea in real life today. You want to be a painter, sign up for a painting class this second.


If You Are Scared of Your Idea, You Are in a Good Place

“The best ideas are things so freaky that you yourself don’t believe them.” Be audacious. Don’t let fear stop you. Fear takes so many forms that go like that: it’s impossible, it’s a crazy idea, how come no one had done it before, who am I to do it. Learn how to recognize that voice when it comes up. I used to be embarrassed to tell people that my company is focused on passion. I could not find companies to compare it to, and it was not an app based product. It was scary. The truth is, a year later, having proven that what we do is relevant to many, and that we have a customer base and relevance, the same people converted to believers.


In Conclusion

Whatever you do, be sure to enjoy it. It is easy to get caught up with what’s cool, what’s trending, what everyone is into. The reality is, you will only make a difference when you are:

  • Doing something truly unique, that solves a problem.
  • Doing something that gives you meaning and fulfills your soul.

Ending with one of Graham’s favorite quotes:

“The qualities that made for success in a fighter-pilot seemed to be just those sturdy qualities that made for success in other professions; observation, initiative, determination, courage, including the courage to run away. In course of time it appeared that men who had a private axe to grind beyond the public axe of the King’s enemies were especially successful.”

Jim Bailey, The Sky Suspended

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