Loving to bake is completely different than running a bakery. But every month, perhaps every day, someone somewhere in the world makes a decision that they want to open a bakery. And there's also someone out there deciding to launch a mobile app, or introduce battery-powered cars. In most cases, these entrepreneurs would never want to do anything else, despite all of the hardships. Okay ... except maybe vacation for once.
People who have never started a company sometimes feel like an outsider looking in on this mysterious world of entrepreneurialism. It's easy to rattle off words like "focus," "determination" and "passion" to explain the success of entrepreneurs we admire. But for many of us, it's very hard to turn our own passions into the focus and determination needed to start a successful company. How do you even begin?
I think it all starts with mapping your personal "Founder DNA."
Your Founder DNA is a personal list of core passions, interests and (yes) capitalistic ideals that must be present in your entrepreneurial adventure. There are no compromises to this list-or else you risk being that person who's not just stuck in an uninteresting job, but stuck owning an uninteresting company.
Let me help unpack this concept by sharing my own Founder DNA. I love empowering underserved small businesses through technology. I love the recurring subscription business model. I love the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model. You may have noticed I repeatedly used the word "love." Building a businesses with these three components actually gets me excited.
You may have also noticed that I didn't mention "recruiting" (even though my company, Resumator, is a recruiting software company). Don't get me wrong-I am insanely interested in recruiting right now, but it's not part of my Founder DNA. I could start another company with these three components in a totally different space. That's a good segue into sharing these five tips for mapping your own Founder DNA:
1. The list should only include things you're unwilling to go without.
Using myself as an example: I like building large scale, Web-based software for small business with a recurring revenue business model, and "click, try, buy" customer acquisition. I would never start a company if it didn't have all these components. You should be careful that you're not making your own list too short, or too long-just the things that you are unwilling to compromise on when starting a business.
2. You should feel an emotion when reading the list.
"Passion" is a hard thing to quantify, and it means different things to different people. What's true is your Founder DNA must have a visceral effect on you. When you talk about it, you should become hopeful, excited. It's like the dream you want to come true written on paper. There are people who get excited at the idea of having really big legal cases to manage, and thus want to start their own law firm. Not me. I get excited at the idea that some small business owner has less stress because of software I created, and they're willing to pay for it monthly. I truly get a rush out of that. How do you get yours?
3. You need to have a clear mission, even if it's not a grand mission.
A mission is perhaps one of the most clarifying components of your Founder DNA. I have a mission to empower small businesses everywhere through affordable technology. There's nothing wrong with your mission to be "give people in my hometown a cooler place to hang out" if you're considering opening a hookah lounge. Or maybe you want to do something that "reduces the world's reliance on fossil fuels" or "inspires the imaginations of kids through your storybook characters." Elon Musk and J.K. Rowling would be your competition, by the way. Anytime you get lost on the journey, you can refer back to your mission to remember why it's all worth it.
4. The list should include the type of business model(s) that interest(s) you.
An easy way to understand this tip is to imagine which type of business transaction gives you the biggest rush. I am not at all interested in "brick and mortar" businesses where there's a physical cash register. I'm also not interested in the idea of manufacturing a physical product and selling it online. I love the idea that people can simply enter a credit card on our website and start paying for our software every month. Other people love the idea of sitting behind a counter and ringing the register. And some people like to build things, so they would love to get their physical product on Amazon. If you're passionate about a business model, you'll find the stamina to make that model work for your business.
5. The list should make the size of your ambition clear.
Some people want to bring drinkable water to every corner of the world. Nothing wrong with that. Some people just want to replace their salary with their new business revenue. That's okay, too. What's important is that your Founder DNA clearly articulate the level of your ambition. I want to build a large scale service used by tens of thousands of employers. Knowing this makes me aware of the fact that I will need to raise investment, and I'll need to raise it from people who have the same level of ambition. Especially in the tech sector, first-time founders need to really do a gut check on their ambition. You don't raise millions of dollars in venture-capital to make just a million dollars a year. Know the limits of your ambition, because the more ambitious you are, the harder it's definitely going to get.
Confucius once said, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." That's nonsense, especially to an entrepreneur.
One of the most sobering realities of starting your own business is following your passions often involves tons of unexpectedly hard work. I think what Confucius really meant was, "Choose a job you love, and your passion will ensure you persevere through the hard times."
Creating a business (and, therefore, a job) that you love requires you to find your Founder DNA. Good luck!