When thinking about career aspirations as an entrepreneur, I have always looked at passion as the guiding force. Last month’s Business Leader Meeting (BLM) gave me a whole new perspective on my career and what it means to be an entrepreneur. The format of the BLM was a panel with three stellar, young entrepreneurs: Max Yoder, CEO and co-founder of Lesson.ly; Chris Palmer, CEO and founder of BoxFox and SupplyKick; and Peter SerVaas, President and co-founder of DoubleMap. Max and Chris are also two former Orr Fellows!
Everyone knows to be an entrepreneur you need an idea. Our panelists developed their ideas in three very different ways. Max saw the difficulty in training new employees, providing them with all the necessary information to contribute to the team immediately, while one of his co-founders struggled to create an online history lesson to prepare his kids for a trip to tour famous monuments in Paris. These two struggles came together to form Lesson.ly, a company that creates customizable online lessons. Peter was heavily involved in student government and saw the need for tracking public bus locations for students. This led him to co-found DoubleMap, which provides real-time GPS bus tracking to transit systems across the world. Chris was just trying to buy an office chair for his home and found a great deal from Craigslist. It was too good to pass up so he bought all 10 and made $1000! This led to the formation of SupplyKick to create better market flow for small retailers to sell and appraise excess inventory. When asked how passion played a role in forming their idea, Chris jokingly replied, “I can’t say that I was passionate about overstock inventory.” He added that it was more about the idea and getting it to work that made him love what he does.
Throughout the panel, there was one recurring theme that kept sticking out to me; People. The panelists were all on the same page. Once you have a working idea, the next most important factor is bringing on the right people. “For your first employee, you need to find an ‘A’ employee. A ‘B’ employee will just slow you down,” said Max, expressing the value of finding the best people, not just the right people. The best people don’t have to work for you for them to be a resource. Chris stressed the importance of sharing your idea with the best and brightest, getting their feedback and seeing if they’ll buy it. Overall the idea may come first, but it’s the people you bring along that make it successful.
Max summarized it well saying, “It’s about all the people and loving working together. The training software is just the puzzle that we put together every day. You need to love the reasons you’re doing it and the people you do it with.”
So again, is passion the guiding force to being a successful entrepreneur? According to three successful entrepreneurs, it starts with an idea and grows with the right people. It’s not that passion doesn’t play a role in becoming a successful—it’s just not the guiding force, but rather fuel to the fire to help you accomplish your goals. It’s the idea that gets you going and the people that make it count.