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Is Passion Overrated? Why There’s More to Starting a Business than Following your Heart

Simply going on your gut feel isn’t going to cut it. Three Singaporean entrepreneurs talk about why they do what they do and what drives them

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BY Cristina Morales - 21 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Much has been written and said about how passion is a prerequisite when striking out on your own. With self-help books and many a motivational speaker peddling the gospel of following your heart, it’s difficult not to buy into this mindset.

However, it’s important to point out that passion, when stripped down to its most basic form, is a mere emotion—one of great intensity, yes, but an emotion, nonetheless. And we all know how changeable and fickle one’s emotions can be. It’s easy to see why many who have set out to follow their passions end up feeling rudderless. When you’re following your heart and absolutely nothing else, getting lost is not only likely, but almost inevitable.

Don’t get us wrong—being passionate in what you do does make a huge difference, especially when you’re trying to start your own company. However, as the following entrepreneurs have demonstrated, there’s a lot more to being successful in business than simply going with your gut feel.

1. Find what you’re good at

In this Inc. article, Josh Linkner writes that it’s important to discern the difference between “an achievable dream and a fantasy.” Not everyone who loves basketball, for example, has a fighting chance at making it pro.

Norman Yeo, founder of digital media agency Tangy Lab, says that operating a business requires you to get your hands dirty and do things that you don’t necessarily find appealing. For example, if you are passionate about baking and decide to put up a pastry business, it won’t be long before you discover that operating your business is more than just baking. “In fact, as your business grows, you will realize that you will be doing less baking along the way,” he says. “Can you be passionate about other business essentials like accounting? Sales? Marketing? Logistics?”

“It’s sometimes hard for a new entrepreneur to tell the difference between passion and infatuation,” he adds, pointing out that a person can live through 50 years of his life without ever knowing his passion.

When Yeo left his job as the general manager at a boutique social media firm, he had no idea what he wanted to do. To get the ball rolling, he decided to take advantage of his familiarity with the industry and take up small projects, but as he started working with a few clients and got referrals, he discovered that this was what he wanted to do. “Because I enjoyed seeing our clients happy, I decided to build this business up,” he says.

“Passion is a driver, but it’s not the only driver out there,” Yeo says. “The whole idea about the importance of passion is that it allows you to keep motivated and stay strong during tough times.”

2. Look for gaps you can fill

Singapore is known for having some of the best students in the world, but it comes at a huge cost—literally. According to Quartz, the country spends SGD$1.1 billion on private tuition (private tutors and coaching centers) alone. 34% of parents spend $500-$1,000 per month on each child, and 16% spend up to $2,000.

This is a significant sum that could well take up a huge portion of the family budget, which is why Chia Luck Yong decided to step in and try to help with his start-up AsknTeach—Singapore’s first 100% student-led edtech app. “I hope to reduce the costs and time families spend on physical tutors by replicating it through the use of IT,” he says.

With AsknTeach, students ask questions on the app to have educators and other students answer them. It’s a Q&A platform that makes it easy for educators to digitize their content and methodologies to reach more students. “Everyone should have that equal chance of doing well in school,” he adds, adding that he aims to eventually replace 50% of the private tuition market. “Imagine what families can do with the savings!”

3. Do the work

“You don’t find your passion and then work. Instead, you work—and then find your passion,” writes Jessica Stillman in this Inc. article.

Shaun Khoo always knew that he would be joining the family business, FunFit, an activewear and swimwear brand. “Being in a business is something that I’ve always loved, but if it wasn’t for the family business, I’d most probably not start off being in the swimwear and activewear industry,” he says.

When he joined the company, he struggled to cope with the various tasks appointed to him. Because he wasn’t involved in building the company up from scratch, he found it hard to connect with the business and struggled to improve the culture and take it to newer heights.

After he got to know the business better and learned how their products truly add value to their customers that he began to understand the big “why” of their business and the role he could play in it. He understood that FunFit helps their customers—who may not be in their best shape when they begin their fitness journey—feel secure and at ease, and eventually gain confidence and achieve more balance in their life. It took time for him to understand “Everything seemed to fall into place the moment I found a reason why I was doing what I was doing.”

“Without passion, there is really no meaning to the things that I am doing,” Yong adds. “But I definitely don’t use that as the only reason to support my decision to pursue this path. I have to be realistic as well. I have a family to feed and I hope that the work I am doing will create value for all, including myself.”

“I see passion as a ‘fire-starter’ that gets a lot of things started,” says Khoo. “However, like fire, passion alone is often not enough. You’d need fuel to keep that fire burning strong, especially through tough times when things aren’t going well. In business, I’d consider these ‘fuels’ as traits such as grit, discipline, and commitment.”

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