Hello, I’m Michael Sliwinski, founder of Nozbe - to-do app for business owners and their teams. I write essays, books, work on projects and I podcast for you using #iPadOnly in #NoOffice as I believe that work is not a place you go to, it’s a thing you do. More…

Build a passionate startup!… or 7 types of passion


I’m writing a book on passion and I think you are going to love it. Here’s what it’s all about: “It’s hard to tell with these Internet startups if they’re really interested in building companies or if they’re just interested in the money. I can tell you, though: If they don’t really want to build a company, they won’t luck into it. That’s because it’s so hard that if you don’t have a passion, you’ll give up.” - Steve Jobs

Build a passionate startup!… or 7 types of passion

How my dreams came true

When I discovered the Internet in 1996 (half-way through high school) I felt inspired. Being able to connect from the comfort of my home to a person on the other side of the globe was magical. With this, I thought, anything was possible.

I started college in 1998 and began to understand how the business could be done over the Internet. Going through the “Internet bubble of 2000” for the first time I discovered the concept of a “startup” and of course, a few months later a concept of a “bubble” and “a failed startup”. Somewhere in between there was another concept of “new economy” which I never understood so let’s just leave it at that.

Even though most of the Internet startups failed at that time, I was lured into a dream of running a company that could exist only on the Internet and offer products or services to people all over the world digitally. I thought it wasn’t a “new economy” but it was a new “paradigm shift”.

I graduated in 2003 and even though I was advised otherwise, I decided not to go to work for a big corporation. I had a great resume, spoke several languages, had a chance at a great career in a multi-national company. But I just wasn’t interested. I had a dream and I was desperate to make it a reality.

I started small and opened up my web consultancy (focused on e-commerce and Internet marketing) and apart from working for many clients and helping them sell their merchandise over the Internet I kept on building my small “startup projects” on the side.

I failed several times (which I’ll explain later in more detail) until I finally succeeded by launching Nozbe in 2007. It was the moment of the Web2.0 “wave” and an idea of having, running or working for an Internet Startup became popular again.

Everyone wants to build a startup

What I soon realized (right after launching my startup) was that in countless cities and campuses in almost every corner of the world young entrepreneurs started to meet to talk about startups. These were (are) very informal meetings aimed at exchanging ideas and connecting to build fantastic companies of the future… together.

I launched my startup completely alone (I was a one-man-shop) and in a city I didn’t know well (back then, we just moved to Warsaw, the capital of Poland with my wife). That’s why talking to like-minded folks felt like fun and I started participating in many of these “startup meetings” (or “barcamps” as they call it) and had a great time learning from my peers and sharing my experiences.

What I quickly discovered was that I wasn’t so special. My “startup friends” were making the same mistakes I was, repeating them at a rate similar to mine. All that while trying to build something great. Or so they thought. Or so we all thought.

However, as the common knowledge has it: “most startup fail” and I was witnessing many startup failures over the past few years.

Ultimately it’s all about passion

There are many reasons why startups (and any other projects for that matter) fail but what I discovered was that most of the time it all comes down to one major reason: Passion… or the lack of it.

Passion is what inspires people and what gives you the drive to move forward. It gives you a reason to live. Working on a startup takes a huge amount of time and requires sacrifices in your private life with your family and friends. You have to work on a project you don’t know if ever succeeds and if your effort really ever pays off.

That’s why it is so important to be passionate about what you’re doing. Without this, you are ten times more likely to fail.

There are several types of passion

Passion shows up in many shapes and forms and you just don’t get to be passionate about one thing or one aspect of your company. There are many types of passion and over here I’d like to comment on the ones I discovered and that played the major role in my success. Ready? Let’s dive into this and hopefully inspire you to build a passionate startup.

1. Passion for the Money

This one is very important… but it’s increasingly important to approach money from the right angle. When you’re “doing it for the money and the fame” you’re not passionate about money, you’re just plain greedy.

Money is crucial for running a healthy business and it should be viewed as a means to an end and not a target in itself. It’s a benchmark and earning money is a tough skill to master.

2. Passion for the Solution

I say you should “scratch your own itch” and focus on solving a problem not only you have, but very often thousands upon thousands of people from all around the world suffer from.

When the solution becomes your obsession is where it’s at. And it starts with solving the problem in small way and then iterating it all the way until you can solve it for hundreds, thousands or even millions of people all over the world.

3. Passion for the Product

This helps you focus on delivering the best user experience for your customers and ultimately build a product everyone in your target audience wants to use.

You need to use your product daily, tweak it, work on it, be crazy about each detail. You have to be the “product guy” and instead of looking at your competition, you have got to be focused on building the best product you can make that solves the problem you’re trying to fix.

4. Passion for the Industry

Your industry is usually not the “startup industry” at all (this is the industry of Venture Capital companies). Your industry is where the problem you’re solving is at. In the case of Nozbe I operate in “productivity” industry.

Understanding and being passionate for your industry helps you understand the problem better and gain more insight into your customers and their needs. Ultimately creating a better solution for them. Thanks to this passion you are constantly learning what is working, you have an opportunity to give back to the community and receive from them intangibles like trust, respect and most of all, great know-how. This is where you over-share and out-teach your competition.

5. Passion for Growth

You live, you grow… so you need to be passionate about not standing still but constantly growing. You want to get better, you want your team, your customers and everyone involved to get better and grow.

You need mentors, people who you respect and admire to help you make your decisions, you need to take risks, fail and keep dusting it off and trying again. If you are not constantly moving forward, you’re actually taking steps back.

6. Passion to Help

This is a big one. This makes sure you understand your expertise can help others and can make the world a better place. That you’re in for the long haul for yourself and everyone around you.

I’ve been having an amazing experience helping others succeed both in my “startup community” as well as my “productivity community”… as well as “the community” as a whole. You want to give back even more. There’s nothing like it. It’s the best drug ever.

7. Passion for Synergies

Speaking of drugs, if two drug-addicts meet, they’re on an all-time high. Passion attracts Passion - as simple as that. This is exactly what happens when two (or more) passionate people meet. I was surprised whom I got to meet because of the sheer fact that we both shared a passion for something. And we wanted to talk about it, to learn from each other, to hear each others stories… and in many cases even work together to join our passions and create synergies. If you are a passionate person you want to work with passionate people. Sweet.

As you undoubtedly noticed, these types of passion are related to each other and actually grow from one to another… but they are all there. All of them are different and unique in their own way and make your life richer and more fulfilling. There are no shortcuts, it takes time to go through all of these phases and after you’ve uncovered them all, your journey gets even more interesting. And as they say, “the journey is the ultimate destination”.

The element of surprise

If you keep on pursuing your dreams and following your passions, you’re in for a treat. Life will surprise you in so many ways that it’s beyond belief. After each type of passion I’ll try to explain what kind of surprises you can expect from being a passionate person and following your heart.

And it’s not just me, I’ll be adding examples from people across industries who got surprised many times over by where their passion has taken them. And what they discovered, and who they met, and who discovered them, and which doors got opened for them.

In my journey I’m being constantly surprised by all this. I’m still blown away by how my passion attracts others and helps me achieve a lot more than I thought was possible. How opportunities present themselves that I’ve never thought were within my reach.