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…

It's All About Passion » Start - Introduction

Start - Introduction

My first passionate startup story…


“People say you have to have a lot of passion for what you’re doing. It’s totally true. The reason is, because it’s so hard and if you don’t, any rational person would give up. It’s really hard. And you have to do it over a sustained period of time. So if you don’t love it, if you’re not having fun doing it, you don’t really love it, you’re gonna give up.
It happens to most people actually. If you look at the ones that ended up being successful in the eyes of society and the ones that didn’t, often times the ones that were successful loved what they did so they could persevere when it got really tough. The ones that didn’t love it, quit. Because they’re sane, right? Who would want to put up with this stuff if you don’t love it. So it’s a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of worrying constantly and if you don’t love it you’re gonna fail. So you gotta love it and you gotta have passion.”

  • Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple

New college, new passion-seeking adventure…

The fall of 2000 in Germany was chilly, but it wasn’t unbearable. I showed up a few weeks before the new college year started to get to know my new school, new dorm and new city. There I was, a day-long drive away from my home town in Poland, excited to be able to continue my management studies abroad. Just this summer, right before the big move, I finally earned enough money to buy my first laptop computer - a 266 MHz Pentium II Compaq Armada. With my all-new PC, a German dictionary and lots of hopes and dreams, I was ready to start my new adventure and learn new things at this foreign university.

When I settled in my student dormitory and connected my laptop to the local University network, I was literally blown away by the speed of the Internet. Being used to a dial-up modem at home, it was like entering a different league. The applications I immediately downloaded and started using were the Opera browser (the fastest browser on earth at that point), Napster (free music!) and ICQ (to chat with fellow students as well as friends and family back home).

How do I find my passion? My calling? My raison de vivre?

You see, at high school I was miserable because most of my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives (they wanted to become doctors, lawyers, teachers… you get the idea) and I had no clue. Even worse - I was a very good student - I basically had grades A at everything - but I wasn’t “great” at anything. I was just a very good all-arounder. It may sound cool now, but it wasn’t helping me decide what I wanted to do with my life.

I knew I liked computers. My father was servicing IBM PC-compatible machines and I fell in love with these babies. But had no clue how computers would help me find my calling just yet. I also liked learning languages. My high school, although located in Poland, had English as the language of instruction and my second foreign language was German. Computers and languages. And traveling. That’s pretty much all I knew about myself after graduating from high-school.

My father wanted me to become an engineer but I simply wasn’t sure it was something for me. So I chose to go for Business Management Studies at our local university. It was a popular degree and it offered a very broad education, with lots of different things to learn. It was like high-school, but in college. I didn’t lose interest in languages and travel. Within the first two years of my studies I managed to convince one of the German universities to accept me as a “guest student” and in the fall of 2000 I traveled to Germany. Initially for just a semester… but in the end I finished my degree there.

Professors at my new university were brilliant. They had lots of experience in real business. They encouraged us to use the Internet for our research and made us create PowerPoint presentations for the class. I’ve always been a computer geek but never thought of my laptop as a serious work machine until I arrived to that uni.

Languages, computers and travel…

My studies in Germany fostered my interests in languages (German and English), computers (programming and the Internet) and travel (I was far away from my home town after all). And entrepreneurship (I was studying business with some really great professors). It all started to make sense to me. At least a little more than before.

I used to like building things on the computer with code. Now I was more motivated than ever. I got back to coding and learning PHP and MySQL in the evenings. With all the tutorials and code snippets available online it was easy. I reconnected with my best friend Victor from my university in Gdansk (Poland). We chatted a lot over ICQ and started brainstorming the idea of a web-based application that we could offer to people all around the world for a small subscription fee. The idea of building an “online product” and offering it to the world sounded very exciting. I started discovering a very entrepreneurial part of myself.

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

  • Oprah Winfrey

It's all about passion - intro 2

My first .COM

I got us the cheapest web hosting account I could find, my very own .COM domain and started coding away. We used old-school FTP to transfer files, chatted over ICQ, sent emails back and forth — the online collaboration was at full speed and we were making our new project a reality. When I wasn’t in my dorm room, we’d send text messages on our mobile phones. Just think about it, it was the first time I got myself my very own mobile phone! Yes, I was amazed how much Victor and I could get done although we weren’t physically in the same place or working at the same time.

We also chatted with our friend, Simon, who was already a successful Internet entrepreneur at that time. We got lots of inspiration from him and were blown away by his small Poland-based company making it big in the USA. We wanted to be like him. He is still my mentor to this day.

It was on the eve of dot-com boom when we launched our product — a small, social email reminder service. We started to charge $5 a month for it. Got a few first customers… and then we discovered such reminder services are offered free from most of the major Internet portals. We didn’t manage to get many more customers. Our product was great but not many people wanted to pay for it. Bummer.

Ultimately we closed down the service. It failed. Miserably. But we didn’t. We were inspired by the idea of building a kinda-company together, all remotely, all at a distance. The fact of connecting my small laptop to the Internet “pipe” and building a web-based application with a friend from “far and away” stayed engraved in my mind. And I never wanted to work in a different way.

It was the first time I discovered passion in my professional life. I was passionate about building this web app, about working with my friend located hundreds of miles away… and most of all, about the Internet and the possibilities it could bring. It was the first time I felt several types of passion within me, working for something truly great. I was happy.

Our project failed. I kept paying for the .COM domain every year out of nostalgia… and when 7 years later I launched my small time and project management application to help people around the world get things done, I used the same .COM name again… and this time the project succeeded beyond my wildest expectations and ironically helped me re-discover these several types of passion all over again. Now, after more than 7 years of running my startup I know I wouldn’t have succeeded without all these passions.

Yes, you guessed it, the .COM I’m talking about here is — my first serious college project… and today my company and my real “passionate” startup.

“As students, sitting far away from each other in front of our PCs, we developed a very efficient form of creation and communication in our project. However it wasn’t enough to create what we had in our hearts: a great product. If you want to change the world, start with yourself. Start using your product. Become your first loyal customer. There is no other way to transform your hobby into a successful business.” — Victor Mazur, built Internet projects with me in college

Why build a startup?

When young people decide to “build a startup”, they very often do it for different reasons. Frequently for all the wrong reasons (like “fame and fortune”). And most of them fail. And folks actually don’t know why they failed. I was there as well. But when you start with a passion for something and rediscover “new passions” along the way, you’ll eventually succeed.

This book is about the types of passions I discovered within me and within my peers, colleagues, mentors and friends in all these years of running Nozbe. And why “these passions” helped me achieve success and happiness… and a feeling that even after so many years of running the same service, I’m “just getting started”.

The Internet kindled my passion for building things, for working with people around the world, for finding a solution to a problem, for growing and learning new things, for helping others and ultimately for doing it all across time and distance. I will never forget the fall of 2000 in Germany when I first felt all this.

Now on to the 7 types of passion and what makes a passionate startup truly… passionate.

“If you’re passionate about your work, you won’t procrastinate — you’ll love doing it, and want to do 7 more. The habit to form here is to constantly seek things about which you’re passionate, and to see if you can make a career out of them when you find them. Make your life’s work something you’re passionate about, not something you dread doing, and your task list will almost seem like a list of rewards.”

  • Leo Babauta, blogger at “Zen Habits”