Follow your Passion, but Manage Poop too…

There is an interesting discussion going on at Unicorn Free. In the article, Don’t follow your passion, Amy says,

So. You’re in love with a thing. Let’s say it’s coffee, books, design, code or solving interesting problems. You decide to open up a café to follow your passion for coffee. Or a used book shop, because you’re passionate about books. Or, because you’re passionate about solving interesting problems through code or visuals, you hang out your shingle as a freelance developer or designer.

Six months to a year later, and guess what?

Turns out that you hate running a café (or book store, or…). Turns out that running a café is as much about the coffee as raising a child is about snuggles. Yes, the coffee happens — and so do snuggles — but what really makes up the typical day is very little sleep and lots and lots of poop.

Sounds indigestible for start-ups right? Afterall, if not for passion (and millions of $s), what else would motivate us to go thru the risk and separation?!?

If I was writing this post 2 years ago, I would have totally gone against Amy’s point. But after running a mildly successful start-up for 2 years, now I can see the point about poop.

In year 2009, I would have definitely said, “follow your passion”. After 2 years, I now say, “yes, follow your passion, but manage poop too.”

Let me tell you the most satisfying parts of my business:

  • I enjoy teaching MS Excel: I enjoyed the process of teaching MS Excel using blog posts, tutorials, short videos and products thru my sites. I can do the same for next 8-10 years.
  • I enjoy helping people: I felt great pleasure helping a commenter about a question she was struggling with or a person who emailed me his problem.
  • Running a website is fun: Running a reasonably popular website and connecting to world-wide community of Excel users & experts is so much fun.
  • I enjoy making money: I like the challenge of making a living out of my business. I enjoy the process behind successfully marketing my products, testing variations, learning from my mistakes and keeping my costs low.

Lets talk about the poop, which is a lot:

  • I hate manual steps in sales process: No matter how much automation I do, there are still a few things that must be done manually – like enrollment of students, setting news-letters, discount codes, product campaigns etc. etc. They seemed pretty exciting at the beginning, but after a while, I feel bored setting up or doing same things.
  • I hate email overlaod: As my site and business grew, so did the email and phone volume. These days, I get at least 40 emails from customers, prospects, strangers and fans. While reading and replying to the emails is fun, it also means I never get a break. Thankfully, I have learned to cut my email time and effectively manage the email load. But I have no idea what to do when the volume goes up 10x or 100x.
  • I hate legal / administrative procedures: Just as an example, I am in the process of setting up a payment gateway to accept credit / debit card payments from my Indian customers. This process is so ridiculous that if I start explaining it, it would be Christmas by the time I am done. For eg. They want me to read, agree, sign and legally notarize agreements on at least 20 different documents.
    The process is same whenever I deal with government approvals or documentation.
  • Website maintenance is a pain: Then there is site maintenance. From time to time, I have to take backups, upgrade software on all my sites, setup caching, content delivery networks, speed up my pages, optimize my content for search engines, give warnings to sites duplicating my content, deal with advertisers & sponsors, update affiliate links, create and edit PHP/HTML/Javascript code, test in a dozen different browsers, monitor site downtime, email deliverability, site bandwidth, data base connectivity and a slew of things that I do not even remember. And there is no particular timeframe for these activities, some of them can happen even when I am sleeping and I need to attend or else… [related: how I maintain my website cheaply]

You get the drift. In simple words, running a business is not just about what you are passionate about, but also 1000 little things that can annoy you or reduce your attention.

Thankfully there is a workaround:

Just like everything else in life, in business too, you should optimize the portions that you enjoy most and minimize or avoid the ones you hate.

Remove things that are not necessary for your business

This is the most effective but very difficult part. Whenever you hate a particular aspect of your business, ask yourself if that task is really required to run your business.

For eg. I used to have search filters on Twitter for certain keywords (like excel formula) and then I would monitor these results once or twice a day and see if there is a question that someone is asking that I can answer or replying. While this worked quite well to acquire new members to my site, I figured that this is not really necessary. So I just stopped doing it. There are many other examples like this.

Automate

Your next best option should be automate all the activities that you do not enjoy doing. Once you automate by installing some software or setting up a process, you will have more free time to focus on things that you enjoy.

Outsource poop work

This is the simplest way to get rid of poop. Just outsource it to someone who is efficient at this. The only downside: it will cost you money. [related: my experience outsourcing work using oDesk]

Batch together poop work

There are some things that you can neither automate nor outsource. The best way to tackle them is to batch them. Just let the poop accumulate and do the cleanup work once a day or week. For eg. I must manually withdraw money from my payment processor to bank account. Instead of doing this every day I just let the money accumulate and when the balance reaches $3000 (usually once a week), I give the withdrawal instructions by logging in to their site.

Appreciate poop

This is important. Many of you might get in to business under the illusion that passion can help you coast thru all the boring tasks. That is never the case. No matter how much we love our kids, there is a point when you start hating the nappy changing routine. Instead, learn to appreciate all the little things that go in your business. Try to make them fun and always look for opportunities to remove or automate tasks.

What is your experience with following passion

I think passion is very much over-rated. While passion is a must have ingredient to run a fulfilling business, you also need to have doses of reality. Any meaningful business must deal with lots of little things and not all of them will be enjoyable.

I want to know what your experience has been in running a small business. How much do you agree with the views presented by Amy or myself?

Please share your views using comments.

15 thoughts on “Follow your Passion, but Manage Poop too…”

  1. I like the part about Removing things that are not necessary. I conduct workshops on Innovation, and one of the things that we stress is to look for the Main Useful Function of a product or service. Many times we tend to add on stuff to our product or business, that over a course of time becomes a burden and can even pull you down. It is necessary to define the core function of your product or business, and from time to time keep going back and check whether you are still in tune with that.

    1. Removal / Elimination is the best way to handle many things in life. Often we strive for more without realizing the additional burden it brings. I make this mistake too, but whenever I remove something, I get better results.

  2. I was afraid to read the article, but in the end I’m happy that own business is still own business 🙂

    I’m thinking about to quit my day job and become full time freelancer but you know I’m from Pakistan and have same situation as you had two years ago. family, friends, relative……what they will think…..jobless person……..oh that’s too confusing to take final decision. I’m ready to take the risk but my wife still not. I’m getting projects of own that I think can feed me for next 3 months….and damn sure that in these 3 months I’ll be able to get more…

    Chandoo….you are one of my inspiration because I guess you had similar circumstances that I’m having!

    Any advice for me???

    1. Thank you Fraz for sharing your situation and considering me as an inspiration. It is flattering.

      I discussed the startup idea only with my wife and few close friends / relatives. For the rest, I told that I am working from home to spend more time with kids and wife. This stopped a lot of un-necessary questions. Also, I have managed to save enough liquid funds to survive 12 months even if the business goes bottom up.

      While freelance work may be great, it has one nagging limitation – your time is only limited. So I suggest you to create 1-2 products and sell it your prospects. If they like it, you can establish the product while doing the freelance work. This ensures passive income (well, almost).

      All the very best. Do let me know how your adventure goes.

      1. Hi….I came to this comment from somewhere after two years. You know I quit my job after 15 days of writing above comment. Now it has been two years and doing well.

        Thanks for your all above advices. I realized that your family support is the big difference in your success.

        I was so busy to work for others that I couldn’t build own products but now when having few permanent clients and so do regular income, I’ve started to build own products (That I think should have done more earlier).

        While I learnt a lot in these two years, one is thing is particularly important that I give more value. I think due to uncertainty of the policies in our society we should not plan for too long, we might have one long term GOAL but there should be several short term plans (1-3 months long) to continue with our success. In this way you can change quickly.

  3. Dear Chandoo,
    All the points presented by you are valid. After being in the business of Banking Automation in Regional Rural Banks and Co-operative as small player for last 20 years, I could fully empathise with your views. The initial euphoria of starting something new and own gives to more pragmatic thinking when faced with practical difficulties. One has to develop all the qualities needed for a smart entrepreneur like good marketeer, patient HRD Manager, a deft money arranger/investor, a ground level worker (ready to chip in for weak links of business) and still be a family man.

    The delegation of trivial activities logical in the process of running the business. Also there is a realisation that one should not make himself/herself indispensible for smooth running of business as sometime family and health obligations take precedence. The detachment is necessary for the growth of lower lader.

    I think it is state of mind and one has to tune his/her mind accordingly. One has to keep himself/herself motivated all the time. Overall a good learning experience.

  4. I like the way you present your ideas. I think your article gave me the tiny-kick that I seriously needed to rethink how I can reduce my workload, automate stuff and also focus on expanding business.

    Great going. Post more frequently 😉

    1. Thanks K. let me know how it went after you reduce / automate / outsource some tasks.

      PS: I wish I could post more often. But running this blog is my second priority as I spend good amount of time running my business. But I am hoping to write once a week.

  5. Hi chandoo,
    Nice to see you that you are running another blog named Startup Desi !!!
    Again Rocking.. I am big fan of you.
    I am also planning to start Integrated organic farming

  6. Hi Chandoo,
    I’m an irregular reader of your website and blogs. However, I truly enjoy it and stay long whenever I do. Your writing style is neat and pleasant to read and at the same time coveys lots of knowledge.
    I have recently taken the ‘leap’ in financial advisory and am enjoying it thus far. As you said, many times the ‘poop’ is heavy and takes a toll on the passion if one doesn’t manage it. Keep writing. Your story is an inspiration.
    One question: what’s your experience with online backup of your data? I am wondering if I should go for it as opposed to a regular back up on a external disk. I read in your previous blog that it costs about $5/month?

    1. @Job… Congratulations on your start. I wish you all the very best.

      I have been using 2 automated backup solutions – Mozy (now $10 per month) for my computer. The backups are automatic and done when my comp is idle.
      – VaultPress (vaultpress.com) for my wordpress blog. This is $15 per month.

      Apart from this, I have a couple of USB Hard Disks that I use to take backups during weekends.

      I find the mozy+vaultpress combination totally worth the money. They give me lot of peace.

  7. Hi Chandoo, a beautiful and inspiring story! Congratulations!

    Here is my case:

    I have a 9-5 office job and I love solving problems related to process automatization on MS Excel. My coworkers are always asking me for tips and tricks, macros and formulas, codes, charts and issues on their daily work.

    For a while I’ve been thinking about starting a part time advisory/consulting small business oriented to the process automatization and VBA/Advanced MS Excel training for financial institutions (banking, S&L, Insurance companies…). In my country there is not much room for online business yet, so I suppose it would be a face to face business experience.

    I thought of an strategy consisting in asking for meetings with the technical staff of the potential costumers, present a couple of slides explaining the benefits of process automatization, ask for an specific and real task to solve and give them a deadline to return the solution.

    This solution could be a trial (functional for a month, let’s say) and after that to offer a more elaborated, time unlimited solution with options to periodically upgrade, maintenance and support.

    I hope my excitement don’t make me look as if I were a little desperate or an over enthusiastic fellow. I’m just in the middle of a brainstorm and looking for some advisory online.

    Any recommendations? Any clues?

    (P.S.: Sorry for my poor English level, my mother language is Spanish… :P)

    1. Hi 1v4nuzz… welcome to StartupDesi and thanks for sharing your story.

      Here are a few ideas…,
      1) I am not sure why you say “In my country there is not much room for online business yet”. These days, most of the freelance work is done over the net and you do not need face-to-face meetings to get started. So start a website advertising your services and showcasing your expertise (ie thru a blog or examples page).
      2) List yourself as a professional excel developer in market places like elance, odesk.
      3) Getting first client is a major thing. Once you satisfy your first client, you become more confident. So, use your friends, network, colleagues to find that first contract.
      4) Also, participate in various excel communities like forums (chandoo.org/forums, mrexcel.com), linkedin groups etc. to showcase your expertise. These are good places to find new clients.

      Have a read of these pages to learn more about consulting:

      http://startupdesi.com/take-up-consulting-work/
      http://unixwiz.net/techtips/be-consultant.html

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