You may have once encountered a saying which goes, “Do what you love and success will follow” by Meg Whitman -one time CEO of HP. There is a lot (of mostly good things) to be said about doing what you are passionate about, be it through your chosen job or business venture. Unfortunately, such an expression can only be completely true if you overlook what is called survivorship bias (more on that later). In the real world in addition to doing the things you love, if you want to achieve society’s version of success, you would have to do more of the things that you neither like nor enjoy doing. This is colloquially referred to as “leaving your comfort zone”. There is a countless amount of both professional and self-help reading material out there advising people to get out of their comfort zones if they want to succeed.
The comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease, experiencing very little anxiety. In entrepreneurship stepping out of your comfort zone entails trying new things which you are unfamiliar with which can be very stress-inducing. An obvious example is starting the business in the first place – you may not only be leaving your day job with its reliable and trusty paycheque but you will also be risking the money, whatever its source, that you are using to start up. Depending on his/her personality other uncomfortable moments in an entrepreneur’s journey include pitching for capital, pitching your product to potential customers, approaching retailers and so on.
Unfortunately so profound is our discomfort in leaving these zones of comfort that we have somewhat mythicized the requirements for success. One of the biggest offenders in this regard is the possibility of coming up with a product or business idea so good that investors (and possibly giant companies) will be tripping all over each other in a rush to throw money at you. It can happen but you do not have to judge the quality of your ideas by their ability to start a frenzy among people who want to buy (or possibly steal) them off you. In truth this is your mind trying to tempt you into staying in the warmth and safety of your comfort zone; you reason that if someone pays you lots of money and/or handholds you through entrepreneurship you can avoid all the stress associated with actually trying to bring your idea to life. Today I list a few lucky people who did exactly this with tremendous success.
After moving to a new city in 1995 and wanting to meet new people, Craig Newman started what was then an emailing list for friends. Early postings were submitted by Newmark himself and were notices of upcoming social events which would be of interest to software developers living and working in the San Francisco area. Word of mouth caused it to grow rapidly and people started using it for non-event postings such as job searches. It became web-based in 1996. The service evolved into what eventually became one of the earliest implementations of a classifieds website. The company now known as Craigslist was incorporated 4 years later in 1999. It was only then that its creator left his day job to work there fulltime.
This is just one example of the kind of the startup origin story that has ensnared the imaginations of thousands of tech entrepreneur hopefuls from all around the world: a programmer unwittingly creates a product that gains popularity and a life of its own and eventually turns him into a billionaire.
This is the other Steve who co-founded Apple. Wozniak loved electronics so much that he spent a lot of his time creating devices as a hobby. He eventually became friends with Steve Jobs who among other things shared his love for electronics. Steve Wozniak once created a device called a Blue Box which was used to make long-distance telephone calls for free. When he showed his creation to Jobs the latter instantly saw it as a business opportunity. He convinced his friend to join him in selling the devices. This was the dynamic that would continue for years: Wozniak was the creator and at best a very reluctant businessman while Jobs embraced his role completely and proved to be an excellent marketer. Wozniak designed and created the precursor to the modern personal computer while Jobs ensured that it gained its much-deserved popularity and widespread use as early as it did.
So profound was Wozniak’s dislike of being a businessperson that he left Apple early in its life but he is still worth a comfortable sum of about a hundred million dollars. In short Mr Wozniak had a more than excellent business partner who made sure that not only did his creations saw the light of day but that they would go on to build what has become the most valuable company on the planet.
Wozniak had to (as part of his contract with his then-employer HP) show anything he created to them first. Just to show that even the most brilliant of ideas are not guaranteed success or even any appreciation; HP executives took one look at Wozniak’s prototype and promptly dismissed it as a terrible idea.
Enzo started as a test driver for a car manufacturer. He later became a race car driver and proceeded to found a motor car racing team. The cars his team raced in were the first to be emblazoned with the now-familiar prancing horse decal. He loved racing so much that he eventually began designing and making cars just so he could race in them. Despite his initial reluctance, he had to start selling some of the cars he made to fund this (expensive) love for car racing. His sports cars became very popular and that is how a race car driver’s side hustle grew into one of the most iconic and prestigious car brands in the world.
These three great men’s stories embody what a lot of us wish the road to riches was more like: absentmindedly do what we love and are good at until the universe conspires to make us wildly successful. Such kinds of stories are often used to support the argument that blind passion can lead to success. This unfortunate phenomenon is the earlier mentioned survivorship bias which causes us to only consider the limited examples which support our case while completely ignoring the much, much larger group that proves how bad of a life strategy this is. So you can either try to replicate the way these three men succeeded while well within their comfort zones or just step out of yours.