Building a successful business means knowing you’ve found your passion as an entrepreneur and it pays the bills.  Recently at an investor event, the speaker talked about how 80% of businesses fail.

This is bad data but the scary fact is even after 5 years you still have a significant chance of failing.

If these are the stats, why does anyone in their right mind start a business.

My loud mouth said “because it’s your passion”.  But it’s not only passion.  You can be passionate about many things and still hold a cozy 9 to 5 job.

You have to be a troublemaker.

In my favorite podcast, How I Built This, the  of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, said:


if you want to understand entrepreneurs, study the juvenile delinquent…They just say this is wrong. I’m going to do it this other way.

And that’s the fun part of business actually…I love breaking the rules.


What’s important to add is not that we break rules for the sake of breaking them.  We break rules that lack purpose.  I love rules and structure – hell I write standard operating procedures for my personal life.

The fact is most corporate rules don’t have a purpose.  Sometimes, becoming an entrepreneur is because you’re so sick of being told to follow rules that you’d rather take your chances on an 80% startup failure rate than a 100% wasting my life away in this job.

I mean the math speaks for itself.  The real question, though, is not what kind of business are you going to start but what’s your passion?




I used to think passion was something motivational speakers talked about to avoid doing real work.  I didn’t appreciate it because I default to putting my head down and working like a good little soldier.

The problem is good little soldiers tend to carry the weight of bad little soldiers.  Then we burn out.  I’ve had to invest in analyzing what keeps me going so I don’t burn out.  The word passion comes from:

successful business passion is suffering


See now I’m on board with this passion thing.  I can definitely feel suffering as a business owner.  It’s blissful suffering like an aggressive deep tissue massage but it’s painful.

If you can bear it today, tomorrow will be a better day and the only thing to help you bear is your passion.




Every business needs a vision statement.  Before you roll your eyes again, hear me out.  Vision statements are a reflection of a company’s culture.  Culture is a reflection of a company’s leadership.  Great businesses have a vision, culture, and leader who inspire us to believe in them.  It yanks at your heartstrings which happen to be connected to your wallet strings.

The most common failure with vision statements is answering the question “how” and instead of “why”.  A vision statement is something you aspire to but it’s not something you can accomplish in this lifetime or the next.  It’s meant to be just out a reach.

There are plenty of great vision statements but I’ve mixed in a few of my favorite throughout from companies that inspire me starting with:

Patagonia's mission and vision statements
Vision: A love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet.



The vision statement is the fastest way of communicating why they should trust you.  Your ideal customer is the person or company whose beliefs align with yours.  No matter the product or service you offer, they trust you to have their backs.

This is especially important in a global marketplace where anyone online can claim to have just the right juice cleanse or essential oil to help increase your cash flows and profitability.


LinkedIn's mission and vision statements
Vision: To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.


Anyone can hire a developer in India to throw up a landing page but they can’t have a meaningful vision based on their genuine passion.




A Simon Sinek states people buy why you do something, not what you do.  Your business plan should flow in this order:

  1. Why
  2. How
  3. What

Here’s how everything flows when we’re trying to create a simple business strategy:

  1. Why
    1. Vision statement
    2. Problem or market data = proof there’s a problem here and therefore you have a business case
  2. How
    1. Mission statement
  3. What
    1. Solution = your product or service

Start with why business strategy


Your vision statements and business plans aren’t static.  They’ll evolve with you as you learn more so don’t stress out about this being perfect.  It’s not possible.




I used to think passion was something you’re born, like talent.  It’s not in your control.

It wasn’t until I read Grit that I understood passion isn’t inherent, it’s a skill.  My own story proves this.  I had no idea what process improvement was 7 years ago.  Now it’s something I do almost every minute or every day because I love it.

At first, it was just a more efficient way of doing business; of leading people.

Google's mission and vision statements
Vision: To provide access to the world’s information in one click.


Years later it gave me the courage to leave my corporate job because I discovered a passion for teaching those who needed a better way of doing business.  I found a passion and the means to spread corporate troublemaking.




There are a couple tools we use in process improvement: brainstorming and affinity diagrams.  Since we’re asking an opened ended question, we have to spread a wide net and quickly refine down by:

  • Finding your passion
    • Brainstorm
    • Analyze
  • Getting unbiased data



You can do this with someone or by yourself.  I run through this process for my own businesses and with friends who are trying to figure this out for themselves.

Grab post its and the biggest open wall.  Follow these rules:

  1. Grab a piece of paper and write out “What Am I Passionate About?”
  2. Tape it on the wall you’re going to put all your post-its below this (this is your focal point)
  3. Set a time limit (30 minutes)
  4. Set an aggressive goal for post-its / ideas (180 ideas in 30 minutes)
  5. No stupid ideas (because we use them to piggyback to something better) 
  6. Don’t analyze – just generate
  7. No idea left behind – Piggyback off every idea


brainstorm passion ideas

Once you’ve got your 180(ish) ideas we can start to analyze them.



Start asking why not once, but aim for +5.  My example only goes 3 levels deep but that’s only because if you dug any deeper you’d need to be a therapist.


5 why's passion root cause analysis

Because I had so few post-its to start with, I ended up with 1 common theme.  If you do too, that’s fine.  Ultimately limit yourself to 3 or less themes because you’re trying to get to 1 common passion.

Entrepreneur affinity diagram


I’ve had friends and coworkers declare to me, out of frustration, they’re going to pursue a new career doing X.  It’s almost always a terrible idea.

It’s not that they couldn’t be successful, it’s that they would be miserable.  If there’s anything making the people I care about miserable it’s going to be me.


TED's mission and vision statements
Vision: We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.


Businesses fail for the same reason.  We solve from an emotional place instead of using customer or process data.  Data is unbiased.  We need to get the same unbiased data to help solve this problem.  Possible unbiased(ish) data sources:

  1. Friends and family
  2. Investors
  3. Customers
  4. Employees


AirBnB's mission and vision statements
Vision: Tapping into the universal human yearning to belong — the desire to feel welcomed, respected, and appreciated for who you are, no matter where you might be.



Building a business isn’t about plans or financial models; it’s about people.  If you’re going to become a business owner, you have to know yourself.  At the end of the day, we can be the biggest obstacle getting in the way of our goals.

You can hire for your weaknesses, find mentors and create customer feedback loops but how do you sort good advice or data from bad data?  Your business’s vision is going to be that filter for you so put the time into making a high-performance filter.

Your customers are waiting for you to find them.  Get out of your own way and find out what trouble you can get into.

Ashley Asue Guerrilla Analytics Private Equity Consultants
At 26, she was asked to create a new department to grow their Fortune 300 company using Lean Six Sigma continuous improvement.
While working with consultants and experts, she saw a common thread among their challenges and failures.
With this insight, she created a custom process to create a high-performance company.
As the only CPA and business architect in the US, she helps others use creativity instead of cash to efficiently build their businesses.