The Passion Economy: How to Actually Do What You Love



In the age of self-made YouTube stars, Kickstarter campaigns, and food bloggers, it’s no surprise our newest job seekers are pursuing passion over a steady income, established companies, and climbing the corporate ladder. This is leading to a proliferation of freelancers, artisan businesses, and innovative startups. Rather than the exception, it has become the perceived rule: Do what you love, and the rest will follow.

Is Passion Enough? 

The reality is, however, there are many reasons why turning your passions into a career can actually backfire. Following your passions is important, but it’s simply not enough to develop an idea into something real, and profitable.

The No. 1 reason startups fail? Customers don’t want the products. Other pitfalls include an inadequate team and ineffective marketing. In turns out, there are millions of details— everything from user research to marketing your product to actually developing the idea and building it—that require tangible skills. While passion might provide the spark of an idea, there’s no guarantee it can carry you across the proverbial finish line.

Tempering Passion: Know What You Don’t Know

So is it possible to turn your passion into a product the economy wants?

The answer is yes, provided you temper passion with practically. Take stock to ensure you’re armed with the right skill set and resources to move your idea forward. For some, “winging it” may be an option but the costs of iteration or managing a team at the very beginning without some foundational knowledge is a drain on time, money and energy. Taking the time to have some knowledge of the skills or finding others to collaborate with is key to a pursuing your passion successfully.

Essential Skills Every Bright Idea Needs to Take Off

1. Taking Your Product from 0 to 1

Knowing how to methodically assess if you are building a product the market wants, guiding it through the lifecycle of a build, validating its viability and pricing are some of the skill sets crucial to bringing your product to life.

Lauren Maffeo, a GA grad and content manager for product road-mapping software, Aha! argues that building a product takes expertise and lots of planning, “Before you get in over your head, take a moment to step back and reevaluate. Product launches are most successful when you plan ahead for them from the start — well before your product goes to market.”

She goes on to say, “Think of yourself as your product’s captain: to bring a product to market, you must motivate colleagues to build, market, sell, and support it—or know how to do all of that yourself, which is…difficult. This ability to plan, forecast, and iterate is your secret weapon, and the first essential step to having an awesome product launch.”

2. The User Experience

If product management deals with the planning, forecasting, and production of a product, UX design focuses on making it a brilliant experience for users.

Mia Pokriefka enrolled in User Experience Design at GA’s Los Angeles campus in January 2014 in order to build the product she envisioned, an online knowledge-sharing platform. “I was already designing the platform for my startup without knowing the finite details of how to execute such designs.  I wanted to learn more about the current state of UX,” Mia says of her decision to take the class.

Along with the user research and design skills she learned in UXD, Mia was able to leverage her passion for serving and empowering people into her own company, Elm.  “Everything you see on the site and into the profiles are my creations,” she says.

3. Bringing it to Life With Code

Knowing how to bring a product to market and making sure it suits your customer’s needs are just two pieces of a more complex puzzle. Having an idea for an e-commerce business, or app, or website is great—but what’s a great idea if you don’t have the skills to build it, or manage the freelancer you are hiring to build it?

Sam Cabral, an alum of GA’s Web Development Immersive in San Francisco, combined his business background with newfound engineering skills after taking GA’s Web Development Immersive to build Pluma, a professional coaching and career development platform.

“Before GA, I had a lot of ideas for technical products, but no way to implement them without running up tens of thousands of dollars of costs just to prototype my concepts,” he says. “GA gave me the tools to be able to build much of Pluma myself, which opened up a world of possibilities for us.”

After graduating from WDI in February 2015, Sam now works on Pluma full-time, along with a fellow student he met during class. He’s since found the lessons he learned during WDI have helped answer the unforeseen questions and problems that inevitably arise in the day-to-day management of the company.

“WDI prepared me to know what I don’t know, and what to look for during the hiring process as I build out my engineering team. That knowledge has been invaluable as we build Pluma.”

4. Acquire Customers with Digital Marketing

Growing a business is decidedly a marketing discipline. A balance of art and science and with an ever-changing technical landscape, it behooves every founder to know the digital marketing landscape well enough to be dangerous.

Before taking GA’s part-time Digital Marketing course, William Mullan was struggling to convince his employer, Raka Chocolate, of the impact marketing would have on the growth of their business. By relying heavily on brick-and-mortar and wholesale accounts, he felt they were missing out on a huge segment of customers, and knew going digital was the only way to reach them.

“Since taking the course, our conversion rate, transactions, and revenue have all grown over 200-300% in email marketing alone, and our social channels (mostly Instagram, 350% increase) have grown too!”

“I was able to convince our investors to funnel more money into marketing and now I have a seat at every board meeting. It has been a long and hard year and I still have a lot of growth to do, but I’m not sure I would have been able to achieve all this without the class.”  

Leveraging Your network

A final piece to the magical blend of business, technical, and design skills to successfully launch a product is having a powerful network of like-minded talent to tap into.

Nick Katz, a graduate of Digital Marketing in London, launched an expense-sharing app called Splittable with the help of colleagues he met at GA.

“The people that go to learn at GA go there because they want to learn,” Nick says of his GA experience. “What you find is a super high caliber of individuals who really want to better themselves in a specific area of expertise or are committed to switching career.”

The team, composed of nearly all GA alums, has now closed their first, seed investment round from some of London’s leading tech VCs and angels.

“These people are all entrepreneurial, intellectual, social and the type of people that you want to have on your team,” Nick says.

Have an idea you’re passionate about? Ready to turn it into your day job? Be wary of jumping in without the skill set and resources necessary to help you succeed.

See How GA Can Help

Disclaimer: General Assembly referred to their Bootcamps and Short Courses as “Immersive” and “Part-time” courses respectfully and you may see that reference in posts prior to 2023.