Where's the Love?

A Healthy Dose of Inspiration

Not only can other people help you realize your passion, but they can also inject a fresh perspective into the situation. Friends, colleagues and especially other entrepreneurs can remind you that, as challenging as losing your passion can be, you're not the only one who's struggled through it. Doug Canning, co-founder of Dirtbag Clothing Inc. in San Francisco, found a comrade in underwear designer Nick Graham, founder of Joe Boxer.

Canning, 32, manufactures Dirtbag streetwear with partners John Alves, 30, and Doug Whitsitt, 36. The partners founded the company part time in 1996 with a couple of cool designs, but the business really took off in 2000 when they found an investor. With that promised financial security, Canning quit his job to devote himself to Dirtbag full time. When the investor didn't come through with all the cash he'd promised, he left Canning, Alves and Whitsitt in a serious dilemma. "It was a huge setback," says Canning. "We were in the middle of planning new products, and we didn't have any money."

The situation certainly dealt a blow to their enthusiasm for the business, says Canning. They had to take serious inventory of their company and their mission to regain that passion-and, in the meantime, they had to be really creative with their marketing and growth strategies.

Enter Graham. Searching for expert advice, Canning e-mailed the Joe Boxer founder. And Graham, who had seen a banner advertising Dirtbag on the side of a San Francisco building, responded. "I asked him all kinds of questions [about his success]," says Canning. "I knew we had a good, solid brand, concept and foundation, and [Graham] basically just reinforced it and said, 'You have a lot of potential here; just keep at it. Don't give up.'" Graham also told the entrepreneurs of trials he'd overcome in his own business.

Canning, whose company expects $550,000 in sales this year, projects $1.6 million in sales in 2004 due to a newly signed distribution deal. Canning gleaned all the knowledge he could about staying in the game, staying focused and holding on to his passion. What was one of the most important lessons he took away from the whole experience? Says Canning: "Never think you can do everything on your own."

Burned Out?
Definitive signs you've lost your passion for your business:
  • Getting up to go to work in the morning is tantamount to climbing Mount Everest.
  • An employee asks you where the stapler is, and you launch into a 25-minute diatribe on how staplers don't matter, paper doesn't matter, telephones don't matter and computers don't matter, because it's all meaningless anyway.
  • Those infomercials promising "$1 million in three weeks" start to sound attractive.
  • You'd rather watch I Love Lucy reruns on your sofa, in your pajamas, while eating a super-size bag of cheese puffs than interact with clients. (Note: This is only a bad thing if combined with two or more of the other signs.)
  • "Free Bagel Friday," "Bring Your Pet to Work Day," "Foosball Lunch Hour" and all your other fun employee activities start to feel like regular, boring days.
  • You can't remember the last time you said, "I love my business."
  • You start to envy that kid at the Starbucks counter because she doesn't have to worry about tax laws, investor meetings or building codes.
  • You used to dream about being on the cover of Entrepreneur; now you dream about being on the cover of Sleep Digest.
  • You feel the same way you did back when you used to work for someone else-you constantly hear "Work sucks-I quit!" echoing in your brain.

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This article was originally published in the October 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Where's the Love?.

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