Lead by Following Your Passions

 

Takeaway

  • If you're truly passionate about something, you will naturally spend the time to study it
  • Companies that desire a culture of employees passionate about their work should learn to hire for passion

Brett Hurt has launched five companies so far, including Bazaarvoice in Austin. Hurt, who is Bazaarvoice’s CEO, was Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009; Bazaarvoice, which recently filed for an IPO, has been chosen by the Austin Business Journal as the best place to work in Austin for four years.

Bazaarvoice provides the technology for people to share their experiences with and provide reviews about products, services, and brands on social networks, company and e-commerce websites. Founded in 2005, Bazaarvoice was an early entrant in what’s now being called “social commerce.” Coremetrics, a previous Hurt startup that allowed websites to track users’ site behavior, was even earlier to the Internet party.

In a recent interview with Texas Enterprise Senior Editor Renee Hopkins, Hurt offered his take on how he has managed to consistently stay ahead of technological trends. The key, he says, is passion.

Renee Hopkins: How do you get out ahead like you have, in terms of business trends?

Brett Hurt: If you're truly passionate about something, you will naturally read and obsess and study it. You’ll spend time at the conferences that people go to about that topic, read all the books about that topic, read the magazine articles, the news articles about that topic. Go seek out the experts. Develop a personal board of advisors about that topic. Be unafraid in asking anybody for help about whatever it is you're passionate about.

Hopkins: What if you’re not that passionate about your work?

Hurt: I find it to be a real tragedy when people are in a career that they're not really passionate about, because that's no way to live life. If you find yourself in an industry where you're not naturally trying to study it and be the best at it, then you're probably in the wrong industry and you need to have a fierce conversation with yourself.

Hopkins: Would you recommend students follow their passions, then?

Hurt: It is true that no matter how much money you make, if you love what you do you'll be truly wealthy. I'm very lucky in that I've been essentially a technologist or a programmer since I was age 7. That sounds good now, but it really was not an easy way to grow up in Texas. The only reason it stuck is because I loved it. And I still love it.

There could be an aspiring young student at UT who says “I'm gonna change the world in biotech” or “I'm gonna change the world in nanotech.” If they feel that way, then they better just start studying it like there's no tomorrow. If you do that for year, after year, after year, then eventually the student becomes the teacher. And that's the ultimate manifestation of passion — you genuinely become the guru of that space.

If you're an aspiring student, and you want to be the best in the field you're interested in, don't just follow the script of school and exactly what you're gonna learn in classes. You better start reading everything you can about that field and start talking with any expert you can. I find so few students that ever actually reach out to anybody for that kind of help.

Hopkins: So if you develop this passion, then you will be a student of what you're doing and it will be easier for you to see, to feel, where that industry is going?

Hurt: It’s like that Woody Allen line — you just keep showing up. If you just keep “showing up” genuinely, and you’re unafraid to ask for help, then eventually you’re not asking "stupid questions" anymore.

What I'm trying to say is that you should always approach the world as if you have more to learn. There'll be some students at UT today who feel like they're really cool because they're at UT. And they shouldn't feel any better than anybody else about that. They should feel kind of embarrassed if they're not pursuing their passions with 100 percent zest. Because someone at another school, which may not have the same reputation, may go on to lead an entire industry because they're so passionate about it.

Hopkins: How do you find passionate employees for Bazaarvoice?

Hurt: Being passionate about our work is a strong part of the Bazaarvoice culture, so we do hire for that. Here’s how: Let’s assume that the candidate, who’s applying for a job in sales, becomes a finalist for the position. That means he or she has talked to at least eight internal Bazaarvoice interviewers, who have unanimously expressed their passion for this candidate.

We call our finalist on a Friday and we say, “Congratulations, you're a finalist at the hardest company to get a job at in Austin. We just have one more thing to ask you. We need you to come in on Monday and present to us like we're a prospect. You’ll have 45 minutes to present, and we'll do 15 minutes of Q&A. You have to be in your role the whole time. You build the PowerPoint deck from scratch. And by the way, over 50 percent of people fail this test. Good luck.”

The person who passes that test spends about 16 hours that weekend on it. And by the way, there are no official office hours at Bazaarvoice on the weekends. But it's no different than if Proctor & Gamble came to us on a Friday and said, “We need this request for a proposal filled out by Monday.” Sometimes you gotta do what it takes. It's not that often that something crazy like that happens, but a crisis will really test you.

 

About The Author

Renee Hopkins

Writer and Innochat Co-Founder, Innochat

Renee Hopkins was founding editor of Texas Enterprise. She writes extensively about innovation and...

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