How to Find the Most Passionate Employees

What does it mean to be a passionate employee, and how do you find these people?

Patreon co-founder Jack Conte gave a stirring talk at TED 2017. He shares how his artist crowdfunding platform created such a passionate workplace

One of the most passionate talks at TED was from Patreon co-founder Jack Conte. The newly revamped platform helps artists get millions of dollars in monthly support from the public so they can concentrate on creating. In the TED talk, Conte addressed how creators no longer need to depend on the middleman – the record label, the book publisher – to get paid their worth since they can reach their audience directly. As he captured in a recent essay, “It’s artists demanding to be paid what they’re worth. It’s technology catching up to humanity. And it’s happening right now.”

I chatted with Conte after his talk about how he hires passionate employees, why culture trumps growth and the best way to start doing what you love.

What is this thing you call “The Passion Muscle”?

We look for someone who can get really excited about something. I like to ask about the last thing they were really into and see if they get excited. In the last interview I did, [the interviewee] had a side project that they spent a year doing and they got lit up.

People like that get pumped, and passion is a muscle you can point in a different direction. If they get excited about one thing, they can get excited about another cool thing – and that could be Patreon.

It seems your passion muscle idea applies not only to hiring, but to collaborations and even to understanding our own limitations. Why do you think we miss opportunities to work with great people?

A lot of the time we’re just psychologically willing to settle for “good” as it is hard to part ways. As a creator, if you’re sticking with a collaboration that kinda makes you happy, then you don’t have time to take on other [better] collaborations. We often end up settling for something that is pretty good or OK, and not leaving room for fabulous.

Sometimes you have to say goodbye to something good for something great.

Young Silicon Valley startups tend to focus on growth rather than culture curation. What was the turning point in you taking hiring seriously?

Maybe Patreon had a weird trajectory: It’s probably a little different, as we didn’t start a company until there was something to make a company for. We didn’t look for product-market fit and iterate. We made a thing we needed and then a bunch of people used it. When we started getting 100 [service] tickets at a time, we realized we needed to hire people.

We made something and had to make a company to keep it alive. It was never not about culture. We were hiring the right people from the beginning, as we had the luxury of product-market fit before we had the funding and the connections.

Lastly, in your TED Talk, you talk about people slowly starting to get paid reasonably for their art. How can understanding our own passion muscle help us make a better living?

You can allow yourself to work on something you really care about. I’m amazed at how many people don’t do that: On the criteria on which they spend their days, passion is #5 on the list. Allow yourself to work on the thing you just wish you could do. Give yourself the time and resources to do that, and then the financial sustainability will follow.

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