Everyone has a hobby they are passionate about, and most fantasize about what it would be like to get paid for doing it. For some, this fantasy becomes a reality.

It seems like the dream job, but one Washington State University professor warns there are pitfalls that come with such ventures.

Ben Warnick, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and strategic management in the Carson College of Business, has studied this type of career, called hobby entrepreneurship.

"It's people who take a leisure activity, something that doesn't involve money, and try to monetize it," he said.

In other words, they choose to go into business doing something they would normally do for free.

It's not a new phenomenon, and it involves more than model airplanes and fishing. Some hobby entrepreneurs have become the wealthiest people in the world by monetizing the thing they enjoy the most.

Bill Gates has enjoyed computer programming since he was a teenager, well before Microsoft became a business behemoth. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack were part of a hobbyist group called Homebrew Computer Club before they started Apple.

He said younger generations are following that lead.

"This upcoming generation has a desire to do not just a job, but something meaningful, something that they love," he said.

While researching a database of new businesses called the Panel Study of Entrepreneurship Dynamics, Warnick found more than one in four startup entrepreneurs started a business that began as a hobby. That was a surprise to Warnick.

"I didn't think it would be that high," he said.

The appeal of hobby entrepreneurship is obvious. Finding a way to make money doing something you already love to do seems like the ideal career path, but there are plenty of obstacles, too.

"When you put the two things together, you're blurring the lines between money and your passion," he said.

Suddenly money can take precedence over everything else, and the business owner no longer stays in business to do the thing he or she loves, but to put food on the table, he said.

Warnick said there are important tips to keep in mind when starting business.

First, he recommends to people that they don't quit their day job. Starting a business will require some financial flexibility.

Second, he encourages people to carve out time to practice their hobby separate from the business.

"It's important to remind yourself why you started the business in the first place," he said.

Finally, he said it's important to develop thick skin. When gathering feedback on the venture from, say, a potential investor, some feedback will be negative.

Warnick said not to take criticism personally, even though it may feel like "people are calling your baby ugly," he said.

As for the future of hobby entrepreneurship, it appears educational institutions are increasingly preparing students to start their own businesses. Warnick said this includes arts colleges. He said while many academics believe it is not up to the college to teach art majors the skills to monetize their chosen art, there is increasing pressure to change that.

He cited a study that found 42 percent of arts college alumni start a business after they graduate.

Not that starting a business requires an arts degree. It could happen to anyone. Warnick said kite surfing, for example, was invented by a bunch of surfers who wanted another way to get their thrills.

"A lot of innovation can come from people in their hobby," Warnick said.


Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to akuipers@dnews.com.

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