Passion Projects Done Right: Rainn Wilson Ponders The Runaway Success Of SoulPancake

The Office’s Rainn Wilson wanted to create a personality-packed place to intelligently debate life’s Big Questions. SoulPancake–both a passion project and a brand with a higher purpose–was the result.

Passion Projects Done Right: Rainn Wilson Ponders The Runaway Success Of SoulPancake

“You want to clear a room?” actor Rainn Wilson and creator of quips to Entrepreneur magazine. “You just bring up God.”


Wilson, whom you probably know from his role as “crazy dork” Dwight Schrute on The Office, decided to make a place for people who want to debate (intelligently) about life’s Big Questions. Founded a little over two years ago, is philosophical without being boring, spiritual sans the gooeyness, and religious without the fundamentalism.

It’s also extremely popular, drawing more than a million views a month. There’s a best-selling book with glowing Amazon reviews. They’ve got SoulPancake meetups, a dedicated YouTube channel, and a deal with Oprah. The room-clearing question-askers seem to be finding one another. What was once a passion project has blossomed into a brand–albeit one with a higher purpose.

“I could have made a lot more money doing comedy; that’s kind of the world I inhabit as an actor,” he tells Entrepreneur. “But this is a passion project and a passion that I have.”

That passion is palpable in the ridiculous amazingness of “Metaphysical Milkshake,” Wilson’s series of existential interviews. He grills Elon Musk about growing Earth plants in Mars soil. He beats up sitcom actor Josh Radnor and they unpack the nature of consciousness. He kidnaps Joseph Gordon-Levitt and they wax philosophical on Shakespeare, self-sabotage, and entrepreneurship.

That’s the flavor of Soul Pancake–a project that’s weird, and deeply individual.

“You need to go a little deeper than “How can we make money” because there’s 68,000 people out there who are saying ‘how can we make money on the Internet,’” Wilson robot-voices. “If you can follow your passion and fill a need then you will eventually make money and you’ll be successful, but more importantly, you’ll be fulfilled.”

Bottom Line: You’re weird. So are other people. Make something for them–and for you–and the money will follow.


[Image: Flickr user John Lambert Pearson]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.