What Are You Risking?

4th March 2024
5 min read

Photo by Cristofer Maximilian

Throughout a large chunk of my career I never thought I had it in me to start a business.

I always thought that people that started businesses had some magical property about them. That it took some certain skill to be 'business minded', and that property empowered them to pursue their goals in the face of risk and uncertainty.

I was pretty sure I didn't have it in me, and told myself so for years.

Then 3 things happened concurrently:

First, I struck by the fact that nothing is certain. Ever.

Second, there's nothing magical about people that run businesses. They're just regular people too.

Third and most importantly, I reached a tipping point where the benefits of being able to make my own decisions, and own them, outweighed the risks.

Risk Management

I'd say I've been risk-adverse for most of my career. I never really made any 'leaps of faith', but more or less always had roles that were a sure thing. In hindsight I suspect this might be in part due to my upbringing. This was made clear to me when I told my dad that I was planning to start my own business. He was terrified of the idea. Likely due in part to his upbringing. So on and so forth.

In truth, the idea terrified me too. I used to use the word "thrilling" to express equal parts terror and excitement.

Consciously or not, we are constantly mitigating risk in our lives. We either 'design out' risks by simply not doing risky things, or we mitigate those risks by adding safety mechanisms in case something does go wrong.

If we are going to do something risky, we at least put on a helmet.

In my case, when I'd finally come to accept the risk of leaving a steady job (in the middle of COVID no less), I set about putting those safety mechanisms in place. My wife and I worked hard to reduce our living expenses and we built a warchest that gave us six months of runway before I needed to consider a Plan B. And I had a Plan B.

But there's never no risk.

Gap Jumps

Photo by Joe Adams

One of the scariest trail features on mountain bike trails is probably gap jumps. Jumps where the take-off and landing are separated by varying degrees of empty space. The fear is that if you completely mess it up, you crash into the space between.

They're scary because the gap always looks big when you're standing next to it, and the landing ramp square-edged and terrifying to crash into. Yet with some momentum, skill, and (most importantly) confidence, the experience is often completely different to how we perceived it.

If you want to do something you have never done before, at some point just have to send it.

Landing It

Once you've ridden it, it's never as hard as you thought.

One thing that really surprised me after a year or so of running my own business is that once you've risked a little bit and succeeded a little bit, your tolerance for risk increases.

You start looking at what else is possible. Where there may be other opportunities.

The next biggest gap to jump.

It becomes easy to see how people become serial entrepreneurs.

As I mentioned last week, I've been working on a side project where I see an opportunity for a little doohickey for mountain bikers. That's only half the truth. Actually, I have two projects. The second one has potential to become a business entity unto itself, but the stakes are also higher in proportion.

I would have passed on something so risky a few years ago, where today I pursue it with excitement. I wonder then, how many other opportunities have I slept on throughout my career? It's sobering to think about it.

Too Much Risk?

But that's only two thirds the truth. I actually had a third project. It's something I started working on many years ago, and ultimately shelved because it was simply too much for me.

To make it work I felt I had to commit all of my time to development, and it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get off the ground. I couldn't (and still can't) afford the capital costs, and needed to work on other things to pay the bills (and still do).

The risk to my livelihood was just too great and I wasn't fully equipped with the knowledge and skills to turn the idea into reality.

I'd mostly accepted the idea had died on the vine.

Sharing The Load

That was until an impulse conversation with a mate last week may have hit it with the defibrillator.

What I saw as an impossible gap jump for me is no sweat for him.

My project wasn't without its merit. It was just too much for me alone. It required too much specialised knowledge, too many resources, and too risky for me.

Some ideas are just too big for one person, but might be just right for two people. Or three. Or six. Some ideas take a team to build. Like the tagline on my homepage says; it takes a village to raise a [brain]child.

But to do so means you need to share your idea.

Many successful startups are founded by people with diverse skill sets. Experts in their respective fields that have brought themselves together by design to mitigate risk and empower each other's work. If they believe in your dream, it becomes their dream too.

What can be gained by sharing the load will greatly outweigh what could be lost by keeping it to yourself.

We're fortunate that there are so many mechanisms available to us today to help us succeed. Educators, incubators, accelerators, collaborators, investors. Things never imagined in my dad's time.

Have a think about what you chance to lose by not following that dream, instead of following it.

As Bear Grylls says:

If you risk nothing, you gain nothing.

Tagged: business · entrepreneurs · risk · startup

ⓒ Lincoln Black 2024

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