Risk – It’s An Occupational Necessity For Startups

I know what you’re thinking, the title is completely rubbish right ?.  Well we all like to think that it’s an appetite to risk that distinguishes the entrepreneur from the normal business folk but sadly it’s a myth which has grown over many years so now everyone believes it’s got to be true.

If I asked you to name some great entrepreneurs you are probably thinking of people like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Howard Shultz to name but a few.  It’s fair to say that these guys have taken some massive risks through their careers.

When you think of Steve Jobs you simply think Apple

When Steve Jobs stepped back into Apple, a company that was in dire straights he could simply have taken the easy route and chosen not to make the biggest gamble of his career but he didn’t.

Steve Jobs saw something in the ailing company that the others hadn’t.  What Steve saw was an opportunity to push the boundaries, to be different and just as important, he saw the future.  Nobody else thought Apple could be as big as it was soon to become but Steve did.  Everyone thought he was crazy, but Steve knew better.

Going back to Apple after a 12 year sabbatical was the biggest risk Steve Jobs ever made but he had a plan.

howard shultz

Howard Shultz bought Starbucks and made it his own

Howard Shultz had a tough childhood, his parents struggled to pay the bills so even at the young age he vowed “…to make a difference to the world if given the chance….”

Shultz worked incredibly hard when he was young but nothing seemed to go right for him.  Eventually he managed to get a college degree which gave him the stepping stone he needed.  Shultz saw an opportunity whilst a sales manager for Hammarplast (a kitchenware company).  That opportunity was of course Starbucks, at the time it was  tiny and indistinguishable from the others.  After a failed attempt to convince the Starbucks owners to take a chance on his idea, he persisted and eventually they relented.  The rest, as you know is history.

Shultz took risk after risk.  In those early days he risked hard fought stability for the unknown but like Jobs, he saw something that nobody else had seen, he too saw the future.

There aren’t many ventures that Sir Richard Branson hasn’t tried (and succeeded)

Sir Richard Branson isn’t synonymous with a single success, he has founded so many that the Virgin empire just keeps growing.

At the age of 16, he was publishing a magazine for students.  He pounded the streets asking companies to pay for advertisement space which he managed to do even before the first issue launched.  Just 5 years later he had rented a shop on Oxford street London and opened the Virgin Megastore.  At the time he didn’t have the money to cover the rent but convinced the landlord that the Megastore would be good for their business, and indeed it was.

Imagine, starting a business in the most expensive area of the most expensive city in Europe with just an idea and the dogged tenacity to believe it would work and convince others that he was right.  Yes, this was an extraordinary risk for a 21 year old to take but, like the others, the rest is history.  Two years later he launched the Virgin Music Label and a few years after that came Virgin airlines.  At each step, everyone thought Branson was crazy, but he knew better, he too saw the future.


Yes they all took risks.  Risks normal people would never consider but they plunged in with both feet.  The risks were so big, had they failed, they would have lost everything.

Would you have done the same ?

To put it another way…

If you were so certain that something would succeed and you had the vision to see into the future, would you gamble on it’s success ?

That’s really what it was, they gambled on success but inwardly they all knew that they had a better possibility of success than the chance of failure.

I am absolutely convinced that in those early days, they did not enjoy taking such massive gambles with their careers, but for them, it was worth the gamble.  We all know how well they all did.

We all have ideas that we believe can be successful, but a true entrepreneur takes the next step, weighs up the risk of failure against the chance of success.  If the odds are in their favour, they go for it, feet first.

Ho, one more thing, if any of you know Sir Richard, could you let him know I really want a chat (really!)

Thanks for reading.



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