The importance of risking everything

[By Alan Knott-Craig]

An entrepreneur is anyone who risks everything to follow their passion. Period.

The key ingredient is “risk everything”: all in, no going back, no plan B, sell your house if it doesn’t work. This is not easy. This single element — everything — separates the entrepreneurs from the business owners.

Starting a business doesn’t make you an entrepreneur — it makes you a business owner. Being an entrepreneur simply means risking everything, whether it’s taking a new job, joining an NGO, or starting a business. Risk everything.

Only those that are totally passionate, slightly crazy and truly believe in their ability to make a difference can do this. And it’s a lot easier when you’re young and don’t have responsibilities like kids and a mortgage. If it takes balls to do it when you’re 25, it takes much bigger balls to do it when you’re 45.

No one takes this kind of risk without being absolutely convinced it is worthwhile. And “worthwhile” is not only about the money. Worthwhile means you are chasing something meaningful. Something that will change the world. Worthwhile means doing what you love. Who wants to risk everything on a dream that entails doing what you hate? In my case, auditing ranks just below gardening on my personal top 10 000 things to do during the day. Hence, I am no longer an auditor.

You must risk everything, and to do so you must be screamingly passionate about your dream. Irresponsible? Yes. Insane? A tad. Entrepreneurship is not for clinically sane people.

Society frowns upon risk takers. For every one person that says “go for it!” there are 10 people that say “what about your children?”

The guilt kicks in. You look at your daughter’s innocent face and picture telling her that she can’t have that bike she wants for her birthday. And you cave.

Why? Because you’re afraid of what other people will think when you fail. You’re afraid of what your daughter will think. News flash: when your daughter is older she will be a tad upset that you forwent the one opportunity you had to become the next Steve Jobs or JK Rowling. And who cares what other people think anyway?

In the end, it’s your decision. If you fail you’ll be standing by yourself, so you may as well do so on your own terms.

It’s not necessary for everyone to risk it all. It’s only necessary for those few who wake up every day with a gnawing doubt that this just isn’t it.

Committed and immune to the crowd? Great. Well done. The next question is always “how do I find the money?” An article for another day. In any case, your choice to be an entrepreneur is not subject to funding. Make the call, then find the money.

But whatever you do, do it quickly.

The rest of the world has plenty of ideas and cash. And that world is turning its fire hose in the direction of SA and Africa. And when that tidal wave hits our shores, your dreams will become that much harder to turn into reality. Today, it’s an open playing field. Tomorrow, the competition will be big. Facebook big. You need to be up and running before they arrive.

It’s a land grab right now. Virgin territory for those with a belief in the potential of our country and continent and the balls to chase that dream.

So it’s simple. Risk everything. Ignore the crowd. Start now.

  • Alan Knott-Craig is CEO of World of Avatar, which last week said it was acquiring mobile messaging platform MXit. This column was originally published here and is used with permission

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  • http://twitter.com/500mg B.Bence

    Finally some wisdom and pure motivation! thanks for the article

  • Dantex

    Erm, yeah, when you have daddy to fall back on when ‘everything’ doesn’t pan out…

  • http://twitter.com/thewomble_za Greg Mahlknecht

    >>The key ingredient is “risk everything”: all in, no going back, no plan B, sell your house if it doesn’t work. This is not easy. This single element — everything — separates the entrepreneurs from the business owners.

    Strongly disagree.  It’s more important to know when to cut your losses and retain enough of your life to try another idea.  This article reflects Hollywood cliche more than reality.   I’ve seen a number of entrepeneurs over the years wager their house, family and savings and losing some or all of those.  It breaks you.  It’s not worth it.   

    I think this article is really HORRIBLE advice, and would caution budding entrepeneurs to think before buying into its ideas.  Carefully calculated risks and keen foresight is what makes an entrepenur succesful, not gung-ho “I’m Insane!” attitudes.  Yes, it’s worked in the past, but for every one succesful entrepenur that sold his house and ate beans out of cans for a year, there are dozens that have lost their families or have been forced back into the rat-race to do a job they hate for decades to mop up the mess their failed venture left behind.

  • Keithff

    I disagree with you on this Greg, if it was not for the risk takers there would be no business. yes we do look into all the possibilities before taking the risk, you can only modify your course during the trip. How many times have you had an idea for a business, then decided the risk was too great only to see someone else try it and win. Sorry it is no longer your idea 

  • http://twitter.com/AntonPotgieter Anton D Potgieter

    This is an intriguing article, worthy of the debate below.  I don’t support all of AKCJR’s points, nor do I support all the comments.  But I have these observations to add:
    - this article could only have been written by someone who has has early success as an entrepreneur – if he had flamed out spectacularly in his first entrepreneurial attempts, the article would in my mind hav been written quite differently!
    - your risk appetite drops with age and responsibility (naturally), and “what you have to lose” increases – therefore when these two curves cross over, you are likely not to embark on any more “all or nothing” ventures, but instead to become a more “cautious” entrepreneur – it makes you no less an entrepreneur though.
    - I certainly like the idea of “crusading” for more than mere money – I am not sure that forms part of the definition of an entrepreneur, but certainly it is a trait of many successful ones, possibly the most admirable trait.

  • Upset Entrepeneur

    Very well said Greg. I know of at least one great idea that was pitched to his daddy by entrepeneurs, just to be shot down by Vodacom and then all of a sudden appearing in Jnr’s company – balls my foot, totally skelm yes!

  • http://twitter.com/thewomble_za Greg Mahlknecht

    I didn’t in any way say taking risks was a bad thing.  It’s the “risk everything” attitude which I take exception to.  I’m an entrepeneur (well not by AKG’s terms!) but at no point would ever have risked my house and family’s well-being.  It looks AMAZING when it works in Hollywood movies, but the real world doesn’t work like that.  In Hollywood movies, they get the billion dollar cheque 3 hours before their house is reposessed.  In the real world, the sherriff comes to evict you.

    I’d go so far as to say a great entrepeneur is one who has plans B, C and D ready to rock.  In my case, a Plan B ended up paying for Plan A and allowed me to eventually do Plan A full time, and seriously.  If I’d not been willing to, as you say, “modify my course”, and instead go with the “No Plan B, Sell my house” idea… I’d be deep in debt, churning out some boring code for a bank back-office system or something, right now. 

  • Jimmy

    All in, no going back, everything….sounds more like a description of a desperate red or black bet at Montecasino than advice on the passion required for being an entrepreneur…having started my first business in my early twenties and as an investor in many start up’s since, I’m with Greg on this….any “entrepreneur” who pitches a red or black, all in bet to me is not going to get my money…unless they happen to be one of my children, in which case all bets are off the table….   

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