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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