Being an entrepreneur is a risk in itself. To start-up and support a new business involves a huge amount of sacrifice; often people will put their career, personal finances and even their mental health at stake.
Inspired by our latest networking event at Goodwood’s Festival of Speed, which is all about taking risks, we spoke to five entrepreneurs in the TMT sector (and one professional racing driver) about the risks they have taken and why they were worth it.
Ian Fishwick, chairman of AdEPT, on taking the leap mid-career:
“I was promoted regularly by large businesses. When you have children and a mortgage it is increasingly difficult to take risks. By the age of 40 I had 1200 employees and my career had progressed very successfully with huge corporations. But then, I was made redundant: twice in 18 months at the age of 40 and 41. So, aged 42, I set up AdEPT; primarily because I had no choice. I grew the business from just me in a bedroom. We now have sales of £60m per annum and have completed 28 acquisitions in 15 years, many with the help of Evolution.”
Adept Chairman Ian Fishwick with Derek Bell MBE and Nigel Cook, MD of Evolution Capital
Fraser Watson, co-founder and director of business telecoms firm Pescado, on abandoning the steady pay-check:
“I had various senior sales jobs in the retail sector before I finally decided to set up Pescado with Jonathon in 2006. The biggest risk was abandoning the steady income, but in the long run it has of course been worth it. For me, working for big corporate structures where people and customers are put in boxes just wasn’t very satisfying. Structure is great, but structure should still allow flexibility if by flexing you can increase performance. Often bigger business can’t cope with that.
Jonathon Weeks, co-founder and director of Pescado, on staying nimble:
“It would be so easy to behave like a large company and get comfortable with business processes. Pescado has always ensured our supplier base is selected on best in breed products or services, and by keeping a positive, flexible, approach to our supplier partner relationships, we can quickly change direction if the market conditions, technology or customers dictate. With technology moving so quickly today a nimble approach is much better than setting sail to find out the wind has changed and you are already too far along to go back.”
Risk-taking in business – part of being an entrepreneur
Nick Wood, founder and chairman of security experts Danhouse Security and Facilities, on performing a major pivot:
“The biggest risk we took as a company was to pivot from our core business, providing high-level security contractors, to becoming a facilities provider of a complete range of ‘soft’ services after being mandated by one of our largest customers. It was a huge change from what we had previously been supplying, but with extensive research and accelerating all the necessary accreditation we were able to fulfil highly comprehensive, profitable contracts for a large number of existing and new customers.”
Nigel Cook, MD of Evolution Capital, on investing in the right team:
“At base level my view of business is that it is the art of combining money with labour (or skills) to create earnings. For services business entrepreneurs, the risks of taking on the wrong people are intrinsically linked with the risks of either investing your own money or borrowing from others. I associate the investment in people as one of the greatest risks we take. Few of us take risks in areas we do not have skills, and nor should we, so for successful entrepreneurs life is full of adventures and calculated risk rather than pure risk.”
Nigel Cook, MD of Evolution Capital, with Derek Bell MBE
Derek Bell MBE, five times Le Mans winner, talking about the risks he has taken
Derek Bell MBE, five times Le Mans winner, on signing up with Ferrari:
“As a professional racing driver, I was taking enough risks as it is. Indeed, early on in my career we didn’t seem to be able to get through a month without somebody getting slaughtered somewhere. But for me, the turning point was making my Formula One Grand Prix debut for Ferrari at Monza in 1968. Signing up with Ferrari was a risk in that I had an offer from John Wyer to drive the GT40 at Le Mans that same year, but I decided to drive for Enzo. It was fantastic to drive for him, he was the most iconic name in motorsport and always will be in my opinion.”
Entrepreneurs are clearly built for risk. Risks shouldn’t steer business owners away from pursuing entrepreneurship. Instead, they should be seen for what they are: necessary obstacles on a greater path. There’s no way to avoid the risks entrepreneurs face, but by recognising them, they can be prepared for and mitigated. As the saying goes, a ship in the harbour is safe but that is not what ships are built for.