Not business as usual: Mitigating risk with hard work |

Not business as usual: Mitigating risk with hard work

John Riddell
Not business as usual
John Ridell writes a business column and a fun, Zoomer-Boomer outdoor column for the Sky-Hi News.

A recent conversation with an esteemed colleague centered on our mutual observations of the defining criteria for successful start up companies. Both of us have extensive experience working with companies and also experience in our own startup modes. For purposes of our discussion we defined success as “self-sustaining within three years or less.”

Both of us agreed that the skills needed to run a successful startup, those mechanics that every entrepreneur needs, can be readily taught and learned. We both agreed, however, that a solid foundation in the mechanics was, in itself, not sufficient. Both of us, while not totally eliminating them, tend to minimize the adequate capital requirement and the “greatest thing since sliced bread” product requirement. Both of us have worked with successful entrepreneurs who were grossly undercapitalized or had products of a rather “ho hum” nature or both.

Previous readers of this column will have noted that the ability to sleep at night with the inherent risk of failure is a non teachable attribute that every successful entrepreneur personifies. But as we were talking and comparing notes, another attribute of success also emerged that serves as a complementary function to the risk taking. Simply put, this is the ability to work and work hard and work hard for an extended period that may not have any perceived end in sight. There is something inside the very being of these dedicated individuals that accepts the volume of toil as the price for success.

In this day and age of instant gratification with its associated “buy now, pay later” mentality of consumerism, this is not a common nor easy path to follow. It is also not a path that everyone and anyone should choose to follow. Much as some people are genetically wired for long distance running as opposed to short distance sprinting, so are successful entrepreneurs wired to put in sixty and eighty hour weeks centered around a seemingly maniacal focus on whatever customer solution they believe they represent.

Many business failures with their associated personal and financial costs could be avoided if the would-be entrepreneurs simply took stock of their personal profile regarding their attitudes toward risk and work. Experience and prudence have also amply demonstrated that this same taking stock approach should be utilized with spouses or significant others. Starting and ultimately running your own company is simply too difficult and too challenging without a sincere attempt at understanding the puts and takes of the commitment.

Of course, when the stars of risk, hard work, adequate capital, and “must have” product all align, the opportunity for marketplace magic occurs. Most will never experience this perfect alignment yet with enough fortitude and commitment a select few will succeed beyond their wildest dreams and expectations. With careful forethought, they prepared themselves for their success.

Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching as an adjunct business school professor, authoring noted business and sports columns, and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth. He can be contacted at

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