How To Manage Fear and Risk

How To Manage Fear and Risk

By Kathy Leake, Founder & CEO, Crux Intelligence

I decided to become an entrepreneur later in my career than the usual Founder backstory, which I think is one of my greatest strengths, especially as I’m on my fifth technology start-up, with highly successful exits behind me. 

Unlike Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Steve Jobs, I didn’t choose to drop out of school. I learned a lot at college, and built a great network. I’m glad I stuck it out. Again, going against the grain, my start-up myth doesn’t involve renting someone’s garage (as Sergey Brin and Larry Page did, when they paid Susan Wojcicki $1,700 to start Google), or incubating my ideas in the same Silicon Valley zip code as the Sand Hill Road crew. 

My entrepreneur journey is a New York tale (does anyone recall when we used to say “Silicon Alley”?) and my partners, funders, and co-founders are from as far afield as India. Before I struck out as an entrepreneur, I worked for years on Madison Avenue (decades after Mad Men, but oh, I’ve got stories….). I’d already had very senior roles within the advertising industry at major agencies. 

But, unlike many of my colleagues from those heady days, I decided to jump off the cushy corporate ladder and start something entirely new. Which means I went from a corner office with a flashy view, to me and two engineers crammed into a 5th floor walk-up on the Upper East Side. If you know New York, you know that’s not exactly a business district – there was a bar-b-que restaurant at street level and apartment dwellers in the middle. Say no more.  

But I love to start at zero. I get a kick out of the blank slate, where everything is a first, building something from nothing, figuring out the market, working on fresh ideas, which haven’t been explored as yet. 

If you talk to any venture capitalist, the top trait they look for in an entrepreneur is the ability to manage fear and risk – while tuning out (or at least turning down) the cacophony of demands from staff, clients, the industry, the trades, one’s Board, the Cap Table – the list goes on. The nature of entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster, to say the least. You have to have the stomach to not only get on the ride, but survive the vertiginous trajectory. 

In my latest article for FAST COMPANY, I talk about my experiences, as an entrepreneur, and CEO, on managing fear and taking risks. I also run through some of the challenges I’ve faced, and how I faced them head on, while continuing to forge ahead with the business. As a Founder, I believe it’s paramount to learn how to handle constant tension and not to let it take you under. I do believe that every time I’ve faced the fear and chosen a suitable response – ignored the inner critic, pivoted from a bad situation or just held on and rode it out – I’ve become a better entrepreneur. 

In the piece I cite research from Dr. Gabriella Cacciotti, Assistant Professor, Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation, Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University, TX, around “cognition and emotions in entrepreneurship; fear of failure and entrepreneurial motivation.” In her article How Fear Helps (and Hurts) Entrepreneurs (Harvard Business Review), co-authored with Professor James Hayton, Warwick Business School, Dr. Cacciotti points out that: “Fear of failure stalks the world of the entrepreneur, from losing key clients to running out of money. For entrepreneurs, courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to persist in spite of it.”

For me, failure is not an option. 

As a Founder/CEO, I am all too aware of the responsibilities. People’s livelihoods are at stake with every decision I make. The technology start-up scene is certainly not for the risk-averse. During the course of my career, I’ve been in many situations where all the (metaphorical) “houses were on fire” – but I survived. To do that, I had to FOCUS. To be aware of all the demands on me, as a Founder/CEO, but to either make, delegate, or table, decisions – and then get back to steering the ship.


Alternative Text Kathy Leake
CEO of Crux Intelligence and four-time founder/board member. Putting AI in the hands of every business user.