Say yes and learn later: risk-taking lessons from entrepreneurs

Anna Brech

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In today’s uncertain business world, the flexible thrive. And however scary it feels, risk-taking is a strategy that often reaps the biggest rewards.

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” says Richard Branson, explaining the logic behind his own dynamite empire.

“Even if I have no idea where I’m going or how to get there, I prefer to say yes, instead of no,” he writes on his blog. “Opportunity favours the bold.”

With that in mind, here entrepreneurs behind some of today’s most exciting and innovative start-ups explain how they’ve felt the fear – and done it anyway…

“We had a gut feeling and that was enough”

Brothers Rob and Paul Forkan are the founders of Gandys London, a fashion company for travellers that raises money to build schools for orphans around the world

We jumped into Gandys as we had a passion for travel, and we saw it as a way that we could fund building schools for those less fortunate. One campus seemed impossible at the time but as we speak we are building number four.

If we listened to family and friends, we would still be waiting to get started. We just had a gut feeling and that was enough for us. We both knew what we wanted to accomplish, so we got going. Despite having no experience in the fashion industry, we now have stores across London and we are becoming the go-to brand for travellers across the world.

You are never going to know everything about setting up a business and those that have been at it many years still don’t have all the answers. You learn to work it out as you go and sometimes you learn the hard way. Just make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice!

“I was prepared to accept failure but I just had to try”

Shadia Al Hili is the founder of Cuzena, a line of fava bean dips loaded with aromatic spices

A few years ago I made a fleeting comment to my sister about a popular Middle Eastern dish that was unavailable to buy ready made. Much like a houmous, we had grown up eating a delicious fava bean dip known as Ful Madamous.

Ful Madamous is a daily staple in many parts of the Middle East because of its health properties and low fat content. I knew nothing about the food world, but my naivety and lack of experience inadvertently helped me along the way.

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I had to research the market and ask lots of questions. Grass roots up built my understanding of what consumers wanted too, and where I could fit in. I did lots of artisan markets for direct feedback and to understand the competition. Very quickly, you realise your very own capabilities to grow and learn on the job.

I set about introducing something that wasn’t available to the market, against the odds. I accomplished it because I took a leap of faith and was prepared to accept it falling flat on its face. But I made a decision to just try and would urge others to, as well:  I think we can live with the risk of failure far easier than if someone else takes the leap you were too afraid to take.

“Leaving my job was one of the best things I’ve done”

Leon Ifayemi is the co-founder of student accommodation app SPCE

At the early beginnings of SPCE, I was working on the company part-time, whilst also holding a stable job in private equity. When the realization that SPCE would need more of my time to grow and thrive I found myself at a critical juncture – worried about leaving a stable career, but equally frustrated with how little time I could commit to a great idea, backed by a great team.

After much deliberation, I garnered the courage to leave my job, which in hindsight was one of the best things I’ve done for myself – not because my job wasn’t a great one, but because unlike with SPCE, my commitment was derived from fear of unsuitability as opposed to a genuine love for the role.

Within weeks of leaving, we were able to raise £280,000 for the business, which we used to build a world-class product. We now have 105,000 rooms for rent on our app, and following our participation in Techstars (which on two weeks notice, required us to move to Canada for three months), we are connected with some of the largest and most influential reals estate companies globally. No regrets.

“If I’d paused to consider, it would never have happened”

Image: Rockalily/Instagram


ReeRee Rockette is a stylist, blogger and owner of London hair salon Rockalily Cuts

When I opened a hair salon, I’d had no experience with hair, bar colouring and styling my own. A late-night business brainstorming meeting with family resulted in the idea of opening my shop, and about two months later, the doors opened.

If I’d stopped to consider all the things I did not know; from how I’d find staff, find customers and whether I’d make enough to pay the rent, I’d certainly never have signed the lease!

In 18 months I’d gone from being a school librarian, to setting up a business working from home, to opening an alternative hair salon in Shoreditch. Now almost seven years on, my salon has been making London a more colourful place ever since. I’m not sure I’d advise opening a retail business without a business plan, but it certainly worked for me.

“With each failure came powerful learnings”

Chris Gomez is discovery director and founder of Gallivant, an online cooperative marketplace for people who love riding bikes

I had a good job as the marketing director for a very successful media company and all the usual overheads, mortgage, kids, car. In my spare time I’m motorbike and cycling mad and in the middle of my sensible life I had this crazy cycling business idea which wouldn’t leave me alone. I ‘d never started a business before, but the urge to do it was so compelling I decided to go for it.

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Luckily I found someone who wanted to jump with me, so I wasn’t taking all the risk alone. So with my big idea and a heart full of positivity, I left my comfortable position at the company and started Gallivant – an online cooperative marketplace of curated new and undiscovered brands making wonderful things for people who ride bikes.

I failed repeatedly. But with each failure came powerful learnings. Whilst some lessons were more painful than others, when it’s your company, all the lessons stay learned. Now 12 months later, we have 20 cycling brands on board and an amazing group of investors. Looking back, taking that initial leap of faith has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

“I saw a big problem that I wanted to solve”

Image: BYP Network


Kike Oniwinde is the CEO and founder of BYP Network, a platform for young black professionals to connect with each other and corporations, with the aim of creating new friendships, job opportunities and strong networks

By creating BYP Network, I was taking a huge risk. I had no clue, but I saw a big problem in the world that I wanted to solve. So, I researched to see if people would be interested in my service then just continued from there. I said ‘yes’ to creating a business and decided to figure it out on the job.

Was I ready to jump in? I was working full-time in Fintech, but I had asked to go part-time to focus more on my business . That was the first step to dipping my toes in. After 1.5 years of BYP Network being a side hustle, I decided to go full-time, as we gained significant market validation and traction. By jumping in, this led to greater success. It’s paid off significantly.

We have a network reach of tens of thousands, we’ve also worked with top companies such as Spotify, Accenture and Deloitte and we’ve been featured in both The Times and Financial Times. With a total of nearly £200,000 invested in to the BYP Network and backing by Sky Corporation, we’re only set to grow.

“Sometimes you just have to make the leap”

Keith McNiven is founder of London based personal training company Right Path Fitness 

People who know me will tell you that I’m the king of jumping in feet first and taking a risk. Maybe it goes back to my time competing in wrestling, but I love that adrenaline buzz of trying something new and learning as I go along. Take starting up Right Path Fitness. I decided I’d start up a brand new business in a brand new city, despite having no business experience at all.

I learnt as I went along and that kept me motivated and interested. If I’d have spent years learning all the ins and outs of how to run a business, I’d still be doing that now. Sometimes you just have to make the leap and pick up the new skills you need on the journey. Today, as I dive into launching a new studio in London I’m ready to challenge myself once more.

Am I 100% ready? Probably not, but I don’t think you ever really can be. There will always be things that come up, obstacles to overcome, and that’s just part of the process. For me, the best thing to do has always been to just get started.

“I felt out of my depth but I decided to jump in anyway”

Maddy Raven is the founder of music marketing company Burstimo

I founded Burstimo with the aim to grow emerging artists, getting fantastic music where people are actually listening. However, in October 2018 I was approached by an established female production duo called HANNIE. The girls were already signed to a major label and had secured wide exposure before.

At first, I felt this was out of my depth but I decided to jump in headfirst and take on the campaign to push myself outside of my comfort zone, which if ended badly, would have meant we would never be used by a major label again.

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Two campaigns later and Burstimo have secured 10 Spotify Official playlists, sponsorship deals with major brands such as Nasty Gal and a YouTube audience reach of over 6.9 million.

Since the campaign, my business model has changed entirely and we’re no longer just a marketing agency for emerging artists but now handle all artists, no matter what level they’re at in their career.

“You will never be ready, so just say yes and get going”

Olivia Knight is the founder of Patchwork, a platform that lets friends fund one big gift or experience, piece by piece

Everyone warned me that, like any build project, things would take three times as long and cost three times as much as I planned. But I didn’t believe them. We had a small team by this time and we were all very frustrated.

I wanted to launch what was in my head so we kept tweaking and tweaking and then one day I just said, “f**k it; let’s put it out there.” As a perfectionist it was really hard to accept that this was a prototype, and not the finished product I had imagined.

Luckily, real users had no idea what was in our heads. People weren’t disappointed with all the things it didn’t do. They just loved the version that they saw. And of course we never could have ‘got it right’ without putting it out there.

When it comes to launching a business, you are literally NEVER ready. Of course you can research, test, plan and predict but you only really starting learning when it’s out there in the real world with real people using your product. So just say yes and get going.

We learnt so much from that first prototype. The feedback, insights and ideas from our users were amazing. And 18 months later we were able to launch the global, multi-currency mobile platform we have today.

“My biggest obstacle ended up being my biggest achievement”

Kyle Frank is the founder of natural skincare range Frank’s Remedies

I used to suffer from acne and GP-prescribed medication only gave me temporary results. So, I made it my mission to create a natural skincare range that could clear my skin.

I had no experience in pharmaceuticals, or creating formulations but I just engulfed myself with the idea that I would succeed.

On that journey of discovery I learnt all that I needed to. I read antiquated literature on natural medicine and travelled to various parts of the world to understand different cultural perceptions of what acne is. I ended up meeting amazing people who were willing to help, and they gave me a great deal of knowledge of effective and active ingredients I could use for spot-prone skin.

I used all this knowledge to create a vegan skincare range that cleared my skin, and is now clearing other people’s skin – and creating a REAL positive change in their lives.

It’s funny because my biggest obstacle ended up being my biggest achievement, and something I am most proud of to this day. I think we as people spend too much time procrastinating or thinking of the negatives, rather than actually doing and actually trying.

All the greats have made mistakes and have learnt along their way – its important to be aware that it’s OK to sometimes trip because we do most of our vital learning there, and we always get back up stronger!

“Don’t let self-doubt hold you back”

Clara Armand-Delille is the founder of ThirdEyeMedia, a Portugal-based PR agency for new tech services

Going from secure employment to being your own boss is never something you feel entirely ready for. My decision to leave London and relocate to Lisbon and open a PR agency appeared spontaneous, but actually was something that I had been preparing for a long time, just not overtly or consciously.

In my case, the path to entrepreneurship was a mix of intuition and consolidating my sense of self-value, both personal and professional.

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Oftentimes, we delay taking a leap of faith into the world of entrepreneurship out of self-doubt and fear of the unknown. Most of us don’t take the risk to leave a job or pursue what we love because we don’t realise our value.

In today’s reality, complete job security is an increasing illusion, and in fact, a full-time job with a single employer no longer holds the secure status we once considered it to have. Skills sets are ever changing, and more than ever, we as professionals need to demonstrate adaptability to keep up with a job market in flux.

Freelancing or entrepreneurship it would seem, has become one of most secure forms of work. For those willing to take up a task and push themselves creatively, there will always be work to do.

“I honestly had no clue what I was doing”

Sherina White is founder of The Gourmet Dinner Lady

Having spent 21 years as a backing singer to the world’s finest artists, I wanted to shift focus to my teenage children and toddler. So last year I jumped on a plane to LA, to work out what I wanted to do. I knew I needed a new career, as becoming a stay-at-home mum would have me itching for a tour bus.  Bizarrely, I didn’t ever consider taking the comfortable route, working for someone else.

I browsed Instagram and typed in #cheese #gin, as I love both. Beautiful grazing platters filled the screen. Instantly, I knew what I needed to do.  I launched The Gourmet Dinner Lady creating show-stopping, artistic grazing platters, boxes and tables.

I hated how fearful and vulnerable I felt opening a Facebook page and having business cards printed. I felt under-qualified (I had no professional catering experience, despite cooking for parties of up to 100 for years) and honestly had no clue what I was doing.

The fear of failure and success became vehicles to keep on trying and to trust myself that I was good enough. Now I provide amazing gourmet platters for amazing brands, events and even some celebrities. 2019 is going to be the year of the Gourmet Dinner Lady grazing platter.

“Being an entrepreneur is about being brave”

Eleonore Dresch is founder and CEO of Culture Whisper – a guide to chic London which offers its members surprise tickets each month

I worked for the BBC for more than 10 years, producing and editing programmes very much on the hard news side of things. It was great fun but I felt at some point that I wanted to create my own publishing platform and talk about things that help all of us live a better life.

London is an amazing city yet I thought I failed to make the most of it. So I decided to take a leap of faith and create a service and magazine that would inspire Londoners to re-discover their city; a refined guide that would make a difference in people’s lives.

I’m an instinctive person, but I took advice from mentors and I built the business with talented and hardworking individuals at my side. Being an entrepreneur is about being brave and confident, and overcoming your fear. Having someone to support you along the way is crucial.

Five years in and Culture Whisper has a Soho office, a dedicated and passionate team and I am in the process of scaling up the business through investment.

“I had no idea how to get started”

Dan Murray is the co-founder of the Secret Leaders podcast, featuring interviews with key industry figures who have helped shape Britain’s culture of innovation and growth

I can certainly say that for Secret Leaders I had absolutely NO idea how to start a podcast, only that I thought it would be quite cool and fun, so I just bought a couple of microphones, plugged them into my laptop and started going round recording interviews.

In fact, I actually recently wrote this piece on how to start, launch, promote, distribute and produce a podcast which is pretty comprehensive and honest about what I definitely don’t know!

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Now I feel pretty confident podcasting and we’ve got some really great numbers – over one million downloads. However, we are learning a little more every time, and if I worried about the fact that I didn’t know anything about podcasting, sound, editing, producing, or frankly, interviewing, then I definitely wouldn’t be in the situation we are in now.

For example, we had a sold-out LIVE event this week with 200 people and Jo Malone CBE and Justine Roberts of Mumsnet in central London for a live recording. I’d never have the confidence to do that. But now I’ve done 45 interviews, I definitely have a greater confidence for the craft!

 “I never wanted to be a ‘one day’ person”

Chanyu Xu is a serial entrepreneur. Her latest venture, Her1, provides superfood supplement blends for working women and will be launching in March 2019 

I started my first business to deliver software aged 22, in the middle of my university degree. I had no idea how to build an internet company. But it was a situation where I took the leap, said yes, embraced the fear and learned on the job.

The first year was incredibly tough; we had no funding and bootstrapped everything but after twelve months of hard work we secured €60,000 from business angels; a tangible sign that just saying yes and taking a chance at starting my own thing had paid off.

More recently with the decision to set up my fourth business, a female first wellness company called her1, it was also a question of saying yes and taking a risk. I saw a real lack of transparency in the world of female supplementation.

Her1 is a departure from my other start-up experience in software and food-delivery tech but I had to listen to my gut. I never wanted to be a “one day” person. If you have the incredible privilege of being about to choose what you do, then life is too short to not pursue your dreams. If you are successful then it’s worth it. If you fail and learn then it’s worth it. It’s a win-win!

“You have to jump off that proverbial cliff”

Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne is the founder of organic period product range Freda 

Conversations around any taboo subjects are difficult and periods carry a stigma amongst both men and women.  We have for too long treated pads and tampons lie Class A drugs; asking for them in times of emergency in hushed tones and sticking them up our sleeves.

Having to then start a business tackling entrenched viewpoints, pitch to mainly male investors for funding, convincing everyone that period products are not luxury but basic essentials was a big challenge.

I specifically wanted Freda period kits in hotel rooms; who really needs mini sewing kits or plastic shoe horns?  On holiday in Dubai, I got introduced to an Arab sheikh who is a major stakeholder in several hotels in the UAE, I pitched the idea without really having the kits ready.  He loved the idea and we will soon be in every room in The Retreat, on the Palm in Dubai.

All expert and market indications were this is one business I should leave alone unless I had huge marketing budgets.  What it actually required was conviction and perseverance; jumping off that proverbial cliff and working out on your way down how you’re going to land.

“We threw caution to the winds and learnt to trust strangers”

Lotis Bautista is the co-founder of VOLO, a service that helps people develop career-related skills through volunteering

When Melissa and I first met four years ago as strangers at a Google Startup event, two coincidences would occur that led to the creation of VOLO – 1: We both wanted to quit our jobs at that exact same time and eventually start a business that made people’s lives better. 2: We both felt like the working world needed a radical overhaul and people needed to stop sleepwalking through their careers.

Fast forward six months and Melissa had left her cushy finance job (and paycheck) behind and launched head-first into writing a business plan… whilst three months pregnant. At the same time, I was readying myself to leave my newest job to volunteer full-time and live off my savings (and supportive partner) to help make VOLO a reality.

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Across town, another brave stranger Nicola (who Melissa met in Starbucks), decided that it was worth it to feverishly work away most evenings and weekends to create VOLO.

From throwing caution to the universal winds, learning to trust complete strangers and just going all in for something that we truly believed could make a difference, VOLO now works with hundreds of organisations across the UK to help people develop career-related skills through volunteering, in order to build careers they love.

This story is part of Flash Pack’s No More Not Yets campaign. Our mission is to eradicate two powerful words that can stop you achieving your dreams: “not yet”. The not yet seen, not yet swum, not yet sat in the suns. Not yet met, not yet tried, not yet climbed, braved or conquered. What’s your Not Yet? Find out more here.



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