Lessons Learned: Take the Risk

Taher Hassonjee is an NYU alumni, Venture for America Fellow, and Associate at Jumpstart Inc. Jumpstart is a nonprofit in Cleveland dedicated to the aiding entrepreneurship in the Northeast Ohio region. Jumpstart also serves as a venture fund that makes early-stage investments in start-ups. 

If you’re interested in entrepreneurship (and since you’re visiting NYU’s entrepreneurship website, that’s a safe bet), I’m sure that you’ve read your fair share about taking risks. It is perhaps the most obvious aspect of starting a company. I'd like to share my thoughts on this well-covered topic and offer, what I hope will be, an insightful perspective.

Throughout my senior year at NYU, I struggled to figure out my next step. I explored everything from law school to consulting to finance. I came closest to trying my hand in the world of politics and working on a campaign. Ultimately, I decided to put my career in the hands of an organization that was founded during my sophomore year. I accepted a fellowship with Venture for America, a nonprofit dedicated to putting recent college graduates into meaningful roles at startups. It is this organization that led me to my current job, working in venture capital in Cleveland. Yes, that's right- I live in Cleveland. I left New York, a mecca for startups and recent college graduates, for a city where I knew almost no one and that had no chicken and rice.

My friends could hardly grasp why I was moving to Cleveland — and my telling them that LeBron would soon be following me did not serve as a satisfactory answer. After being one of many fish in a vast pond in New York, I was ready for a new experience. I was ready for a work environment in which I would get more responsibilities, even if that meant moving away from friends, family, and the familiarity of my home for the last four years.

While I might have thought at the time that I was taking a risk, in hindsight, I wasn’t. Most of the things that you do right out of college are barely a risk, no matter how far fetched they may seem. I think that the best way to understand this concept is to look at the worst case scenarios. In the case of a recent college graduate, even if you spend a year (or years) doing something risky falling flat on your face, you haven't lost much. You will still be able to pursue whatever it is that you saw as a "safe" option. 

Your opportunity cost for chasing crazy ideas, working at a start-up that might not exist in a few months, passing on higher paying jobs and even being unemployed will never be lower than right after you walk across that stage. In starting a company, you will learn a ton, regardless of whether or not it succeeds.  And in most cases, you will be able to find a similar, or better, opportunity if your company goes awry. After all, you certainly are not less qualified than you were before.

In the few short months that I've worked in venture capital, I have studied hundreds of companies. These companies have varied across industries and stages. Their leaders have had a range of backgrounds and experiences. Yet they all share the fact that there is tremendous uncertainty. This uncertainty never goes away. All businesses, and certainly start-ups, have questions that need answering. The only way to find answers to these questions is to start solving them.

I'll leave you with a quote from everyone's favorite character from The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg. On risk, Zuckerberg said "The biggest risk is not taking any risk... In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risk." As a college dropout, Zuckerberg's words and actions reflect an attitude that more college students and graduates should adopt. Take initiative in pursuing your interests, regardless of the risk.

Venture for America is hosting an event at the Leslie eLab today. Check it out!