Australian entrepreneurs need to develop an appetite for risk, says Bastion Brands’ Simon Davies


Bastion Brands founder and chief executive officer Simon Davies. Source: supplied.

Risk-taking is not a signature trait of Australian businesses. In fact, we’re risk-averse and conservative in our business outlook.

While this has served us well by giving us incremental growth over the years, we’ve never experienced the great leaps forward of other, more dynamic entrepreneurial cultures.

COVID-19 has changed the game. Now, to fuel recovery and growth, we have to change our relationship with risk.

Australia is at a ‘watershed moment’. We can continue on a conservative path and slowly lose momentum, or we can shift gears, and increase risk appetite to take bolder steps into the unknown.

Rethinking failure and risk

Fear of failure is unfortunately part of our culture. 

We talk big about ‘having a go’, but have become gun-shy in taking the risks involved.

In Australia, when you fail, you often disappear into obscurity.

In America, failure is seen as a vital step on the path to success. It’s celebrated!

For Australia to tackle the recovery imperatives facing our economy and businesses, we need to refine the way we process failure and how that feeds into a new cycle of ideation. 

We need to accept we’re not going to get everything right, especially the first time. Recognising the effort and — this is important — encouraging another attempt is what should follow.

My business Bastion Brands is built on delivering creativity and the way that we work best is by brainstorming ideas.

We know that not all ideas are equal but, by fostering a culture where we constantly try different things and collaborate, we have created a skilled team.

Our philosophy is to identify an opportunity, distil an idea, and commit to it entirely. This gives us the confidence to pitch bigger ideas, and to enable our clients to think left of field.  

But we didn’t get to this stage by chance.

When I started the business back in 2012, I didn’t have a portfolio or reputation to lean on.

So it was about meeting as many people as possible, accepting many, many no’s, and then pulling back and reflecting on rejection, asking for feedback where relevant, learning more about the client to offer the value they deserve, and adjusting my approach in order to pitch again. 

Persistence and tackling challenges head-on is what builds resilience, and that’s what eventually delivers wins.

Another risk from those earlier years that stands out for me is when I decided to bring in specialists who were used to a much higher pay grade than what I was paying myself.

Taking on that financial risk was a huge deal for me at the time, but I did it anyway, knowing that if I didn’t give it a crack, we may not have been able to progress to the next level.

COVID-19 and the crossroads

COVID-19 has shown us that we can no longer ‘cruise’ along, playing it safe, because that will only bring us to a standstill.

We either have to work harder to sustain our businesses or, critically, shift gears, take risks and try new things more often to push ahead. 

To build the economy back up, Australian businesses need to be encouraged to take more calculated risks.

We need to invent new innovations and can no longer be wholly reliant on the mining and higher education sectors, which are currently under a lot of strain due to the pandemic.

We need to bring back the ‘have-the-crack’ mentality.

It has been heartening to see that many business owners are taking a more entrepreneurial route in recent times.

By recognising the economy is slowing and that they have little to lose by trying new ideas, products, services and markets, businesses are doing everything in their power to boost operation in an unprecedented environment.

Pace is an understated attribute to success in business.

There are also government subsidies, which provide a much-needed safety net for many people’s livelihoods.

While I’m grateful that struggling businesses have this kind of help, I’m also mindful that prolonged support could dampen the entrepreneurial effect I believe is beneficial for Australian business culture.

In the US, there’s a culture of being praised for having a go. People who have failed take on a resilient streak and are encouraged to rise up again to make another attempt.

That means overall, they’re more innovative, leading them to create groundbreaking products and sustainable companies.

In their eyes, failure is experience, and experience is valuable.

It’s true they have a much larger ecosystem than ours, but I don’t think we can go backwards on this. We need better incentives to be entrepreneurial, to support risk and failure and success, which are all part of the same learning experience. 

So, what’s it to be Australia?

Will we be coddled until we flatline or will we use this brief period of support to shift gears and change direction?

There’s only one way to gain the momentum to be innovative and entrepreneurial going forward, and that is to build resilience by trying, and trying again when we are knocked back.

After all, risk is simply an element of opportunity.

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