Australian entrepreneur Jack Delosa knows something about adversity. His family ran a not-for-profit job placement firm, which helped long-term unemployed youth find jobs and a sense of purpose. Then, ironically, they lost everything when the government pulled their funding. Jack remembers a time when his father could not withdraw $40 from their bank account. Delosa's misfortunes continued when he dropped out of university to start a call center business with his brother, only to have his brother die from a drug overdose just days before the business was to open its doors. Yet Jack went on to run that company, and others - ultimately building two multimillion dollar, multi-national businesses. Today, Delosa has been listed on the Australian Business Review Weekly (BRW) 'Young Rich List' two years running  -- and has amassed a global community of 300,000.

On April 27th, Delosa released his second book, "Unwritten," in which he explores the idea of human 'greatness' to highlight the inherent qualities that underpin innovation and progress; qualities such as authenticity, resilience, rebellion, acceptance of imperfection and an ability to rise above self-doubt.

Using examples from some of the great achievers in science, art, politics and business - both contemporary and historical - Jack questions the common assumption that great people are somehow superhuman and highlights the very normal, very human, facets of each history-changing figure.

Delosa explores the value of adversity and the role this played in establishing  The Entourage, which is an Australian award winning education institution and community of entrepreneurs, and a movement that is changing the world through a new kind of business education. Jack shared some of his thoughts with me regarding his personal journey to entrepreneurship, particularly the importance of adversity in his eventual success.

Kate Harrison: Why did you choose to write about adversity?

Jack Delosa: Entrepreneurship has become romanticized -- as if people subscribe to a Hollywood version of what it means to be in business. The crowd sees the successes, the revenue growth, the awards, the islands or the material possessions. What they don't see are the decades of extreme challenge that somebody goes through in order to develop the judgment and wisdom to build something truly great. Typically business is a lot harder, slower and less glamorous than the images that are projected by the media in general, and movies in particular. I want people to understand that -- and to also help people who are in it to understand that they are not alone in facing the many challenges of starting and growing a company.

Harrison: How does adversity change over time for a company?

Delosa: The initial years are focused on pure survival. The challenge is finding product to market fit - and building something that people will happily pay for. Momentum is hard to develop. As the business grows, the challenge becomes employing the right people in order to form a great team.  As the team grows, ensuring that your growing base of customers is happy becomes increasingly challenging. Once you have more staff servicing more customers, there is far greater margin for error as your operations struggle to keep up with your sales and marketing. The high-growth years counter-intuitively present what often seems like insurmountable challenges. Rapid growth has been the death-knell for many a business that simply couldn't adapt to the growing demand for products, services, and especially systems.  Before a business reaches maturity, the threat of disruption is high. The challenges never stop; if anything, as the business grows so do they.

Harrison: Is adversity different for different people within an organization?

Delosa: It doesn't matter what stage of business you are at, or where on the organizational chart you sit, the world is moving fast and innovation does not wait. In today's business environment, uncertainty is the dominant reality. The further you go up an organizational chart, the greater levels of uncertainty you are faced with. Business leaders need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. As an entrepreneur, you constantly perform 'improv' with the world as the needs of your company shift beneath your feet.

Harrison: How can adversity be a good thing? Can you share an example?

Delosa: The growth of an entrepreneurial business most often occurs in response to the challenges that it faces. In the case of Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Records, when he started out in business, his magazine wasn't profitable -- so he started selling mail-order records through the magazine. Then the postal service went on strike, so he quickly decided to open up a physical record store so the business wouldn't be reliant on the post office. When conventional recording labels would not take them seriously, he decided to create his own. Each evolution of Virgin Records was made in response to a challenge that it faced. These nimble innovations coalesced and Branson created a billion dollar company. Particularly in the early years, we often see that necessity -- in the form of a threat to our survival -- is the mother of innovation.

Harrison: What is the most important trait a successful entrepreneur needs to succeed in the face of adversity?

Delosa: Emotional fortitude is essential. It's also a trait that entrepreneurs tend to develop over the years, provided they survive long enough to benefit from experience. Often what proved incredibly stressful in year one, becomes an easy decision by year three. What once kept us up at night in the past becomes a straightforward judgment call. In this sense, the emotional strength required to face adversity and respond appropriately to challenges is like a muscle -- it develops with use.

Harrison: If you had to summarize why adversity is so important to entrepreneurs, what would you say?

Delosa: Persevering through adversity gives us the experience necessary to develop sound judgment. The wisdom and swift response rate that we admire in successful business people has usually been "hard won" over many years of meeting challenges. It is this judgment, this wisdom, which ultimately enables entrepreneurs to innovate effectively and build something great. Running a business is not about getting to a point where there are no challenges -- such a place does not exist in a growing concern --  but rather, becoming comfortable as you navigate the numerous and inevitable challenges that come with building something new.

Published on: May 18, 2016
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