At 27 Jodie Fox had to make a choice. Would she continue in her position at a leading advertising agency or commit setting up a business selling custom-made shoes that she had been dabbling in?
She had already left one career path, law, a few years earlier but, in many ways, the decision to go out on a limb and start a business was more daunting. It felt risky because, in her words, the venture was a big ‘What if?’
She took the plunge in October 2009 and, within two years, was at the helm of a multimillion-dollar business, Shoes of Prey. It turns out the market for women who want to design every element of their footwear is huge.
But what Fox’s ‘What if?’ hadn’t gone to plan?
In an interview with Megan Dalla-Camina, in the lead-up to the Sustaining Women in Business conference, Fox explains how she made the decision, got comfortable with risk, and why she would have been fine if the business hadn’t boomed.
“One of the things I realised was that the job I was leaving to go after my ‘what if?’ moment, wouldn’t be the last job I could ever have,” Fox says. “I wasn’t going to be wasted goods from a professional perspective and being realistic about that was a big deal.”
She also realised the experience might well boost her credentials. “If the business had even a tiny bit of success I realised I would be able to apply for more senior roles in the future because of the experience so in that regard I could see it as a positive.”
That exercise of visualising the worst-case scenario is a tool Fox still uses when making decisions.
“In business you do need to take certain risks and at each point it’s about deciding whether the worst case scenario is something you can live with or you need to pull back,” she says.
With co-founders Mike Knapp and husband, Michael Fox, the trio decided it would be better to leave their respective jobs and fully commit to giving the business its best shot at success.
“If it didn’t work out we would have preferred to fail fast instead of dragging it out,” she says.
The other reason Fox felt comfortable taking the risk and going in to business was her safety net.
“I knew I was smart enough not to land myself in the gutter but I have great friends and family and I knew if on the off-chance it didn’t work they would give me somewhere to sleep and lend me their support,” she says. “That really put failure into perspective.”
To date Fox hasn’t had to rely on her support network because of any failure but she is frank that running a successful business presents personal challenges.
“As entrepreneurs we’re optimistic and we tend to overextend ourselves and don’t necessarily respect our own limits,” she tells Dalla-Camina. “For me that will never change and it’s a double-edged sword. It’s wonderful in terms of what I can achieve in the business but it can also lead to moments of feeling down and overwhelmed.”
Fox says it’s a common situation business owners face and one that she wishes more people would feel comfortable talking about.
“It’s really tough to get perspective when you’re inside a business which is why it’s so important to talk to your co-founders or knock on someone’s door,” she says. “Having the courage to ask for help is important because no one is immune from feeling these things. It’s not talked about often enough.”
Jodie Fox is speaking at the Sustaining Women in Business conference in October.
Listen to the full podcast with Megan Dalla-Camina and Jodie Fox by pressing play on the media player below, or listen over at SWB.