What My Family's Off-Road Racing Business Taught Me About Taking Risks The lessons I learned on the desert courses are applicable to launching any business.

By Marlo Donate

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Michael Boehler | EyeEm | Getty Images

Many people shy away from risk because of its potential for adverse outcomes. It's the way our brains work. But, I grew up in a setting where risk-taking was a family tradition of sorts. Off-road desert racing was my dad's job and hobby, so I spent nearly every weekend of my childhood in the blazing heat of the desert watching cars hurtle past me at high speeds.

Related: 7 Risks Every Entrepreneur Must Take

Without realizing it, I was absorbing a view of risk as the way to win. But, I also knew that the risks taken by my father and his friends were calculated and well-practiced -- something that I would bring to my current role at Farmers Insurance leading a wave of technology transformation.

These lessons I learned on the desert courses are applicable to launching any business -- entrepreneurs face many risks when starting a new venture, just like racers must be ready for a slew of unknowns every time they get behind the wheel. So, if you're looking to increase your risk tolerance, here are some tips for thinking like an off-road racer.

1. Practice taking risks.

It's not easy to enter a professional off-road race. Many people practice for years before they qualify, and even after they start competing professionally, drivers still practice constantly.

Similarly, taking a big -- or a small -- leap is hard at first. But, you can learn to become a risk taker. Half the battle is becoming comfortable with failure. Approaching risk-taking as something you practice can help make it easier to bounce back when a gamble doesn't work out.

Related: Why This Risk-Taking Entrepreneur Always Says 'Yes' to the Right Opportunities

2. Have more than one car in the race.

My family not only raced cars, but it also sponsored them. In the business's early stages, my dad would usually support only one entry -- which was a risk in and of itself. If anything happened to that car, my dad and his team would lose their chance of getting on the podium. When my brothers took over the business, they saw an opportunity and took it. From watching my dad, they were able to realize that the best chance of winning came from sponsoring multiple cars, rather than just the one.

In business, this means not putting all your eggs in one risk basket. Start by taking small steps with potential consequences you can absorb. You might try a small batch run of a new product or a pilot test of new features. If the risk works out, those small wins will build your confidence to take on a bigger gamble down the road. And if those first steps aren't successful, the loss your business suffers won't be as costly.

Related: Is Your Startup Worth the Risk? 5 Questions You Need to Answer

3. There's always the next race.

Just as in business, there are no guarantees in racing. To make the best of losses, my family held to the motto, "There's always the next race."

For a while, my family experimented with other types of cars, like dune buggies. These attempts didn't go well, but racing vehicles in different competitions gave them some ideas that they used to create a unique racing series for off-road jeep racing. The series is now internationally known and holds races in Australia, China, Egypt and Mexico, as well as the United States

Adopting this philosophy in your business can be rejuvenating during the lows of entrepreneurship. The new investor pitch you tested flopped -- there's always the next meeting. The latest feature in your app is buggy -- there's always the next launch. No matter what risk you take, use what you learn to improve the next time.

Like racers, entrepreneurs put a lot on the line every day, from their financial security to their reputations, and sometimes even their personal relationships. But, taking those leaps is the only way to achieve greatness. It's important to try to find ways to take risks -- it's the only way your business adventure will mean something at the end.

Marlo Donate

Vice President of Information Technology for Farmers Insurance Group

Marlo Donate is the vice president of information technology for Farmers Insurance Group. Donate has more than 20 years of experience in various technology and transformation leadership roles with leading companies including Toyota and Citi Bank. 

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