We had the good fortune of connecting with Laura Azzalina Rigali and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Laura, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Here’s the interesting thing about risk – it’s entirely based on perspective. And that’s as true for a giant leap in your business as it is for a bold move in your personal life. The textbook definition of risk has to do with variability and uncertainty in outcomes, but when dealing with human beings and not stock charts, I think “risk” is a misnomer. It seems like every big, scary, audacious move is labeled as “risky”, when really, only the big moves that are inauthentic are risky.
I’m an external CFO and entrepreneurial coach. I work with startups, entrepreneurs, creatives, fast growing businesses, and more – all people who are working tirelessly to create something new that the world needs. So needless to say, I deal with risk every day. My clients are doing wild, crazy, and beautiful things, and I want to set them up in the best ways possible to be successful, and happy. But there’s no standard answer, of course, because “success” means different things to different people. “What’s your definition of success?” – I ask my clients this question every day. It’s so easy for us to live our lives (and run our businesses) according to what sounds great on paper, or what looks impressive from the outside, but at the end of the day if we can’t sleep at night because we’re crawling out of our skin from anxiety or imposter syndrome, guess what? That is very far from success. Success means we’re living our life according to our own terms, we feel content, we feel happy in our gut, and we’re not constantly looking over our shoulders in fear or paranoia. If we’re running a business, it means we know our unique competitive advantages and our strategic choices always celebrate them. It doesn’t mean we have everything figured out, but it means we’re living honestly and truthfully, and we know we’re marching down the right path.
When we live (or run a business) according to the wrong definition of success, suddenly those big choices feel unbearably risky. Is it the risk that’s the problem? Or the fact that we know, deep down, that this is the wrong path? I think the fear of “risk” is really a warning sign that we’re about to make a wrong turn – not a bold turn, but a wrong one. When we take on something that is inauthentic, we become acutely aware of the fact that we might fail, and will definitely feel ashamed or embarrassed when we do. And frustrated that we wasted our time. Or, worst of all, if we do succeed and aren’t totally elated when we get there, we end up angry at ourselves for chasing the wrong target and not trusting our gut from the beginning.
The same is true in the world of finance. I often help my clients fundraise and apply for bank loans, and our starting point is always “Who’s the best fit?” Why? Because a bank that doesn’t understand your business or doesn’t like your industry will charge significantly more for the luxury of lending to you – because the “high risk” needs to be compensated with higher return (known as a risk premium). You might also face lots of unpleasant conditions on the relationship, all of which are intended to control the uncertainty as much as possible to give the bank comfort. Conversely, a bank that does understand your business will give you much better terms because they don’t perceive the risks that the other bank did. Now, is you business any different in these two scenarios? Of course not. The only differences are perspective, and fit.
I’ve made many bold, “risky” moves (so I’m told) in my life and career, but I always laughed when people told me that because, honestly, “risk” never entered my mind. That certainly doesn’t mean I had any guarantee of success at the time, but I knew these moves would pull me toward my happiness, so the bolder the better. At the start of my career, I left a job at a top accounting firm to join the startup world – less pay, less structure, much less predictability in career path. For those who loved the traditional corporate environment, my choice to abandon a partner track seemed incredibly risky, but to me, I was craving the unknown and couldn’t get away fast enough. Years later, I moved across the country to LA – without a job lined up, selling my home and leaving behind a lucrative CFO career. Again, insanely risky to many people, but to me, the life that sounded great on paper felt terrible, and the risk of living the wrong life was so much worse than what could possibly lie ahead on the other side of a big move. I didn’t know why exactly, but I knew this was the right path for me.
I made a bold move again when I left an amazing job to start my consulting practice – “risky” to many, but in my gut I knew that I didn’t belong behind a computer anymore, and that I was meant to coach people toward their dreams and lead businesses to success. And it turns out that this has been the most fulfilling work of my life and career, and I’m grateful for it every day. I didn’t know how I would succeed when I made the leap, but I was excited to figure it out.
I absolutely love helping my clients on their journeys, and breaking through limiting thoughts so that we can unlock their happiest happy place and craft a plan to get there – in both life and business. You’d be shocked at how few people actually have a real answer to this. It’s always my first question when starting with a new client, and I always get a canned response. I need to ask again and again, and ask for a real, deep, meaningful response. We’re all so busy executing and following the next shiny object, that we never indulge ourselves in the exercise of figuring out what will make us blissfully happy. And sadly, until we have this answer, we’re all just taking incremental steps down the dreaded road to nowhere.
So be indulgent. Give yourself a minute to think – honestly – about what it is that would make you blissfully happy in this life. Your one, precious life. Or that would unlock the unique power of your business to run like a well oiled machine that can simply “print money”, as I like to say. Once you have this answer – and can envision how utterly blissful this reality feels – you’ll laugh, too, when others call it “risky”.
What should our readers know about your business?
I’m not a traditional numbers person – I’m equal parts right brain and left brain, so I can dream big and get creative with my clients, and then create a sound financial and strategic plan to get them to their goal. I have the same entrepreneurial spirit that my clients do – I love to create and build, and join them on their journey but with a financial lens. This work is also very personal to me. I get to live out my client’s dreams with them, and it’s a great privilege that I take very seriously. I’m as committed and passionate about their success as they are. And I think that’s why I’m able to push them to achieve great things – because I truly want the best for them, and that’s not just financial success, but more importantly, fulfillment and joy in their life and work. I also love working with non-finance brains to demystify finance and eliminate fear, shame, and embarrassment around numbers – and there is a lot of that going around, sadly. I call it financial empowerment – empowering leaders (and solopreneurs) to understand their financials and use them to make better decisions. To me, there’s nothing better than seeing the lightbulb go on above someone’s head when it finally “clicks”, and they feel proud, motivated, empowered to move forward. That’s why I named my consulting practice “ILLUMINATE” – it’s what I live for in my work. Everyone deserves peace – spiritual peace, mental peace, financial peace. My work is based on bringing this to as many people as possible, and allowing everyone to shine bright and live their best life.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m a huge fan of street art so I love walking around downtown LA hunting for new murals (and eating amazing food along the way!). If you’re looking for the most delicious vegan food (that you honestly can’t tell is vegan), I love Vinh Loi Tofu on Sherman Way in the Valley. Truly awe-inspiring food, you’ve got to try it to believe it! If I’m looking to get out of the city, Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone art and wine always make me happy, or a walk through Ojai. Whenever I can fit in a longer road trip, you’ll find me heading to Big Sur, my happiest happy place. It feels like the place where time began, and it always fills my soul and changes my perspective. And the journey there is as fun as the destination – rolling hills, canyons, farmland, the sparking ocean – it’s unbelievable that all of this exists in one place!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My mom sacrificed so much so that we could get an education and be set up for success in life, so truly, I owe everything to her. She is a source of endless inspiration, especially now that I’m a mother. I marvel at how she did it all. I’ve also seen the stark difference between people who had someone fighting for them, and people who didn’t, and I thank my lucky stars everyday that someone built me up instead of tearing me down. And I’m equally grateful to every teacher, boss, mentor, and friend who inspired me – every single one of those relationships made me who I am, and filled my tank with and endless supply of love and generosity, and a capacity to give that never seems to run out. I get to share that now with everyone in my life, including my clients. I believe so strongly that each of us needs a positive role model to learn from, believe in, and see our future selves in. I try to be this in everything I do, and I’m incredibly thankful for everyone who’s done this for me.