How a career can flourish when ‘fear’ becomes a four letter word

At six years old, Liesl Capper's parents handed her a gun.

Irresponsible parenting? Not necessarily when you're growing up in war-torn Zimbabwe and have just spent a terrifying night in hiding during an attack on a nearby farm. "They might come for us next time darling," her parents told her the next morning. "You might be the only one left and you'll have to defend yourself."

Capper was taken out to a field and told to shoot a scarecrow. She pulled the trigger and landed flat on her back from the impact. She tried again.

"Fortunately I never had to use those eccentric set of skills for six-year-old to have," Capper tells Women's Agenda. "But it was powerful knowing that fear doesn't have to be paralysing or debilitating. And also that you create your own happiness in your own life."

Such experience as a child has played a pivotal part in making Capper the entrepreneur she is today. The owner of MyCyberTwin, a provider of artificial intelligence software to large corporate clients, Capper's LinkedIn profile is evidence of her no-fear, big-thinking approach: "I build companies with intriguing useful technology and solid revenue," the first line reads.

And Capper's built a few of them. At 25 and while raising a baby, she created a multinational education franchise called Toptots Early Learning, selling 38 franchises and at one point having 80 staff in four countries. Later, she developed search company Mooter -- well before Google was a household name. After listing on the stock exchange (something she says is not as scary as it sounds) she searched for a new idea, knowing it had to be in technology and on the cutting edge of innovation. Eight years ago, she ventured into the world of artificial intelligence.

With clients like NAB, HP and NASA, MyCyberTwin offers a suite of tools for building a virtual "artificial human" that can act as a service assistants. The company has doubled its revenue every six months since 2011, and is expected to list on the ASX later this year.

So how does she do it? It's obvious Capper's fiercely intelligent, passionate about innovation and able to easily articulate her vision.

But it takes a little something more than all that. Perhaps some childhood experience – Capper's early years in Zimbabwe were followed up as a refugee in South Africa – and a lot of being able to put fear, pessimism and doubt to one side.

Capper thinks big and achieves what she imagines. As she told me when I asked about whether she "fears" stepping into the unknown and starting from scratch to launch a new business: "The idea it won't work never crosses my mind."

"As an entrepreneur you create a reality in your mind and if you believe it hard enough the world has no choice but to come along with you," she says.

"For me that came about because I was baffled in the early days to be an entrepreneur because you don't know how much you're going to earn, how big it's going to be. So I just decided, 'My business is going to make X amount of money'. The next month it happened, I couldn't explain it. I got it down to an art form."

Capper believes this kind of thinking is not only relevant to an entrepreneur, but can aid any career. "The world is a construct of reality," she says. "If I hold in my mind a belief about what my business is going to be like, if I immerse myself in it completely and envision myself with 80 staff, turnover in the millions, and listing on the stock exchange, reality catches up. You have to start manipulating the variables.

"That's the fundamental skill I think you need to be truly successful"

Surely, there's something in that? How has fear inspired your career?

Check back with Women's Agenda for a full profile on Liesl Capper.

Angela Priestley

Angela Priestley is the Publisher and founding editor of Women's Agenda. She's an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is Women Who Seize the Moment.

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