Richard Branson and Entrepreneurship: 8 Easy Lessons To Achieving Extraordinary Success
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, is one of the most distinguished business personalities in the world, with a company name just as distinct as his silver-haired locks.
The successful British entrepreneur has come a long way from his academically underachieving roots. According to The Evening Standard, when the then-16-year-old Branson left his independent school in Buckinghamshire, his headmaster Robert Drayson said, “Congratulations, Branson. I predict you will either go to prison or become a millionaire.”
Drayson’s prediction was wrong on both counts. The young, dyslexic Branson, went on to become a billionaire. In fact, Forbes estimated Branson’s net worth to be $5 billion last July 2015.
With a business mindset at the tender age of 16, to now leading one of the biggest brands in the world, aspiring entrepreneurs have many vital lessons to take from the Branson story. To start it off, here are eight lessons to help you weave your own success story—the Branson way.
1. Be Bold When Building Your Brand
This is your name. Your brand. Your personality. It’s absolutely crucial to plan a good strategy and get a major edge in your niche. How people will perceive your business is important to appeal to the right prospects. You wouldn’t want to come across as “corporate” when you’re going for the less serious type of business and vice-versa.
In the book Richard Branson–Losing my Virginity, Branson explains that the name “Virgin” was suggested by one of Branson’s first employees (during the infant years of Virgin Records) because they were all new at the business.
That quirky name, despite failing to reflect the group’s many services, is interesting and catchy. As the company scaled, the name developed into an instantly recognizable brand.
It takes a lot to be bold when building up your brand. You need to think of an appealing name that will instantly click with your customers, similar to Virgin Group. But at the same, you should consider the advantages of having a company name that instantly says what you do.
You can write keywords for your business, use your name then ramble the letters or put together unique words—whatever works for you, but keep in mind to make it simple and easy to remember.
2. Persevere through the Pitfalls
In your journey as an entrepreneur, you will inevitably encounter many obstacles before you achieve success. But it’s during these moments you need to remember the reason why you began in the first place. Whatever that reason is, hold on to it no matter how “superficial” it may be.
If you wanted to launch a business just so you can have an X amount of dollars in your bank account over the next two years, so be it. If it’s because you feel the world needs your service, even better. These simple, yet attainable goals are going to help you to persevere through the tougher times.
For Branson, launching an airline service was not an easy task. He explained in his autobiography, “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them… from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it [Virgin airlines].”
Despite the difficulty and risk involved in launching an airline service, Branson battled on, and now boasts to have one of the world’s leading airlines.
3. Take Risks and Grab Chances
Success won’t come to you if you only dream big, but take no action. You should be proactive enough to turn those ambitions into reality.
The moment you see an opportunity, grab it while you can and do your best to turn it into a profitable income. Having launched a number of different business ventures, from a record label to a travel franchise, Branson has never been one to shy away from taking such risks.
In 1978, the Necker Island was put up for sale by its owner, Lord Cobham, for $6 million, according to Wikipedia. Because of his modest financial situation, Branson put in a bid for $150,000. The offer was inevitably refused as it was nowhere near the asking price. A couple of years later, however, in a desperate need of capital, Cobham called Branson and accepted to sell Necker Island for $180,000.
Being an entrepreneur is all about taking risks and chances. Even if an opportunity seems “out of your reach”, make the offer or present your pitch. You truly have to be “in it to win it”.
4. Find Solutions to Reap Success
It’s often said that innovations solve problems and make good money. As an entrepreneur, you don’t need to be a scientist or an inventor to create something new to generate income. All you need is to take what already exists in the market and reinvent it in a way customers can see it as better or unconventional.
In a similar sense, Branson found a gap in the aviation market and decided to find a solution for it. He wanted to resolve flight cancellations, which had been a cause of a lot of disgruntled and unsatisfied passengers. Thus, Virgin Atlantic was born.
The airline company provides chartered flights to customers who minimized delay and cancellations. Virgin Atlantic subsequently grew into one of the world’s leading airline services with revenue of just under $3 billion.
Whatever field you are heading into, keep a keen eye on industry trends and identify the problems. Any issues you find could be converted into a new business idea by bridging the gap with your solutions.
For example, if consumers within your niche are not getting the best customer service from your competitors, find ways in which you can provide an exceptionally different assistance. Make them aware of the ease they will experience along with further unique advantages.
5. Diversify and Scale
Branson started his first business at the age of 16 by running a student focused magazine called, Student. After interviewing a number of prominent personalities including Mick Jagger, the magazine gained some prominence.
He then started a mail-to-order record company, now known as Virgin, which sells records at a much lower price compared to high street outlets. Earning enough money from his record store, Branson managed to launch the Virgin Records label in 1972 and went on to sign international successes such as the Sex Pistols.
In the overwhelming success of his record label, Branson’s desire to scale and diversify his portfolio was evident. He used the profits to move into:
Airlines (Virgin Atlantic launched in 1984)
Mobile phones (1999)
In 2000, Branson opened up various franchises, covering everything from banking, cars, wedding dresses and wine.
When your business sets off at different heights, the opportunity to diversify and scale your business will become easier. This increases revenue, opens more opportunities, stabilizes your brand and attracts customers to trust you more—people are aware that expansions are a good sign of a market stronghold.
Your portfolio may not be as diverse as Branson’s, who along the way has seen comparative business failures, including the Virgin Cola and Virgin Clothing lines, but your desire to explore new business avenues should not be compromised.
6. You Can’t Do It All
Earlier this year, Virgin Startup, a not-for-profit company founded by Branson that provides support for entrepreneurs in England, offered a $20,000 loan to 24-year-old Charlotte Cramer–one of the three entrepreneurs selected to join the inaugural flight from London to Detroit with Branson on-board.
In an interview with Business Insider UK, Cramer explained how Branson advocates the importance of being aware of your strengths:
“He told us to become aware of what we’re good at—likely coming up with new ideas—and stressed the value of handing over the general management of the business to have the headspace to innovate. Having had the opportunity to meet those who manage a number of the Virgin businesses, it was clear that Sir Richard is good at concentrating on his strengths and employing the best talent to fulfill the other roles.”
Similar to Richard Branson, you need to hire exceptional people to get the outcome you want rather than trying to master everything yourself. You need breathing room to grow your company. After all, it’s called “company” where people are “with you.”
7. Think Big
Dream big and you’ll achieve big. If you want to become a successful entrepreneur, you have to adopt a positive mindset with clear goals.
If you’re only interested in turning a minor profit for your first few years of business, then chances are you’ll succeed at doing just that. Some of the most successful people were ‘big thinkers’ with once seemingly unattainable goals. Think Edison, Jobs and of course, Branson.
Branson’s success comes from bold business moves. With no industry experience, he bought an airline which had gone bankrupt and managed to turn it into British Airways’ main competitor. But he didn’t stop there.
Enter Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic is a spaceflight company, founded in 2004, that aims to develop commercial spacecraft that will provide suborbital spaceflights for “space tourists”. Branson’s ground-breaking vision of space flights is another example of his innate desire to “think big” and explore uncharted business opportunities.
8. Enjoy the Ride!
Enjoying your entrepreneurial journey is an important factor that may just determine the success or failure of your business. Fun shouldn’t be overlooked. The moment you stop enjoying the ride, may just be the moment you realize this is not for you.
In his autobiography, Branson says, “Fun is one of the most important–and underrated–ingredients in any successful venture. If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and try something else.”
No matter how hard being a business owner is, always try to look at the positive. Cherish small success and treat each failure a lesson.