Sir Richard Branson on curiosity, risk and the courage to fail


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2015)

He always goes at least a step further than the others. Sir Richard Branson is known for realising the things he has set his mind on. In doing so, he has never forgotten how important the right basis for sustainable success is – having the right people around. He tells us how he has managed to get to where he is today and what role the right attitude plays in it all.

What qualities does one need to start a business?

Sir Richard Branson: It isn’t easy to start up your own business and takes a lot of hard work and dedication. If you remain curious and passionate; find ideas that ignite your fire, don’t be afraid to take risks and jump into the unknown and never fail to focus on people, you should not only be able to start one successful business, but many.

How important is it to have the right mentors at one’s side?

Sir R. B.: I have always been lucky to have mentors through out my personal and business life. My mum has been a mentor throughout my life as well as Sir Freddie Laker who gave me invaluable advice and guidance as we set up Virgin Atlantic. His key advice was “You’ll never have the advertising power to outsell British Airways. You are going to have to get out there and use yourself. Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won’t survive.”  And as you know I have been making a fool of myself ever since! If you ask any successful businessperson, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road. If you want success then it takes hard work, hard work and more hard work. But it also takes a little help along the way.

How does one build an intelligent network to grow one’s business?

Sir R. B.: Succeeding in business is all about networking and making connections. It’s all about personal contact. No matter how heavy your workload is, do not allow yourself to work in your office all day, every day. For your own well-being and the health of your business, you need to get out and about – meeting people and developing relationships.

You said fear is a special form of energy. What exactly do you mean here?

Sir R. B.: There will always be some very challenging moments when an entrepreneur starts a business. Days when it feels like the floor is falling away beneath you and times you are afraid everything you have worked to build will vanish. It is during these days that entrepreneurs should use this fear as fuel to push them forward and try to resolve whatever problem is facing the business. When harnessed positively, fear can be the energy that spurs you forward and keeps you on the road to success.

You have been a very successful entrepreneur for over 50 years. Could you please tell us about your personal manifest?

Sir R. B.: I always ensure that I spend quality time with my family and friends – being with the people I love is most important to me. Also make time for people you meet from day to day – listen to them and learn from them. Always try to do what you love – if you don’t enjoy it, simply don’t do it. 

How does one manage to overcome defeat and to continue despite failure?

Sir R. B.: Every business will face tough times at some point.  Virgin certainly has faced many through the years and it is during these difficult days where the passion you have for a business really helps you stick with it and make it a success. Whenever we have faced a challenge at Virgin, we have always put our heads together to come up with a strategy that will allow the business to overcome a setback or challenge. Remember failure is a hurdle, not a dead end.

Tell us more about the ‘Pitch to Rich’ competition designed by Virgin Media Business to help innovative start-ups to grow their business in the UK. What did it involve and who won the competition? Why was this a good event?

Sir R. B.: Pitch to Rich is a nationwide competition championing the best and brightest entrepreneurs and small businesses in the UK.

 Entrepreneurs entered the competition by submitting their business pitch and over three months the public voted for who they thought should pitch live on stage to me and my co-judges.

 The live final, hosted at Second Home in East London, was a wonderful event. After listening to the finalists of Pitch to Rich, myself, Jo Malone, Justine Roberts, Jon Oringer, David Gandy and Peter Kelly had the tough decision of choosing the winners. Eventually we decided the winners as JustPark, Fourex and Kino-mo. They will receive a share of a one-million-pound prize fund, mentorship and more through our partners on the campaign.

What signs indicate a healthy economy in your opinion?    

Sir R. B.: A sign of a truly healthy economy is a vibrant entrepreneurial scene, with companies starting up, employing people and rebuilding areas of cities. Competitions such as Pitch to Rich are a vital source of inspiration for entrepreneurs trying to build their business and individuals wanting to start their own business too. 

What makes a great thinker? How can he or she change the world?

Sir R. B.: I’ve been fortunate to meet so many remarkable people in my life and have been inspired time and time again. While they each bring their own unique talents, skills and views to the table, as the saying goes, great minds think alike. The most overarching quality that defines a great thinker is their humanity. The desire to impact humanity for the better has spurred the world’s greatest innovations. Great thinkers do not speak, create or act solely with their own interest in mind - they seek positive change that affects the wider society.

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The British self-made man, Sir Richard Branson, became one of the most renowned and successful entrepreneurs in the world. He was first recognised with the newspaper ‘Student’ and managed to get authors such as John Le Carré and Jean-Paul Sartre to write articles without payment. In 1969 he founded a mail-order record company with the label ‘Virgin’. From the beginning of the 1970s, he opened several record studios and in the 1980s produced for bands such as Genesis and the Rolling Stones. With mail order and a music shop in London, he subsequently expanded his company to become ‘Virgin Music’. In the following years he realised his dream of founding his own airline and became a role model for many other entrepreneurs.

Picture credits © David Johnson

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