Entrepreneur’s Top 10 Posts From Richard Branson in 2014

When it comes to launching a business, serial entrepreneur Richard Branson has “been there, done that” several times over. Starting with the student magazine he co-created at 16, Branson has founded many, many enterprises, most notably the Virgin Group. Luckily for the next generation of entrepreneurs, he’s eager to open up about the lessons he’s learned along the way.

From his top 10 tips to succeeding at business, to the importance of building a support system, to the necessity of finding your passion project, here are the most popular columns Branson shared with readers this past year.

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No More Missed Connections: Virgin Unveils First-Ever Airborne Social Network

No More Missed Connections: Virgin Unveils First-Ever Airborne Social Network
Business travelers are all too familiar with the serendipitous connections that so frequently — and fruitfully — arise among neighboring passengers in the air.

Seeking to enhance these dynamics, Virgin America has unveiled what it’s calling the first airline social network in collaboration with Here On Biz, a location-based business app.

“Instead of leaving it to chance, entrepreneurs can learn who else is on board to connect, chat and perhaps even start a company at thirty-five thousand feet,” noted Virgin Airways founder Richard Branson of the venture.

Rolling out to all domestic flights by month’s end, the network will enable passengers to connect with other users on their flights — and all other airborne guests — as well as travelers at their respective destinations.

Available at departure gates before takeoff and in the air, the Here On Biz app connects with users’ LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter accounts, through which travelers can then message one another — and even send in-flight cocktails to potential connections — via Virgin’s Gogo Wi-Fi network.

To kick off the initiative, Virgin is launching a sweepstakes on Twitter called #PlanePitch where passengers can propose a venture “to your dream biz seatmate in 140 characters or less” using the aforementioned hashtag.

While six weekly winners will receive free Wi-Fi passes, one grand prize victor selected in March will receive six free flights as well as ultraluxe in-flight perks.

Richard Branson on Embracing Failure

Richard Branson on Embracing Failure
Q: I have always been fearless, and gone after everything I wanted. I launched a business selling my designs a few years ago, and it succeeded, but I had to close it due to the recession. Now, having just earned a master’s degree, I have decided to launch my own design firm rather than look for a job, and for the first time in my life I find that I am paralyzed with fear. How can I face down this fear in order to go after my dreams? — Tatiana Poblah, Montreal, Canada

Fear is something everyone must learn to cope with when tackling life’s challenges, but this is especially important for entrepreneurs, who are likely to face many hard choices in the process of getting a business off the ground. And in the early stages of running a new enterprise, the way you handle pressure can often make the difference in whether it survives.

You may need to make some tough calls. During Virgin’s early years, one difficult decision we had to make involved Virgin Records, which at one point was in desperate need of cash to sign bigger artists. My partners, Nik Powell and Simon Draper, were split on what to do: Nik wanted to conserve our resources and slowly collect money through our retail operations; Simon wanted to invest heavily in Virgin Records, betting on the notion that we could find the next big artists that way. We needed quick growth, so I took the riskier gamble, following Simon’s advice over Nik’s. It turned out to be the right decision, but it took a lot of courage — and not just from me, but everyone on staff.

I’ve always found that the first step in overcoming fear is figuring out exactly what you’re afraid of. In your case, I wonder: Is your anxiety a reflection of doubts about your business plan? Or is it rooted in your experience with your previous venture?

If it is the former, and you are having doubts about your idea, why not take your concerns to a key friend or mentor and carefully run through your business plan? Talking everything through with a trusted confidant, from your business’ unique selling points to how it will stand out among competitors, is a good way to help calm fears and give you some perspective and confidence. Sometimes even the simple act of discussing your plan will highlight things you’re unsure about — often, small, unresolved issues can be at the root of an entrepreneur’s anxieties.

But if your previous venture’s end is what is making you so hesitant, try to take some comfort in the fact that most entrepreneurs fail when they launch their first businesses. Failing doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out to run your own business. In fact, many venture capital investors evaluate potential partners on how they reacted to a failed business, seeing it as a test of character, rather than a mark against them. The key to bouncing back is to learn whatever lessons you can from the experience so that you can avoid making the same mistakes in the next launch. This will help you to overcome your fear, take a leap of faith and try again.

The experience of launching one of your first businesses reminds me of the adventures and challenges I have embarked on over the years to promote Virgin and put our businesses on the map. There were countless times during our record-breaking hot-air balloon trips when I wondered whether we were going to make it back down to earth alive. But every time, I learned lessons from making mistakes during previous trips and was able to adapt.

Another example: A few years ago I was helping to launch Virgin America’s new route from San Francisco to Las Vegas — and upon arriving at our casino hotel, I was taken to the top floor, given a harness and told I was going to jump off the side of the building. It was dark and windy, and I knew I should go back inside and tell everyone we needed to postpone the jump. Instead, I was persuaded to go through with it. The wind was up, and within seconds I found myself banging down the side of the building, ripping my trousers and bruising my backside. It was an extremely painful lesson, learned the hard way. But learning from mistakes (and a combination of good fortune and adrenalin) is what has gotten me through on many occasions.

Overcoming fear is not necessarily as easy as jumping off a building, but it might be easier than what you’ve done: Watching a business fail after putting your heart and soul into trying to make it succeed. But don’t be too hard on yourself. Starting a new enterprise from scratch and gathering the nerve to take risks that are similar to those you took last time can be daunting for any entrepreneur. Just remember that picking yourself up from a failed business in order to try again is the bravest choice you can make.

-Courtesy: Entrepreneur.com

How Virgin Atlantic’s Marketing Nails It

Virgin Atlantic is a small airline with a big personality. This is how it lures customers from the big guys.

I’m on a new customer experience journey at my online marketing companyVerticalResponse. We’re taking another look at everything we do from the ground up– how we do it, when we do it and how our customers are going to like it. It can be challenging to take a holistic view of your entire business and redo a ton of things (at once!), but over time process changes, people change and the way you do things needs to change. So we’ve been looking at how other successful companies approach their customer experience.

I had the pleasure of listening to Simon Bradley, vice president of marketing North America at Virgin Atlantic Airways recently at the Customer Experience Leadership Conference and he shed some light on how they think about marketing… and it might just knock your Virgin Atlantic Upper Class socks off.

You may think Virgin Atlantic is a huge airline worldwide, but they’re not. Maybe they’re the No. 2 airline in the UK, but they don’t even hold a candle to United, American or Delta here in the U.S. So how does this airline with 18 departures a day survive, and better yet, thrive?

They don’t have a huge digital marketing budget like you might imagine (more than you and me!) so they need to be very clever about how they market their product. They need to be somewhat grassroots. On top of this, their customers usually only fly once or twice a year, so they need to develop an on-going relationship with them in-between flights.

How Do They Do It? They Start from the Inside…

VA first looked at who their customers are. Internally they describe them as mavericks, adventurous, and pioneering. Simply put, they are “fearless leaders.” So Virgin Atlantic set out to cater to this target audience and make their experience fun and ultra cool. They put a bar onboard, passengers can get a massage, or a nail clean up and food and drink are always top quality.

From the inside they see themselves as a brand much like an ultra-cool boutique hotel. This way they can be nimble and intimate with customers.

VA’s positioning? “Flying in the face of ordinary”–they’ve even got a hashtag for it #FITFOO. Ultimately they want to be the envy of other airlines. They did a great job igniting their staff to participate in backing up this new positioning and the team loves being a part of it.

Use Your Best Customers… for Marketing

 So they’ve excited and ignited their staff, but now they’ve got a few planes to fill. How do they do it? They rely on one important thing… customer advocacy.

Here are a few great ideas, or what Bradley terms, “little earthquakes going on all over the place,” that he shared with the audience that moved Virgin Atlantic’s marketing needle:

  • • They created a verb out of their Clubhouse. Have you “clubhoused”? They sponsored a contest where customers took pictures of themselves “clubhousing” and shared it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag#HowIClubhouse. Fun!
  • • A Virgin crew took to social media and found a customer at work who was having a grey, rainy day. Since their colors are red and purple, they bought a pair of red rain boots and delivered them to the customer at his office. It made his day, and was a great story.

Virgin Atlantic Flies in the Face of Ordinary

  • • A crew brought trays of red cupcakes to a local DMV to cheer up people waiting in long lines.
  • • Their site is fun, cheeky and makes you want to browse around it even if you’re not looking to fly!

What are your “little earthquakes” that will move your marketing needle?

Courtesy: Inc.com

Richard Branson on Self-Awareness for Leadership Growth

Q: What are the key personal characteristics that go hand-in-hand with business success? 

All sorts of people find success as entrepreneurs, in every profession and area of life. What many have in common is that they’re ready to try and fail while they are figuring out which of their ideas will work, and so perseverance and courage are an entrepreneur’s best assets, as I’ve mentioned in previous columns. A characteristic that I’d like to add to that list is self-awareness, because it can speed up that learning process and help you along the way.

Like most other companies, we at the Virgin Group have experienced a number of failures along with our successes — it is so easy to get things wrong. After you’ve launched one or more businesses that take off and start growing, it’s tempting to think that you know what you’re doing. Then, after you’ve started up another new venture, seemingly along the same model, you find to your astonishment that it’s about to fold.

This is what happened when we launched Virgin Cola in 1994. We started out with so much ambition, and we had a real impact: Our new business shook Coca-Cola to the core. We heard later that every meeting the top executives had for nine months was dominated by the words “Virgin Cola.”

But as time went on, we realized that we’d failed to adhere to our own rules. Virgin specializes in shaking up industries where consumers are getting a raw deal, but there was no great dissatisfaction with Coca-Cola, Pepsi or the other soft drink brands at the time. Why would customers want to switch to Virgin Cola? After all, we weren’t offering them anything that was radically different or much better value, and so the business was a financial failure.

With Virgin Cola, we were so intent on repeating our model that led to previous successes that we didn’t notice the problems with our idea. But we always learn from our failures, which makes us better at being self-aware — as has answering all the questions over the years about Virgin’s going into new industries.

I’ve found that knowing your business and yourself can also help you to know when to follow your instincts, so you can find the courage to move ahead and ignore the advice of naysayers. When we launched Virgin Atlantic in 1984, many people doubted us, assuming that we wouldn’t know how to run an airline since we had no experience in the industry — at that time we were known for our music label, Virgin Records. We hired experienced aviation experts for help with logistics, but as we’d suspected, our lack of experience in the business turned out to be an asset.

My team followed me despite these very logical criticisms, not just because it was obvious that the industry needed change, but because we knew our strengths: We knew how to entertain people, and how to find out what amused them. This wasn’t anything the other airlines were doing, and so we were able to offer something new: a fun, entertaining experience at 35,000 feet.

Self-awareness can also help you to persevere as you carry out your plan. When we launched our passenger rail service, Virgin Trains, in 1997, we were new to an industry again, but we had a bold vision: Our high-speed tilting trains would be fitted with comfortable new airline-style seats and we would offer great services like good food and Wi-Fi.

It took years to build and bring in the new trains and prepare the rail system for the new technologies, and so we had to use old train cars and the outdated system for a long time. But we knew who we were and how we wanted our new rail business to work, and that helped our people to weather the criticism along the way. With the new trains and refurbished tracks, we have been able to double the number of passengers we carry, from 14 million to 31 million per year, and speed up journey times.

How are the people on your team, with their particular skills and talents, shaping your company and making it different from others? What’s special about your product or service? How is your company helping your community and environment? If you’re an entrepreneur or business leader and don’t have the answers to these questions at the ready, it’s time to meet with your team outside the office. Throw a barbecue or dinner, and start up a conversation about what you have done so far and what you want to do.

While the answers will change over time, talking about this now will help all of you to get a sense of where you’re going and what you’ve built so far, helping to prepare you for the next bumps you encounter. And what could be better than having dinner and drinks with your team, reflecting on all you’ve accomplished and what comes next?

Courtesy: entrepreneur.com

11 Inspiring Quotes From Sir Richard Branson

The iconic Virgin Group founder seems to have done it all. Now he explains to Inc. how to start a company from pennies, when to “snoop around,” and his trouble saying “no.”

Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group–an empire of more than 400 companies that includes an airline, a mobile phone company, and a credit card company–sat down Wednesday with Inc. editor-in-chief Eric Schurenberg. Their exclusive interview kicked off Inc.’s GrowCo conference in New Orleans.

Branson spoke about the power of delegating, the importance of branding, how to assess risk, and why he wants to change the entire concept of space travel–soon.

Here are some of the interview’s most poignant take-aways.

1. “A business can be started with very little money.”

When Branson was 15 years old, he decided he wanted to start a magazine to give young people a way to speak out against the Vietnam War. He didn’t have any money–not even enough change to make a phone call. But when his mom found a necklace and turned it over to the police, nobody claimed it. So she sold the necklace, and gave Branson a couple hundred dollars. That money enabled him to bring on advertisers, which led him to start printing his publication.

2. “Consider getting smaller in order to get bigger.”

Rather than grow his original record business exponentially larger, Branson instead set up 30 different record companies. Rather than have a few top managers overseeing layers upon layers of people below them, some lower-level employees became managers of those smaller entities. A hearty spirit of competition developed. Branson attributes this strategy’s success to the fact each company knew directly and immediately when it had succeeded, and when it had stumbled. Virgin today is a huge entity with more than $20 billion in revenue–but Branson’s original strategy has been retained in that it also is a series of smaller companies.

3. “You can be a David vs. a Goliath, if you get it right.”

When Branson launched Virgin Atlantic, it had tough competitors such as TWA, Pan Am, and Air Florida. “I mention these names,” said Branson, “because none of them exist anymore.” Why’d the others fail? The others didn’t focus on the customer, Branson said.

4. “A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better.”

Branson explained this is what drives him as an entrepreneur: “If you can make peoples lives a lot better, you’ve got a really good business.”

5. “Unless you dream, you’re not going to achieve anything.”

Branson is funding Virgin Galactic to make space travel more accessible to average people–even if it would still cost an individual a couple hundred thousand dollars. Because governments have traditionally overseen space travel, only a select and elite (and very small) group of people have been into space in the last six decades. Branson is trying to change that. “People in this room under the age of 50,” Branson said, “if they want to go to space will be able to go to space in their lifetime.”

6. “You can get too close with a doctor, or banker, and not realize you should actually snoop around.”

When he launched Virgin Atlantic, Branson found a manager at his bank on his doorstep one Friday evening in a complete panic, questioning how someone in the record business could launch an airline. The banker said he would foreclose on the whole Virgin Group that Monday. “I just pushed the bank manager out of my house and told him he wasn’t welcome,” Branson said. He then explained that, in a state of “half-anger, half-fear,” he spent the weekend asking people he knew to chip in to help him gather the money he needed upfront. And the next week he changed banks–something he should have done much earlier (he even got a better package from the new bank).

7. “Detail is very important.”

Richard Branson carries a notebook at all times, so he can write down conversations. He doesn’t want to forget on, say, a Virgin Atlantic flight, what his customers or staff tell him. He brings the notebook along when he visits out-of-town teams and goes out with them. “When I get drunk with staff, I won’t remember, so I’ll definitely write it down,” he laughed.

8. “You can create a business, choose a name, but unless people know about it you’re not going to sell any products.”

When Virgin Atlantic was getting started, it was so much smaller than its competitors that Branson went to extraordinary lengths to put the brand on the map, including stunts like attempting to get a boat across the Atlantic in the shortest period of time. “Luckily when it sank, the Virgin brand was sticking out of the water,” he joked. Likewise, when Branson tried to be the first to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon, it was rescued by helicopters–but Virgin was all over the newspapers.

9. “Find somebody else to run your business on a day-to-day basis.”

Branson recommends you should be brave enough to find somebody else to run all the day-to-day, and nitty-gritty details of your company, and then step aside and work from home for a while, so you can start to think about bigger picture–or your next business.

10. “Protect against the worst eventualities. Make sure you know what they are.”

Ask yourself when you embark on a new venture if you can afford the absolute worst-case scenario, and then just go on and do it. “You may say, ‘OK, I feel so sure about it I will mortgage the house.’ I have done that against my wife’s wishes on two or three occasions,” he said.

“Sometimes you’ll fall flat on your face, sometimes you won’t,” he added.

11. “I think because I have great difficulty saying the word, ‘no,’ almost every day’s a different adventure.”

Branson’s not one for taking it slow. Or turning down opportunities–even if they mean jetting around the world and back. Inc. caught up with Branson in New Orleans between a trip to New York–where he announced the Virgin Atlantic service from two New York City-area airports to Los Angeles and San Francisco–and his next stop: Peru.

Courtesy: inc.com