Lessons on Entrepreneurship Gleaned From Richard Branson

Posted by Amy Chan on August 27, 2014 0 Comments

Not since Donald Trump has there been a businessman with a household name like Richard Branson. The mere mention of his exploits yields almost every denizen of the first world with an image of that perpetually smiling face, bearing chiseled and handsome wrinkles resulting from years of hard work and enjoyment of life, rather than daily drudgery bringing him down. The Virgin brand is known by the world over, dipping in a large variety of business ventures: Branson is known as a record store magnate, a travel guru, and a generous philanthropist.  But he was not born into money – in fact, he started from nearly nothing, building his metropolis from the ground up.  Not everyone – actually pretty much no one – will be able to mimic his epic rise, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from him, from his life, from his trials and tribulations.  Sure it doesn’t look like he’s had any tribulations, but remember Virgin Cola? 

Branson could pack it all in and live a life of easy retirement, but he keeps coming up with new ideas and new pursuits.  Why?  “From the time that I created my first magazine or first record company, I just wanted to create things that I could be proud of,” says Branson.  “Money was just an evil byproduct to pay the bills at the end of the year. The only difference in my own life [now] is that most of my new creations are not-for-profit rather than for-profit. But I still will dive in on things like Virgin America, a company I really believe in, and getting the space program off the ground, and launching new ventures.”  So the very attribute that led to his success as a businessman is the same one that keeps him going.  You can’t fake this type of drive, you have to have it in you.  If you are motivated purely by money, you are likely going to fail, or at the very least, not reach the heights (figuratively and literally) as Sir Richard.

And what about all that adventuring we hear about?  Isn’t he scared to risk both life and limb climbing mountain peaks and hot air ballooning hither and thither?  Branson explains it thusly: “An entrepreneur is somebody who is taking bold risks, is often doing things that have never been done before, trying to do things better. And an adventurer is challenging themselves, often doing things that have never been done before, seeing what they're capable of. In both cases, you've got to protect against the downside.”  Again, the spirit within that drove him to greatness in business drives his adventurousness about the world.  A person who is reaching for exceptional exploits is probably not someone who sits around watching TV in his free time. 

Richard Branson has made it, for all intents and purposes.  No one would argue that he has more to prove.  How will you know when YOU’VE “made it?”  Well, how did Sir Richard know when he made it?  “I was the kind of entrepreneur that never really felt I made it. When Mike Olefield's “Tubular Bells” [Virgin Records’ first release] sold 8 or 10 million copies, I suppose, at age 19, I could've possibly retired on the money. Instead, I immediately pushed the boat and took that risk again. I always tell other people to protect against the downside, and not risk roughing on new ventures, but I never stuck to that rule myself. So I never really felt secure until I was well into my 30s, because anytime I had success, I would invest in new projects.”  “Making it” is a fallacy.  You don’t wake up one day and realize you’ve “made it.”  If that’s your goal, you will probably not succeed.  Better is to focus on always improving.  One day, you may wake up, and realize the last ten years have been amazing, and maybe now you’ve made it.  But it won’t be an instant from one day to the other, and if that’s on your mind too much, you will be distracted from the steps that you need to focus on to actually achieve great success. 

The lesson is that Richard Branson has been so successful because he was intrinsically motivated to always reach for better and for greater successes.  He was never satisfied to retire his entrepreneurial mind.  If you can channel that deep down desire for exceptionalism, maybe you can be the next Richard Branson.

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